Minnesota Proud

     While some contests may be gimmicks we’re still proud of our Minnesota State Park and small town Ely.

MN DNR Press Release:   Bear Head Lake State Park, just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Ely, Minn., has been voted as “America’s Favorite Park” – in a nationwide campaign sponsored by Coca-Cola.

In addition to the honor, the park received a $100,000 gift – offered through America’s State Parks Foundation, which was made possible by Coca-Cola’s Live Positively initiative.

The America Is Your Park campaign, which ran July 29-Aug. 31, invited Americans to vote online for their favorite state or national park. The campaign’s goal was to encourage families to be active outdoors this summer and to help their favorite park win funding to build, enhance or restore recreation areas in the parks.

Kevin Morris, vice president, public affairs and communications, Coca-Cola Enterprises Bottling Cos., presented the gift today to Mark Holsten, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Jen Westlund, manager of Bear Head Lake State Park. The presentation took place at the DNR Headquarters in St. Paul.

“This is an incredible honor,” said Westlund. “We’re very grateful to everyone, both in Minnesota and nationwide, who voted for Bear Head Lake State Park.”

Holsten said, “We thank Coca-Cola, not only for the generous gift, but for sponsoring a campaign that generated so much excitement about our state and national park systems. This effort is very important to enticing more young families to get outdoors and stay active.”

By inspiring people to vote for their favorite park, Coca-Cola raised awareness about many special places around the country, including some hidden gems like Bear Head Lake State Park. Most parks around the country are working hard to connect people with the outdoors, especially the next generation of Americans – a challenge in lean economic times.

“Minnesotans are passionate about their state parks and trails,” said Holsten. “They demonstrated the same kind of commitment in 2008, when they voted to support the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. This is a state that prides itself on a wealth of natural resources and a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities.”

Westlund said the gift will be used to fund construction of a trail center where hikers, paddlers, snowshoers, and families can gather before heading outdoors to explore the park.

Bear Head Lake State Park, which has about 100,000 visitors a year, received more than 1.6 million votes in the campaign, finishing ahead of larger and busier parks.

“I’m not surprised that this remote park on a beautiful 674-acre lake received such an outpouring of support, given this state’s strong conservation ethic,” Holsten added.

Bear Head Lake is one of 73 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas managed by the DNR Division of Parks and Trails, along with 21 state trails and 32 water trails. There is a state park or trail within 30 miles of nearly every citizen in the state.

For information about any of these recreational opportunities, call the DNR Information Center at 651-646-6367, or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Budget Travel website

On January 22, a month before we launched our poll to find the Coolest Small Town in America, a black bear named Lily gave birth on live webcam, at Ely’s North American Bear Center (NABC, bear.org). Days later, Lily and her cub, Hope, became the number one search term on Google, and Lily gained 104,886 fans on her Facebook page (yes, even bears have profiles), where links to our ballot were posted prominently. "Lily’s fans worked hard to get her hometown recognized," says NABC biologist Lynn Rogers. That, they did: Ely took nearly a quarter of all the votes cast in our contest.

Ely, Minnesota pop. 3,470
The best backyard in the country

It says a lot about a town when there are more wildlife centers (two) than Wal-Marts (zero), and more canoe and fishing outfitters (27) than, well, anything else. In Ely, you’re never more than a step away from the wilderness. The tiny grid of pine log cabins and pubs five hours north of Minneapolis sits within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a million-acre maze of indigo lakes and boreal forest. Each year thousands arrive to canoe, fish, camp—or simply sit back and soak in the North Woods. At the Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant, where trophy walleyes are mounted on the walls, locals swap stories over hearty oatmeal stouts (47 E. Sheridan St., boathousebrewpub.com, pints from $4). Nearby, visiting families recap their recent adventures around the stone fireplace at A Stay Inn Ely, a five-room lodge run by Joan and Don Bean (112 W. Sheridan St., astayinnely.com, from $60). More often than not, they’ve just returned from a fly-fishing overnight or weeklong canoe excursion with Don’s Jasper Creek Guide Service (14295 Canadian Border Rd., jaspercreek.com, canoe trips from $150 a day). Some are tempted to stay even longer. Jim Brandenburg travels the world as a National Geographic photographer but always comes home to Ely: "Where else can you sit out on your porch, listen to a pack of wild wolves howling, and then head down to the pub and share the story?"