Annual airport fly-in is a no-go for the year
Come the second to last weekend in August, it will have been two years since the last Forest Lake Fly-In, a traditionally annual event where locals could explore various aircrafts at the Daniel DePonti Airportand and eat pancakes and other food prepared by the Forest Lake Lions Club.
The event, which quickly became popular in its first years in the early 2000s, drew crowds from around the area and pilots from hundreds of miles away. Local pilots worked with the Experimental Aircraft Association to offer free airplane rides to children ages 8 to 17 through its Young Eagles program, which offers pilots a special insurance for the event to help promote an interest in aviation and to give back to the community.
“One year we had 180 kids and 14 pilots, all in one day,” Airport Commission chair Sam Husnick said. “It was all about putting smiles on kids’ faces.”
Organizers closed down the event in 2016 during construction at the airport, and in 2017, several hundred people turned out for the fly-in after it was reinstated, but plans for another fly-in never got off the ground last year and haven’t since.
In 2016, the airport was paved, in great part due to a grant through the state, with the city and airport hangar members splitting $300,000 for their share. Disagreements over financial obligations and other regulations caused some hangar members to leave and have since settled at other airport locations around the region. Because the fly-in was put on solely by airport hangar members who volunteered their time and were responsible for all the costs incurred by the event, including all costs for the Young Eagles program, the number of willing volunteers drastically dwindled in 2018.
“The last couple years, there was some turmoil with those cost overruns. Prior, we had 20 volunteers or more that would help with the fly-in and open house and that kind of thing. You lose them after a while, so it’s been a little tough to talk about getting going again,” Husnick said.
Forest Lake Lions Club President Marc Harshman helped resurrect the event in 2017, but couldn’t gain the traction needed in 2018.
“When we revived it in 2017, we had several hundred people that attended it. I was pleased with how it turned out. Everyone was pretty on board,” Harshman said. “When I tried to contact [airport hanger members] in the spring, there was some discussions amongst some of the pilots who have hangars; some of them were trying to do a separate event and that’s when it fell apart.”
The other factor that makes the fly-in trickier to host is the new configuration of the airport and how it affects the logistics of parking and crowd control.
“The new configuration of the runway and taxiway has it made it more difficult,” Husnick said.
Previously, cars would be parked on what is now the runway and taxiway. Now a small field on the south side of the airport is all that would be available, which Husnick anticipates would fall far short of the need. In addition, a new hangar is being built in a space where pilots previously parked their airplanes for show.
But Husnick remains determined to get the event back up in the air again for next year.
“I want it to work. I want it back here next year. If nothing else, the open house to me is a big thing,” Husnick said. “The whole idea was to have a get-together and talk about the importance of the airport, and kind of bring people in that never go to the airport.”
Harshman also said that he and the Forest Lake Lions are “willing to try to do it again and would be interested.”