Happy 125th birthday, Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park
The marker at the headwaters in Itasca State Park reads: "Here 1475 ft. above the ocean, the Mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its way winding way, 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico."
Courtesy of the DNR

Itasca State Park will celebrate its 125th birthday tomorrow.

The 32,000-acre park at the headwaters of the Mississippi became Minnesota's first state park when the Legislature established it on April 20, 1891. At the time, the park was only 10,000 acres, but it has grown over the past century.

Erika Rivers, director of the DNR's Parks and Trails Division, joined MPR News host Tom Weber to talk about the park's rich history and what's new this season for parks across the state.

When it comes to the history of the state's first park, Rivers said, there's actually a bit of controversy. Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis was slated to be Minnesota's first ever state park, back in the 19th century, but the state didn't have the funds to acquire the land. The Minneapolis Parks Board purchased it instead.

Buffalo roam at Itasca State Park, circa 1940
Buffalo roam at Itasca State Park, circa 1940.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Historical Society

Itasca became a state park after Jacob Brower "saw risks with the logging activity going on in northern Minnesota, and identified the headwaters of the Mississippi as an important natural — as well as cultural — heritage for the state of Minnesota." Brower drafted the bill that the Legislature passed in 1891, establishing the park.

Lake Itasca, located in the park, is where the Mississippi begins its 2,552-mile journey down to the Gulf of Mexico. The Headwaters are a popular destination for tourists: More than 500,000 people visit each year.

For the full discussion on Itasca State Park and Minnesota's state park system, use the audio player above.

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