This image could be one of the great “fish stories” of the Otter Tail lakes area. This early version of a “manipulated photo” was dated 1915. A post card from the area, it no doubt brought a laugh from those who received the card in the mail.

If you live in Otter Tail County the chances are high that you have a story revolving around one of the county’s 1,000+ lakes. 

Local educator and historian Jan Smith is in the process of documenting these stories as part of the Otter Tail County Story Mapping Project, a collaborative project between Rethos, the Otter Tail County Historical Society, and Springboard for the Arts. 

The project, “Otter Tail County’s 1,000 Lakes (and more ponds) Have Stories to Tell” is collecting stories of all kinds from those who use lakes throughout Otter Tail County. 

The hope is that these stories will encourage reflection and sharing of great fishing stories, family memories, or personal anecdotes about memorable events centering on lakes. By placing story collection boxes around Otter Tail County Jan hopes to elicit reflections on the relationships to lakes that so many, young and old, share throughout the county. In addition to inclusion on the larger project story map the stories will be compiled into a PowerPoint presentation to promote lake activity and fishing in Otter Tail County and will be available to organizations looking for lake based programming. To incentivize participation prizes will be awarded for the best stories submitted.

The Otter Tail County Story Mapping Project is a pilot project by Rethos: Places Reimagined in partnership with the Otter Tail County Historical Society and Springboard for the Arts. The purpose of this project is to collect and map the stories of Otter Tail County by engaging community members through small projects led by local organizations, historians, artists, students, businesses, etc. The story map will then become a local resource for Otter Tail County that may assist the following: economic development strategies, pathways to safeguarding heritage resources, future philanthropic investment, planning and other policy decisions and promotion, and partnerships and connections. 

Otter Tail County residents participated in community story workshops in January 2020 and digital workshops throughout 2020, where they learned about what story mapping is, methods of gathering community stories, and project ideas ranging from one-on-one conversations to more creative and public facing projects. 

Four rounds of submissions have been held, from which Story Mapping Partners and their projects were chosen. Projects vary in topic and presentation, with participants encouraged to do any sort of creative initiative that will result in the collection of stories. This includes highly personal narratives or publically engaged events and projects. 

Please visit rethos.org/otter-tail-story-mapping-project for more information and updates on the completed story map of every project available in July. 

For questions about this project, please contact Tyler McDaniel at tyler@rethos.org.

This project was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

How to submit your fish tale or Otter Tail Lake story 

Fishing and lake-oriented stories can be submitted either by email (jansmith@arvig.net), where photos are also accepted but not required, or at an in person story collection box. 

Story collection boxes are available at eight businesses selling bait throughout Otter Tail County: Ben’s Bait in Battle Lake; Cenex in Pelican Rapids; Big Foot Gas and Grocery in Vining; Carr’s Lake Country Bait and Tackle in Ottertail; Gene’s Sport in Perham; Olson Sports in Parkers Prairie; Denny’s Food and Sports Shop in Henning; and Crossroads in Clitherall. 

Submissions can be shared on a piece of paper and stuck into the box, but must contain a name and phone number to be eligible for prizes.