On a pleasant day that offered a blue sky and lots of sunshine, Paul Thiede appeared happy and content as he celebrated the culmination of an idea to turn the historic Pequot Lakes fire tower and surrounding land into a county park.
“This is a great honor. I am flabbergasted that, at my young age, I’d have a park named after me,” Thiede said with a touch of humor Friday, June 12, at a grand opening for the property off County Road 11 christened the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park in honor of the former Crow Wing County commissioner’s vision and leadership to protect the fire tower located in the district he served.
Thiede and his family - including wife Dee, some of his eight children and their families - gathered with Crow Wing County officials and others at the new picnic shelter just off the parking lot before hiking up to the tower and climbing to the top of it.
A longtime Crow Wing County commissioner, Thiede pushed the idea to have the county buy the tower and the 40 acres of land it sits on from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The county did just that in late 2018, for $1.
Crow Wing County Board Chair Paul Koering, who served on the board with Thiede, praised Thiede for his perseverance.
“Paul came up with this idea of saving the fire tower,” Koering told the group gathered at the picnic shelter. “Rosemary (Franzen, also a county commissioner who attended the grand opening) and I were thinking, ‘Well, this is kind of a dumb idea.’”
They decided to let Thiede lead the charge anyway, and now see the value in his idea.
“I want to recognize Paul Thiede today for his vision. Look at how great this is,” Koering said.
Also recognized was the late Don Nelson, called “the road man of Sibley Township.” The picnic shelter is dedicated to him. His wife, Clara, attended the grand opening. An interpretive sign acknowledging Nelson says he served Crow Wing County, Sibley Township and Pequot Lakes as an employee and volunteer.
Other interpretive signs along the crushed granite walking path to the fire tower share information about the history of the park and of fire towers, Minnesota landscapes, and fires and firefighting.
Gary Griffin, Crow Wing County Land Services director, told the crowd that if the fire tower hadn’t been worth saving, the county really didn’t need another 40 acres of land. An integrity study found the tower was indeed stable and simply needed maintenance work. The DNR had closed the tower to the public in 2017 because of vandalism and maintenance costs.
Now the county hopes to buy an additional 70 acres of land to add more trails to the park.
“This could really become a destination - not only for the fire tower, the main attraction - but for outdoor enthusiasts who like nature and hiking,” Griffin said.
The group trekked up the steep path to the fire tower, and Thiede and Koering climbed the 135 steps to the top of the 100-foot-tall tower together. Keith Simar, a retired longtime DNR forester who manned the Pequot Lakes fire tower, was already in the cab at the top sharing stories and taking in the panoramic view from high above the treetops. Thiede said all eight of his children climbed the tower - or tried to climb it - when they were younger and now his grandkids are doing it.
The park has a new restroom near the parking lot - a vaulted toilet that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act - and two trails leading to the fire tower - a 0.3 mile Fire Tower Trail and a 0.4 mile Wildlife Loop. Dogs are welcome, with two Mutt Mitt stations for people to clean up after their dogs.
Future plans include installing another picnic shelter next to the tower and more interpretive signs along the trails.
The fire tower is open for people to climb from dawn to dusk daily. It will be closed in the winter for safety.
By the numbers
100 feet: That’s how tall the Pequot Lakes fire tower is.
2017: The year the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1993: The year the tower went on the National Historic Lookout Register.
1935: The year the Civilian Conservation Corps built the tower.
1927: The year the tower site was established by the Minnesota Department of Conservation Forest Service.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.