PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. — I stopped into my favorite lakes country town this week to get an earful about the Minnesota fishing opener. The hook, if you will, was easy: One year after slogging through an opener dominated by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and closures, will this opener be back to normal?
Short answer, yes.
Fishing license sales, like they were a year ago, are up and the town is gearing up for whatever anglers come its way from Fargo-Moorhead or the Twin Cities. Gov. Tim Walz and his entourage will be trying their walleye luck on Otter Tail Lake 30 miles to the southeast — to the dismay of some disgruntled local conservatives, apparently — but that won't have a bearing on what happens in Pelican Rapids.
"It's exciting to be open this time around, even if the opener isn't really a big deal for us because we're not open early for those guys that want to get on the lakes in the dark," said Cheryl King, one of four sisters who own The Muddy Moose cafe. "We closed after everything happened last year and didn't re-open until June. We'll have a much more normal year this summer. It's fun to be busy and see the people, the groups, come back."
You want to get a good discussion going over coffee at the cafe or the VFW? Don't waste your time arguing about the best lakes for catching walleyes. Instead, just toss out the word "roundabout" and kick back to enjoy the show.
The hot topic in Pelican Rapids these days isn't fishing — or even something more controversial like masks or COVID vaccines — it is roundabouts. Yes, those wonderful circular intersections (seriously, they are) that get folks chattering in every city in which they're proposed have the good folks of Pelican Rapids chattering.
"It's what everybody's talking about," said Lou Hoglund.
Hoglund is the editor of the excellent weekly newspaper that serves Pelican Rapids and the surrounding area, The Press. Last week, a front-page story Hoglund wrote explained the controversial proposal by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to install three roundabouts on Highway 59 as it passes through Pelican Rapids.
This week, Hoglund penned a column calling the roundabouts a "reasonable" long-term solution for moving Pelican's main thoroughfare into the future. Lou wrote this knowing he's probably not in step with the rest of Pelican Rapids.
That would include at least a couple of city councilmen.
"I'm absolutely opposed to roundabouts downtown," councilman Steve Strand said, according to Hoglund's article in The Press. "I don't see it as a safe way for crosswalks."
That seems to be one of the main hang-ups with the roundabouts, and it's legit. Downtown Pelican Rapids has heavy foot traffic, especially in the summer, and replacing the current stoplights with intersections meant to keep a non-stop flow of vehicles raises safety questions.
"You'll never convince me that roundabouts at those intersections are going to be a good thing," councilman Kevin Ballard said, according to The Press.
The roundabouts are part of a $15 million road construction project MNDOT has scheduled for 2024 that will include resurfacing of highways 59 and 108 in Pelican Rapids, utility replacement, sidewalk improvements and accessibility upgrades.
It's a key piece of several changes being made in the town of 2,500 in Otter Tail County. The Pelican Rapids mayor, Brent Frazier, wanted to talk about upcoming projects much more than he wanted to talk about the fishing opener.
Over lunch at The Muddy Moose, Frazier clicked off a number of things happening in Pelican. Included was the removal of the dam on the Pelican River downtown — a long talked-about project meant to improve fish migration in the river system — slated to begin this fall.
Because of the changes at the dam site, a Pelican Rapids icon will have a new home.
"Pelican Pete will be moved," Frazier said of the famed white pelican statute that currently sits on the north side of the river and can be seen from a downtown sidewalk. "We're going to put him on the other side of the river. People will still be able to see him, but he'll be in a slightly different spot."
Frazier expects a busy opener Saturday, but nothing drastically different from the past — including last year.
"There seemed to be more people and traffic on the lakes than ever before," Frazier said. "I'm assuming it will be similar this year. People are wanting to get outside."
Same old, same old when it comes to the walleye opener. But roundabouts? Now there's a topic to get Pelican Rapids talking.
Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 451-5655