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Detroit Lakes area is ready for a long, hot July 4 weekend

DL liquor store manager Brad Macmaster stocking up for the busy holiday weekend.1 / 2
TUBING ON THE OTTER TAIL RIVER is a popular holiday activity.2 / 2

The Detroit Lakes community is buzzing with half excitement, half anxiety, as there is speculation this could be one of the most explosive Fourth of July weekends in Detroit Lakes in several years.

The conditions are right for increased activity -- the weather is hot, the weekend is long, and Minnesota has, so far, been deprived of any real, beach-like weather.

Add to that a state shutdown, which city officials say will likely disperse campers from state parks into area campgrounds.

Another factor is the new High Plains Festival.

Officials there say the weekend-long bluegrass music fest could potentially bring in another 3,500 people into Detroit Lakes.

All this has locals bracing for the big one.


Law enforcement is always out in full force over the Fourth in Detroit Lakes, but this year, they are anticipating a much, much busier-than-normal weekend.

"This is a situation that is conducive with people not getting along," said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon.

"When it's a long, hot, muggy weekend full of people drinking alcohol in excess, we will end up dealing with domestics and all sorts of things."

Gordon says this is why his officers don't generally take vacation time now, so they can strengthen their presence around the area.

State and federal grants fund a "Safe and Sober" program for this weekend.

"This allows us to have five or six more officers out there who are just concentrating on traffic stops, looking for intoxicated drivers and seatbelt violations," said Gordon. "They don't respond to any other calls so that they can just look for those things."

And although the Becker County Jail has a larger capacity now, Gordon says they've arranged to have any "overflow" of arrests brought to Hubbard County.

The Minnesota government may be shut down, but the State Patrol has been declared essential -- especially in the lakes area.

"We'll be carrying out 'Operation Night Cap'," said Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol.

This is also a program that has additional officers out specifically looking for impaired drivers.

"I've been covering the Fourth of July in the Detroit Lakes area for 12 years, and although it's always busy, I do expect this one will be even busier with the weather like this," Grabow said.

Detroit Lake Police Chief Kel Keena says he'll also have "all hands on deck."

"Not only will our officers be working 10 to 12 hour days, but we're also hiring some members of the Sheriff's Auxiliary to be out by the beachfront area," said Keena.

Auxiliary officers are people who typically have other civilian jobs, but hold a part-time police officer's license.

This year, about 10 of them will be working shifts, with the strongest presence being between 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.

"They still carry guns though," said Keena,

"So they are really valuable to us in that they diffuse a lot of situations down by the beach area so that our guys don't get so burned out."

Keena says officers will be strictly enforcing their three main Fourth of July rules.

"There's no alcohol on the beach, city sidewalks, or streets. There's no pets down on the beach, and there's no parking on either side of West Lake Drive from Legion Road to Lake Avenue."

Business Boom

DL businesses are also preparing for a gigantic influx of customers.

"We'll easily double our sales this weekend, maybe even triple them," said the manager of Lakes Liquors, Brad Macmaster, as he quickly stocked cases of beer in the back.

"We'll be having both beer and liquor trucks come in every day to re-stock -- the rush actually began earlier in the week."

Common local knowledge puts restaurants like Lakeside and Zorbaz smack dab in the middle of this expected population jump.

"We're ready for it," said Zorbaz co-owner Tate Jensen.

"Everyone that can work, works -- we've got every position maxed out."

Jensen says the great weather and Zorbaz's new addition prompted him to order about 40 percent more food and drink than last year during this time.

"Our coolers are pretty much overflowing and bursting at the seams right now."

Local hotels are also filling up fast.

"From what I hear, they're not full yet (as of Thursday), but they're getting close," said Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston.

Grilling also grows to epic proportions on this holiday weekend, making Hoffman's Town and Country Meat Market a busy place as well.

"We've been taking orders for the past two weeks," said Hoffman owner Randy Gravelle.

"We have turkeys cooked, pork loins ... we have 100 orders called in, so we'll be cooking 30 to 40 turkeys in the next couple of days."

Gravelle says they have about double the stock on hand for this holiday weekend, compared to a normal summer weekend.

Also doing some doubling is Charlie's Ottertail Tubing, as they've increased their staff from 10 to 20 all four days.

"Boy, we haven't had a forecast for the Fourth like this in about 10 years," said owner Cathy Pihlaja.

Pihlaja says they've blown up extra tubes, and they're cooking food for their staff right on site so that they don't have to leave.

And although law enforcement expects to be handing out several DUI's on Highway 34 due to the tubing operations, Pihlaja says tubers have gotten much better at bringing designated drivers.

"They (law enforcement) are not hiding in the bushes, so tubers know if they screw up, they're going to jail."

"Everybody knows what they should and should not be doing," said Sgt. Grabow, "so if everyone just take it easy and does things right, we'll all have a fun and safe weekend."