Itasca State Park

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Winning Nomination

Aside from being the home of the headwaters of the Mississippi, Itasca is Minnesota's first state park. Designating Itasca as a state park established a tradition in Minnesota of caring for the land we live on, the land that has provided so much to us. In the 1890s, when the park was established, logging companies were making their way through the state, taking old-growth forest away with them; ironically, down the river at the root of the park. The courage of the park's founders ensured that some land would be preserved so people more than 100 years later can travel to that retreat, and see what the state looked like before the time of suburbs and cities.
~Beverly Westerberg, Eden Prairie, MN


Runner-up Nominations

I can't help but think that this is a pretty obvious item that contributes to the unique character of Minnesota. I can't even begin to list the myriad effects of the river on the US economy, transportation, and history.
~anonymous

Origin of the Mississippi River, originates in Itasca State Park.
~George E. Fish, Rochester, MN

Lake Itasca area was the birthplace of the mighty Mississippi River. Where would we be without this great river? People traveled, founded cities, made their livelihood, and prospered along the great Mississippi!
~Teresa Jefferson, Orlando, FL

Discovery of the source of the Mississippi in Itasca, source of the greatest river in the U.S.
~Karlind T. Moller, Shoreview, MN

Every elementary school student with an introduction to US geography is awed and thrilled to walk across or fall into the small stream of water in the big red and white pine forest of Itasca State Park that eventually becomes the mighty Mississippi River. Oh, heck ... this adult still gets giddy dipping her feet in the cold water and contemplating its journey of almost 4,000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
~Sherri L. Seifert, Sleepy Eye, MN

This site draws more people to the Minnesota North Country than any other historical location.
~Michael O. Rak, Laporte, MN

The headwaters of the Mississippi--the birthplace of the great American river that people from around the world come to see. How often can you walk across a great river when it is not frozen?
~Rick Carlson, Minneapolis, MN

The mighty Mississippi provides transportation, beauty, entertainment, and commerce to more than half of the states within the United States. Minnesota is uniquely the birthplace of this beautiful river.
~Barbara Dunn, Woodbury, MN

Birthplace of the Mississippi River.
~Aaron L. Wittnebel, Minneapolis, MN

The Headwaters of the Mississippi River start here.

This river has not only brought much commerce to Minnesota but connects our state to others all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
~Kathleen Quinn, Mpls, MN

The Mississippi is the watershed for a large part of the United States. Without it, the topography of the states would be so different. Just as the mountain ranges affect weather or other regions, the Mississippi is a major influence on a huge area of the states and provides so many other resources from commercial to recreational to commerce to inspiration. How can we not acknowledge how the river transformed what we do to who we are and only Minnesota has it!
~Eileen Niehaus, Maple Grove, MN

The source of the country's largest river. The Mississippi had a major role in the growth of the state and the country as a whole.
~Mark Zelenok, Fridley, MN

North country feel that starts here and flows to the Gulf.
~J. Kuntemeier, W. St. Paul, MN

Start of the Mississippi River - United States' border at one time. Thousands of people from all over the world come to the headwaters every year. Connects the northern part of the U.S. to the southern part of the U.S. with the waterway. Makes a global connection to the world economically and through the appreciation of nature.
~Julie Paulson, Erick Paulson, Elnora Paulson, Sherlin, MN

Birthplace of the Mississippi.
~Debra Hoveland, Forest Lake, MN

The establishment of this park preserved a sample of the northern MN forest pre-logging. The headwaters of the Mississippi River is also a key landmark that identified Minnesota to the world.
~John W. Maronde, Eagan, MN

From about 1798 to 1832 the list of explorers seeking to discover the source of the great river called the Mississippi reads like a who's who in Minnesota history. Not only has it been vital to Minnesota, my dictionary calls the Mississippi the principal river of the US.

Walking across the Mississippi at the headwaters is a ritual no one ever forgets.
~Rosemary Diedrich, Garfield, MN

I wish to nominate Itasca State Park, considered the jewel of all Minnesota state parks. The source of the Mississippi River has its beginning here in clear clean Lake Itasca. It connects us to the Gulf of Mexico and gives us a major river route for moving grains, lumber and food for many in Minnesota. It has also served as a strong source of light in recreation and natural enjoyment to the residents and the world. Itasca Park is visited by people from all over the world as they seek to explore what Minnesota was once like with towering state pines. The history of the park is shared by many people year round, a great area to enjoy the seasons, white marshes gives way to spring growth of the blossoms of wild flowers, soon quickly changing to the warmth of summer to the fruits of the year and the beautiful colors of our brisk autumn.
~Allen Paulson, Shevlin, MN

Minnesota wouldn't be Minnesota without the Mississippi headwaters.
~Christopher Knott, Faribault, MN


Contents

History

Minnesota's first state park

"Come to the beginning of a river
A river known for long-time traveling
Come to the beginning of a river
Itasca and the Mississippi."
From Itasca: A Place of Beginnings, written by Charlie Maguire for the grand opening of the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center at Itasca State Park, 2000

On April 20, 1891, Minnesota governor William R. Merriam signed into law a bill creating Itasca State Park—the first piece of Minnesota land to be designated a state park. But, as historian Roy Meyer writes, "as was to be the case many times in later years, the legislature's passage of an act authorizing a park did not mean that a park existed." The state of Minnesota owned only a small portion of the parkland described in the legislation. The rest, including the headwaters of the 2,552-mile-long Mississippi River, was owned by the federal government, by railroads, and by logging companies.

And so over the next decades a struggle ensued to acquire the land that would eventually become one of Minnesota's most popular destinations. The federal lands were turned over with little fanfare, and eventually the state legislature appropriated funds to begin purchasing some of the land from private companies. Meanwhile, though, Itasca's valuable resources—notably its trees—continued to be harvested. One particularly notorious moment in the struggle between conservationists and loggers occurred in 1900, when loggers dammed the Mississippi and flooded Lake Itasca, which they filled with cut timber. This went on for three years until Mary Gibbs, a young woman who had taken over as state park commissioner after her father's death, served a warrant to loggers—-despite death threats—-that forced open the dam gates and relieved flooding on the lake.

Large-scale logging finally ended in Itasca State Park in 1920. In the 1930s, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the park was spruced up—trees were planted, a dam was built to stabilize the lake level, and the log buildings and lodges still in use today were built. Today the park totals more than 32,000 acres with more than 100 lakes, including Lake Itasca, which draws close to a half million visitors a year.

Resource Links

Park Info: Itasca State Park: Minnesota DNR

Rustic Style Resources in Minnesota State Parks

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