The west-metro community is putting on its best face for its big moment: the Governor's Fishing Opener this weekend.
The potholes have been newly filled, the banners are hung, the food has been ordered, the shops are spiffy and the docks and decks are looking their best.
Waconia is ready.
The west-metro community of about 10,000 was thrilled one year ago when it was selected to host the 2012 Governor's Fishing Opener.
Waconia is making the most of the May 12 event. It has lined up hundreds of volunteers to help with logistics, a community picnic, a kids' fishing event, and, of course, fishing in Lake Waconia, the second-largest lake in the metro area after Lake Minnetonka.
The Governor's Opener has been a state tradition since 1948.
"It's really about promoting outdoor recreation and fishing in Minnesota," said Carol Altpeter, who coordinates the event for Explore Minnesota Tourism, a state agency. "It has really become the kickoff for the tourism season."
For the host community, it's also a chance to show off for visitors drawn to the event, including more than 100 media representatives who typically attend the opener.
They report on whether the governor catches a fish but also file stories, blog, tweet and broadcast about where they are, what they see, and why the site of the opener is worth visiting.
A dozen radio stations will broadcast live on Friday morning from Lola's Lakehouse, a popular restaurant.
Waconia is only the second metro community to host the event, after White Bear Lake in 2009.
"To get the opener is really a big coup," said Kellie Sites, president of the Waconia Chamber of Commerce.
The city had to apply to the tourism agency, show that it had adequate lodging and other facilities and be chosen from among other competing communities, said Altpeter. "Sometimes people think we just throw a dart at a map or something," she said. "There's a selection process because it's a really big event."
Dinner for 4,500
With the honor comes lots of prep work.
Carmen Gesinger has been chairing the eight-member picnic committee since last October. They're expecting about 4,500 people for a free community picnic in the town's picturesque City Square Park from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday. Gesinger said the group identified sponsors to provide the food, arranged for its delivery and met with health officials to understand food preparation and safety rules. They also arranged for musicians, rented two tents for seating that are each 40 feet by 120 feet, and organized 166 volunteers to set up tables and chairs, serve food and clean up.
Gesinger said the work has been worth it to "spotlight Waconia and show off our town," and she's excited as the big day draws near. "Every time I walk into City Square Park, I get chills thinking about that area being filled with all the kids' activities and the food tents being set up," she said.
Many of the events are for invited guests, but the picnic, park program and family activities are open to all.
Preparations also began weeks ago for Leah Weyandt, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist. In March she taught a lesson about fish in every fourth-grade classroom in Waconia's two public and two private schools. The students created their own lures out of small wooden dowels, feathers, wiggly eyes and paints.
During the opener, Weyandt will take 77 of those children fishing with help from Waconia High School's conservation club. The three-hour event will include a series of rotating stations that teach about fish, insects, water quality and the more practical skills of casting, knot-tying and fishing safety. The students will then try their luck off a fishing pier with bobbers, hooks and worms.
Weyandt said she'll also have a couple of 100-gallon tanks filled with live fish and will bring one of them to the City Square Park where there will be numerous booths, games and other kids' activities.
From experience, Weyandt said she's learned to keep the tanks covered while she uses fiberglass mounted fish to teach children. Otherwise, she said, the students will be distracted by the live fish and won't listen. "Then we pull the tarp off the fish tank so they can see the live fish," she said. "And if we throw a turtle in there, we're done. They don't want to hear what we have to say, they get so excited."
The DNR also will be educating the public about the risk of spreading zebra mussels and invasive aquatic weeds, and will demonstrate how it inspects and decontaminates boats leaving infested waters.
Besides fishing and boating, Sites said the city is hosting a number of invitation-only events for media representatives and guests that include golf, pontoon rides, a winery tour and a shoreline lunch for 500. City businesses also will hold their sixth annual "Sister Saturday" sale for those who prefer window-shopping to spin-casting.
Sites said that hosting the opener will cost about $200,000, all of which will come from in-kind donations of food and supplies, and proceeds from a large raffle. Previous openers have not lost money, she said.
Also happy about the event is Cindy Mase of In Towne Marina, co-owner with her family of one of the lake's two commercial marinas.
"The lake has been the area's best-kept secret for many, many years," Mase said. "Waconia is a beautiful place to open the summer with."
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388