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Park Rapids 4th-graders help Itasca celebrate 125th anniversary

Connie Cox, lead naturalist at Itasca State Park, presents a birthday cake for the park’s 125th birthday during a celebration with Park Rapids and Bagley fourth-graders on Wednesday. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)1 / 10
Sandra Lichter leads Park Rapids 4th-graders on a walk through the pines on the Maadaadizi Trail during the Itasca State Park 125th anniversary celebration on Wednesday. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)2 / 10
Chloe Pachel, takes a photo with partner Amelia Bagstad as they participate in the Kids Can “Click” photography workshop Wednesday at Itasca State Park. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)3 / 10
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John Christensen plays the part of a manequen to attract birds as classmate Wyatt Johnson readies his camera during a photography workshop outside the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)5 / 10
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Park Rapids 4th-graders make their way across the log bridge over the Mississippi River at the headwaters during Itasca State Park’s 125th birthday celebration on Wednesday. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)8 / 10
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About 130 Park Rapids 4th-graders took part in some state history on Wednesday when they helped celebrate Itasca State Park’s 125th birthday.

Students, park officials and volunteers got together for a day of adventurous and educational activities. They finished the day by eating cake and singing "Happy Birthday" at the entrance to the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.

Erika Rivers went out to the Headwaters of the Mississippi early Wednesday morning to take in the silence and think about the history of this special place, and to celebrate Itasca State Park’s 125th birthday.

Rivers is Minnesota Department of Natural Resources director of Parks and Trails.

"I stood at the Headwaters and thought about Jacob Brower and Mary Gibbs, and all they did here," Rivers said. "It was just me and the Headwaters all to myself."

Rivers said with Itasca being the first state park in Minnesota it is such a humbling place in state park history.

"Now, here we are 125 years later celebrating the people that actually made this place happen."

The silence soon gave way to over 200 4th-graders from Park Rapids and Bagley schools who spent the day participating in various outdoor activities celebrating the park’s 125th birthday.

The students split into groups to explore the outdoors, learn some logging history and experience the park through photography, hiking and a visit to the Headwaters.

Dan Bera of Hines played the part of Lars the Logger to demonstrate some old ways of logging; Steve Maanum and John Fylpaa led the students on a photography workshop called Kids Can "Click"; Sandra Lichter took groups on a walk through the pines; and Connie Cox provided some history of the park as the students walked down to the Headwaters.

They were allowed to cross the log walking bridge but had to skip walking across the river on the rocks this particular trip.

Cyprian Little from Shannon Hogan’s class at Park Rapids Century Elementary said he enjoyed the day.

"I really liked the hike we had," Little said. "I learned ways to tell the difference between white pines, red pines and jack pines."

The walk down to the Headwaters is a must at Itasca.

"I think it was really fun," Little said. "We learned how they found the source of the Mississippi."

Little and the other 200-plus 4th-graders got to be a piece of history participating in the celebration. These students will be about 85 years old when Itasca State Park’s 200th birthday comes around.

Rivers noted that Itasca State Park, which gets an estimated 549,000 annual visitors, was nearly lost to logging in its early years.

"Throughout Minnesota’s history, people have had to fight to protect special places like this," Rivers said. "Now it’s our job to protect them for future generations."

In the 125 years since Itasca State Park was established on April 20, 1891, Minnesota’s state park and trail system has grown to include 75 state parks and recreation areas, 49 state forest campgrounds, 34 state water trails, more than 360 fishing piers, more than 1,500 public water accesses, more than 600 miles of paved state trails, and many additional miles of off-highway vehicle, snowmobile, equestrian and cross-country ski trails.

“Minnesota is blessed to have a remarkable system of parks and trails that make it easy to get out and enjoy our incredibly beautiful state,” said Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. “I encourage all Minnesotans to visit their state parks this summer and enjoy one of the many family-friendly special events planned to commemorate this 125th anniversary.”

Highlights include:
    • Sat., June 11: A State Park “Total Takeover” — An effort to fill up all of the campsites at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas by encouraging experienced campers to invite a family of beginners to go camping with them on Saturday, June 11, which is National Get Outdoors Day. About one-third of the campsites are currently booked.
    • Summer Samplers —For anyone wondering what there is to do at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas, these events will provide opportunities to try paddling, archery, nature photography, fishing and other activities all in one fun-packed day.
    • Sat., June 11: Outdoor Explorations, Lake Carlos State Park, noon to 3 p.m.
    • Sat., June 11: Family Outdoor Fair, Whitewater State Park, noon to 3 p.m.
    • Sat., June 25:  Painting a Prairie, Sibley State Park, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Sat., July 23: Water World, Sibley State Park, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Sat., Aug. 6: Beach Party, St. Croix State Park, noon to 4 p.m.
  • Sat., Aug. 27: River Day, Flandrau State Park, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Picnic Gatherings — An invitation to return to the days before soccer, hockey and dance took over on the weekends, and to carve out time for a family picnic, followed by games and activities for all ages.
  • Sat., June 11: Fort Snelling State Park, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Sun., July 17:  Maplewood State Park, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
  • Sun., July 31:  Itasca State Park, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
  • Sun., Aug. 14:  Glendalough State Park, noon to 3 p.m.
  • Sat., Aug. 27: Jay Cooke State Park, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Details about these and other special events can be found online on the 125th Web page. Check back for updates throughout the year.

For more information, visit or contact the DNR Information Center at or 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.