Field Notes: Itasca Gives Visitors a Big Welcome
Stroll through the new 14,000-square-foot Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center and you can get a picture of the treasures of Itasca State Park, established in 1891 to protect its pine forests from lumberjacks saws and axes.
To find out whats happening in this majestic 32,000-acre park, step up to the Vacation Planner display. It tells you what you can see and do in an hour, a few hours, or a couple of days.
Start your wildlife exploration indoors: Peruse the new Nature Store, examine mounts of local animal specimens, and join an interpretive program or hike. Relax on a rustic bench and watch chickadees, pine grosbeaks, and nuthatches at feeders outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. In winter, after a hike or ski, warm up by a glowing fire. A five-mile cross-country ski trail and a snowmobile trail lead to the center.
You cant help but notice the cathedral ceiling and massive vertical poles made from pine logs harvested on site. And you cant miss the 10-foot-high, 17-foot-long gate leading to the exhibits. Named Itasca Reflections: Gateway to the Mississippi, this work of art was funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board and crafted by Koka Metalsmiths of Dakota, Minn. It features images of nature, hammered and chiseled into the metal.
"Lesser-known animals and plants were selected because we wanted our visitors to know that they can be found in Itasca," said Connie Smith-Cox, the parks lead naturalist. The border of branches and leaves is reminiscent of the traditional patterns crafted on Ojibwe applique and beadwork.
Once Smith-Cox and regional naturalist Bryce Anderson had selected interpretive themes for the exhibits, they searched for memorabilia. "We contacted people who dug in their closets, their sheds, their memory boxes to make the exhibits authentic," said Smith-Cox. For the display on early tourism, they contacted Duluth Tent and Awning to see if it had a model that could be used to make a replica of a 1930s camping tent. The company found a fabric model and stitched a tent.
The naturalists unearthed a cooler, cot, canteens, fishing tackle, and period clothing by searching antique stores and asking friends and family for treasures. Andersons father, Gary, donated his 1938 Red Wing Irish Setter hiking boots, which he wore until he handed them over for the display.
A replica log archway showcases "70-S Camp Rutledge," commemorating Itascas Civilian Conservation Corps camps in 1934. Several CCC veterans of Itasca, with an average age of 82, built the new archway.
"These CCC boys were a wealth of stories and resources for this exhibit," said Bryce Anderson. They donated CCC caps, patches, postcards, a ring, and hundreds of photos.
For a look at how Ojibwe people once lived, stop by the birch-bark wigwam and the elk-hide tanning display, constructed by local Ojibwe people.
You also might want to study the 5-foot-square relief map of the Itasca watershed. Or flip through photo albums showcasing the Itasca area in the early 1900s. Those in the under-age-4 set have their own discovery corner, where they can crawl into a log and see what lives there, climb inside a pine tree, and build a forest scene using "nature" puzzle pieces.
One more spot to visit: the restroom. Youll find great photos of Itasca and facts about water.
The grand opening is May 17-19.
DNR public affairs and marketing supervisor