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Minnesota Destinations: Park Rapids - Governor's Fishing Opener

Travel: Explore the 500+ clean, clear lakes of the Park Rapids area

Park Rapids is the ultimate tourist destination with its endless recreational opportunities and lakes, friendly people and outdoors activities. It is known as the Gateway to Itasca State Park because of its proximity to the park, located 19 miles north on Highway 71.

Park Rapids swells in the summertime as visitors return to the area for its unique features, including more than 500 clean, clear lakes that surround the area and invite all types of water sports from fishing to water skiing. Visitors return each year to stay at resorts and cabins during the summer. The area also boasts more than 3.5 million forest acres to explore during a visit to Park Rapids.

Fall is also a popular time to visit the Park Rapids area, with plenty of places to hike, canoe, fish and bike. Driving around for a look at colorful trees in the fall is also a popular activity.

2013 Governor's Fishing Opener

The 66th Annual Governor's Fishing Opener will be held in the Park Rapids Lakes Area Friday and Saturday, May 10-11. Governor Mark Dayton, his staff and Explore Minnesota chose the Park Rapids Lakes Area to host the 2013 Governor's Fishing Opener. Park Rapids last hosted the GFO in 1979.

The event will spotlight not only the area's pristine lakes, with fish of all species, but the hiking and biking trails, resorts, golf courses, Itasca State Park, restaurants, unique businesses and all the other amenities that make residents proud to call this area home.

The Fish Hook chain of lakes was chosen because the Fish Hook River is the focal point of Park Rapids. Highway 71 provides access to the four lakes and it heads up to Itasca State Park. The opener will serve as a kick-off to the 2013 summer tourism season.

More information is available at www.mngovernorsopener.com and www.parkrapids.com.

Main street

The old-fashioned Main street, with center parking, is the center of a downtown revitalization project. The Downtown Park Rapids offers a variety of unique stores, restaurants and shops that are filled with fun items.

The downtown reconstruction and revitalization project is finally completed after many years in the making, with several committees making decisions about streetscapes and other details over the years. Construction was completed.

The finished product features customized granite inlays on street corners depicting area lakes, decorative light poles, along with unique benches, trash cans and bicycle racks. Many businesses also completed renovations to coincide with the project. Visitors are encouraged to check out the revitalized downtown that has maintained its old-fashioned charm.

Arts Downtown PR and 2nd Street Stage

Downtown features music and other entertainment every third Thursday of the month for Arts Downtown Park Rapids. Audiences are invited to see and hear visual artists, musicians and writers at several locations in downtown. The public is invited to attend and encouraged to make a free will donation to the artists. This activity is funded in whole or in part by a Region 2 Arts Council Grant through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund passed by Minnesota voters on Nov. 4, 2008.

During the summer, 2nd Street Stage performances will take place Thursday evenings from June 20-Aug. 22. The Park Rapids Downtown Business Association sponsors the celebration that fills 2nd Street, between Main Avenue and Highway 71, with music each week. Everyone is invited to the free concerts that include a beer garden with snacks and other activities. For more information on these and other events, go to www.parkrapidsdowntown.com.

History

Located at the intersection of Highways 71 and 34, Park Rapids was established in 1879 when C.O. Todd filed the original town site. The railroad arrived in 1884 and the city was named as the county seat of Hubbard County in 1887. The local economy is based on tourism, agriculture, logging and light manufacturing with a strong service sector.

Tourism in the area was a thriving industry starting in the late 1880s. Most came to the area via the railroad with the resorters picking up their guests at the train depot and transporting them to their respective resorts. The resorters would use roadways as well as waterways to the resorts.

In 1920 there were 11 resorts in the area and within two years that number had doubled providing accommodations for 1,500 visitors. The number jumped to 47 in 1928 and topped 200 in the early 1970s. The number of facilities is fewer at this time, but there are plenty of quality resorts, motels, private campgrounds and bed and breakfasts to provide a quality stay in the area.

Fourth of July

Park Rapids is a destination for Fourth of July each year. Events include a large parade through town and a famous fireworks display over the beautiful Fish Hook River. In between these events, be sure to check out the shops and restaurants that are open for visitors to enjoy during the day.

Hubbard County Fair

The annual Hubbard County Fair, put on by the Shell Prairie Ag Association, is a draw each July in Park Rapids. This year will be the 118th annual fair and be from July 17-21 at the fairgrounds.

