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Family tradition takes root at park

Ansis Vilcins has been camping in the same tent for the past 30 years at Lake Carlos State Park. (Photo by Caroline Roers)1 / 2
Ausma Reul and her father, Ansis Vilcins, have made camping at Lake Carlos State Park a family tradition. (Photo by Caroline Roers)2 / 2

Camping has been a time honored tradition for many, especially in Minnesota where the forests are extensive and the lakes are in abundance, and this is no different for Ansis Vilcins who has been camping here since the 1950s.

But what makes Vilcins different is that he still sleeps in his own tent, even at the age of 99.

"He was sleeping on the ground until he was 90, and then we moved him to a cot," said one of his two daughters, Ausma Reul. "He just loves camping and when he first came to America, it was the best means of travel."

Vilcins was born in Latvia and moved to America after the war pushed his family away.

As refugees in America, camping was an easy option and it has stayed with the family over the years.

Now, his entire extended family - four generations worth - camp once a year at Carlos State Park for more than 35 years. They return here to catch up and enjoy each other's company.

Though Vilcins has been to almost every state in the U.S., he continues to return to Carlos State Park for a simple reason: He loves it.

"Every first Sunday in August, we all come to Carlos State Park and camp. It's our family reunion," Reul said. "We have gone to other parks before, but this really is the nicest and most efficiently run park."

Aside from the clean facilities and nice staff, Vilcins' family loves the abundance of trees that many other parks don't have, and their campsites are next to Lake Carlos.

"The lake is beautiful and the kids love it," Reul said.

From boating to fishing and swimming, the family lets time slip by as they spend countless hours in the water.

Even when the sun has barely stretched over the tree tops, the family, especially Vilcins, loves to just sit and look at the lake, listening to the wildlife that surrounds them.

"The lake here I like," Vilcins said. "It's a good place."

Though he has camped for more than 60 years, he has only used two tents. His current one, his daughter noted, is an antique.

Aside from his tents, many things have changed for Vilcins over the years, from his walking, to his language and eating habits.

Unlike when he first started camping, he now has to use a cane, walking stick or someone's shoulder to get around.

"I got two legs, three legs, and four legs, depending on where I'm going," he joked.

Along with this, he has had a harder time switching between languages.

"He knows how to speak Russian, English, Latvian and French," Reul noted. "But it's getting harder for him to switch."

Though many aspects of aging has affected Vilcins in a negative way, other things he enjoys, like being able to "pack on" weight.

"I can eat sweets as much as I want, 24 hours a day!" he said enthusiastically.

Though time may be moving forward and people may be growing older, Vilcins' family is not planning to stop camping.

"We already have our reservations for next year," Reul said. "It really depends on God to how many of us come back."

Even so, they are all looking forward to next summer, especially Vilcins.

"I am excited, I hope I live that long - I am very old," he added with a smile.

When he first came camping at Lake Carlos 30 years ago, the trees by his campsite had only been seedlings and now they form a thick canopy over his tent.

Like these trees, he has grown and changed over the years. But also like them, he is always camping the first Sunday in August, enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.