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A small town keeps Gopher Count tradition alive for nearly 150 years

VIOLA, Minn. (KTTC) – Gophers are honored as the mascot of The University of Minnesota, but they’re also a big headache for farmers in and near Viola.

The township of Viola, in Olmsted County, has been holding the “Viola Gopher Count” for 145 years now. Trappers bring feet of the captured rodents to organizers and get paid for them.

Viola Gopher Count President, Mindy Shea

Viola Gopher Count President Mindy Shea said the tradition has come a long way, “It just started out as a small picnic with just the people of the community and it has just grown throughout the years and changed a lot too.”

The payout has more than doubled since 2001 with trappers now able to collect $3.00 for a pair of feet.

Shea said while staying true to tradition, organizers also want to attract new visitors.

“Every year we try new things we try to you know stay with the times and make people happy and make sure that everyone has a great time at Gopher Count,” said Shea. “This year and the past couple of years we’ve really just tried to make it more family friendly so just outdoor music, inflatables for kids the parade.”

Viola Gopher Count Vice President, Melissa Shea

Vice President Melissa Shea said small town USA is all about sharing their traditions, “We get people from all over the country that come here, and in fact there’s a couple of family reunions.”

The fun nearly a half-century ago brought Mary Pickard and her pal Carol James brought them back again. “We are here for a reunion because the two of us were here 30 years ago or 1971 covering the Viola Gopher Count for respected publications,” said Pickard.

Mary Pickard (Left) and Carol James (Right)

As the former reporters walked through the festivities they noticed something was missing, “I wanna see gopher tails,” said Carol James.  James also was surprised by how everyone was in the moment, instead of on their cell phones.

In total, organizers handed out $550 dollars out for gopher feet this year.

Ubah Ali

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