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United by buoy monuments, Key West, Florida, visitors embrace the Northwest Angle

The visit by Paul and Crystal Menta set the stage for the inaugural Northwest Angle “Buoy Bash,” and Friday's proclamation by Key West officials marking Friday, Sept. 16, as "Angle Inlet, Minnesota Appreciation Day."

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Paul and Crystal Menta (left) of Key West, Florida, and Joe and Anita Laurin of Flag Island, Minnesota, stand next to the Northwest Angle buoy at Young's Bay on Lake of the Woods marking the northernmost point in the Lower 48 states on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. Paul Menta is a Key West entrepreneur who learned of the Northwest Angle buoy while doing some research in advance of the 40th birthday celebration of the Key West buoy, which marks the southernmost point of the Lower 48 and is one of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. Upon learning of the Angle buoy, Menta said he and his wife had to make a visit.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Heral
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ANGLE INLET, Minn. – Minnesota's Northwest Angle and Key West, Fla., might be separated by more than 2,300 miles of road, but the two communities have much in common, not the least of which are the buoy monuments in each community, marking their locations as the northernmost and southernmost points of the Lower 48.

So says Paul Menta, a Key West businessman, entrepreneur and extreme sports enthusiast, who visited the Northwest Angle this week with his wife, Crystal, after learning about the Northwest Angle's buoy monument earlier this year.

“They really do” have a lot in common, Menta said Thursday morning from Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant at Young’s Bay before heading out for a three-hour boat tour of Lake of the Woods. “Here, it revolves around the lake. There, it revolves around the ocean.”

Key West has hurricanes; the Northwest Angle has floods – this year, at least.

After flying into Fargo on Tuesday night, the Mentas rented a car and even made a stop in Key West, Minnesota, on Wednesday morning en route to Sportsman's Lodge on the south shore of Lake of the Woods, where they took the passenger service across the big lake for the 40-mile boat ride to the Northwest Angle.

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Key West, Florida, residents Paul and Crystal Menta make a stop in Key West, Minnesota on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, on their way to the Northwest Angle to visit the northernmost point of the contiguous United States.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Their visit set the stage for the inaugural Northwest Angle “Buoy Bash,” and Friday's proclamation by Key West, Florida, officials marking Friday, Sept. 16, as "Angle Inlet, Minnesota Appreciation Day."

It's been quite a ride, this union separated by miles but now united by buoys and friendship.

Forging a friendship

It all started, Menta says, while he was doing some research in advance of Key West’s 200th anniversary celebration as chairman of the event’s planning committee. During the course of that research, he came across the Northwest Angle’s buoy monument, completed in May 2017 and similar in shape to the Key West buoy, which was constructed in 1983.

“There’s been over 237 million photos taken of it,” Menta said of the Key West buoy. “It’s one of the most photographed things in the United States.”

The Angle needed a similar landmark, which set the stage for the buoy at Young’s Bay, said Joe Laurin, a Lake of the Woods historian who helped coordinate the Mentas’ visit to the Angle.

“Everybody that came up here took pictures next to road signs, and everyone that was up here and saw that said, ‘This is ridiculous,’” Laurin said.

Both buoys are constructed of concrete, but the Angle buoy is slightly smaller.

“It’s colder up here so you have to allow for shrinkage,” Menta joked.

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At first, Menta says, he couldn’t quite grasp the Northwest Angle’s location. A Minnesota exclave, the Angle is bordered on three sides by Canada and only accessible by road by driving through some 40 miles of Manitoba.

Menta says he did the logical thing in his hunt for information: He found the number of Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant, the only bar on the Northwest Angle mainland, to see what he could find out about the Angle buoy.

They put him in touch with Laurin, who developed an app in 2018 of Lake of the Woods landmarks and lives on Flag Island with his wife, Anita.

“(Joe) said, ‘You should come up,’” Menta recalls. “I said, ‘What’s a good time when it’s not super busy with all the tourists?’”

Menta then heard the story about the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it devastated tourism on the Northwest Angle because people couldn’t get there by road.

Learning about the ice road that was built across Lake of the Woods during the winter of 2020-21 so visitors could drive to the Angle without going through Canada sealed it, Menta says; he had to visit the place.

‘I said, ‘OK, now I know you’re the northernmost point because you’re exactly like us,’” Menta said. “You have a problem, and you figure out a way around it.”

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Wondering if there was anything Key West could do to help people at the Angle, Paul Menta came up with the idea of a fundraiser to benefit kids in both communities.

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Launching a fundraiser

After hearing about the flooding that has devastated Lake of the Woods this summer, Menta came up with the idea of launching a fundraiser to benefit kids, both at the Northwest Angle and Key West.

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Proclamation designating Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, as "Angle Inlet, Minnesota Appreciation Day" in Key West, Florida.
Contributed/Paul Menta

The fundraiser, which began in mid-July and wrapped up Sept. 10, raised more than $9,000, with half the proceeds going to the Angle Inlet school and half the proceeds benefiting youth at Samuel’s House, a homeless shelter in Key West.

Friday morning, the Mentas presented a Key West flag and a check for $4,500 to the school at Angle Inlet – Minnesota’s only remaining one-room schoolhouse – that will be used to purchase sports equipment. Key West’s declaration of Friday as “Angle Inlet, Minnesota, Appreciation Day,” further forges the bond between the two communities as "Sister Buoy Cities."

This inaugural trip, and the Angle’s first-ever Buoy Bash, could be a springboard for something bigger down the road, Menta says, including future fundraising efforts and perhaps even a student-exchange program between the two communities.

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Joe Laurin (right) of Flag Island, Minnesota, explains some of the history of Fort St. Charles on Minnesota's Northwest Angle to Paul Menta of Key West, Florida, on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

The Buoy Bash, which kicked off Wednesday, continues through Saturday. Thursday’s events included a boat tour of Lake of the Woods, with a stop at Fort St. Charles Historic Site, a rebuilt fort patterned after the fort that explorer Pierre LaVerendrye built on Magnuson Island in 1732, and several sites in Ontario. After lunch at Sunset Lodge on Oak Island, the tour wrapped up with a stop at Flag Island Lighthouse, the Laurins’ home and a landmark in its own right.

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Crystal and Paul Menta of Key West, Florida, present a Key West Conch Republic flag to students at the Angle Inlet School on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. The Mentas helped raised about $9,000, with half going for sports equipment at the Angle school and half for kids at at Samuel's House, a homeless shelter in Key West. Key West and Angle Inlet now are Sister Buoy Communities, since each have buoy monuments marking their locations as southernmost and northernmost points in the contiguous U.S.
Contributed/Anita Laurin
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With Lake of the Woods in the background, Paul and Crystal Menta of Key West, Florida, stand on the observation platform atop the Flag Island Lighthouse on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

The Mentas, who fly out of Fargo on Saturday for the trip back to Key West, say they’ll definitely return to the Angle.

Perhaps even in the winter, Crystal Menta says.

“Maybe for some ice fishing,” she said. “I’m very intrigued by that.”

The buoy inspired their visit, but the trip turned out to be so much more, Paul Menta says.

“The buoy’s cool, but look where it’s at,” he said. “You know it’s going to be an adventure.”

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Paul and Crystal Menta of Key West, Florida, take in the sights of Lake of the Woods on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, from the enclosed comfort of Joe Laurin's tour boat.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald
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Paul Menta of Key West, Florida, uses his GoPro camera to photograph a sign explaining some of the history of Fort St. Charles on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, on Minnesota's Northwest Angle.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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