Warned of repercussions, owner says Watson Hunting Camp will not open before June 1

The owner of the Watson Hunting Camp said his phone has been ringing ever since he announced plans to open Wednesday despite the state order keeping bars and restaurants closed until at least June 1 to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Warned of the likely repercussions, Chuck Ellingson said he will not reopen before June 1.

Chuck Ellingson said he is opening the restaurant and bar at his Watson Hunting Camp in rural Chippewa County next week. He said it comes down to fighting to keep the business he has built over the past 20 years and supporting his family with two young children. Here he is shown during a previous waterfowl season. He offers hunting and fishing guide service along with operating the bar, restaurant and a new event center at the location near Lac qui Parle Lake. The restaurant and bar are located in the remodeled barn visible behind him. West Central Tribune file photo

WATSON — Ever since news broke of his plans to reopen the Watson Hunting Camp’s restaurant and bar on Wednesday, Chuck Ellingson’s phone has been ringing steady.

The callers have all warned him of the repercussions he likely would face by defying the state directive keeping bars and restaurants closed due to the pandemic.

Ellingson said it’s led him to decide not to reopen as he planned, despite feeling he has very valid reasons to do so. He said the calls have come from everyone from his beer distributor to law enforcement, and they have all urged him not to put his business at risk by reopening. The callers made it clear, he said, that he would likely be closed by the state and fined.

“I’m really upset about it,” said Ellingson. He has operated the business near Lac qui Parle Lake in Chippewa County for more than 20 years.

He said he believes he can safely reopen his business. He said it is not fair that a small restaurant and bar in a rural location cannot open to serve its community, while large stores in urban settings have continued to keep their doors open.


Stores selling essential goods have remained open throughout the pandemic-related closures. This has included so-called big-box stores such as Target, Walmart and Menards.

Those deemed "non-critical businesses" have remained closed by executive order to help stem the spread of COVID-19, but under the new executive order that takes effect Monday, these other retail stores and service businesses may open at 50 percent capacity with a preparedness plan in place.

Restaurants and bars statewide remain closed until at least June 1, but the governor has tasked three different state departments with drafting a plan by May 20 to achieve a safe opening of bars, restaurants and "other places of public accommodation."

Ellingson said he was and remains committed to maintaining all of the safety protocols to protect his customers and staff.

It’s frustrating too, he said, that restaurants and bars in neighboring states remain open and draw visitors from Minnesota. Just this past week he and his wife enjoyed a meal at a sit-down restaurant in Fargo, North Dakota. He has friends who have been taking short rides across the border to restaurants in South Dakota, he said.

Ellingson added an event center to the Watson Hunting Camp and was looking forward to its first season. Now, he has a growing list of weddings, a high school prom, and family reunions that have been canceled.

Ellingson said his hope now is that the state will allow restaurants and bars to open on June 1 as Gov. Tim Walz indicated he may allow.

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Chuck Ellingson has been offering hunting and fishing guide service as part of the Watson Hunting Camp for 20 years. There he also operates a bar and restaurant. West Central Tribune file photo

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