New Willie Walleye on tap for Baudette
One of northern Minnesota's most iconic and most photographed fish statues is being replaced.
Willie Walleye, the 40-foot, 2½-ton piscatorial landmark that has greeted visitors to Baudette, Minn., and Lake of the Woods since 1959, will be demolished this summer and replaced with a fiberglass version that will better withstand northern Minnesota's harsh climate.
The new version of Willie Walleye, which will look exactly the same as the original, is being built by a company in Sparta, Wis., said Tina Rennemo, Baudette city clerk and treasurer.
A June installation is planned, and fundraising efforts are underway to replace the statue, which is expected to cost about $110,000, Rennemo said.
City leaders decided the new statue is necessary because the original Willie Walleye is showing its age, despite ongoing repair efforts, including a massive overhaul less than five years ago to repair not only the statue, but the concrete footings supporting it, Rennemo said.
"The maintenance costs were really high on the existing" Willie Walleye, Rennemo said. "It's concrete, so in northern Minnesota, that's a bit of a struggle."
Ultimately, replacing the statue was deemed the best option, she said.
"Right now, he's in terrible condition," Rennemo said. "Several hundred people in any given period of time are taking pictures there. So, we really didn't like to see that. We really need to get him fixed up so we can be proud of those pictures and of him."
According to a plaque near the statue, the idea for the original Willie Walleye came from a local resident named Arnold Lund, who pitched the idea to the Baudette Civic and Commerce Association in 1958. The design for the statue was modeled after a 32-inch walleye mount that hung in a local hardware store.
By April 1958, a blueprint had been developed, and a concrete footing was poured soon after. Various local craftspeople then pitched in to form the frame of steel and wire mesh, plaster the skin and apply fiberglass.
The statue was painted in the spring of 1959.
"It's a very sentimental project so it's something we're being very careful about," Rennemo said. Members of a city council committee, along with relatives of the original creators, are planning a visit to the site where the new statue is being built sometime in the next couple of weeks, she said.
"It took awhile to find somebody who could do" the work, Rennemo said.
The Baudette-Lake of the Woods Chamber of Commerce and the city of Baudette are overseeing the fundraising efforts, which are going well, Rennemo said. Individuals, community groups and businesses, not only in Baudette but across Lake of the Woods County, have helped with the fundraising, she said.
"It's been a county-wide effort, and people have been fantastic about supporting it and donating to it," Rennemo said.
When the new statue is complete, it will be transported from Wisconsin and set up on the same site as the original Willie the Walleye along state Highway 11, overlooking Baudette Bay and Willie Walleye Park, with the Rainy River and the province of Ontario visible in the background.
The new statue will be more photogenic and better reflect on the community and Lake of the Woods area, said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism.
"I don't know this to be a fact, but I would estimate that it's probably the most photographed walleye in the world," Henry said. "Willie has been around for a long time. It evokes emotion, whether you're an angler coming up or a local, you see Willie the Walleye and it brings back memories.
"It's the icon of the area."
On the Web:
To donate to the Willie Walleye fundraising effort, go to baudettelakeofthewoodschamber.com and click the "Donate to Help Willie the Walleye" window.