Poor ice conditions and deep snow on Leech Lake and other northern Minnesota lakes have caused a drastic decline in tourism this winter, so a group of affected business owners is pushing for disaster relief from the Minnesota Legislature.

The impact is horrific for not only resorts and other lodging, but bait and tackle shops, gas stations, restaurants and others who rely on winter tourism.

A meeting to address the decline in revenue for January was held Jan. 29 at High Banks Resort on Lake Winnie, attracting about 40 affected business owners including Dist. 5 State Sen. Justin Eichorn (R, Grand Rapids).

Eichorn indicated that he is supportive of the state disaster relief funding for Cass, Hubbard, Beltrami, Itasca and St. Louis counties. He will present this to Dist. 5A State Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) and other area state legislators.

Funding options discussed include low or zero interest loans or grant possibilities.

Former State Rep. Matt Bliss, a resort owner, also offered some connections and suggestions on how to bring this forward to the Legislature.

Ice conditions have improved on Leech Lake and other area lakes in February, and ice houses may have started to pop up on the lakes, but winter tourism that usually produces substantial sales hasn’t rebounded.

At the meeting, Rick and Kim Leonhardt, owners of High Banks Resort, emphasized the need for businesses in the five counties impacted by the disastrous winter conditions to give their personal testimonies.

“The most important step is to call your representatives. Talk to them, explain the situation. Tell them this is a disaster, not just another bad winter,” they stressed.

Jon Thelen with Lindy Fish Ed Television discussed how he typically is able to travel on area lakes across the region, but this year he has been unable to perform his marketing for the fishing industry due to treacherous ice conditions.

Another concern is how this could affect future years and how tourists may travel to other areas, making it difficult to get them to return to this part of Minnesota.

Thelen said the decline in winter tourism should be viewed as similar to a flood or other natural disaster.

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