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Big catch, big impact: Willmar Lakes Area expects economic boost from Governor’s Fishing Opener

Forum News Service file photo Gov. Mark Dayton, center, helps to kick off the fishing season during the 2014 Governor’s Fishing Opener on Gull Lake. The governor will be on Green Lake in Spicer for this year's opener when the Willmar Lakes Area hosts the annual event May 10-13.

WILLMAR — The Willmar Lakes Area is hoping to not only catch some big fish during the 2018 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener but also a big positive impact on the region, both in terms of dollars and in publicity.

"Historically, the fishing opener weekend is the kickoff to the busy tourism season, and this media exposure will help boost awareness of our area," said Beth Fischer, executive director of the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Annually, more than $95 million in gross sales and $6 million in sales tax revenue is generated in Kandiyohi County from the hospitality and leisure industry.

The hope is the opener, with the nearly 350 estimated guests to the area and expanded media coverage, will bring approximately $1.3 million worth of media exposure. This could translate into very real dollars in the pockets of area hotels, restaurants and businesses.

"It is a great opportunity to have so many media outlets in our area, talking about our area and telling our stories, encouraging others to come to the Willmar Lakes Area for their fishing trip or upcoming vacation," Fischer said.

Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, hopes the opener shows the wider state what this area has to offer.

"It's going to be a wonderful opportunity to showcase the entire Willmar Lakes Area," Warner said. "If people like to do anything outside, we have it."

The Willmar area offers a wide range of business and leisure opportunities, ranging from the MinnWest Technology Campus to Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and The Barn Theatre to unique shopping in Willmar, Spicer and New London.

"It is such a wonderful opportunity to show and tell," Warner said.

During the four-day event, guests will be toured through the area including paddling down the Crow River, visiting Prairie Woods, experiencing New London, touring the MinnWest Technology Campus and visiting Sibley State Park.

The actual fishing will take place on many different lakes, with the governor fishing on Green Lake the morning of May 12.

"The Willmar Lakes Area is a beautiful area, with a wide variety of different attractions and amenities and I wanted to make sure we featured as many as possible during this event," Fischer said. "We wish we could include every area and every attraction in Kandiyohi County, but we just don't have enough time to include everything, so the decision was made to feature the Willmar Lakes Area communities of Spicer, New London and Willmar."

With hundreds of guests expected, there was also a need to find hundreds of volunteers, from fishing guides to people working at the Rockin' Robbins Fishin' Edition.

"It has been amazing to watch our many local volunteers, from throughout our area, work together to put this event together. Our volunteers are amazing and dedicated and this event wouldn't be possible without each and every one of them," Fischer said.

"Everyone has worked very hard. You can see the community pride," Warner said. "They are proud to live here and proud to show it off."

Fischer hopes the volunteers get just as much out of the fishing opener as those coming to take part.

"Community pride! And awareness of our local amenities and attractions," Fischer said of what it's all about.

It has been 23 years since the Willmar Lakes Area last hosted in the Governor's Fishing Opener in 1995. Everyone who had a hand in bringing it back is excited for all the activity and attention it will bring to the area.

"You can sense the excitement," Warner said. "It is going to be a great event."

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