Visitors to Paul Bunyan Park can resume taking unobstructed selfies with Bemidji's Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues as the final construction phase draws to a close.
Construction began to improve the drainage at the plaza surrounding the statues earlier this summer, as spring freezes and thaws have resulted in damage to Babe’s feet in recent years.
The statues, which were installed in 1937, have also sustained decades of wear, leading to cracks and Paul briefly losing an arm in 2021.
Both statues underwent restoration in response to these concerns, but further damage was expected unless the plaza's drainage was addressed.
Installed in 2015 for $1.6 million, the concrete plaza around the statues has the unfortunate consequence of draining water near Babe, which the current project aimed to fix.
Phase 1 of the project, done by Jensen Conservation, involved raising the ox statue by 15 inches to reduce further water damage.
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Phase 2 of the project, managed by Reierson Construction, included rerouting the plaza's drainage, installing a catch basin and adding a green space to the area.
The cost for the entire project was initially estimated at $271,187.
The project to repair the plaza and preserve the 85-year-old statues was approved by the Bemidji City Council during its May 16 session, after initially being brought as a proposal to the council in August 2021.
Paul and Babe have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988, and serve as a large draw for tourism in Bemidji.