After 40 years throwing one of the biggest annual outdoor festivals in the Midwest, the International Eelpout Festival, scheduled for Feb. 20-23, has been canceled.
The surprising announcement was made Thursday, with Festival officials explaining the reason for the cancellation is an impasse with the county about how to properly enforce rules on Leech Lake as festival attendance continues to grow.
"It’s with a heavy heart we announce the cancelation of the International Eelpout Festival for this season. Over the years, attendance has multiplied substantially. Each year with more attendees, equals – more traffic, more trash and more safety concerns. After trying to work with the county for the past 5 months to develop a solution for this year’s event, we have come to an impasse on lake enforcement," the announcement reads.
"Because we are the only permit holder required to supply services and clean up, and are not allowed to control the lake, the economics no longer work."
Eelpout leaders say they sent a proposal to Cass County "to move all commercial activity off the ice and into Downtown Walker," but the proposal couldn't be agreed upon by both sides.
Costs associated with lake clean up, mini biffs, ice road maintenance and trash collection generally reaches tens of thousands of dollars. Eelpout Festival officials say Cass County continues to increase requirements and fees, and it's no longer feasible to continue operations.
"This year there will be no fishing contest or on ice commercial activity from the festival. We will NOT supply ice roads, porta potties or trash removal during what would historically be the Festival weekend," the statement from the festival added.
The International Eelpout Festival generally attracts around 10,000 people every year, which is about 10 times the population of Walker. Events during the three-day gathering include a fishing competition, sled dog rides, live music, a polar plunge, fish fry, curling and a rather large beer pong tournament.
Bring Me The News has reached out to Cass County leaders for a comment.