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Josh Dale, a Bemidji State University junior from Crosslake, hit golf balls Wednesday afternoon at the Bemidji Town & Country Club driving range. Dale is a member of the BSU golf team. The range opened Wednesday. Pioneer Photo/Dennis Doeden

Spring started earlier than usual in Bemidji

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Spring officially sprung Saturday and it's looking to be a warmer one.

Bemidji State University's baseball team had its earliest home opener ever on record Sunday, March 21, ending its four-game series Monday against Wayne State.

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Previously, the earliest BSU baseball home opener was on March 27, 2007.

The Bemidji Town & Country Club's driving range opened Wednesday. With a few more nice days, the Country Club, which typically doesn't open until around April 15, anticipates an earlier opener as well.

"Right now, all indications (are) that we will open earlier," said Rick Grand, head professional golfer. "Weather next week will play a role in it, but our anticipation is positive. Of all the years I've played, it would definitely be the earliest potential opener."

Protecting the course's turf is important, Grand said, which is why the County Club is cautious about opening early.

"We want to protect the turf," Grand said. "We don't want to jeopardize playing conditions in the future just for a few extra days of playing time."

Last year's late-spring snowfalls and cool summer temperatures have some residents hesitant to use the phrase "early spring" yet.

But it's hard to ignore springtime indicators.

Kathy Peck, a Beltrami County Master Gardener, said she saw bees feeding on her Hibiscus plant blooming outside and saw robins on Monday.

"It's definitely warmer than last year, but it can change rapidly," Peck said. "No one can ever know what to expect in March and April."

Master Gardeners are trained by the University of Minnesota Extension Service in various aspects of horticulture.

"You wouldn't want to be removing mulch off perennials," she said. "Nights are cold. We often see high fluctuations (in temperatures) at this time of year. It's Mother Earth preparing for summer."

Peck said now is a good time to sharpen yard tools and preen yards by cleaning up bird seed under bird feeders, picking up animal waste and clearing twigs from the grass. She cautioned against raking yards, as grass roots are too tender this time of the year.

"(Spring) seems early. That's what's so exciting about living here," Peck said. "As a gardener, you have to keep on top of it and be prepared."

Beltrami County's Department of Natural Resources reported that its foresters found deer ticks crawling on their clothing last week. Spring tree planting could start earlier, depending on the last frost.

BSU's Outdoor Programming Center expects to open with full staff and regular hours on May 17, consistent with past years.

"Traditionally, it's been pretty cold even in May," said Mark Morrissey, the OPC's outdoor program director. "Last year, June was quite cold, but we set up anyways."

Morrissey said the OPC makes its "chilly weather" gear readily available for spring trip goers.

While the OPC doesn't open until May 17, Morrissey said, anyone can contact him and he will arrange an equipment rental at any time of the year.

"You never know - all kinds of things can happen," Morrissey said of spring weather in the Bemidji area.

City activities

Marcia Larson, parks and recreation director for the city of Bemidji, said warm temperatures have parks workers getting ready earlier than usual.

"We want to get Diamond Point open, but we're also being cautious," Larson said, noting that there was a "significant" snowfall in April last year.

If the weather holds, Diamond Point would open about 2-3 weeks sooner than usual.

The park would likely open in April, Larson said.

Other city maintenance activities, such as street sweeping, also are ahead of schedule.

"We've actually been out sweeping the last couple of days, which is earlier than usual," said Craig Gray, public works director/city engineer for the city of Bemidji.

According to Gray, sweeping is about 2-3 weeks earlier than usual. Typically, temperatures must be higher than 40 degrees before the city will sweep the streets.

"The weather has been nice for workers," Gray said. "As long as the water isn't freezing, we're good."

Gray said he is hoping to soon get hot-mix bituminous and "start getting after some potholes."

Fire season

The Bemidji Fire Department has responded to two grass fires this year. The first, on March 17, burned 20 acres of land. The second, on Monday morning, burned about one-half acre.

"It's very early" for grass fires, said Dave Hoefer, Bemidji fire chief, said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' regional office has also responded to grass fires this month.

"It's looking to be a busy season for us," Hoefer said.

The Bemidji Fire Department is reminding people to keep their canopies clear along roadways and driveways. Fire trucks need at least 12 feet in height and 10 feet in width for clearance.

Burning restrictions go into effect March 29 in Beltrami, Hubbard and Cass counties.

Now, burning is allowed by permit, but must be done after 6 p.m. or before 8 a.m.

Pioneer reporter Bethany Wesley contributed to this article.

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