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Artificial Turf

Minnesota’s traditional cabin culture is vanishing. But are laments of Paradise Lost overblown?



THE MASCOT KEEPING watch over the kiddie pool at the Paul Bunyan Water Park is a fiberglass lumberjack. He’s got a full beard and a plaid cap and he’s gazing across a wobbling, bobbing bridge of fake logs at Babe the Blue Ox, his watery domain attached to a hotel just outside Brainerd.

For some reason, however, the masterminds behind this indoor theme park didn’t commission the whole lumberjack, just Bunyan’s disembodied head, which is mounted atop a faux wood post. His grin readable as a grimace, he looks less like a folk hero than a gladiator who just lost a match.

No matter. If the other kids here are anything like mine, they wouldn’t know Paul Bunyan from Vlad the Impaler, and it’s clear my desire to teach them the difference is, well, my issue. Similarly, most Good Modern Parents lament their children’s lack of a relationship to nature. But I think we romanticize this, imagining that each overturned rock instills a sense of wonder in those developing psyches.

My oldest son, who is 8, loves nature—as long as it’s boxed up in dioramas and aquariums. He has an impressive collection of bug-catchers and a history of both success and tragedy befriending inchworms and mail-order butterflies. But bugs doing actual bug things—probing an ear or squatting in his Orange Crush—propel him, screaming, indoors.

For all we fantasize about taking kids to the lake, my experience is that their glee in getting wet often depends on a host of factors: Are there weeds? Leeches? Seagull guano? We may rhapsodize about nature’s glories, but, in truth, we often prefer places like Paul Bunyan’s big pool, where all that wildness can’t sneak up on us.

The hazards at this watery playground are cartoonishly reassuring: Geysers spray from an old-fashioned kettle, an ax handle, a beehive, a tree house, a moose head, and other oversized logging-camp props. A mosquito the size of a vulture hovers over the lazy river. At regular intervals, a pail suspended over the toddler play area tips, dousing everyone below.

The adjacent hotel is just as contrived as the tea-kettle geysers, decorated with enough creels, lures, and other hunting and fishing tchotchkes to choke Ron Schara. It’s as garish as a casino, but my two little urbanites swallow the whole aesthetic package and reach out to touch every surface, enchanted.

In recent years, a great deal has been written about the demise of traditional cabin culture. In the 1990s, demand for land in Minnesota’s resort districts drove prices so high that mom-and-pop resorts could make more money by shutting down and selling off than staying open. Since 1970, the number of resorts in Minnesota has been cut in half. The holdouts must now compete with chain hotels that keep the games going year-round, and nothing epitomizes that evolution more than the water park. Half a dozen are open in Minnesota, and more than 200 are planned for sites throughout the United States and Canada. It’s now possible to spend an action-packed, water-soaked family weekend in one of the state’s fabled resort areas without so much as glimpsing a lake, a fact evidenced by the soulless expanse of concrete and chain stores surrounding the Paul Bunyan Water Park.

But here’s the thing: In some ways, Minnesota’s traditional cabin culture has always been as much imagined as lived. For more than a century, we’ve nursed a collective fantasy that it’s better out there, purer. We dream that listening to the call of a loon will make us better and purer, too. But we’re pining for an ethos that never really existed. “The rustic quality of a simpler life has been re-created, preserved, and perpetuated in a fascinating way,” says Clifford Clark, a professor of American Studies at Carleton College. “It’s seen as more real, more authentic, more down-to-earth—even though it’s been created.”

Clark traces the birth of this nostalgia to the 1880s and 1890s, when a trip to the country wasn’t so much about enjoying an idyllic setting as it was about escaping the soot, sewage, and summer heat in newly industrialized cities. The cabin was an antidote. “Health has a new meaning at Pine Shores!” enthused a 1928 pamphlet for plots. “Instead of hot pavements, blistering sidewalks, fagged brains and body, you’ll be enjoying every hour of the day at Pine Shores in recuperative comfort.” 

