Obama invited to dedication, tug-of-war

Duane Hicks

With the annual international tug-of-war and dedication of the new James Oberstar Riverfront Complex both slated for July 2, International Falls is hoping to get U.S. President Barack Obama to visit Borderland.
As first reported in Friday’s Daily Bulletin, International Falls CAO Rod Otterness said last week that a letter written by Falls’ mayor Shawn Mason has been sent to Obama urging him attend the dedication of the facility, which is located across the river from the Sorting Gap Marina here and includes a new administrative building for Voyageurs National Park.
In her letter, Mayor Mason pointed out there’s several excellent reasons the president should consider attending—the first being the fact the complex is named after Congressman James Oberstar, who served the 8th District of Minnesota with distinction for 36 years and helped establish the park.
Secondly, the dedication is scheduled to coincide with the annual cross-border tug-of-war between Fort Frances and International Falls.
“On Christmas Eve in 1814, Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, which included fighting between U.S. and British forces in Canada,” Mayor Mason wrote.
“The International Tug-of-War celebrates our nearly two centuries of neighbourly peace, and your administration’s involvement would be an inspiration to citizens in both countries,” she added.
And third, such as visit would be an opportunity to pay tribute to the U.S. National Park Service.
“As a community partner committed to preserving and enhancing Voyageurs National Park, we believe the National Park Service and the 58 National Parks in the system represent a unique federal asset for all Americans, and that your administration’s involvement in the day’s events would be a fitting tribute to Congressman Jim Oberstar and the National Park Service,” noted Mayor Mason.
“It’s a lot of fun to think about President Obama coming,” said Otterness.
“Our position is, ‘Why wouldn’t he come?’” Otterness added. “We selected a date around the international tug-of-war so that he can also be present for that.
“You never know. If President Obama shows up and is at the first part of the rope, I’ll tell you what—we’ve got our attention for the international tug-of-war!” he enthused.
Otterness said an international tug-of-war between Canada and the United States reminds people in the international community of exactly what relationships between two countries should be like and what they can be like.
“I think that’s a message that needs to get out there for all kinds of good reasons, but it’s also a message that can get out there and help both communities in terms of our efforts to keep our names in front of economic development people or visitors or tourists,” Otterness stressed.
“I think it’s a great story—one of the things I like best about International Falls and Fort Frances is that connection.
“I’m a big fan of it, and obviously President Obama would help us sell our local communities at the same as he could help us recognize that wonderful two-century relationship we have,” he added.
The Town of Fort Frances is committed to participating in the July 2 tug-of-war, and has its economic development advisory committee looking at possible activities to generate interest on both sides of the border—both this year and down the road.
While he admitted the Falls’ representatives have been far more proactive inviting celebrities and dignitaries from the States, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said having Obama come to Borderland certainly would create a buzz and undoubtedly draw notable Canadian leaders to Fort Frances.
“I doubt we could get the prime minister because of short notice, but we’d certainly be able to get some dignitaries,” he noted.
“If, in fact, the president of the United States is coming here, there’s certainly motivation to get the premier of the province here. [And] there might be a chance the prime minister might show up, I don’t know.
“I don’t know if the president of the United States is going to show up, but you never know,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
“Obama’s a pretty neat guy.”
“I think it would be unbelievable [if President Obama came],” echoed Mayor Roy Avis. “If that comes to fruition, it would be phenomenal for the area.”
Otterness said organizers are trying hard to get the word out about the dedication ceremony and tug-of-war on July 2, and are hoping to attract special guests and delegates in addition to community members.
“We believe that there is going to be a lot of people here for it,” he noted. “Obviously, Rep. Oberstar, in his capacity as a congressman from Minnesota, has worked with many current and retired political officials, including newly-seated Gov. Mark Dayton.”
Otterness said Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken have confirmed attendance at the dedication, and it’s hoped elected 8th District of Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack, who defeated Oberstar in November’s election, also will attend.
The James Oberstar Riverfront Complex is a $11.3-million project which is owned by the Falls Economic Development Administration and leased to the federal government.
The complex includes a fishing pier, boat launch, a sea-plane base, a picnic area, and hiking and biking trails, as well as the Irvin N. Anderson Amphitheatre.
Otterness said well-known Canadian rockers, Loverboy, will play the inaugural concert at the amphitheatre on July 2.
He noted organizers are expecting massive crowds (possibly 2,000 people) for the dedication and concert, and currently they are working on details such as parking and shuttling—and even may look into a watercraft shuttle service going back and forth between the two marinas.
Meanwhile, Otterness said plans for the international tug-of-war are coming together. As in past years, participants from both sides of the border will test their might at either end of a rope stretched across the Rainy River.
Last year’s contest was one by the U.S. team.
“One thing I think we’ll be a little more engaged around is a little bit of a rules committee,” Otterness said. “We’ll take that just a little more seriously, so that it does mean something when people win.”
“They beat us last year,” noted Coun. Wiedenhoeft. “There’s lots of questions about the numbers they had on their side of border.
“It’s very suspect, the way they pulled us into the river in about 30 seconds.
“The previous couple years, the tug-of-wars lasted 20 minutes; this year we went right into the river,” he added.
“There is a rumour out there that the Americans cheated, being frustrated from losing twice [before],” admitted Otterness.
“I don’t want to add to the rumour mill, but I think it’s important to have a common understanding of whether it’s just a fun event or it’s a sporting event,” he stressed.
“Everybody likes rules around it and to know their victory means something when it’s achieved,” he reasoned.