Passion for the park: Bemidji State Park is perfect place for Pete Harrison
BEMIDJI - There are many things to see and do at Lake Bemidji State Park, and Pete Harrison would be more than happy to share his ideas with any visitor.
"Not many parks are able to claim proximity to a large lake and also are at the trailhead to one of the major bike recreations trails," Harrison said. "And having the bog walk and being able to see the bog is a bonus."
Harrison is well versed on what Bemidji State Park has to offer. His duties as park manager give him a unique perspective about the park and its visitors.
"I'm very lucky to be here," Harrison, who has been the park manager for three years, said. "This is a great place to be, professionally and personally. Bemidji has all the amenities we need, and is a great place to raise a family."
Harrison loves the outdoors, and since his younger years in Silver Bay, he targeted a profession with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"At first I looked into wildlife and fisheries and worked at seasonal wildlife jobs in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota," Harrison said. "But I quickly learned that you couldn't get into most of the fisheries and wildlife positions without a master's degree.
"But I read that during the next 10 years, 60 percent of the workforce in park management was going to retire so I headed in that direction."
That career move led Harrison to a position with the South Carolina state park system and, before the move to Bemidji, a three-year stint as the assistant manager at Lake Bronson State Park.
When Paul Mork retired from his supervisor post at Bemidji State Park three years ago, Harrison took his place.
"Things worked out perfectly for me and for my interests," he said. "I grew up camping and I have young ones I want to get interested in camping.
"But recreating is a growing issue. There is a balance (that must be reached) between recreating and preserving," Harrison continued. "There are always new recreational activities and interests and I want to teach people about them. But we must also find a way to maintain them through time and strike that balance."
Bemidji State Park is the perfect place to teach the public about making the best out of recreational opportunities.
"We are in a Catch 22," Harrison said. "We always want people to recreate outdoors but we need to realize the impacts of doing that."
Geocaching, for example, is popular at Bemidji State Park. But in order to protect the environment the activity must be controlled.
"At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much impact but that geocache is back in the woods," Harrison explained. "If you have 1,000 people going through the woods to the same spot, you can develop a goat trail. You can also break branches off the trees so there can be impacts to the environment."
Educating people about those impacts is one of Harrison's favorite duties because it offers the opportunity to meet with the public.
"As a park manager, I am a generalist and not a specialist," Harrison said. "The day is always in flux but I try to spend at least part of every day visiting the people at the campsites.
"The most gratifying part of the job is seeing the families and the kids come to the park," he continued. "The least amount of time I stay in the office, the better it is for me. I enjoy seeing the kids becoming proactive in our events and, hopefully, developing the next generation of park enthusiasts.
"We need to instill the passion for the outdoors to the young," Harrison continued. "If we do that, hopefully, they will transfer that enthusiasm to their friends, to their brothers and to their sisters. That way we will be able to carry on the legacy."