Paul Bunyan Amusement Center Articles
A small selection of press at the beginning...
Posted on Fri, Apr. 18, 2003
A blue day for Paul and his ox
BY BETH GAUPER
Since 1950, a winking, talking Paul Bunyan has symbolized the Brainerd, Minn., area.
Seated inside the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, at the corner of Minnesota 371 and 210, the 26-foot lumberjack amazes children, chatting and calling them by name. But this will be his last summer at the park. Don McFarland, who owns and runs the attraction with his wife, Patti, and son, Steven, is closing it after Labor Day, saying high real-estate taxes and insurance make it impossible for him to make a profit.
A Kohl's department store will replace the park and adjoining Paul Bunyan Inn.
"It's a shame,'' McFarland said. "Everything is changing up here.''
He'll give Paul and 23-foot Babe the Blue Ox to any nonprofit agency that can take care of them and keep them in the area, he said. Already, he's received calls from Pequot Lakes and Pine River, as well as several attractions.
"If people are as interested as they say they are, Paul's gonna have a good home,'' McFarland said.
The arrival of Paul, built in 1948 by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, spurred a rivalry between Bemidji, a logging town whose 1937 Paul and Babe created a national sensation, and Brainerd, a rail hub that began promoting itself as "Paul Bunyan's Playground'' after Paul's arrival in 1950.
Brainerd's Paul wasn't the first and isn't the largest — that one's in Akeley — but McFarland claims his is the best.
"He's the best Paul in the world,'' McFarland said. "He's the only one who talks, and you can ask him.''
Posted on Thu, Apr. 24, 2003
MINNESOTA: Paul and Babe getting offers
The competition is getting giant-size as central Minnesota communities vie to become the next home to the Brainerd area's statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
Don McFarland, owner of the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center in Baxter, plans to close his amusement park this fall, selling the land to developers to build a Kohl's department store. McFarland has said he would like the giant statues to remain in the Brainerd lakes area and is willing to give them to a nonprofit organization that is willing to pay for moving costs.
So far, officials in Pine River and Pequot Lakes have discussed plans to seek Paul and Babe.
In Pequot Lakes, the initial plan would be to relocate the statues along the Paul Bunyan Trail. Pequot Lakes is the home of Paul Bunyan's fishing bobber, the city's former water tower painted like a bobber.
Brainerd also is considering whether to seek the statues.
McFarland has said he and his family will decide in May which organization will get the statues.
BYLINE: Melinda Rogers
CREDITLINE: Star Tribune
HEADLINE: Pawlenty tries to talk Paul Bunyan into staying
BAXTER, MINN. -- It's been decades since Gov. Tim Pawlenty first walked "awestruck and a little scared" through the gates of the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center in Baxter to meet the beloved, talking giant lumberjack and his blue bovine.
But the big fellow clad in plaid remembered Pawlenty on Friday, when the governor, now 42, made a return trip to ask the blinking, 26-foot-high piece of Minnesota folklore and his companion, Babe the Blue Ox, to stay in the state's North Woods.
"Timmy, is that you?" boomed the statue, manned by Dave Borash, a Brainerd high school teacher who has been Paul's voice for 15 years.
"I've grown a little," Pawlenty shouted back, later adding, "We've got a budget deficit the size of your shoe."
Don McFarland, owner of the Amusement Center, announced last month that he is closing the 53-year-old summer theme park because property taxes and insurance costs have made it unprofitable.
That news sparked inquiries from several Minnesota cities and other states interested in buying the famous icons. Calls poured in from Dallas, New York City, Branson, Mo., and Wisconsin Dells.
Closer to home, officials from Pequot Lakes, Pine River, Hackensack and the Mall of America also inquired, McFarland said.
But when word surfaced in St. Paul this week that South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds had his eye on the statues, Pawlenty decided it was time to take action. He wrote a letter to McFarland saying he wanted to keep the statues in Minnesota and arranged a conference to discuss the matter further.
"If we were to lose Paul Bunyan, it would be like a kick in our cultural groin," Pawlenty said.
"People all across Minnesota have fond memories of coming to see Paul Bunyan and of bringing their own children. It's an important part of our heritage," he said.
McFarland, the mayor of Lake Shore, Minn., is securing a deal with developers who plan to build a Kohl's department store on the amusement center's 8 acres.
After Pawlenty's visit, McFarland and his wife, Patti, said they are committed to keeping Paul and Babe in northern Minnesota and are willing to donate the pair to a nonprofit organization that agrees to pay for moving the statues.
The couple have set some stipulations: whoever adopts the icons must develop a plan so Paul is able to keep talking and moving and can be enclosed during the winter. The facility must also have room for 100 parking spaces.
An option that Brainerd officials are pursuing is relocating Paul and Babe to a new welcome center and rest area south of Brainerd. The McFarlands will decide later this month on the statues' final destination.
