North St. Paul firefighters nibble ice fishing contest comeback

Betty Enright remembers when North St. Paul anglers dragged couches onto a frozen Silver Lake a decade or so ago, as a cozy way to compete in the North St. Paul Lions Club’s popular ice fishing contest.

Her late husband, Ray, the keeper of many pails and a past club president, used to help organize the annual event that, due to dwindling membership and thin-ice cancellations, the club hasn’t hosted for the past few years.

“I just remember it took a lot of manpower,” said Enright, who’s been living in North St. Paul since 1944.

Seeking more community engagement, the North St. Paul Fire Department may provide that manpower.

“[It was] an event that people really liked and got behind and now its kind of gone by the wayside,” said Scott Thorsen, a firefighter and North St. Paul City Council member.  “Someone needs to step up and take it over.”

Now at the brainstorming stage, the tradition could be rekindled as early as next winter.

Thorsen said the fire department is open to suggestions, help and partnering with volunteers, businesses or organizations to make it happen.

“We’re looking at being more involved with community events,” he said. “What can we do to engage residents and encourage volunteerism? This is kind of where it starts, a core thing that the community can (support).”

With contest proceeds, members of the department’s fundraising committee are thinking of designating donations to specific causes. Some possibilities: funding for Silver Lake lifeguards or the park fund.

Community leaders and business owners have kicked around ideas for other events, like a “polar plunge,” that could coincide with the contest to coax residents out of figurative hibernation, according to Thorsen.

There are a lot of suggestions swirling around this early in the process, he said, but the department is, for now, focused on the contest’s revival.

“It’s definitely not a for-sure thing,” Fire Chief Scott Duddeck said. 

He said the fundraising committee first wants to research expenses and required permits. The committee will also gauge community interest and support, before they get too deep into planning.

Recalling raffle tickets, refreshments and residents mingling outside after weeks hunkered down at home, Candy Petersen, a city council and Lions Club member, said that she hopes the “little festival on ice” returns.

A lack of new members and wavering temperatures made it difficult for the Lions to keep it going year after year, according to Petersen.

In 2006, several weeks of above-freezing temperatures peaked at 48 degrees. The Lions cancelled the January contest, and hosted the raffles at Neumann’ Bar instead.

Petersen said the North St. Paul Lions Club had 200 members at one point, a number that’s plummeted to about 40. Club members are thinking about merging with another group in a nearby city, she said.

It makes sense that the firefighters would lead the ice-fishing charge, Petersen said. The firefighters are able to drill the holes, and have built-in volunteers to support the fundraiser.

“It was just like a little village on the ice,” recalled Petersen, whose father, the late Ramsey County commissioner Hal Norgard, used to volunteer at the fishing contest.

“The community’s ready to have it come back. I think we’re starved for that, especially in the winter.”

For more information, contact Scott Thorsen at scott.thorsen@ci.north-saint-paul.mn.us or 651-503-3824.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

Members of the North St. Paul Fire Department hope to gauge community interest in bringing back the ice fishing contest on Silver Lake that the Lions Club hasn’t been able to host since 2010. Volunteers, partners and suggestions are welcome.
For more information, contact Scott Thorsen at scott.thorsen@ci.north-saint-paul.mn.us or 651-503-3824.

 

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