In the past the demolition derby has been a big draw. The fair also has a carnival, tractor pull, 4-H exhibits and talent shows. The 4-H exhibit hall will be home to chickens, bunnies, horses, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle throughout the week.

And don't forget the classic fair food. Stop on over this July for cheese curds, ice cream and other delicacies.

Field Days

The Park Rapids Antique Tractor and Engine Club will have its 21st annual Field Days show Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 3 and 4.

Field Days activities bring visitors back to the old days with demonstrations of what life was like on a farm.

Demonstrations of combining, threshing, tractor plowing, shingle making, a hay press, gas engines, lath making, snow fence machine and sawmill are done on the grounds.

Horse-related machinery is on display as well. For the kids there is a petting zoo, miniature railroad train rides and collectibles. Square dancing, gospel music and a church service Sunday morning are part of the events. Breakfast and lunch are served both days and a light supper is available Saturday evening. Ice cream is plentiful and available all weekend. A tractor parade is each day and Saturday has a tractor pull.

The Antique Tractor and Engine Club grounds are located on County Road 6 about a half mile south of Highway 34 on the east side of Park Rapids.

Bite of Park Rapids

The third annual Bite of Park Rapids is July 14 in downtown Park Rapids. Second Street west of Main Avenue is blocked off for people to gather and sample a variety of food from area restaurants. Musicians entertain during the event and organizers are working on an art show to coincide with the event. The event has grown each year and continues to be a hit with tourists and locals alike.

PBR Bull Ride

The 35th annual Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Challenger Tour Bull Ride will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 4-6 in Park Rapids. Jokela ProWest produces Minnesota's largest sanctioned bull ride in the nation over the Fourth of July.

Fans who follow the PBR on television will recognize the same top cowboys and bulls at the Challenger Tour Bull Ride. Park Rapids has become legendary for its hospitality, all-American holiday atmosphere and energized crowds. The nation's top bull riders mark this event down each year as a must-attend event. It's a retreat from the heat of venues in states like Texas and Arkansas. The bulls are second to none. Many of the bulls come from Chad Berger in Mandan, N.D., along with other contractors. Many of the bulls used in Park Rapids qualify for the bull riding finals in Las Vegas.

In addition to seeing live, heart-stopping action as cowboys go after that eight-second, scoring ride, audiences return year after year to enjoy the pageantry of the opening ceremonies, kids amateur sheep riding events, Moto X freestyle aerial shows and nightly dances.

The gates open at 5 p.m. with shows beginning at 6:30 p.m. Go to www.parkrapidsbullride.com for tickets and information.

Legends and Logging Days

Park Rapids Legends and Logging Days continues to grow at its new venue at the East 40, Park Rapids Antique Tractor & Engine Club grounds.

This year's event will be held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9-10 at the East 40. Legends & Logging Days celebrates the area's logging heritage, bringing world champion lumberjacks and lumberjills to compete in wood chopping, sawing, ax throwing and other contests, reminiscent of the days when pioneers came to the north woods to make a living and stayed to build our towns.

Visitors will find many activities during the two-day event including: a pre-1840 encampment with tomahawk and archery demonstrations and costumed historical interpreters who will demonstrate and discuss what it was like to live centuries ago, master chainsaw sculptors and a sculpture auction, loon calling competition, a marketplace of artists, crafters and demonstrations, Dutch oven cooking, chili contest and a variety of music. For more information go to www.parkrapids.com.

Art Leap

Art Leap 2013 is slated for Sept. 28-29. The two-day event, sponsored by the Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council, invites visitors on a driving tour of artists' studios and other culturally rich destinations. Highlights of Art Leak include outdoor music, hors d'oeuvres and seeing fall colors at their peak while driving from studio to studio.

Artists utilize this event to educate people about their art. Downloadable brochures with maps will be available closer to the dates at www.parkrapids.com or www.prlaac.org.

Itascatur Ski-Bike-Run

Itascatur is a bike, ski, and run club from the Park Rapids area. It is a social and active group that sponsors the Headwaters 100 bike ride every September as well as running races throughout the year. The club has built and maintained the Soaring Eagle Ski Trails and Nordic Center north of Park Rapids. The club has an organized bike rides in the summer and also has gatherings during the ski season. For more information, go to www.itascatur.org.

