Itasca

  • Language camp for adults

    On Concordia's Bemidji campus, learners are immersed in global cultures.

    It had become a summer tradition: Drive my daughter up north to her German camp at Concordia Language Villages, look enviously around the fabulous campus and whine that adults should get to come, too. Someone was listening. One day, a flier arrived at my house, announcing the first French and German adult weeks. As it turns out, others had whined, too. "We've got these millions and millions of dollars' worth of facilities, and we want to use them,'' said Larry Saukko, dean of the Finnish and academic-year German programs.

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  • Going abroad in Bemidji

    At Concordia Language Villages' family weekends, parents get to join the fun.

    One winter, I went to summer camp. It was the German-language immersion village in Bemidji, Minn., to which my daughter went for eight years. She always returned starry-eyed and eager to go back: "I wish I could go there year-round,'' she'd say, sighing.

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  • Lake break in Bemidji

    A northern-Minnesota resort is a great place for a low-key, low-cost getaway.

    In the Upper Midwest, there's nothing better than a week at the lake. But summer — or vacation, anyway — doesn't last long. And while there's nothing better than a week, a few days can be almost as good. My favorite escape is to Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge on Lake Bemidji. Like many of its guests, I first went after dropping off my son at the nearby Concordia Language Villages.

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  • Itasca in winter

    After snow flies, visitors zip around Minnesota's beloved state park on skis and snowshoes.

    In winter, only the most dedicated pilgrims make the trip to Itasca, Minnesota's most revered state park. It's easy to see the 300-year-old pines that escaped loggers. And it's easier to listen — to the sassy chatter of a squirrel, the prehistoric croak of a crow, the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker.

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  • Towns of the Heartland Trail

    Bicyclists find plenty of personality along this northern Minnesota path.

    On the first Sunday in August, hundreds of people clog the only street of the Restaurant Capital of the World. Dorset claimed that title because its restaurants outnumber its houses. Still, the eateries in this lakes-country oasis will be hard-pressed to make enough quesadillas and snowball sundaes for everyone who wants one at Taste of Dorset.

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  • Bemidji's behemoths

    In Minnesota's north woods, an old logging town is famous for oversized legends.

    In Bemidji, three faces tell much of the town's story. Chief Bemidji stands facing the lake the Ojibwe called Bemidgegumaug, or "river flowing crosswise." His real name was Shaynowishkung, and he fed the white people who settled on the lake's shores in 1888. Their settlement became the first town on the Mississippi, which starts 35 miles away in Itasca State Park, winds north to Bemidji, flows through its lake and heads east before finally turning south.

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  • Fishing for finds in Walker

    When walleye and shoppers are biting, everyone's happy in this resort town.

    In 1896, a St. Paul man named J.A. Berkey came to Minnesota's Leech Lake, threw out his line and reeled in a whole new industry. "He set up white tents for some men from Kansas City, who fished their guts out and said, 'We're going back and telling everyone,' '' said Renee Geving, director of the Cass County Museum.

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  • Summer in Park Rapids

    In the heart of Minnesota lakes country, town is a tourist hub.

    Ever since it was settled, Park Rapids has been a crossroads for tourists. The trains that hauled out white pine at the turn of the century brought in summer guests, who were met at the depot by resort owners and taken to the lakes in wagons. Itasca State Park, 20 miles to the north. After the rail line was abandoned, it became the western trailhead of the Heartland State Trail, one of the nation's first paved bicycle trails.

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  • Dining up north: Longville to Walker

    A bicycle trail connects towns and lakes en route to Minnesota's newest fine-dining destination.

    In the middle of Minnesota's vacation land, the lakes go from big to bigger. There's Girl Lake and Woman Lake, with the biggest woman of all, Paul Bunyan's 17-foot "wife'' Lucette Kensack, standing on the shores of Birch Lake in Hackensack.

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  • The dish on Dorset

    Tiny 'Restaurant Capital of the World' is just a burp on the road.

    By rights, the northern Minnesota hamlet of Dorset shouldn't even exist. It's on the road to nowhere, a mile and a half off the highway that links Park Rapids to Walker. It's not on a lake. It has virtually no houses. It does, however, have a knack for hyperbole. In the 1920s, it tried "land of clover, the big white potato and the dairy cow.''

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  • Home of the eelpout

    In February, a Minnesota fishing town lets loose during a wild and crazy celebration.

    On lazy summer days, Walker is a classic northwoods Minnesota town. The pace is slow, serene - unless a Crazy Day Sale falls on a cloudy day, in which case the resorts empty and shoppers crowd into the town of 1,100 like sheep to salt.

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