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A meat based economy? Laporte's chops beginning to show

This is a rough sketch of how Laporte would be transformed if a multi-governmental agency partnership can be harnessed. The development plans envision a stopoff or starting destination point for Paul Bunyan Trail users, locals and visitors passing through town. (Conceptual drawing)1 / 4
Laporte Mayor Craig Mackey shows off a giant slab of smoked beef cooling in a refrigerator. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 4
Wes Westrum checks the temperature of a smoked brat to ensure it's hot enough to eat. The store set up a tent outside for the Fourth celebration. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 4
The new parking lot and trailhead destination was finished just before the holiday. It sits just outside the mayor's grocery store. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)4 / 4

The mayor of Laporte has some meaty aspirations for his corner grocery store and his town.

Craig Mackey's butcher shop at Laporte Grocery & Meats is the cog that drives the store engine.

Now he's added a smoker that can flavor 3,000 pounds of meat at a crack.

Over the holiday weekend, visitors and residents dined on smoked brats, pulled pork sandwiches and beef brisket at an outdoor tent. Those profits are donated to the July 4th fireworks for 2012.

Last year's profits helped fund this year's aerial entertainment.

Mackey has owned the store and butcher shop eight years. Three meat cutters are currently being joined by a fourth in training.

"It's kinda neat for a small town," Mackey acknowledged.

The store's 11 employees love coming to work, he said.

"The people love it," he said of his clientele. "It's fun to have fun at the job."

Mackey purchased a large smoker this spring. He lifts out trays of meats cooling to show off what his new toy has smoked.

Hungarian pepper bacon is a hit. So's the smoked brisket. The smoked brats sell like hot cakes.

"Our meat is second to none," the mayor promises. "That's what has made it what it is today."

Others swear by the take-and-bake pizza, of course topped with Laporte-made meats.

When many small towns are struggling to hold on to their grocery stores, Mackey is thrilled with the support he gets.

Come fall, when the summer tourists have gone home for the winter, he'll begin smoking venison for deer hunters.

The bigger picture

It's the area around the store that Mackey is more excited about.

Just before the town's annual Fourth on the Second celebration of Independence Day, the DNR finished a horseshoe-shaped parking lot and mini-park coming off the bike trail that runs through town.

It's black asphalt and white curbing gleams. Trees and landscaping are just outside of the grocery store.

Bicyclists like John Bastien and Judy Long of Bemidji stopped on their way north to partake in the town festivities, grab a cool drink and bike on. Others wandered into the convenience store across from the grocery store, the Popple Bar down the street, or farther up the trail to 3rd Base Bar & Grill to have lunch or a soft serve ice cream cone.

A three-year plan with public and private funding is the vision of city leaders. At a ballpark cost of roughly $280,000, the spaces around the grocery store adjoining Highway 200 would be transformed

into three charming parks with two pavilions, playground areas, picnic tables, a special events area and perennial gardens.

The four-phase plan envisions growth on either side of the Paul Bunyan bike trail that runs through the community.

The DNR parking lot at the trailhead is already $60,000 of the total cost. Commitments and other funds have left about $150,000 to be raised.

David Collins, Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission Executive Director, has been involved with the city for the past year, moving it from a wish list to actuality.

"The DNR has been very supportive of it," Collins said of the project.

Paul Bunyan Communications donated $500 for a conceptual drawing and has pledged another $5,000, Collins said.

"The city of Laporte has committed $6,000 to it so far, which is significant for them," he added.

But the Minnesota shutdown has closed off lines of communication with necessary state agencies, so the project is sitting on the shelf temporarily.

Collins envisions partening with Hubbard County's Parks & Rec department, the DNR and other donors.

It's a community identity, community improvement, quality of life type of thing but it's also economic development," Collins said. "We're hoping to create it as a destination trailhead and generate some business for their two restaurant/bars and grocery and convenience stores."

"It'll be nice to see it happen," City treasurer Barb Benson said.

"I can just hear people driving through Laporte and saying, 'What a cute little town.'"

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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