Staff at the park and the adjoining Paul Bunyan Bowl and Sports Grill -- where the governor bowled a few frames Friday before getting a strike -- appeared to delight in Pawlenty's visit. Plenty of good-natured ribbing between the governor and the legendary logger kept the crowd chuckling.
"That hairy chest looks a little bit like Austin Powers," Pawlenty told Bunyan. He also couldn't resist asking a question that has likely crossed the minds of other visitors.
"Paul, what do you do when you have to go to the bathroom?" the governor asked.
Bunyan gracefully detoured from the subject.
"There's a question we don't touch on very often," the lumberjack said with a laugh.
CREDITLINE: Associated Press
HEADLINE: Pawlenty backs plan to keep Paul Bunyan in Minnesota
BAXTER, Minn. -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty endorsed a plan to keep Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Minnesota on Friday.
Pawlenty traveled to the Brainerd lakes area to try to keep the landmark statues of the legendary lumberjack and his companion, which he called ``Minnesota cultural icons,'' from going to South Dakota or another state.
Bunyan, who's 27 feet tall even sitting down, greeted the governor as ``Little Timmy'' with his electronic voice when Pawlenty climbed up on the stage wearing a Paul Bunyan T-shirt.
For 53 years, the statues have stood watch at the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, which owner Don McFarland plans to close this fall as he sells the site to commercial developers who plan to build a Kohl's department store.
McFarland and his wife had offered to sell the statues or donate them to a nonprofit group if a suitable organization came forward. Among those inquiring have been people from South Dakota and even New York City.
But the McFarlands committed themselves Friday to keeping Paul Bunyan in Minnesota.
Pawlenty backed a plan developed by the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce to make the Paul and Babe statues the centerpiece of a new welcome center and rest area planned for busy Highway 371 south of Brainerd.
The Chamber is still working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources and the State Patrol on details of the plan.
Pawlenty praised the project as ``an outstanding example of a public-private partnership that improves services and minimizes costs.''
He said he had vivid memories of visiting Paul Bunyan as a child and being awe-struck - and a little scared - when the giant lumberjack first called out his name. He also enjoyed seeing the similar reactions of his own daughters when he brought them to the amusement center, which is in the heart of the state's vacation country.
Pawlenty stopped short of recommending state expenditures to relocate the statues but noted that state money is already part of the highway stop, which is expected to open in fall or winter 2004.
``We're going to have to let this unfold,'' he said.
Posted on Sat, May. 03, 2003
BAXTER, MINN.: Pawlenty's visit might have saved Bunyan, Babe
BY BILL SALISBURY
BAXTER, Minn. — Paul Bunyan really didn't want to move to South Dakota.
"Been there, done it. … Logged the whole state. There ain't a tree standing," the talking, 26-foot lumberjack statue told Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Friday when he mentioned that South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds had inquired about expropriating Paul and Babe the Blue Ox to the Mount Rushmore state.
"They've already got four great faces out there," Paul said. "We need to keep a couple around here."
Paul and Babe are going to stay in Minnesota after all.
Don McFarland, the owner of the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center here, made a commitment to Pawlenty to keep the cultural icons in the Brainerd lakes area after he closes the park this fall. He is selling the site at the busy intersection of Minnesota highways 210 and 371 to developers who plan to build a Kohl's department store.
Paul and Babe are historic icons that have symbolized the Brainerd area since 1950. McFarland had offered the statues to any nonprofit organization that agreed to move them and house them to his satisfaction.
"Our phone has gone off the hook. Everybody wants them," he said during a news conference with Pawlenty at Paul's feet. He had offers from suitors in Dallas; Branson, Mo.; New York City and South Dakota, as well as several in Minnesota.
Pawlenty flew to Baxter because he was "genuinely concerned" that Minnesota would lose the statues.
"If we were to lose Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox it would be like a kick in our cultural groin," the governor said. "They're a big part of our history, a big part of our tradition."
McFarland hasn't picked a new location for the statues yet. He said he has several offers from communities between Crow Wing State Park and Hackensack and expects to choose one, probably within a month.
But the most likely site is a new "371 Welcome Center" for tourists to be built this summer 4 miles south of Brainerd. It is a public-private partnership of the state Transportation and Natural Resources departments, the State Patrol, Crow Wing County and the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.
"The facility will be built. We just need to modify it for Paul," said Lisa Paxton, the chamber's chief executive officer. McFarland called the center a "great spot" for the statues.
The developers already have plans for an enclosed amphitheater for the statue that would be open year-round. Paxton said the chamber and other private interests are raising $750,000 to cover the private share of the project, which will open next year.
McFarland said Pawlenty's visit helped persuade him to keep Paul and Babe in the area. "Him showing up is above and beyond," he said. "It means a great deal. It's huge. It tells us we have something that means a lot to Minnesota."
When the news conference ended, Pawlenty turned to the statue and said, "Paul, we love you. … We want you to stay in Minnesota … and we'll find you a good home."
Said Paul to the governor, "I like the idea that you're going to take care of me."
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