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One of those fish house ideas comes to life

Otter Tail Lake neighbors Caryn Klosterman and Tami Sirek flank Brooklyn Sirek under the big tent at the Otter Tail County of Ice celebration Saturday afternoon. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal 1 / 2
Fergus Falls' Ethan Bieniek, 4, tried a different tactic with his 10-month-old sled dog Daisy, who is a cross between a Great Pyrennes and a Newfoundland. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal2 / 2

Many an idea is hatched in a fish house in the middle of a cold Minnesota winter.

Otter Tail County's Erik Osberg of had an idea some years back that he could make a winter ice fishing get together with some of his pals on Otter Tail Lake into an annual event. He wanted to call it Otter Fest on Ice.

That notion bobbed around in Osberg's mind for years and its day finally came last June.

Charged with the job of propping up Otter Tail Counties tourism opportunities, Osberg learned that Explore Minnesota Grant Dollars would be available on three conditions - it had to be a first-time event, it had to sell tickets and it had to have a good shot of continuing.

Osberg went to see Thumper Pond General Manager Brad Stevens in Ottertail. A music concert in the parking lot at Thumper Pond the year before had done well but Stevens told Osberg he did not need a boost in the summer - those months were busy enough for his resort.

What about winter?

Osberg's Otter Fest on Ice looked like the answer but it was a concert they were after first, not a big fishing tournament. With the support of his boss, Nick Leonard, a committee was formed, Minnesota Explore funds started to roll in, sponsors were found and Otter Tail County on Ice was born on Otter Tail Lake. Mark Bjerke was named the event manager.

The spot picked was off the public access south of the town of Ottertail. Stevens' Thumper Pond was the backup site in case the lake ice was too poor.

"Obviously safety comes first," Osberg said. "We also want to protect the fishery."

One of the big ideas behind Otter Tail County on Ice was football. If the Minnesota Vikings made the Super Bowl and played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis against the AFC Champion on Feb. 4, it would be a dynamite draw for the Otter Tail Lake event. Osberg was thrilled when the Vikes beat New Orleans to earn a spot in the NFC title game. Then our beloved Vikings laid an egg in Philadelphia.

Osberg estimates that around 1,500 fans will take in the first Otter Tail County on Ice Celebration.

The celebration started Saturday morning when gates opened at 10 a.m. A shuttle bus service was set up from Thumper Pond to the lake. A snowmobile trail ride, a vintage snowmobile show, an 18-hole ice golf tournament a polar plunge, kicksledding demonstrations and a bean bag tournament led up to five straight acts of live music capped by the Johnny Holm Band.

Gates open Sunday at 11 a.m. with another bean bag tournament, sleigh rides and a Tail Gate Party leading up the 5:30 p.m. kickoff of Super Bowl LII.

Osberg has been proud of the team effort so many showed in putting together Otter Tail County on Ice. Despite bitterly cold weather during the week the site took shape with a great team effort.

"It gives the locals a chance to celebrate who we are and maybe we can introduce someone new to Otter Tail County and all it has to offer," Osberg said.

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