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DNR crew in a sprint after ice-out this year to prepare public accesses for fishing opener

Chuck Eggert, right, a kids fishing event volunteer with the state MinnAqua education program, shows fourth-grader Bennet Capelle, of Nisswa, how to cast Friday on the beach at Grand View Lodge. The event was part of the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener activities centered around Grand View and Nisswa. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls )

SPICER — Their starting gun is the splash of waves that comes with the first ice-out.

Their finish line is today, when thousands of anglers will launch their boats into the water at public access sites today on the fishing opener.

It’s the responsibility of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources crew with the Trails and Parks division office in Spicer to ready and maintain the public access areas in Kandiyohi County and six neighboring counties that most boaters rely on, not to mention many of those who fish from shore.

This year was a sprint from start to finish for Ricky Gerhardson and Troy Wright, who readied most of the accesses, according to Jeff Brown, a longtime trails worker with the DNR who helps oversee and also assists the two.

In Kandiyohi County, the first lakes began opening up April 20-21. Green Lake was the last, opening on April 28. That made for a short time frame to get the work done, but that was just the start of the challenges this year.

“We thought last year was bad, but this was worse,’’ said Brown.

Last year saw record late ice-out dates for the lakes.

This year saw some of the worst ice damage ever.

Brown said about three-fourths of the public access landings had some type of damage caused by the ice, as compared to about 12 to 15 last year.

The crew is responsible for 80 to 85 public water accesses in the counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift, Kandiyohi, Meeker and Yellow Medicine. Of the total, 75 of the accesses have concrete plank ramps and 53 have docks.

The accesses are scattered about lakes in the seven counties. Most lakes have only one public access, with the exception of Green Lake, Big Stone Lake and Lac qui Parle Lake.

The crew also maintains a variety of fishing piers in the region to provide shoreline fishing opportunities. The crew is responsible for setting up five DNR fishing piers and five other piers offered in cooperation with local governments.

The crew also takes care of a number of popular shoreline fishing areas, including sites along Ringo Lake and Foot Lake. There are other smaller shoreline access sites scattered about the region, including some on the Minnesota River.

All the boat accesses are ready in time for the opener, but Brown said the rainy weather made it impossible to blade the gravel and aggregate parking areas. That work still waits to be done.

There’s plenty of other work to keep the crew busy through the summer. They take care of all the mowing and trash pickup. And when they are not taking care of the lake accesses, they are working along the streams in the region and the Glacial Lakes Recreational Trail from Willmar to the Stearns County line.

They are responsible for maintaining the designated canoe routes by removing log jams. They also maintain primitive campsites along the Minnesota River and, of course, canoe and boat accesses there.

Brown said he is not aware of any survey work in recent years to determine how many people use the public accesses to reach their favorite waters, but there is little doubt they see lots of use, with the greater use experienced in the more populous areas of the region.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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