To reinforce the recuperative feeling, lake houses were designed to look different than the ones back home. But the serenity evoked by such places has never been any more authentic than a fiberglass lumberjack. Even in the days before BlackBerry and Wi-Fi, it turns out a lot of us got bored at the lake after a while. Rusticity started to feel like deprivation. In many families, Mom would take the brood to the cabin for the entire summer. By the time Dad joined them on weekends, everyone needed a break.  “We mythologize the solitude part of it,” says Twin Cities architect Dale Mulfinger, who has written two books about cabin design. “There’s always been the place by the lake where we go for the solitary experience, and there’s always been the more energetic place nearby.”

Grownups found entertainment at supper clubs and dance halls, kids at roller rinks and amusement parks. In the 1930s, Fairie-Bow Water Sport Devices (based in Faribault, if you didn’t get it) sold elaborate coaster-like water slides and spring-loaded catapults to resorts, according to Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky’s excellent illustrated history, Minnesota Vacation Days. The attractions were rickety and dangerous: Some hurled bathers into the water on wooden toboggans, and, not surprisingly, they were gone by the 1950s.

Fast forward 60 years and the engineers and liability lawyers have given us back the water park, extending its season nine months by enclosing it. Before the first indoor park opened in 1994, most resorts in Wisconsin Dells operated at half capacity most of the season and shut down after Labor Day. But the parks are now full year-round, and miles of bigger and ever-wilder versions march along Interstate 94. You can surf on five-foot waves in February, and if you like, buy a condo right there in the resort.

The World Waterpark Association credits this kudzu-like conquest to the demise of the traditional family vacation. Hardly anybody loads the kids in the Gran Torino to visit national monuments anymore, much less spend an entire summer at the lake. Now we shoot for a couple of days together within driving distance. The quest for unstructured time together just might be the most solid of our wistful notions about cabin culture, and I’d wager this hunger is stronger today than it was in the misty past. Parents are more likely to plan trips around kids’ schedules and tastes, in part because families feel fragile and besieged—by divorce, isolation, the ugly forces pulling at teens—and we see time together as the glue that binds us. Those inner-tube flotillas circling Bunyan’s lazy river are, in fact, life rafts of a sort.

This is probably the secret value of this ersatz rustic world. “You leave your house and your job and you go someplace different and it doesn’t have quite the same pressures and anxieties that you have in your everyday world,” says Clark. It’s not splendid isolation, listening for the call of the loon, but there’s nothing to distract us from one another.

That’s the impulse that fueled my family’s assault on the Paul Bunyan Water Park. There are similar parks in the Twin Cities within a 15-minute drive of our house, but visiting them wouldn’t mean setting aside two days to do nothing but hang out together. Kitschy as it is, the hotel’s effort to create a sense of place reminds us where we’re not: home, focusing on each other only in nuggets.

If you go, you should know that the best dousing is delivered by Babe’s long, skinny horns. The eponymous blue ox is painted onto the back wall, and his horns jut over a little moat at the bottom of twin slides. Riders climb into the tubes four stories above the pool, shoot through a series of hairpin turns, and emerge under the spray.  

This time last year, my oldest son was terrified by a much smaller slide at the YWCA. Here, at the Babe-themed slide, he’s still a little hesitant, and he makes me sit in the raft’s front seat during our first trip down. But the next time, he scrambles past me. On the ride’s second twist, he perches as far forward as he can and spreads his arms as if he were flying. The sight startles me. His back is no longer that of a little boy. His rib cage has lost its bird-shape, and his shoulders for the first time form the top of a masculine V. I’m seized by the sense that he’s rocketing forward in time, away from me. And then we’re out, coming to rest under Babe’s left horn. MM

Beth Hawkins is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.
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MN Events Calendar Sponsored by:

June 2015

Come to Big Sandy Lodge and Resort to get all the delicious pancakes you can eat for only $5.

Cost: $5

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
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Pride Parade Viewing Party UNION Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Start time: 9am (presale tickets) / 10am (day-of tickets) Live DJs: DJ Lindsay ‘Shiek’ Earney and DJ Lenka...

