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House of heroes: Fish house on Little Detroit is open to military, vets, police, EMS

Adam Walker secures the door on the outside of the Patriot House before heading back across the lake and into town for a few last minute essentials so he and the rest of the group can spend the rest of the afternoon ice fishing. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 4
"I caught a fish, Dad!" said Taylor Walker excitedly, right before her dad Adam helped her reel in this nice-looking bass, which they decided was good enough to eat. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune) 2 / 4
Lifelong friends Adam Walker and Jimmy Krejce, who also happen to be military veterans and members of the Frazee Fire Department, brought their daughters Taylor (at left), 13, and Madison, 9, out for a day of ice fishing on Saturday. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune) 3 / 4
This 'Patriot House' has been set up on Little Detroit Lake, across from the Rossman Avenue access, for free use by military servicemen and women, veterans, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders from now until mid-February. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune) 4 / 4

It's the stuff that any winter angler's dreams are made of: A heated, fully furnished Ice Castle fishing house, stocked with rods and reels, bait, tackle, and all the equipment necessary for a comfortable day of ice fishing with family and friends.

And from now through Feb. 10, the Patriot Ice House on Little Detroit Lake is available for use by all active and veteran military service men and women, first responders, firefighters, law enforcement officers and their families who live in the Detroit Lakes area, courtesy of Ice Castle, Smokey Hills Outdoor Store and American Heroes Outdoors.

The latter is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organized by Park Rapids resident David Morse, who works full-time as the supervisor of the National Guard Armories in both Detroit Lakes and Bemidji.

"We started out guiding trips for disabled veterans in 2014," says Morse. "I've been helping out disabled vets my whole life, and I was approached by Fox Sports to do a TV show based on the adventures we have in the outdoors. I said, 'Why not?' and jumped in with both feet."

A couple of years ago, Morse heard about a program being started by Smokey Hills Outdoor Store and Ice Castle Fish Houses to offer free ice fishing for active, veteran and reserve service personnel from all branches of the military, as well as law enforcement and emergency services (including firefighters, first responders, EMTs, etc.), along with their families.

"I know the owners at Smokey Hills because I live in Park Rapids, and I said, I want to be a part of that (program)," Morse continued, "and I want to build another Patriot House and put it in the Detroit Lakes area, because I run the Detroit Lakes National Guard, and I think there's a great need, and the lake is a thousand feet from the front door of my office, and we could get it done."

So they did. The Detroit Lakes Patriot House was in use for the first time this past Saturday, with Frazee's Adam Walker and Jimmy Krejce bringing their daughters, Taylor and Madison, along for the day.

Walker and Krejce grew up together at Eagle Lake Acres, just outside Frazee, and both ended up going into military service, though not quite together.

"Adam enlisted first," said Krejce. "He got back from AIT (Advanced Individual Training) and talked to me about it... I said, 'I'll do it.'"

They also both ended up serving overseas, though again, not together. "I went to Iraq, and Adam went to Afghanistan," Krejce said.

When they got back, however, their friendship continued, and their families often get together for various activities, like watching Vikings football.

But until this past weekend, they hadn't gone ice fishing together "since we were kids," Adam said, though Jimmy's daughter Maddie was quick to point out that she had just been out fishing with her father the previous week.

"We both like to fish," Walker explained, "but we both have pretty hectic schedules, so it's hard to get out and do it together."

On Saturday, however, they were settled in for a full day of trying to catch their supper.

"We want to catch the big fish so we can eat them," said Maddie solemnly, explaining why a small fish that Taylor had caught earlier was thrown back into the water.

"We want to have a fish fry tonight," Walker said. "That's the goal."

"I bet Maddie's going to be the next one to catch a fish," Taylor said — as it happened, Maddie would have to wait, as Taylor caught both a small northern and a bass during the course of the next 20 minutes.

The northern was put back into the water after the hook had been extracted, but Walker decided to keep the bass for their fish fry. As he set about extracting the hook and getting it baited for Taylor to try again, he said that he had heard about the Patriot House opportunity straight from the source: Morse is his boss at the Detroit Lakes Armory, where he works as a logistics and supply officer for the local National Guard unit.

Krejce, meanwhile, is co-owner of a local business, All-Phase Drywall. "I just sold my fish house, so when Adam told me about this, I said, 'it sounds wonderful.'"

In addition to being Army veterans, both men are also members of the Frazee Volunteer Fire Department, which meant that they were doubly qualified to make use of the opportunity, Morse noted.

"It's a very cool thing he (Morse) is doing here," said Krejce.

"It's going to be a fun day," Walker said, adding that he really admires what Morse has done with the American Heroes Outdoors program, which helps provide opportunities for veterans to enjoy the outdoors — even when they are in a wheelchair or need other mobility aids to get around.

Though his nonprofit organization's motto is, "Sharing the stories of our nation's true heroes, while helping them heal in the great outdoors," those who reserve one of the Patriot Houses aren't required to appear on the television show as a condition , Morse clarified.

"This is just a way to say thanks (for their service)," he said. "Some of the people may eventually be on the show, if they want."

The fish house has some literature inside that talks about American Heroes Outdoors, and what they do, but participation is strictly voluntary.

"We're looking for great stories of heroes, of service members in our communities, and we're looking for nominations of those heroes, so if you have a good story, reach out to us," he said — and that goes for anyone in the community who knows someone whose story they feel deserves to be told; visit www.americanheroesoutdoors.com for more information.

The website also contains information on where and how local residents can view the show, which airs on both Fox Sports North and Midco Sports Network.

Those veterans and active military members, law enforcement and other emergency service personnel who would like to reserve the Detroit Lake fish house, meanwhile, can do so by sending an email to Morse at info@americanheroesoutdoors.com or calling him at 701-866-1567.

"I will send them a reply with a link to our online calendar, which updates automatically, where they can see what dates are open, coordinate with whoever they want to and email me back to say, I would like Thursday and Friday, or Saturday-Sunday, or whichever dates, and it's good to go," he said.

Those who would like to use the Park Rapids Patriot House on Fishhook Lake should contact the Smokey Hills Outdoor Store at 218-237-5099, or stop in at the store, which is open everyday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The fish houses are generally available for use during daylight hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., "so we can keep an eye on it, to make sure everything is going well, and if there are any issues with anything in the house, we can take care of it," Morse said.

"We do have some groups that do overnights, but that's kind of on a case by case basis," he said.

The rules for using the fish house are posted inside, Morse added. "Generally, it's just to clean up after yourself," he said. "Everything is provided. Quality Bait & Tackle (of Detroit Lakes) provided free bait and free propane and kind of assisted us with setting up the program here in DL. They said whatever you need, we're here for you. That means when the heroes come to use the house, they don't need anything — they just walk in."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454