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Raising Babe may be preferred option to protect Bemidji statue

During a work session Monday, the Bemidji City Council showed interest in an a proposal to raise the Babe the Blue Ox statue, allowing it to avoid damage from pooling water. After a discussion, the Council expressed interest in learning more about the option.

Paul Bunyan statue
The iconic Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in Bemidji, Minn. (Jillian Gandsey/The Bemidji Pioneer)
(Jillian Gandsey/The Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council showed interest Monday in a proposal to raise the Babe the Blue Ox statue downtown.

Raising the statue was one of four proposals meant to protect the structure from water damage. In the last few years, the hooves of the statue have sustained damage from pooling water.

The Babe statue is one of two located adjacent to the Tourist Information Center in Bemidji, the other being the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Currently, Paul Bunyan is set a foot and a half higher than Babe.

The other three options presented Monday included:

  • Excavating the area adjacent to the Babe statue to route drainage there.
  • Removing and reshaping the concrete in the plaza where the statues are set to drain the water away from Babe.
  • Removing just a section of the concrete plaza to install a catch basin and have the water drain there.

In her comments, Ward 5 Councilmember Nancy Erickson discussed the importance of maintaining the two statues.
"This is our image, our national image," Erickson said. "We love them. Think about how many people they've brought to our city. I can't ever see not protecting them."

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Potential work at the plaza would be the second project for the statues recently. Earlier this year, the city hired the firm Jensen Conservation Services for the repair and maintenance of both statues.

The conservation work was moved ahead of schedule this spring, too, as the Paul Bunyan statue sustained damage to the right arm . The concrete of the arm gave way and it remained attached by the inner rebar.

The conservation work on the statues was completed in May.

The colored concrete plaza around the statues was installed in 2015 as part of a $1.6 million project. Initially, the project was going to include the addition of boulders and a tree stump, but the prop items were later removed based on public feedback.

In summation, mayor Jorge Prince said the council had a consensus for exploring the option of raising the Babe statue, with the expectation that the Parks and Recreation Department will bring back more details on that proposal.

Masking protocols for meetings

A discussion of masking during meetings and the possibility of attending sessions remotely was also on the agenda Monday. The item was brought forward by Ward 4 Councilmember Emelie Rivera, who asked about attending meetings digitally and mask-wearing at City Hall.

During the discussion, City Attorney Alan Felix said Minnesota law allows up to three remote meetings a year for local government units. Felix also said requiring masks inside city buildings would require a vote by the council.

No action was taken during the session regarding masks. However, City Manager Nate Mathews said he can speak with Beltrami County Public Health officials for input on the subject.

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Last year, the city council voted to implement a face mask requirement inside public spaces. The action came just a few days before a statewide mandate was initiated by Gov. Tim Walz.

Rivera's inquiry comes as coronavirus numbers have been rising locally. Last week, Beltrami County Public Health announced it was tracking more than 100 active cases.

In total, there have been 4,370 recorded cases of COVID in Beltrami County and more than 60 deaths.

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