Sept. 23-Oct. 1 Leaf Days events will reach new park records

Maplewood State Park is on the verge of setting another record in annual visits.

“We’re at 150,000 visits already, and we haven’t even stepped into the beauty of fall at Maplewood,” said Park Manager Don DelGreco Sept. 7, to an audience of nearly 50 “Friends of Maplewood.”

The autumn color season, boosted by the popular “Leaf Days” weekend festivities Sept. 23-Oct. 1, are certain to cement a new record for Maplewood visitation.

Last year, the park recorded 144,000 visits. “Maplewood has always been known for its fall color, but now it is also becoming known for the sweetness of spring,” said DelGreco at the “Friends” annual meeting, adding that the April maple syrup production has been met with great enthusiasm. “We have yet more opportunities to connect people to the outdoors.”

Maplewood State Park photo by Roland “Jordy” Jordahl.

Camping is at above record levels, and horse riding and horse camping was also at a record-setting pace at Maplewood in 2017. Contributing to the traffic at Maplewood was “picture perfect weather conditions, especially on weekends,” noted DelGreco in the fall newsletter–combined with the early spring warm-up.

The maple syrup demonstrations April 8, in conjunction with the Vergas Maple Syrup Festival, drew more than 400 cars to the park–and crowds estimated at up to 1,500, reported Friends of Maplewood chairman John Nordstrom. “Attendance was over the top,” he said, adding that the maple syrup demonstrations garnered media attention from throughout the region and state.

On display was the new “Sugar Shack” which is now the only maple syrup production facility in the Minnesota State Park system.

In total, 85 different individuals and groups donated $57,661 toward the Sugar Shack project. Fifteen different contractors and vendors assisted with the project. Lead contractor was David Knopf. In total, the Friends contributed nearly $100,000 to the Shack.

Treasurer Stu Peterson proudly reported that, even with the substantial investment in the Shack–the Friends still has $36,500 remaining in the general fund.

More than 1,000 hours in volunteer labor were recorded in the construction of the Sugar Shack. Ground was broken in August of 2016 and the exterior was completed by December 5.

A dedication event Sept. 14, 3 p.m., has been publicized statewide by the Department of Natural Resources, and the public is invited.

nd the public is invited. Park Manager DelGreco acknowledged that Maplewood would not operate with the success it has without the “resilient, creative and skilled staff” at the park.

Further, he said that the relationship between the park and the non-profit “Friends of Maplewood” is the envy of other facilities in the state park system.

“Maplewood is known across the state for raising the bar in local support–thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Maplewood,” said DelGreco.

• The Maplewood concert series in the summer of 2017 featured Jeff Johnson, a singer with strong local connections: His father Everett was a longtime downtown Pelican Rapids businessman. Ordinary Folk performed in August. Local favorites, Casey Perrin and Lee Brenna performed for a crowd of 150 in July.

• The Friends of Maplewood have more than 300 paying members, generating more than $6,000 a year in dues. “These members help us (the Friends) help Maplewood State Park,” said John Nordstrom, Friends chairman.

• The Running Wild Trail Run in June drew 273 participants for the sixth annual event. The date for 2018 is June 9.

• A nature drawing class, taught by Pelican Rapids Viking Elementary art teacher Heidi Smith, attracted more than 50 participants at a session last summer.

• Maplewood is believed to be the only Minnesota State Park with a “Little Free Library.” Ruth Holmgren, who helped initiate the book program, stocked 55 titles early in the park season, and said the little book depository has been very successful since it was established about three years ago.

• The Friends of Maplewood is now enrolled as a participating organization with Thrivent, and Thrivent can direct contributions to Maplewood. So far, nearly $500 has been contributed in Thrivent Choice dollars.

• There are 46 lifetime members of the Friends of Maplewood, and the newest members for 2017 are Chet and Paulette Nettestad.

• Schools have participated in events at Maplewood, including Pelican Rapids, Perham, Fergus Falls, Detroit Lakes, Underwood, Frazee-Vergas and others. Schools are often limited in field trips because of the cost of bus transportation. Friends chairman John Nordstrom said that there is some discussion about the Friends subsidizing transportation costs to encourage more school participation.