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Whopper of a turnout for fish cleanup

Press Photo by John Odermann A volunteer prepares to spear a dead fish Sunday at Patterson Lake. More than 300 people helped clean the tens of thousands of winterkilled fish from the lake.

"Only in North Dakota would this happen."

That's what Greg Pruitt heard from a neighbor's daughter as he walked around his neighborhood located on the shores of Patterson Lake Saturday night informing people that the lake cleanup effort was still on for Sunday.

And despite inclement weather moving in overnight, more than 300 people showed up Sunday to scoop, pick and throw dead fish out of the lake located southwest of Dickinson.

"That's the great thing about North Dakotans I think, is that they do get together and help solve their own particular problems, which is good," KLTC radio personality and avid fisherman Paul Quinn said. "It's absolutely incredible. It was just a wonderful, wonderful community experience."

Over the winter, tens of thousands of fish were the victim of winterkill and could be found floating in the water or laying on the lake's shores.

Pruitt, whose house is located near the lake, organized the cleanup with the help of Quinn and others in the community in the hopes of getting the lake ready for the summer recreational season.

But it wasn't just Dickinson residents who turned out to clean up the lake.

It quickly turned into a regional event as people from Belfield, Bismarck, Glen Ullin, Hebron, Killdeer, New England, New Salem, South Heart and even someone from Texas vacationing Dickinson showed up to help.

"My kids were raised near Dickinson," Taylor resident Lynette Jacobs said. "And so in their younger days they enjoyed Patterson Lake as teenagers, so I guess I just felt a personal connection because of my family."

Jacobs said the attitude on the lake during the cleanup wasn't one of doom and gloom, but rather an upbeat, happy attitude. People were having a good time while doing the hard work, Jacobs said.

"Everyone just seemed to find a job, there was no 'straw-boss'" Jacobs said with a laugh. "They weren't standing around goofing around, there were working."

Estimates put the number of dead fish removed from the lake at around 150,000, Pruitt said, adding that the amount of work that was able to be accomplished in just a short period of time speaks to the dedication of those who volunteered their time.

Pruitt and Quinn said the cleanup is a microcosm of what occurred on the eastern part of the state during the recent flooding and makes them feel proud to live in North Dakota.

"The amazing thing to me was how young, old, guys, gals, kids, everybody just worked their butt off yesterday and they had a good time doing it," Quinn said. "And if something even more serious would occur can you imagine the support that we would get. We'll take care of each other and get us back on our feet no matter what it might be."

"It makes me feel really good to live in this community - not just this community - but in the surrounding area," Pruitt said. "As an individual, it makes you feel really good because in times of need instead of just sitting there and waiting for someone else to take over ... It's like, why can't I just do it as an individual?"