Lake Bemidji State Park history

Anniversary logo overlaid on a photo of the park road in 1920, barely a trail through the woods. Photo courtesy of the Beltrami County Historical Society. Photo of the park road circa 1920, courtesy of the Beltrami County Historical Society.

Celebrating one hundred years


More than 120 years ago, the townspeople of Bemidji recognized the importance of preserving the forests of Rocky Point on the northeast shore of Lake Bemidji. 

Historical background (1855-1905)


The Treaty of Washington leads a large portion of Ojibwe land to be ceded to the U.S. government and creates the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Reservations. This included land in current day Bemidji. 


Deputy surveyors Edgar A. Wilder and Edgar P. Putman survey the land of Beltrami County, including the land that will eventually become Lake Bemidji State Park.


1875 one-dollar billThe U.S. government sells a portion of the land where Lake Bemidji State Park currently is to lumberman Thomas Barlow Walker for one dollar. ($29.51 in today's money.) He owned the Red River Lumber Company of Crookston. He eventually sells both his sawmill and his timber claims to Thomas Shevlin and Frank Hixon, who rename the sawmill operation Crookston Lumber Company.


White homesteaders arrive in the Bemidji area and meet Ojibwe elder Zhenaawishkang (Shaynowishkung), who lived with his family on the south side of Lake Bemidji until the U.S. government removed them to the Leech Lake Reservation. Zhenaawishkang tells the settlers the name of the lake is bemidjigamaag (bay-midge-ih-gum-awg). They call it Lake Bemidji for short.


Bemidji is incorporated and given a charter from the State of Minnesota. It is counted as the first city along the Mississippi River. 

1900 Rocky Point in the 1920s

A group of men take a boat known as the "Shadow" to T.B. Walker's "Rocky Point" at the northern end of Lake Bemidji. They decide to ask the city to buy and set aside this property for a village park.


A.A. Carter and other local businessmen want to make a first-class resort a quarter mile west of Rocky Point, and to clear five acres for a public park on the high elevation overlooking Lake Bemidji.

The struggle for a state park (1920-1922)

A gleeful child wades in Lake Bemidji in the 1920s


A group of merchants called the Bemidji Commercial Club recommend the creation of a park on approximately one hundred acres along the northern shore of Lake Bemidji, by Rocky Point. 

The State Forestry Board favors setting aside the land to secure it for a state park.


Minnesota Governor Preus declares he will sign a bill to establish the park if the legislature is in favor of it.

The Northern Minnesota Editorial Association and the Bemidji Women's Civic and Community Club, led by Mrs. E.W. Johnson, pass a resolution in favor of the creation of a state park. State Forester W.T. Cox supports it as well. 

Senator Leonard H. Nord and the Public Domain Committee recommend a bill to be passed to provide for the establishment of the proposed park.

The bill to purchase the land is introduced by Representative A.E. Rako of Bemidji and F.J. McPartlin of International Falls.

On April 20, 1921, the $40,000 appropriation bill to establish Lake Bemidji State Park is defeated in the House.


The Federation of Women's Commercial Club passes a resolution made by Mrs. E.W. Johnson, urging the establishment of a state park and for the state to purchase tracts of timber on the shores of Lake Bemidji.

Lake Bemidji State Park is established (1923-1938)

April 21, 1923 Clipping of the legislative bill establishing the park

The Minnesota Legislature passes the statute establishing Lake Bemidji State Park to preserve remnants of the virgin pine forests that once lined the shores of Lake Bemidji and to provide an area for public access to the lake. It becomes Minnesota's ninth state park.

The statutory boundary is set at 421.05 acres. In 1924 and 1925, the State purchases 201 acres from D.F. Ruggles and the Crookston Lumber Company for a total of $44,133. ($769,128 in today's money.) 

According to the statute, the park was to be maintained by Beltrami County using county funds and by levying taxes. 


The Minnesota Division of Parks is formed, and the park is placed under its jurisdiction.


The State gains clear title to the property, resolving true ownership of the land.

August 21, 1938

Lake Bemidji State Park was officially turned over to the public and formally dedicated.

Building a legacy (1939 to today)

1939 The picnic shelter in the 1940s

The picnic shelter and west picnic area log building are built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Youth Administration (NYA).


The dining hall is completed by the WPA as park of the Beltrami County Health Camp.


The Minnesota Legislature formally places the park under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Conservation.


Homestead, Balsam, Bass Creek and Rocky Point Trails are constructed.


The campsites by the lake are closed, leaving 79 sites in the upper campground area.


A new contact station is built.

Two children kneel on the bog walk to get a closer look at the plants below1992

The Bog Walk is built.


The Paul Bunyan State Trail is completed through the park to the Mississippi River bridge.

The Minnesota state parks vehicle permit features an image of the park for its 75th anniversary.


The playground is installed.


Four camper cabins are added where the north group camp once stood.


Lavinia Group Camp opens.


A nature play area is installed.

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