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Paul Bunyan Park renovations delayed; Construction to start after Water Carnival, Dragon Boat Festival, officials say

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BEMIDJI -- Tourists and local Paul and Babe lovers will have access to the iconic statues unrestricted by renovations to Paul Bunyan Park -- at least until August.

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Marcia Larson, Bemidji Parks and Recreation director, said although construction was previously scheduled to start in July, it will now start after the Dragon Boat Festival the first weekend in August.

"At that point, the parking lot, trail area, sidewalks, those will all probably be closed off," Larson said.

Larson said the city will start examining bids July 10, and the City Council is scheduled to pick a contractor July 21. Construction is planned to start Aug. 3.

The bid period was extended because contractors are swamped with work during this summer's construction season, Larson said. "They're just really busy, so we extended it in order to make sure we get enough bidders in there and it's competitive," she said.

Construction plans call for the park's kiosk and a sculpture to be moved in front of the statues of Paul and Babe. The area around the statues will be closed to the public for portions of the construction, but the specific length of time they're closed will depend on the contractor, Larson said.

"There will be times that Paul and Babe will be unavailable, but we're going to do our best to try to accommodate as many people as we can," she said.

Plans also include extensive changes to the park's parking lot, which Larson said will get smaller but receive new spaces for larger vehicles, such as buses and RVs. The lot will also get rid of a one-way exit aligned with Third Street, on which many drivers turning off of Highway 197 accidently travel the wrong way, Larson said.

While the parking lot is closed for construction, alternate parking will be available in the lot directly across Highway 197, adjacent to Big River Scoop, she said. Kraus-Anderson, the lot's owner, agreed to temporarily make the lot public.

Permitted parking will also likely be closed in Lot 8, the southernmost portion of the lot, through July, she said.

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