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Area resort, bait shop owners not so worried about steeper transportation costs

WILLMAR -- Despite national gas prices on the rise, a few local bait shop owners and lake resort owners are optimistic that fuel costs will not hurt the area's recreation industry.

Instead, most of these owners think gas going for almost $4 a gallon could actually benefit the region.

"I think the gas prices will probably help a lot of us in a way," said Judy Sandgren of Beard's Resort on Long Lake. "(People) are going to stay closer to home rather than travel and fly somewhere else."

Sandgren said gas prices wouldn't be as much of a problem to Beard's Resort as the declining economy could be. She said most of her customers are regulars and plan vacations at the resort at least a year in advance.

Even though reservations may be steady this summer, Sandgren said, her resort among others could see a downswing in business in two or three years if gas prices keep climbing.

Other bait shop and resort owners are showing just as much optimism about the summer as Sandgren.

Bob Schimerowski of Minnesota's Sunset Shores Resort on Norway Lake said gas prices might affect some people who bring their own high-power boats to his resort, citing a cutback in waterskiing by some of his patrons.

But Kandiyohi County's location in the state might be why the lakes area doesn't see a hit in resort-goers and anglers this summer, Schimerowski said.

"We're kind of the first tier of lakes you come to in Minnesota or first solid number of resorts anywhere in our area," Schimerowski said.

Looking toward fishing, Jabran Mustafa of J's Bait and Sport in Willmar said there might not be a decrease in the bait and tackle business, but there could be more fishermen grouping together in one boat instead of casting a line in separate vessels.

For the most part, Mustafa said, many local fishermen have said they will fish more locally because of gas prices, but not cut down on the hobby altogether.

Greg Melges, owner of Mel's Sport Shop in Spicer, said he thinks gas prices will have no effect on local fishing because of some of the recent customers he's had that haven't let gas prices stop their hobbies. Melges said he had a couple hunters stop in recently who were heading to Texas for a hunt and another who plans to make three trips from Illinois to South Dakota this year.

Yet all the local optimism doesn't mean lake recreation in the region will turn out as predicted.

Brad Foshaug, owner of Brad's 71 Bait & Sports in Willmar, said he's trying to be optimistic, but he also noticed some negative signs this winter that make him a little doubtful about the summer.

"I started seeing it this winter. I don't think people are (fishing) as much as they were in the past," Foshaug said. "This winter was really good because we had decent ice...but it wasn't as good as it should've been... And I think the gas and all that stuff has an effect on it."

But with Minnesota still thawing out from late spring snowstorms, Foshaug said, it's too early to really know how fishing will be this summer.

"Between the economy and the state it's in right now and then gas prices, it's a scary deal," Foshaug said. "I have a feeling its going to be a really long summer.

"But call me at the end of May and I'll tell you," Foshaug said with a chuckle. "I'll look at the numbers and say 'yep' or 'maybe not'."