Whitewater State Park has big plans for 100th birthday year

LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER Digging into my photo archives I found this shot taken during a group hike at Whitewater State Park in 2006, where I’m sitting at Coyote Point with an overlook of the valley.
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Journey vs. Destination

Last week we noted, right here, the happy occasion of the 100th birthday of Grand Canyon National Park. Well, another park is also turning 100 this year – and we don’t have to look very far for this one. A visit is totally doable.

Happy 100 years to Whitewater State Park located between St. Charles and Elba on Minnesota Highway 74!

From the volunteers with the Friends of Whitewater State Park’s website, I grabbed this timeline of key events in the park’s history:

1919: Minnesota Legislature establishes Whitewater State Park.

1933: Thousands attend first pageant celebrating Minnesota history.

1934: Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp established . . . Young men begin conservation work including trails and beach.

1935: Works Progress Administration (WPA) camp established . . . Older, skilled men begin building roads, bridges and buildings.

1944: German prisoners of war housed at Whitewater . . . German POWs used to relieve labor shortages on farms and businesses.

1953: Major tornado damage . . . An F4 tornado hit the park on Mothers’ Day, May 10, taking down hundreds of trees and several buildings. No fatalities.

1989: Whitewater Valley Visitor Center opened

2019: Whitewater State Park Centennial

Throughout the years: Occasional major and destructive flooding of the park and valley by the Whitewater River.

Volunteer legacy

The park owes its birth to passionate volunteer advocates who pushed the Minnesota Legislature to turn the upper end of the Whitewater Valley into an impressive park. Today, volunteers continue to help the park fulfill its mission of preserving the natural ecology while serving as an educational hub. As Whitewater begins its second century, volunteers will continue to play a crucial role in sustaining this special place for future generations to enjoy.

Learn more about the Friends of Whitewater at www.friendsofwhitewater.weebly.com. The Friends of Whitewater State Park (FWSP) is a volunteer group whose mission is to preserve and enhance the ecology, natural beauty, and cultural history of Whitewater through education, public advocacy and volunteer activities. The Friends are committed to conserving and enhancing public lands for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

Special events

Numerous special centennial events will be held, so keep your eyes open for details on the websites of the park (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00280#homepage); the FWSP, already noted above; and the FWSP Facebook page, www.facebook.com/FriendsOfWhitewaterStatePark/, as well as area media sources for details.

Since events occur monthly, a couple activities have already taken place, a candlelight snowshoe in the ghost CCC camp in January and an owl prowl for lovebirds around Valentine’s Day.

March: “Inspired by Whitewater” – A centennial event art exhibit featuring local artists at the Whitewater visitor center through the end of the month.

April 13-14: A River Runs Through It: A Trout Extravaganza

May 11-12: Boy Scout Camporee Reunion

June 8: Family Outdoor Fair

July 13: Centennial Picnic and Great Big Sing Along with the Okee Dokee Brothers

August: Theater in the Park

Sept. 14-15: Whitewater Valley Archaeology and History Festival

Oct. 18-19: Geology Gathering

November: History/Mystery Geocache Challenge

Dec. 20: Winter Celebration

March events

Remember, all the above events are in addition to Whitewater’s year-in-and-year-out busy schedule. In March, tree tapping and maple syrup activities take over. Here’s a March listing of events.

Maple Syrup Making for the Whole Family is scheduled for Saturdays, March 16, 23 and 30, each day having sessions from 10-11:30 a.m. and again from 1-2:30 p.m. Celebrate spring in Whitewater State Park’s sugar bush. This activity will introduce the long history of maple syrup and sugar making, as well as the equipment and procedures used. Participants will tap trees, gather and boil sap and – best of all – taste pure maple syrup! Reservations are required. Sign up by calling 507-312-2308 or email sara.holger@state.mn.us.

Wednesday, March 13, 10 a.m.-noon: HOP into the Park. The monthly HOP (Healthy Older People) is a program to learn about nature and socialize with other older adults. Minnesota State Parks Resource Specialists will talk about the behind-the-scenes resource planning and management that goes into the state parks. Find out why Minnesota State Parks are more than just campgrounds.

Saturday, March 23, 9-10 a.m.: Make a Nature Journal. Hey kids, join Lake City artist Joanne Klees to make a nature journal. Learn some fun ways to observe nature using your new journal. This is a make-and-take event so you can come and go as you please.

Saturday, March 23, 1-3 p.m.: Adult Journaling Workshop. Joanne Klees will lead a variety of exercises to see how fun and freeing journaling can be. Design your own journal booklet and explore journal philosophy. View samples of nature journals and discover how journaling can bring you closer to nature. Bring your journal from home, if you have one, and your favorite pens and pencils. Attend the first hour, then feel free to come and go as needed.

Remember, if you need an accommodation, please call or email the event contact listed above two weeks prior to the event. There is an admission fee to the park.

Make this centennial year your time to discover Whitewater State Park in a big way. It’s a spectacular place.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for over 15 years.