You can assume I was interested in the gopher count because I oversee local government spending and the event involves cash transactions.
You may think that as a former math teacher, I am drawn to any event whose name contains the word “count”. Or maybe you know how much I love cheese curds.
While this is all true, there is a deeper reason why I made the trip to Olmsted County.
But first, a little history. My interest in the Minnesota gopher bounty started when I was about 10 years old. At the time, my mother was on the Burns Township Road and Bridge Committee and took over the township newsletter. I loved helping him put the post together.
As mom added all the clip art she could put on the page, I leaned over the items strewn across the kitchen table. I noticed that meeting minutes always ended with “Gopher Feet:” followed by a name, number, and dollar amount.
I had so many questions. Why would anyone bring gopher feet to a meeting? Why would they get the money to do this? What happens to those feet after being counted?!?
I would then learn that rural communities had big problems with ground squirrels damaging crops and
Infrastructure. They needed a way to manage this population that was simple, affordable and efficient.
The Minnesota Gopher Bounty was the answer. Townships and counties could pay residents to prove they trapped the animals.
This humble solution brought the neighbors together. People show up to meetings and events to collect the bonus and see the inner workings of local government while they wait for their payment. Trappers share their tips and get to know their neighbors better. These connections led to conversations. These conversations led to even more ideas, some of which found their way into the articles Mom posted in the newsletter.
Today, I see these local solutions in the reports and reviews we conduct at the State Auditor’s Office to oversee over $ 40 billion in local government spending. In our numbers, we see how cities, townships, counties, and schools are finding ways to balance tight budgets, make our communities work, and provide a safety net for those in need.
And in one city, they took a local solution to the next level and hosted a celebration that reconnects residents across the country and across generations. At 147, the Viola Gopher Count is arguably the second longest-running community event in the United States, just six weeks off the Kentucky Derby record. In addition to the count, there is a parade, kings, contests, family reunions and bingo.