Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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‘Keep It Clean’ campaign ramps up for ’22 ice season

Baudette, Minn. — The Keep It Clean Campaign this ice season is expanding its footprint to work on the trash issue that has become a bigger problem each ice-fishing season, something many attribute to an increase in wheelhouse use.

“The point is to educate, promote, and enforce keeping all forms of trash off the ice,” said Joe Henry, longtime executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism and a member of the Keep It Clean committee.

The effort originally was undertaken to combat the trash issue on Lake of the Woods. In recent years, the campaign has expanded to add chapters on Upper Red Lake and Lake Mille Lacs. This year, Lake Vermilion and the Fairmont Chain of Lakes in southern Minnesota also have added chapters.

“We have other areas going through their boards to get approved,” Henry said.

The group is launching a new website soon, and the current home page also includes a video called, “Keep It Clean: Be Nice to Our Ice.” The film was produced by retired outdoors host (and Outdoor News columnist) Ron Schara, president of the MN-FISH organization.

Schara, in a press release announcing the collaboration with the campaign, said, “Fishing is good for the soul as winter anglers seek the peace and solitude of a frozen landscape, but we have an ice-fishing problem, a nasty problem, a pollution problem and, frankly, an embarrassing problem. Garbage and human waste are being left on Minnesota lakes during the ice-fishing season, and in the spring this garbage and waste infiltrates our waters, sinking to the bottom or washing up on our shore.”

The three-minute video is on Youtube and can be viewed on the group’s website ( and it will be aired before seminars at the St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show, which runs Dec. 2-4.

The video was done in collaboration with soil and water conservation districts in Aitkin, Beltrami, Crow Wing, Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs, and Roseau counties, as well as Lake of the Woods Tourism, Mille Lacs Area Community Foundation, and the Upper Red Lake Association.

Upper Red, another major ice-fishing destination, was the second area to add a KIC chapter.

“At the end of the day, though we have to deal with it locally, it is a statewide issue,” said Zach Gutknecht, of the Beltrami County SWCD.

Evolving technology has made the problem worse, Gutknecht said, pointing to heated holding tanks on wheelhouses, which have allowed some wheelhouse anglers to drain human waste directly onto and into lakes.

Gutknecht said the campaign is highlighting five points for anglers to follow heading into this ice-fishing season.

The first of those is for anglers to make a plan for trash and waste removal before they get on the ice. Many access points and resorts have garbage collection. 

The second point is to use colored bags because white bags can be difficult to see in snowy conditions. Brightly colored or black bags are easier to see, which makes them less likely to be left behind.

Third, store garbage and waste off the ice – in vehicles, trailers, or fish houses. Make sure they are secure before traveling to prevent bags from blowing out of truck beds.

Fourth, make sure to check for trash before leaving, picking up anything that may be lying around.

Fifth, always take support blocks, insulation, wood, and anything else that may be part of the setup with your wheelhouse.

Gutknecht suggests reaching out to the resorts. There will be 25,000 human biowaste bags handed out this winter at Upper Red Lake resorts, he said.

He mentioned trash receptacles that will be at JR’s Corner Access, Great Minnesota Rentals, Mort’s on Upper Red, and West Wind Resort.

“We can’t have the general public going to these bins,” he added.

A similar effort on Lake of the Woods has since been abandoned there because of being abused by non-anglers.

“It was unsustainable,” Henry said.

But the group worked to ensure that wheelhouse anglers have places to empty their holding tanks. There was one dump station in Baudette, he said.

There has been a lot going on behind the scenes with the group, which has been courting legislators for both funding and for statute changes. The current statutes don’t really address the modern situation occurring out on frozen Minnesota lakes, officials say. The rules deal more with the open-water season.

Mike Hirst, of the Lake of the Woods SWCD, has been working with a state legislative subcommittee on water policy on the issue.

“This is one they are looking to run with,” Hirst said.

There’s also a realization that the problem is bigger than any one chapter can handle.

“We started this as a grassroots effort,” Henry said. “We have made it regional. It takes some time and resources to keep it going.”

Henry said the group would consider passing it along to a conservation organization that wanted to champion the cause, maybe even taking it beyond the Minnesota border.

“This is an ice belt issue,” Henry said.

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