BARTON CITY-The Don McEwen Kid's Ice Fishing Tournament has become so popular on Jewel Lake that organizers need more volunteers to help out, an official said Thursday.
Seven years ago, 36 children showed up for the first-time event; last year 113 arrived.
With this year's event only a few weeks away, the pressure is on, organizer Gloria Burger said.
"We've got whole families coming in with sleds and their own poles," Burger said. "And that's what we like to see. It's just such fun to watch them, especially the little kids."
Last year, Burger recalled one five-year-old girl, who caught a 16-inch walleye.
"She was so excited, she carried it around in her arms until it froze," Burger said.
But finding help can be challenging. Although Barton City has several hundred residents, most are retirees, she said.
"We had 28 helpers last year," Burger said. "We try and draw from the Barton City area and we now have the Au Sable Trail Riders group out and they take the kids to the holes."
Volunteers also man an ice skating area and skates, and a warming area. They hand out hot dogs, hot chocolate, prizes and medals. They also provide bait and poles, and drill holes in the lake's ice.
Trophies are awarded for the largest sunfish, bluegill, perch, as well as for the smallest fish and the most unusual fish.
For additional entertainment, the Thunder Bay National Marine Society and the Alcona 4-H Club are bringing underwater cameras so the kids can see what is under the ice, she said.
The event honors McEwen, who was an avid Barton City hunter and fisherman. But he died before he was able to retire, Burger said. So the Barton City Improvement Association and other organizations began an ice fishing tournament for adults, adding the children's event in 2007.
It was her husband, Jim, who suggested opening the event to children, she said.
"People told him, 'Oh you're crazy. Kids won't come out on the ice,' " Burger said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.