Cost: $10 (includes a free mimosas, glass of champagne or Absolute cocktail)

Where:
UNION Rooftop
731 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis , MN  55403
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Come join us at the Skyway Theatre as we take over the block for the Pride Parade!  Drinks and brunch starting at 9am and DJs at 12pm! Get the best seat for the best parade of the...

Cost: No Cover

Where:
Bar Fly & Maruso
715 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-333-6100
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Pride Parade Rooftop Viewing Party CRAVE Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Live DJ: DJ FANCY RESTAURANT Start time: 9am $5 from each ticket donated to OutFront Minnesota ...

Cost: $10 (includes free Absolute or Jameson cocktail)

Where:
CRAVE Rooftop
825 Hennepin Ave MN
Minneapolis , MN  55402
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YogaFit's Mind Body Fitness Conference is where students work towards a Yoga Alliance registry, earn continuing education credits, or simply deepen one's yoga practice and transform...

Cost: $329- $975

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis , MN   55403
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Show your Pride by taking part in the Twin Cities Pride Rainbow Run on Sunday, June 28th! Starting at Boom Island and ending near Loring Park, the route takes runners along Hennepin Avenue as...

Cost: $30

Where:
Boom Island Park
800 Sibley Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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The 2015 Twin Cities Pride Festival features over 400 exhibitors, 40 food and beverage booths, 20 sponsors, and 300,000+ visitors who participate in this free celebration of the GLBT...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow Street
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
Website »

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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Website »

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The 2015 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade will be held on Sunday, June 28, beginning at 11 a.m. along Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. The Parade route starts at 3rd and Hennepin and ends at...

Cost: Free or $40 Grandstand tickets

Where:
Hennepin Ave in Downtown Minneapolis
Hennepin & 3rd to Hennepin & Spruce
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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The Twin Cities Pride Entertainment Team is excited to bring you over 50 local acts during Pride Weekend. The schedule is below, but know that things are subject to change.  ...

Cost: Free. $10 General/$75 VIP for Pride in Concert 6/27 5pm at Loring Stage.

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow St
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-255-3260
Contact Name: Twin Cities Pride
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The celebration will be held in true Lurcat style, featuring music, dancing, festive food, cocktails and more! Café & Bar Lurcat is central to the Pride festival in Loring Park and found...

Cost: Free to enter

Where:
Cafe & Bar Lurcat
1624 Harmon Pl
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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What do you get when you explore the magical, yet tangled, intersection between the genius of art and the self-destruction of addiction; set it to catchy music against a backdrop of vivid visual...

Cost: $25.00

Where:
Minnetonka Theatre
18285 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN  55345
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The Minnesota Boychoir, under the direction of Mark Johnson, will be concluding their 2015 East Coast Tour with a Welcome Home Concert this Sunday, June 28 at the Graebner Memorial Chapel on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Graebner Memorial Chapel
Saint Paul, MN

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Don’t miss one of Minnesota’s hippest and hoppiest events. This local craft beer tasting event includes live music and a ton of tasty appetizers paired with the best brews in the Twin...

Cost: $50

Where:
Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power St.
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Canvas Health
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Open Window Theatre is making a children's event of fantastical proportions with their summer youth theater production of James and the Giant Peach.  Roald Dahl's imaginative adventure...

Cost: ADVANCE: $6/child (lap child free), $8/student, $12/adult

Where:
Open Window Theatre
Metropolis Minneapolis Building
1313 Chestnut Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-615-1515
Contact Name: Jeremy Stanbary
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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Join us for an afternoon of stories, music, and poetry that evoke and express a profound connection to place — places we’ve lived, struggled, thrived, seen changed or destroyed, or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Ox Coffee Co
3740 Chicago Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55407
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Sponsor: Kairos Earth
Telephone: 405-365-8796
Contact Name: Chelsea Scudder
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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RN’s and LPN’s for Evenings, Nights & Weekends - $2,000 hiring bonus Trillium Woods, a brand new continuing care retirement community, is opening on July 6th and we are having an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Trillium Woods
14633 Country Road 4
Plymouth, MN  55446
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Invest a few life-changing hours in our Power Trading Workshop, where you'll learn: How to identify points where supply and demand are out of balance and price is about to move. The two...

