2015 Trip Five, Voyageurs National Park and N.W. MN, August 17

East Grand Forks, MN
Monday August 17th

Flat agricultural land as far as you can see

Flat agricultural land as far as you can see

We just had to throw another sunflower picture in.

We just had to throw another sunflower picture in.

The name Lars Larson today sounds like it is made-up but Lars Larson Sr. was a Swedish immigrant who homesteaded in MN in 1882. He also built a mill for grinding wheat into flour. That milling process frequently became a community gathering process. The Old Mill State Park near Argyle MN keeps that memory alive. It took us a little over an hour on two lane roads to reach the park. Yes, the roads were straight and flat; the agricultural lands brimming with crops starting to be harvested. No change from yesterday in that regard.

The Larson mill at Old Mill State Park

The Larson mill at Old Mill State Park

The mill is still there with some of the original grindstones still here. Placards in the shape of the mill describe how it operated and history of the area. One placard mentions how Lars brought Scotch pine seeds with him and how some of the trees from those seeds still exist in the park. We passed on going to find them, the mosquitoes were out again.

The mill is not a major tourist site. We stop at these places to get a sense of the land and its people. We find it more enjoyable than just reading a book about it and frankly also because we like to travel. The state park holds an annual grist mill festival Labor Day weekend to remember life and times from an earlier period in our history.

Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks

Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks

Grand Forks ND was our second stop of the day. Hockey is a big deal up here, as it is in many northern states. The hockey arena for the University of North Dakota here in Grand Forks is a BIG deal also. First, though, lets bring some of you up to speed on the UND nickname. Briefly, though and assuredly incomplete.

The University of North Dakota Ralph Engelstad Arena ice rink.

The University of North Dakota Ralph Engelstad Arena ice rink.

For years, the nickname of the university was the Sioux, then The Fighting Sioux. Supposedly this was done with approval of the Sioux tribes in North Dakota. Over time, attitudes changed about wording and what was offensive to Native Americans. The NCAA forced the issue and told UND the nickname had to go. Over much wrangling, debate with the Sioux, voting by the residents of North Dakota, the nickname and logo are officially gone. The replacement nickname has not been finalized although five substitutes have been proposed.

This is all brought up here because we took a tour of the Ralph Englestad Arena. Our 90 minute tour was run by a woman who has been doing this for years and is enthusiastic about the school and the arena. The arena has been held up as the exemplar of a modern collegiate arena with all of the bells and whistles. And I do mean all.

Ralph Englestad was born in Thief River Falls MN, played hockey at UND, and went on to develop real estate and two casinos; one being the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. It was one of the very few independently owned casinos in the world. Englestad died in 2002 and the property now belongs to Caesars and is called the LINQ hotel and casino.

Before he died however, he committed to building UND a new hockey arena. He committed $100,000,000 for its construction and outfitting. He was heavily involved in the details of the design and overseeing the construction. The final cost for the 11,634 seat arena when completed in 2001 was $104,000,000 and he paid it all. In contrast, in 1994, the University of Minnesota built 10,000 seat Mariucci Arena at a cost of about $20,000,000. The Xcel Center in St. Paul, built in 2000, is a 18,000 seat NHL arena and cost $170,000,000.

The bar and Belgian Organ at the arena

The bar and Belgian Organ at the arena

Englestad Arena is a true American monument to athletics. There is a 1903 Belgian Organ. Floors have granite from Italy and accent granite from India. The seats are leather. There are 300 television sets so a spectator does not miss the action if they are in the restroom or at a concession stand. There are 2400 Fighting Sioux logos throughout the building. There are 48 private suites that go for $32,000 per season.

The men’s and women’s (hockey team only) shared weight room is 10,000 square feet, has an underwater treadmill, and a jacuzzi the entire men’s hockey team can fit into at one time. The men’s hockey locker room rivals those in NHL arenas and is off-limits to all but hockey team members and staff. There is a separate hockey stick room also off-limits to all but a few select hockey staff.

The arena has collegiate and Olympic sized rinks. It has three Zamboni ice making machines. It is faced with $1,100,000 in brick. It has room for four buses to drive inside, discharge passengers, and park until the hockey game is over and the visiting team has to leave.

Finally, it has a practice area open to camps and young people as well as UND hockey players. In this area is a treadmill with a non-ice skatable surface where athletes can practice skating-not running, or jogging. As one staff member said, “By high school, the young players should be able to skate on this treadmill at a speed of about 20 mph.” They do wear a safety harness, just in case.

The skating treadmill at UND

The skating treadmill at UND

Well, I controlled myself and did not ask any questions about the balance between sports and academics. I avoided comments about the fact that the facility is not UND controlled but managed by an outside group on land donated so alcohol can be sold on the premises. I made no comment after learning that the arena makes a profit of $1,000,000 a year that is given to UND. I made no comment about the nickname controversy or the 2400 Fighting Sioux logos around the building. (Englestad fought to retain the logo and nickname, even threatening to pull out if it was changed.) Surprising behavior for me, yes?

All in all, an educational afternoon for us and 15 other people who took the tour.

Dinner was Italian, down by the waterfront. Mamma Maria’s and a good choice.

A short video on the treadmill.

Ed and Chris

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