Bemidji named 'Capital': Five rural communities to be part of Minnesota's 150th anniversary celebration

Bemidji plans to make a double connection next year with state policymakers, with Bemidji going to the State Capitol in March and with the city serving as "Capital for a Day" in May.

Bemidji plans to make a double connection next year with state policymakers, with Bemidji going to the State Capitol in March and with the city serving as "Capital for a Day" in May.

"It's kudos for Bemidji and for the business community," Lori Paris, Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, said Wednesday after finding out Bemidji is one of five rural cities named as "Capitals for a Day" by the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission.

"Anytime that we can emphasize Bemidji in St. Paul, or Bemidji statewide, it's good for everyone involved," Paris said.

In State Capitol ceremonies on Wednesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced five cities -- Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Thief River Falls, New Ulm and Winona -- as honorary Capitals for a Day, winners of an Internet poll drawing 10,000 voters. Voting was done by geographic region, or "biomes," which are unique geologic areas.

Bemidji won the honors for the "coniferous forest zone," which is the biome for north-central and northeastern Minnesota, competing with 13 other nominated cities as part of activities to celebrate Minnesota's 150th anniversary of becoming a state in 2008.


"There will be some special events planned for that day," said Gayle Quistgard, executive director of Visit Bemidji, the city visitors' and convention bureau. All five cities will have their separate day -- yet to be determined -- between May 11-18, which is Statehood Week.

"It will give us more recognition, which is always great," Quistgard said, assuming that the public dignitaries coming to Bemidji as Capital for a Day will include the governor.

While just learning of the award, Quistgard several community groups are already at work drafting an agenda in the event the city would be named Capital for a Day.

The Headwaters School of Music and the Arts in Bemidji is already a recipient of a Sesquicentennial Commission microgrant for its 2008 Head of the Lake picnic/commemoration for activities related to the re-creation of a 19th-century daylong picnic and festival.

"We haven't had a strategy session yet to sit down and decide what those (Capital for a Day events) are going to be," Quistgard said. "We're waiting for just a little more info from the state as to what their expectations are."

On hand in St. Paul on Wednesday to receive the honors were Bemidji City Councilor Jerry Downs and Visit Bemidji Tour Director Cindy Habedank, who submitted Bemidji's nomination which included a 150-word essay on why the city should be chosen:

"Since the early 1800s, the vast forests and plentiful waterways, including National and State Forests and the Mississippi River, have provided economic growth and quality of life to the area's earliest inhabitants and present generation. Native American and Scandinavian cultures are woven together into the tapestry of the Bemidji area's history. Bemidji, as a regional center for education, medical care, arts, retail and transportation, offers services to a much larger population than the city census indicates. Based on the regional and ethnic influences that give character to Bemidji, we nominate Bemidji, the First City on the Mississippi, as Capital for a Day to represent the Coniferous Forest Zone."

As part of the announcement Downs and Habedank received a special commendation for Bemidji as Capital for a Day and a Sesquicentennial flag.


During a community's day, Sesquicentennial Commission members, state officials and local dignitaries will visit the area for events and programs. An official recognition ceremony will begin a celebration in the community. Visitors will be given a tour of the area and some of the local historic landmarks.

A civic roundtable based on the Sesquicentennial Commission's ongoing "Plan for our Future" community meetings will be a highlight of the day's activities, according to the commission.

The five capitals will receive a road sign to post at an entrance to their community informing visitors of their honorary capital status that will be presented during Statehood Week as part of each community's daylong celebration.

In the coming weeks and months, the Sesquicentennial Commission and staff will work with each community to make each celebration unique and reflective of the traditions and history of the unique natural region, the commission said.

"There are some groups here planning Sesquicentennial events," Quistgard said, adding that a new committee will be formed to specifically work with Capital for a Day events.

"We'll be calling for volunteers to start putting some of these things together," she said.

"Our historic sites is what I would start with," she said of possible tour sites that day, "as this has to do with 150 years of statehood."

The range could be an historical highlight provided by the Beltrami History Center to the new Beltrami County shown by the county building campus on the north end of the downtown.


"We should start with what began here," she said, including the area's American Indian heritage. "We certainly would want to show where some of those first sites would be. ... It is an historical event."

If Paris had her way, she'd like something additional for Capital for a Day -- having the governor sign a capital bonding bill that includes monies for a Bemidji regional events center. At that time, the Legislature will be about a week away from adjourning the 2008 session, and a bonding bill should be done.

"What would really be the crowning moment for Bemidji would be if the bonding package is complete, and if we're in the Capitol for the day, then they can sign that piece of legislation while they're here in Bemidji," Paris said.

Bemidji plans its third annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol in late March, where it is expected the No. 1 issue to lobby will be bonding funds for the events center and a tax bill that allows the city's half-cent sales tax to pay for events center construction once it has fulfilled its use for parks and trails improvements.

"That's my gut dream that would be what takes place while Bemidji would be the capital," Paris said. "That would be quite a feather in our cap."

Paris said the Chamber would also reach out to local groups to find activities for Capital for a Day, and try to coordinate a central clearinghouse for them.

"The Chamber, at the very least, could act as a conduit and an umbrella to all of the things that are going on in the community on behalf of the Sesquicentennial," she said.

Paris also lauded Habedank, and Carol Olson of the Chamber, for their efforts in submitting the winning nomination.


A total of 69 cities were nominated in the five biomes. Bemidji, in the coniferous forest zone, competed with Angora, Breezy Point, Chickamaw Beach, Floodwood, Grand Rapids, Hinckley, Longville, Mille Lacs Lake Area, Orr, Pequot Lakes, Rush City, Walker and Williams.

In addition to Capital for a Day, the Sesquicentennial Commission will dedicate a month during 2008 to each of Minnesota's natural areas, starting in February. During each month, the Sesquicentennial will focus its attention in the selected area, acting as a catalyst for events in the area that spotlight the Sesquicentennial themes -- arts and culture, health and wellness, education, innovation and Minnesota's natural resources and the great outdoors.

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