ONAMIA - With each rising step, the pesky horseflies seemed to fade away. Everyday life, too, seemed to disappear on the gradual ascent above the treetops.
From the top of the 100-foot observation tower, it was difficult to imagine that civilization had somehow found this place. Nothing but plush green forest dotted with blue water in every direction. Probably not much different than what people discovered when they found their way here about 9,000 years ago.
And that's the draw at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Much of what makes up the park - the observation tower, the interpretive center and the park's vast trail system - exists to give visitors an idea of what life was like here hundreds and thousands of years ago. Even now, this place remains mostly simple and undisturbed.
A walking trail cuts through the woods to the shrouded observation tower in the heart of Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. For more photos from Kathio, go to spotted.brainerddispatch.com.
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Yet in 2007, Kathio drew 111,028 visitors.
"It's a number of things," Jim Cummings, park naturalist, said of the draw of Kathio. "It's close to the Twin Cities (less than a two-hour drive) and Duluth. It's a big-woods experience close to home for repeat visitors. And for first-time visitors, it's that proximity. And a lot of people come for the history."
If you go
What: Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.
Where: About 13 miles south of Garrison.
Directions: From downtown Brainerd, take Highway 210 east, turning slightly right onto Highway 25 south. Go 1.4 miles, turning left onto Highway 18 east to Garrison. At Garrison, turn right onto U.S. Highway 169 south. Go 12.7 miles, turning right onto Shakopee Lake Road/County Road 26. Go .7 mile, turning right into the park entrance.
Hours: Weekends 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Labor Day.
Permits: Daily, $5 per vehicle; daily group (minimum 10 vehicles), $3; annual, $25; motorcycle, $20; second permit, $18; disabled persons, $12.
Address: 15066 Kathio Park Road, Onamia, MN 56359-2207.
Telephone: (320) 532-3523.
Web site: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/ mille_lacs_kathio/index.html.
Photos: For additional Dispatch photos from Kathio, go to spotted.brainerddispatch.com.
Indeed. If you're into history, Mille Lacs Kathio is a must-see. It's the primary reason the park is featured on the state park sticker in this, Minnesota's sesquicentennial.
"This is the 150th anniversary of Minnesota statehood, and since so much history is reflected in our state parks, we wanted to feature a park with a particularly significant cultural and natural history," Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR Division of Parks and Recreation, said when Kathio was selected for the honor earlier this year.
The park is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most significant archeological sites in Minnesota, with 19 sites identified. The earliest site, dating from the "Archaic" period, shows evidence of copper tool manufacturing.
Although somewhat modern, with heat and electricity, five camper cabins help keep the feel rustic at the Kathio campgrounds. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
And while historic sites dot the topography of Kathio, the 10,585-acre park - fourth-largest among Minnesota state parks - also offers canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking, swimming, camping, picnicking, horseback riding and, in the winter, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Some of the features:
Extensive camping facilities, including 20 electric campsites, two accessible electric sites, 19 semi-modern sites, 26 rustic sites, three semi-modern walk-in sites, four backpack sites, 10 rustic equestrian sites (no showers) and a primitive group camp with hand pump and vault toilets (60 capacity, no showers).
Five camper cabins with electricity and heat.
Canoe, kayak and rowboat rentals.
Two water accesses (Rum River, Shakopee Lake).
Petaga Point Archaeological Area.
Thirty-five miles of hiking trails.
Forests are on display at Kathio, in the form of an informational marker and the backdrop. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Self-guided hiking trails, including the 1-mile Touch the Earth Trail and 1.5-mile Kathio Landmark Trail.
3.2-mile Hiking Club Trail.
Twenty-two miles of horseback trails.
Nineteen miles of cross-country ski trails (rentals available).
6.5 miles of snowshoe trails (rentals available).
Nineteen miles of snowmobile trails.
Kathio earned National Historic Landmark status in 1964. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Modern trail center/winter chalet.
Year-round visitor center and interpretive center (interpretive center is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays).
Fire/observation tower (open summers only).
Fishing: Rum River and Ogechie, Shakopee and Black Bass lakes (Black Bass is a designated Heritage Lake and special fishing regulations apply). Fish species include northern pike, walleye, bass and panfish.
Numerous upcoming nature programs and events: Remarkable Reptiles (July 26); Bruce Murray, Anishinabe Storyteller (Aug. 9); Ancient Villages, Log Drives and Homesteaders: History on the Lakeshore (Aug. 10); Biking into the Past (Aug. 16); Explorers and Archaeology (Aug. 20); and Archaeology Day (Sept. 27). Naturalist programs and tours are available year-round and Cummings leads countless school field trips during the year.
The interpretive center is a popular stop at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, especially for school field trips. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It depends on age and curriculum," Cummings said of the lure of Kathio field trips for schoolkids. "A lot of fifth- and sixth-grade students are making Minnesota history field trips. And other kids visit because of the archaeology. There are so many different aspects to the resources that give them opportunities."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864.
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