The fun fishing on Reel| has now stopped News, sports, jobs
ALPENA — The suspension of the Reel Fun Fishing Tournament in Alpena should not have a significant impact on funding for the proposed Thunder Bay River Center at Duck Park.
It was announced earlier this month that Grand Lake’s popular ice fishing tournament would be discontinued, leaving a hole in the Thunder Bay River Center Board’s revenue stream. Proceeds from the tournament went to help cover the costs of planning and building the planned interactive facility in Alpena.
The River Center was supposed to be a $4 million interactive exhibit, education center and wildlife research center, but the plan was scaled back in 2022 due to costs. This is expected to be done in two phases now, with the pavilion and restroom facility being constructed first, and the balance of the facility coming afterward as more funds are raised or obtained.
Over the past several years, some of the luster has worn off from the Reel Fun tournament and participation has declined, said Judy Kalmanek, River Center board president. She said the number of volunteers planning and executing the event has also dwindled, making it difficult to continue moving the event forward.
“Actually, starting with COVID, we lost momentum and attendance went down,” Kalmanek said. “We lost money last year. Fifteen years has been a good time, people have had a lot of fun, but we have to put it aside.
The ice fishing tournament was the River Center’s largest fundraiser, but Kalmanek said new and exciting events are being considered to help raise money. The new Reel Fun Northland Challenge, a carnival featuring kayak races, puppy races, carnival games, food trucks, Jack Pine Lumberjack displays and more, could be grown to help replace the fishing tournament, she said.
The Reel Fun Fishing Dinner can also continue, she said. Every year, a dinner is held the night before the hunt begins, with proceeds going to the project. Kalmanek said there are still prizes left over from previous tournaments that will be auctioned off at this year’s dinner.
“It will be like a closing ceremony, but we haven’t set a date yet,” she added.
Other small fundraisers could flourish, too, she said.
It is expected that bids for the first phase of RiverCenter construction will be accepted late this winter or early spring, and that the project will be completed and the facility opened by the end of the year.
She said the board will also continue to seek grants to complete the project.
The first phase of the project, which will cost $300,000, will include a pavilion that will also serve as an outdoor classroom and restrooms. The second phase is expected to cost an additional $2.8 million and aims to expand the facility to include a watershed room, aquariums, a bird exhibit for people to enjoy and learn, a laboratory, and office space.
The final phase will realize the vision of the River Center and feature interactive exhibits including water quality, dam placement and removal, combating invasive species, promoting native river fish, and supporting food sources. It will also be an outdoor laboratory and habitat exploration near and around Island Park and the Thunder Bay River.
There is no set deadline for completion of the final two phases of the project.
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