The line of cars going into Itasca State Park Saturday was mind-boggling. Vehicles were lined up several deep at the east entrance and no doubt at the north and south entrances. Itasca has become the favorite go-to destination for a wide variety of events and Saturday was an example. A wedding, a class reunion, a hike, leaf viewing and other events made up the potpourri of things that attracted a bumper crowd to the park. It is the state’s oldest park, established in 1891. “Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes,” the website history says. “Walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Stand under towering pines at Preacher’s Grove. Visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann’s Cabin, landmarks of centuries gone by. “Camp under the stars, or stay the night at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota’s seven National Natural Landmarks.”
Friends of Itasca State Park hosted the 28th annual Ozawindib Walk to honor the Ojibwe/Chippewa guide who led Henry R. Schoolcraft to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in 1832. Dozens of eager hikers lined up to view the leaf color peak season. Afterward, meteorologist John Latimer gave a presentation on fall phenology. Since 1993, the Friends have raised funds and used donations and membership dues to build four playgrounds and complete park restoration projects. The group held its annual meeting Saturday morning. Patrick Aasmus, 5, of West Fargo, donned his hiking gear and a big smile for the day. He didn’t go on the official hike, but put on lots of miles with his folks. The Friends sponsored their first raffle fundraiser. As a mark of how popular the park has become to the region, winners were drawn from Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota. Proceeds from the event will be used to place four benches along the bicycle trail.
First prize was a weekend getaway at the park Many of the bicyclists were taking the scenic Wilderness Drive Loop. The group has also restored the wicker furniture at the main lodge and restored historical pictures. Other activities made for a full house. The Forest Inn was headquarters for the class of 1965 Bagley High School Reunion. Kathy Fredrickson Roy was one of the graduates who attended the Saturday event. She was full of beans, anxious to begin fraternizing with her fellow classmates. “You’re invited!” she said. Then there was the wedding of Hannah Christophersen and Jeffrey Woods. The couple didn’t look out of place in their wedding finery, mingling among the sweat-shirted bikers and hikers. They were in high spirits before their afternoon nuptials at Preacher’s Grove.
By 1:30 p.m. there was still a 40-minute wait for lunch tables at Douglas Lodge. Even the parlor was crowded with the overflow. “It’s worth it!” exclaimed three women who had just noshed on wild rice soup. “It’s been like this the last several weekends,” said park manager Bob Chance. “Actually it’s been like this since Memorial Day.” All 214 campsites were occupied and thanks to the wedding, all the lodging was full, Chance said. “The fall colors are huge,” he said. “If you wait a week, they’ll be done. They’re peaking right now.”
Although 950 cars were counted going through the entrances, Chance said numerous vehicles came through and were not counted before the park opened Saturday. Another 2,400 people registered at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. “It was just a perfect storm” of nice weather and events going on, Chance said. “It’s nice to be appreciated,” he added.