Learning is fun in Bemidji. Home to natural parks, excellent museums and an interesting Minnesota culture, it’s a great place to explore if you like educational travel. Here are some of the top ways to explore Bemidji’s history and culture.
1. Visit the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. Ever wondered what the start of the Mississippi River looks like? In Bemidji, you can put your curiosity to rest. Head over to Lake Itasca, a small lake that eventually becomes the mighty river that stretches for 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The lake is located in 32,000-acre Itasca State Park, which was once under threat by loggers. Today, the park exists, thanks to Mary Gibbs, a 24-year-old daughter of the park superintendent who in 1903 prevailed against gun-wielding lumberjack at the Lake Itasca dam crucial for moving logs to the sawmill. Her heroism influenced her appointment by the governor as acting park superintendent, making her the only woman and youngest person in the country in that position.
The half million visitors to the park each year can learn about the remarkable Mary Gibbs and the forest she saved from destruction. When visiting the park, a must-do activity is a stop at the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi and step across the 15 rocks that mark the source of the river as it exits Lake Itasca. To follow more of the river, go on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway that eventually makes its way to Bemidji. Other recreational activities worth doing in the park include biking, canoeing, hiking, snowmobiling and more.
2. Learn more about Chief Bemidji. Bemidji, surrounded by three Ojibwe reservations, is rich in Native American history. The area still has a strong presence of Ojibwe history and culture, and the most iconic member, Shaynowishkung or Chief Bemidji, an honorary title given him. Shaynowishkung is remembered for his kind treatment toward settlers in the late 1800s. He was largely present in town hall meetings and continued his kinship with the settlers until his death in 1904. Both settlers and Native Americans attended his funeral in front of City Hall, and eventually a statue of the late resident was erected in the town. The lore of Chief Bemidji still lives on as a token and reminder that communities, native and non-native, can be brought together by peaceful unity. Library Park by Lake Bemidji is home to the bronze statue of the local hero from which the town takes its name.
3. Visit the local history center. At Beltrami County History Center, visitors can learn about the area’s history and involvement with the railroad and logging industry, fur trading, Ojibwe lifestyle and the early pioneers. The museum is located in a renovated railroad station built in 1912, and visitors can browse through the impressive exhibits of Native American artifacts, vintage photographs and clothing worn by the early settlers. The current exhibit, “Trails Through Time,” features artistic displays and touch screen technology to learn more about the exhibit. A favorite permanent display is a working model train.
4. Spend some time at the Headwaters Science Center. The Headwaters Science Center is a cool place to spend an afternoon or an entire day, exploring 70 self-guided, hands-on activity stations where guests can learn the science behind biology and nature. Other activities at the center include holding a python snake, spiders or bunnies, playing at the bubble wall and an echo tube. Kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy the activities!