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County relents, grants tubing license to K&K after owner promises to do better

Tubers on the Ottertail River wave to a photographer in this file photo. Both tube rental outfits are now licensed. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

There will still be two tubing companies on the Ottertail River this summer.

On Tuesday, the Becker County Board of Commissioners approved Roger Klemm’s request to operate K&K Tubing for 2014.

At last month’s meeting, the request was in question after Sheriff Kelly Shannon said he couldn’t support Klemm’s request because of the continuing problems at his tubing company, mainly with underage drinking.

Klemm asked that his license request be tabled until he could come back with some supporters in the audience. Three people came with him Tuesday, but only Klemm spoke to the issue.

He said that he had been in business for “30-some years, and I try to keep everything on the up and up; I try to keep everything clean.”

Tubing down the Ottertail River has been known for years as a favorite summer pastime in the Detroit Lakes area, and has developed a reputation for being an activity that revolves around drinking alcohol.

The Becker County Sheriff’s Department has worked the last couple of years to crack down on underage drinking, both requiring the tubing companies (K&K and Charlie’s Tubing) to give wristbands to of-age tubers, and by stationing law enforcement at the party spot along the river.

On Tuesday at the regular board meeting, Shannon said that he had met with Klemm since last month’s board meeting, and Klemm agreed to the importance of the wristbands and agreed to properly use them at his business.

As for the party spots, because the river is a public right-of-way, the tubers have every right to stop in the river and drink, picnic or party. They are not allowed to get out on private property though.

“Yes, the parties get out of hand once in a while,” Klemm said, but that happens at a lot of tubing places, he added. He said he called various tubing companies in Minnesota and Wisconsin and said that all the owners expressed that same concern.

“I just don’t like to see them restricted going down the river,” Klemm said.

Last month, he said that law enforcement presence along the river last year definitely had a negative impact on his business.

Shannon said he plans to have officers stationed out there again this summer. Last year, he said, his call log dropped 75 percent due to law enforcement presence along the river.

Another issue is the cleanliness of the river. Klemm said that he cleans his portion of the river, even though last month, Charlie’s Tubing owner Cathy Pihlaja had stated that Klemm didn’t keep it clean.

When there were three tubing companies – Ed’s River Run has since closed – the three owners met and divided up the river into three segments and agreed to keep each segment clean of litter. Since Ed’s River Run has closed, Pihlaja said her group has picked up that segment as well. Klemm said that he still cleans his segment.

“We have one less tubing operation, but the river is still the same (length),” he said.

Commissioner Barry Nelson suggested that if the two companies argue over who cleans what segment now that one company is closed, maybe they should get together and redraw the lines.

One issue that Klemm is trying to tackle on his own is keeping the littering to a minimum in the first place.

At the Tuesday meeting, Klemm said he’s thinking about implementing a fee, possibly a nickel a can, for cans not accounted for at the end of the tubing ride.

“He’s going above and beyond on that,” Shannon said.

“We’re really strong on the littering; that’s the big thing,” Klemm said.

The commissioners unanimously approved granting Klemm a license for 2014.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.