Could Minnesota’s International Eelpout Festival Be Making A Return?
Fans of the annual winter on-ice party on Leech Lake off the shore of Walker were disappointed by the news in early 2020 that the event would be canceled. The 2020 festival, which had been scheduled for February 20-23, was called off in early January. Contrary to what canceled many events in 2020, organizers decided to pull the pin on the event due to other factors.
The festival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in February of 2019, cited factors for the cancellation related to the large number of people in the small Northern Minnesota town for the event creating challenges for law enforcement. While plans were being developed to handle traffic and other related law enforcement challenges for the event, one of the largest concerns noted by organizers was the sheer cost of post-festival cleanup.
Many attendees would actively try to catch the event namesake eelpout, which is a weird-looking fish. Others would attend just for the side activities and party atmosphere that has developed over the years.
During the final few years of the event, the Eelpout Festival drew in roughly 10,000 people to Walker, which is home to only about 1,000 residents. The huge influx of people creates obvious traffic concerns, but imagine all of the mess left behind by that size of a crowd.
Organizers said they invest "tens of thousands of dollars" into annual lake cleanup, ice roads, porta-potties, along with trash cleanup after the event. As the event grew each year, so did the costs and moreover concerns over keeping people from littering on the lake and post-event cleanup on the ice.
In an attempt to salvage some aspects of the festival, organizers scaled things down and moved things ashore for what they called the "Frozen Block Party" in 2020.
For attendees of the Eelpout Festival, this on-shore event just doesn't have quite the same luster as the on-ice festival that sprawls a giant chunk of the lake along the Walker shoreline.
Enter a Facebook post on Friday, January 27. In the brief post, organizers posed a pretty simple question - If they did the event again in 2024, would you attend? The reactions quickly exploded, with likes, shares, and comments. Many fans excitedly said yes, some of them saying how much they've missed the event. Others offered advice on structuring the event if it were to happen again. Another recurring theme was a call for attendees to clean up after themselves, or for the event to not "be a drunken sh*tshow".
While the post doesn't mean the event is guaranteed to return, it is a sign that organizers and local law enforcement may have used the last couple of years to work on a plan to meet the challenges that previously shut it down. All of that is good news for fans of the event, as well as businesses in the small town of Walker, which I'm sure would love the influx of winter visitors. Despite that, there are others - including some locals - that would rather see the event continue to be laid to rest due to the trouble and mess some attendees have left behind.
We'll see what happens.