Cost: free

Where:
Online Trading Academy
7900 International Drive Suite 170
Bloomington, MN  55425
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Telephone: 952-814-4410
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service.   Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Dr
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 651.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service. Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides U.S....

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Drive
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 612.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Enhanced and engaged learning, creating and sharing ideas, and forming partnerships are just a few benefits of collaborative classroom learning. Now, with tools like Office 365, OneNote for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN  55425
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 Join us for a 4th of July barbecue, yard games, and outdoor movie hosted by Mary Mother's Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together group. All are welcome! Bring a dish to share. This...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mary Mother of the Church in Burnsville
3333 E. Cliff Road
Burnsville, MN  55337
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Sponsor: Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together
Telephone: 952-890-0045
Contact Name: Kosi Onyeneho
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OneNote is a free cross-platform app that helps students and teachers save time, stay organized, and collaborate more effectively in and out of the classroom. Students can build portfolios of...

Cost: Free

Where:
, MN

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Summer is the sweetest time to savor the river, so sign up now for River City Revue! It's a delectable blend of live music, cool history, and hands-on art adventures, all happening at the Saint...

Cost: $10 - $15

Where:
St. Paul Yacht Club
375 W Water St
St. Paul, MN  55107
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Sponsor: Mississippi River Fund, Works Progress & the National Park Service
Telephone: 651-291-8164
Contact Name: Katie Nyberg
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Enter the halls of Casket Arts to encounter the work of 20+ artists working in paint, sculpture, light, fibers, and sound. A one night only event with several site specific...

Cost: Free

Where:
Casket Arts Carriage House
1707 Jefferson St Ne
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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The flipped classroom is an innovative method of teaching that allows for multimedia lessons and in-class exercises. Now you can “flip” your own classroom using familiar tools like...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN
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The foundation of Jillian's country-esque, classically trained songwriter-style musicianship was built on northern Minnesta's Iron Range. Under the talented eye of Helina Pakola, who has...

Cost: 5

Where:
Mankato Brewery
1119 Center Street
, MN  56003
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Sponsor: Mankato Brewery
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One of the most highly sought-after skills in the workforce today is coding. In this workshop, we’ll show you how to create an app from a template, add content, and upload an app to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
Bloomington, MN

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Bryan Olds Band will be performing live at Big Sandy Lodge and Resort on Friday, July 3. The folk-rock blues band plays a variety of original songs, as well as covers, ranging from Pearl Jam to...

Cost: Check with venue for details.

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
Website »

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The 90’s alternative rock band – The Mallrats – will take the Amphitheater stage at Grand Casino Hinckley on Friday, July 3 at 8:30 p.m. Following the show will be a spectacular...

Cost: $10 general admission

Where:
Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater
777 Lady Luck Dr
Hinckley, MN  55037
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Website »

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Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill Presents Award Winning Vocalist Patty Peterson & Friends with Special Guest Melanie Rosales Friday, July 3, 2015 - 9:30pm 761 Washington Avenue N,...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
761 Washington Ave N
#325
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
Telephone: 847-624-5087
Contact Name: Carrie Miller
Website »

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It’s almost that special time of year again, where you pull out your flag, grab your lawn chair, and put on that sunscreen…the 68th annual Saint Anthony Park 4th of July Parade and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Anthony Park/Langford Park
Saint Paul, MN  55108


Sponsor: 4th In The Park Committee & The Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation
Telephone: 651-343-7365
Contact Name: Josh Becerra, Jeanne Hansen, & Emma Seeley
Website »

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Mystic Lake’s Rock and Rockets Fourth of July Celebration returns this year with another spectacular fireworks display. The free, all-ages event will take place outside Mystic Lake beginning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
2400 Mystic Lake Blvd.
Prior Lake, MN  55372
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Telephone: 952-496-7388
Website »

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Celebrate this Independence Day by watching fireworks light up the night sky over Big Sandy Lake. The event will take place at dusk, between Davis and Goff’s Bay, on the Fourth of July.

Cost: Free

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
Website »

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