Visitors traveling to the Northwest Angle now have another, more convenient option for checking back into the U.S.
As Lake of the Woods Tourism reported this week, a "soft launch" of a new border-crossing system is being rolled out over the next few days.
The new system is part of a pilot project U.S. Customs and Border Protection is offering up at the Northwest Angle, that unique chunk of Minnesota surrounded on three sides by Canada. Rather than checking into the U.S. using the outdated telephone technology at Jim's Corner, visitors now can bypass the station and report at a number of other, more convenient locations, Lake of the Woods Tourism said.
The new system, which initially will allow visitors to check in at a half-dozen resorts on the Northwest Angle, will be especially convenient for visitors who touch land in Canada while fishing or sightseeing, and for Canadians wanting to visit the Angle.
Phase one of the new system features tablets loaded with a program allowing guests to check in at participating resorts rather than the nearest Outlying Area Reporting Site such as the OARS station at Jim's Corner.
Eventually, phase two of the pilot project will allow visitors to access the program on their smartphones, and phase three will replace the OARS phones at Jim's Corner, Young's Bay and Carlson's Landing on the Northwest Angle mainland with new buildings that will be heated and cooled, Lake of the Woods Tourism said. The new buildings will feature kiosks with the new border crossing program and technology.
The initial soft launch began Saturday, Aug. 12, with Jerry's Bar and Restaurant at Young's Bay being the first site to offer the new technology. Flag Island Resort, along with Sunset Lodge and Angle Inn Lodge on the Oak Island, are scheduled to be online today, and the new system will be available Monday, Aug. 14, at Angle Outpost and Jake's Northwest Angle.
As Lake of the Woods Tourism reported, the soft launch is being done gradually to iron out any bugs with the software and equipment so it can be fixed while technicians with the necessary expertise are still in the area.
"If you are up at the Angle on or after Aug. 12, 2017, please try out the new system vs. the traditional OARS phones," Lake of the Woods Tourism said. "We need as much traffic on the tablets as possible for testing reasons."
In related news, Justin Rostad, press assistant for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said a ceremony marking the new technology is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21 at Young's Bay on the Northwest Angle mainland. Peterson, who played a big role in getting the new border-crossing technology, is scheduled to attend, Rostad said.
Cats and flies
Some other nuggets of note as the second half of August approaches.
• The rejuvenated Red River Valley Catfish Club wrapped up its Wednesday night fishing league season this past week. The team of Bill Murray and Chris Taylor received Angler of the Year jackets, and Taylor landed "Fat Cat" honors and $1,100 with a 24.4-pound catfish that was the biggest brought to the scales during the 12-week season. Bruce Nelson of the catfish club said an average of 23 boats hit the water each week, a big turnaround from a couple of years ago, when the club was on the brink of folding. The catfish club held its year-end tournament Saturday.
• In other catfish news, two years ago, local catfish guide Brad Durick and I joined our friend Jim Stinson of Lockport, Manitoba, to assist Mark Pegg of the University of Nebraska with a catfish tagging project on the Canadian side of the Red near Selkirk, Man. We caught and helped Pegg tag about a dozen catfish that afternoon. Last Sunday, Durick caught a tagged catfish near Drayton, N.D., and reported the tag number to Pegg. Turns out, it was one of the catfish we caught and tagged with Pegg in late July 2015. Very cool!
• Earlier this summer, I featured Grand Forks fly-tying enthusiast Steve Ficocello in a story about his plans to start a local fly-tying club. Ficocello emailed the other day to say six people of different ages and experience levels showed up for the inaugural Forks Fly Tyers session earlier this month. "Some guys were experienced tyers moving here from South Dakota and the Twin Cities, while others were pretty new to the sport of fly fishing and tying," Ficocello said in his email. "It's amazing the number of people that come out of the woodwork." Anyone interested in learning more about the group can go to Facebook.com and search for Forks Fly Tyers.