Museums

Entertainment and fine arts possibilities abound in the Park Rapids area. The Nemeth Art Center and Hubbard County Historical Museum are both located in the original Hubbard County Courthouse at 3rd and Court in Park Rapids.

Theater

The Northern Light Opera Company stages musical productions in the Area High School auditorium. The Long Lake Theater presents heartwarming drama and sidesplitting comedy and is located in Hubbard on the south end of Long Lake.

Jasper's Jubilee Theater on Highway 34 east of Park Rapids provides comedy and musical theater for area residents and visitors alike. And the Heartland Concert series, Community Band and Classic Chorale provide entertainment throughout the year.

Parks

Park Rapids has numerous public parks that are well-used by visitors as well as residents. Red Bridge Park and Heartland Park are located on Fish Hook River and are at the start of the Heartland trail, which is a popular destination for cyclists. Depot Park near downtown Park Rapids features tennis courts and an ice skating rink in the winter.

The All-Veterans Memorial Park is located on Highway 71 south, adjacent to the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. The memorial is devoted to the memory of all veterans of all wars and branches of service. Visitors will find granite monoliths commemorating past wars and a stone walkway and benches commemorating individual veterans. The lighted area is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Construction has begun on the All Veterans Memorial Interpretive and Educational Center.

Yuletide Sampler/Christmas tree lighting

Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the community comes together to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season and partake in the true meaning of giving. The Yuletide Sampler and Community Christmas Tree Lighting is held the day after Thanksgiving on Main street in Park Rapids. This year, the event is Friday, Nov. 29. Each year, a tree is donated by someone in the area and the night is filled with Christmas carols and an appearance by Santa Claus.

Canoeing

Canoeing is prevalent along the rivers throughout the Park Rapids area. Fishing, swimming, camping and photography enthusiasts will especially enjoy a serene river excursion.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends planning a canoe trip. The local Forestry office on Highway 34 west in Park Rapids and the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce on Highway 71 south have free maps available. Most people paddle two to three river miles per hour.

In addition to sunscreen and bottled water, don't forget to bring life jackets - state law requires that every person on board have a personal flotation device.

Several canoe outfitters are located in the Park Rapids area that provide complete camping and canoeing equipment as well as maps and transportation to and from local access spots. Tubing is also available for those who don't want to canoe.

Crow Wing River Trail

The Crow Wing River is an excellent river for canoeing. The nearly 115-mile river is perfect for family excursions. Quieter stretches of the Crow Wing make excellent swimming and fishing spots. Numerous campsites dot the forested riverbanks on the journey southward.

The Crow Wing River flows from a chain of 11 interconnected lakes, which begins near Nevis and Akeley. The river joins the Mississippi River at Crow Wing River Park just south of Brainerd.

There is no usage charge at any of the public access sites to the river, but a nominal camping fee is charged at county-administered campsites.

While there are many starting points on this trail, here is one suggestion: head to a carry-in access point roughly two miles south of Nevis on County Road 13, between Seventh and Sixth Crow Wing Lakes. Launch from there, and then paddle on the Crow Wing River through Fifth Crow Wing Lake. There is a short portage right around the Fifth Crow Wing dam and over County Road 33. Follow the river until it crosses County Road 13 once again. A public access is located on the river's left bank.

For more information, contact the Wadena County Parks Department at 218-631-7604 or the DNR at 888-646-6367.

Headwaters River Trail

After checking out Itasca State Park, it's time to paddle on the Mississippi at the Headwaters River Trail. In its first 90 miles, the Mississippi River winds through ancient lakebeds, glacial hills, wetlands, nine large lakes and narrow valleys of spruce. Rapids dot the entire river, which offers great walleye, northern pike and muskie fishing.

Public rest areas are found along the route for rest, picnics and exploration. There are also designated campsites that may be accessed from the river. Two state parks, Itasca and Lake Bemidji, offer the visitor many amenities.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advises paddlers to have some canoe skills and patience as there are "rocky riffles, snags and beaver dams to be maneuvered around."

For more information, contact the DNR at 888-646-6367 or Itasca State Park at 218-266-2100. Canoe route maps are available at area Chambers of Commerce or DNR Forestry offices.

For more great ideas on vacations and daytrips in Minnesota, see our entire magazine at www.MNDestinations.com

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