Four Koochiching County parks along Rainy River will be closed to vehicle access until further notice to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Parks included are: Upper Sault, Nelson Park, Frontier Landing and Vidas Landing.
The Baudette City Council Monday met in special session and agreed to close all river accesses within city limits until further notice.
Commissioners Tuesday conducted their meeting by telephone, which was all Commissioner Wade Pavleck needed to drive his opinion on the issue.
“The fact that we're talking to each other by phone tells me all I need to know,” he said. “We can't even meet as a county board, how can we sanction big groups down at the river?”
The decision didn't come without empathy from commissioners for businesses that benefit from the catch-and-release spring walleye and sturgeon fishing on Rainy River, which lasts until April 15. However, officials predict large numbers of people both from the area and other parts of the region flocking to those sites for the season, and agreed it wouldn't be wise to allow that as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the state.
Lake of the Woods County Board also joined the Koochiching County Board on discussions over the phone Tuesday. LOW Commissioner Jon Waibel said the counties don't want the influx of people right now.
“People are scared (of COVID-19),” he said. “Constituents have been hounding me for three weeks to try to cap the amount of people who are going to be coming up here... People are scared and we've got to respect that. This thing is killing people.”
Waibel also said pressure needs to be kept off area hospitals that would have to potentially handle additional sick people who are not from the area.
“I would really, really feel bad if someone's parents or grandparents got sick and they trace it back to something that we could have controlled,” he said. “We're doing this for everybody's health. It's not worth it to catch a 30-inch walleye and let it go.”
Koochiching County Commissioner Brian McBride agreed.
“Everywhere you look... people are saying to stay smart, stay healthy and please stay home and that's what we need to do,” he said. “We need to close these accesses.”
Koochiching County Sheriff Perryn Hedlund said while resources are thin, his department will deal with people who violate the closures.
“I know people are going to be upset, and I hope people in the coming days take a step back and see what's most important and that is health and welfare of themselves and their family,” he said.
State of emergency
The Koochiching County Board also Tuesday declared a county state of emergency for the next 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials stressed the action was not to cause panic, but to organize preparedness.
“What we are doing is protecting our citizens and to recoup some funding or reduce some costs,” McBride said of the action. “This is not to create panic.”
More than 40 other Minnesota counties have declared similar actions, Hedlund said.
“Although we've been told the federal (state of emergency) declaration alone grants us reimbursement, we can seek reimbursement at 75 percent of costs,” he said. “Right now we don't have a lot a lot costs but if this goes on for a certain amount of time, our costs will only escalate and aren't budgeted for this.”