Diamond Point Park shines in city park system
Today, Diamond Point Park is again the crowning jewel of the Bemidji city park system.
Following a $3.3 million renovation, Diamond Point Park has been restored and reconstructed to reflect the community's investment in its natural resources, especially Lake Bemidji.
Before the 2008 renovations, the park - like other Bemidji parks - had become worn and in desperate need of updating.
The entire history of Diamond Point Park is unknown, but what is known is that the area's history dates back thousands of years.
An archeological study by the Leech Lake Reservation Heritage Sites Program in August 1996 resulted in more than 4,200 artifacts found. The artifacts proved that the area had been in use for more than 3,000 years.
The Bemidji Pioneer then reported that the artifacts found - representative of Brainerd ware, Laurel ware, Blackduck ware and Sandy Lake ware - proved that those four cultural groups, the main four groups of the Woodland Period in northern Minnesota, used the area extensively for thousands of years.
The more immediate past history of the park has been documented.
The park, according to "Bemidji's Jewel: The History of Diamond Point Park" by Dan Evans in 1990, was originally purchased by Freeman Doud as part of a homestead he purchased June 30, 1896, for $163.25.
Doud, a Fosston farmer, later took part in the great scheme that brought droves of people to Bemidji shortly after it was incorporated as a town May 5, 1896.
"The newspapers began printing stories of diamonds being found in Lake Bemidji," Evans writes. "It seems a coincidence that some of the first people to 'discover' these diamonds were members of the Bemidji Townsite and Improvement Company. Subsequent findings of diamonds were reported and Freeman Doud joined the hunt. At the same time, Doud was reporting finding diamonds along his lakeshore, he also had his property for sale, consistently raising the price."
St. Paul-area businessmen came to Bemidji, then, in search of the precious gems. Upon learning they had been duped, they instead set out to establish Bemidji as a major town.
A.A. White and W.F. Street purchased 160 acres of property from Doud, including the Diamond Point property in summer 1903. They planned to construct a resort and build a pavilion and a dock.
In June 1903, the word "park" was first used in Bemidji newspapers, Evans wrote.
In the summer of 1913, Bemidji began lobbying for the establishment of a school in town.
"There was fierce competition between Cass Lake, Bemidji and Thief River Falls for acquiring the school," Evans writes. "On Aug. 13, 1913, the site for the Normal School was chosen in favor of Bemidji."
The site chosen was Diamond Point.
Bemidji State Normal School, which eventually became Bemidji State University, took over more and more land in the area throughout the years.
However, it was White, the sole landowner of properties adjoining the school - Street had been shot and killed by his brother-in-law in 1903 - who insisted that the land given was designated "for school and park purposes," according to Evans.
In spring 1917, Bemidji established its first Parks Commission, which had the authority of leveraging taxes and buying and selling property. It was later disbanded in 1966.
In 1920, the park offered free camping grounds - it was so popular that a three-day limit was imposed. Campgrounds included a kitchen, dining room and concessions such as full meals, soft drinks, ice cream, sandwiches and candy.
In June 1920, the Park Commission began taking steps toward establishing a zoo when it obtained a yearling deer. Later, the zoo would consist of two moose, a fox, two elk, three deer, two bears, a beaver, wolves, raccoons, rabbits and pheasants.
"Leonard Dickinson donated a buffalo to the zoo, but it was difficult to keep fenced," Evans writes. "Dickinson was asked to take it back at an out-of-pocket cost to him of $60."
In 1921, Diamond Point underwent some improvements, including a new bath house and road improvements.
In 1922, the park got electricity.
"By the mid-1930s, Diamond Point Park was a well-established and widely known tourist attraction," Evans writes.
There were 14 cabins and enough room for up to 300 campers.
The zoo began shedding its pets in 1929 because it had become too expensive to house the animals through the winter months. It took until 1950 to be rid of all the animals, which were sent to different places through the state.
The bath house burned down in the late 1940s, and a new one was built in 1952.
In 1949, the college needed more room for expansion and acquired another 8 acres from Diamond Point Park.
But more improvements were done to the park in the 1950s, when the Bemidji Lions Club donated parking posts and playground equipment. In 1952, the main park road was tarred. And, many of the elms, ash, oaks and pine trees were planted in the 1950s.
Between 1954 and 1956, the cabins and log buildings were all sold and moved.
"There were a total of 19 buildings," Evans writes, "15 cabins, two cottages and two log toilet structures."
Thirty-six more acres of the park were given to the college in 1956.
"Today, the park is used mostly by local residents and students, although many tourists briefly pause as they pass through Bemidji to remember what a jewel the park was when she was young," Evans concluded in 1990.
The city of Bemidji in 2002 authorized a half-cent sales tax to raise a total of $9.8 million to renovate the city's parks, which were deemed at that time to be in need of repair.
The vote was 2,110 in favor and 1,524 opposed. The state Legislature approved the tax during the 2005 session.
That the Bemidji's parks fell into disrepair would be a disheartening surprise for N.E. Given, an original member of the Parks Commission.
Given, in 1941, wrote a history of Bemidji parks, in which he stated:
"The Bemidji park system, which encompasses some 11 separate parks and is at present considered to be the best system of parks for a city of its size, had its first start through the acquiring of Diamond Point Park, that neck of land which extends out in the waters of Lake Bemidji."
The desire to return the city's park system to its former brilliance led to the consideration of a special sales tax.
Diamond Point Park was always considered to be the first park that should undergo renovations.
The 2008 work included the construction of the main park building, a larger pavilion and other picnic shelters.
A bike trail circles the park while a walking trail follows the edge of Lake Bemidji. Overlooking the shores of the lake are new telescope-like devices inviting children, or adults, to peer out across the water.
Both trails lead to the swimming area, which has a gently sloped beach and grassy area for sunbathing or relaxing. A playground area also is near the beach.
Additionally, the Bemidji State University Outdoor Recreation Center is in a new building near the new, and existing, boat launches. The facility, open year-round, rents out canoes, sailboats, and other recreational equipment like cross-country skis.