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Monday, September 3, 2007

What Park Rapids Lake Property Has to Offer

The trail of history can be found in the forests and foothills, along the waterways and in the villages of the Lake Country Scenic Byway. History’s footprints lead in all directions. At the western end of the Byway, Detroit Lakes lies on one of the historic ox-cart trails used by freighters to haul merchandise from St. Paul to the Hudson Bay post at Fort Garry in Manitoba. Driving east on Highway 34, you’ll climb Detroit Mountain, where the Anishinabe people once kept watch over their land. The Detroit Lakes area is where America’s second oldest skeleton was discovered, a Minnesota woman believed to be between 7,000 to 12,000 years old.

Continue driving east and you’ll come to the Ottertail River, the headwaters of the Red River of the North. Although the river runs south at this point, all of the water eventually flows north into the arctic. The Ottertail River has historic significance because it was once the scene of huge timber drives, floating the logs to the mill at the town of Frazee.

Drive through the scenic Smoky Hills between Snellman and Osage and you’ll pass over the Laurentian Divide. The Divide marks the height of land that separates all watersheds in the continental US that flow north to Hudson Bay from the watersheds flowing south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The next town you come to is the historic community of Park Rapids, where 1860s lumbermen discovered the area was covered with majestic pine. In 1879, the first settlers left the train at Verndale and traveled by horsedrawn wagon 50 miles through swamps and forests, to reach the prime farming lands of the Shell Prairies. With settlement came the Great Northern Railroad Company, which ran its first train through Park Rapids in 1891. In 1897, a passenger train nicknamed “The Blueberry Special” began a daily schedule that continued until 1952. Tourism grew in the area, and from 1890 to 1910 a double-deck excursion boat operated on the Fish Hook River. Resorts began to developalong the clean, clear lakes, advertising sandy beaches and sport fishing.

North of Park Rapids on Highway 71, the Lake Country Scenic Byway travels to Itasca State Park and the headwaters of te Mississippi. Follow in the footsteps of Ozawindib, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s Indian guide, who led the expedition to the headwaters. Evidence of civilization here dates back 8,000 years. Explore old-growth timber and stands of timber of virgin red and Norway pine over 200 years old. Historic structures include Douglas Lodge, Clubhouse, Old Timer’s Cabin, Forest Inn and the Mississippi Headwaters. Tour the new Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park established in 1891.

Continue east from Park Rapids and you’ll travel past Nevis whose claim is the Home of the World’s Largest Muskie. Further east you’ll find the historic logging community of Akeley, where you can almost hear the booming voice of Paul Bunyan. The mythical lumberjack’s story was created as advertising for the Red River Lumber Company. The town claims to have the world’s largest Paul Bunyan Statue.

The town of Walker lies at the eastern end of the Byway. Walker was a historic steamboat landing on Leech Lake. Today, you can take a cruise of the big lake on a replica steamboat. Leech Lake was the site of the last Indian war in the US, held at Battle Point in 1898 on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

In the late ‘30s, the Forest Service and local supporters built the warming chalets and tow ropes for downhill skiing in the Shingobee Recreational Area. Shingobee was one of the first downhill ski areas in Minnesota and attracted visitors from throughout the Midwest to try the new winter sports fad. Located five miles southwest of Walker, off Hwy. 34.

The Old Agency Site in the Chippewa National Forest Located in the Chippewa National Forest, the US’s first National Forest, Leech Lake Agency was opened in 1855 as a means to build schools, blacksmith shops and farms, as well as distribute annuity payments to the Anishinabe after they ceded their lands to the U.S. government. Construction of several log buildings was initiated in 1856, including a mission house and blacksmith shop. By 1865, a sawmill was up and running and additional buildings were erected as the Leech Lake Agency grew in size. After a series of alienating acts between the government and the Anishinabe, troops occupied the agency grounds in 1898 and later exchanged gunfire with the Anishinabe at Battle Point on the east side of Leech Lake. The site of the Old Agency is on the southern shore of Leech Lake at Agency Bay, on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. No structures remain.

The Lake Country Scenic Byway offers a number of cultural opportunities for the traveler. Visitors who want to learn more about the area’s Indian heritage can attend one of the powwows held throughout the year on the nearby Leech Lake Indian Reservation in the Walker area or the White Earth.

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