Rivers & Lakes Fair in its 23rd year
If you ever wanted to know more about the rivers and lakes in Aitkin County, the Rivers & Lakes Fair is the place to go.
Since 1996, the fair has focused on water quality and the best use of resources.
According to Janet Smude, district technician with the Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the University of Minnesota Extension Service saw a need to provide information to the public. It partnered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), SWCD, area lake associations and the Aitkin County Planning & Zoning office to hold a fair annually to make that happen.
Smude has been the coordinator of this event for a number of years but noted it is a collaborative effort. Held annually in June, average attendance at the Rivers & Lakes Fair is about 500, with the highest being 800.
The fair, held at Aitkin High School for about five years, and now at Rippleside Elementary, has given hands-on experiences to adults and children with such things as a lead-free tackle exchange, bluebird and bat house building, a laser shot simulator and invasive species exhibit. In addition, there have been dozens of exhibits and programs featuring raptors and dragonflies, bears and visits from the Lake Superior zoomobile. Visitors can also see Rippleside’s Nutriman Garden and Orchard. As the years passed, more activities were held outside such as a casting challenge and archery taught by staff from Long Lake Conservation Center.
In the last few years, the Aitkin County Aquatic Invasive Species Committee joined the event to educate the public about how the waters are being threatened by invasive species that affect the health of lakes and rivers. At this year’s fair, children played a game where they identified various invasive species.
“As resource management has changed, the way we look at lakes has changed,” Smude said. “This is a great way to learn how to do better practices.”
“Volunteers are so important to the fair,” said Smude. “We couldn’t do it without all of them.”
She said more volunteers are needed. Those who are willing to donate time to help make the fair happen should contact Smude at 218-927-6565.
Two dedicated volunteers are Walt and Dianne Weisser, rural Aitkin, who have been involved since the beginning. After living at Lake Minnetonka for many years, they retired to their property at Lone Lake near Aitkin in 1995.
Walt said he was always interested in the health of the state’s lakes and for a time was involved with the Minnesota Lakes Association. He and Dianne observed firsthand the havoc wreaked by invasive species.
Walt was among five people who started ACLARA several years ago. It stands for Aitkin County Lakes and Rivers Association and includes all of the county’s many individual lake associations.
Walt spent 21 years on the organizing committee for the Rivers & Lakes Fair. Both he and Dianne have filled various volunteer positions, from arranging speakers and delivering brochures to handling cash and serving food from the kitchen.
This year, the couple handled the set-up and breakdown of fair activities.
“The fair is more family-oriented now,” said Walt. “Our aim is to get people to be good stewards of the land and water.”
“Education is the key,” added Dianne.
As always, stopping the spread of invasive species to other lakes and rivers protects habitat for native species such as sunfish and crappies. Overall lake and river health is better without invasive species. Healthy lakes and rivers benefit fish, wildlife and people. Remember, “Clean, Drain, Dry and Dispose.”