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PIONEER PERSPECTIVES: I hope I leave something good behind

When I first arrived in Bemidji to work at the Pioneer, I set a goal, vowing to leave something good behind. Now, as I head into my final few weeks at the Pioneer, I sincerely hope I leave behind something as good as the impression the Northwoods and its people have left on me.

Bria Barton
Bria Barton

For the past year, I’ve bittersweetly read the goodbye columns of several of my former colleagues at the Pioneer, and, now, the bell has tolled and my time has come to pen one.

If you recall in my introductory column in late 2019 , I was a fresh-faced college grad who had just moved halfway across the country (from South Carolina to northern Minnesota) to take on the role of Forum Communication’s first-ever travel and tourism reporter.

It was a challenge I was eager to jump into, as I would now have an expansive platform that would allow me to form a bond with thousands of readers and get them just as excited about travel as I’ve always been.

Was I initially a bit concerned that the traveling in question would be in northern Minnesota? Yes, absolutely. After all, it was unknown territory to me and not a place you’d typically find on a Forbes list of top destinations.

But, nevertheless, I dived in head first, researching the surrounding area and uncovering what I soon referred to as “hidden gems”: glorious and explorable places and things -- right under our noses -- that plenty of folks have never even heard of.

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For a time, that became the theme -- and now, looking back, it was the highlight -- of my job. Seeking out the real places, real people and real culture of northern Minnesota and telling their stories.

I developed my “ Trip on a Tankful ” column, which took readers on a drive with me to the noteworthy, the alluring and the just-plain-weird treasures of Minnesota. The response I received from my readers was incredible, and I can’t say thank you enough. I had a blast taking you all for a ride with me.

Here are a few of my favorites for old time’s sake:

Visiting the Big Fish roadside attraction in Bena and dining on some tasty broiled chicken at its accompanying supper club.

Hiking through the Lost 40 , an ecological gem housing an old-growth pine forest, where some trees span more than 100 feet tall.

Exploring Minnesota’s “last true wilderness” dubbed the Big Bog , the largest peat bog in the Lower 48, where carnivorous plants and rare birds dwell.

Tasting lutefisk for the first time, a long-standing Minnesota tradition, at a local Bemidji church supper.

Sampling lefse and all its different accompaniments for the first time at Bemidji’s Lefse Festival.

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Following the yellow brick road at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, where the Hollywood starlet and her childhood home have been memorialized.

Chasing ghost stories -- and ultimately debunking them -- at Chase on the Lake resort in Walker during Halloween.

Skating along the Riverbend Skate Path in Warroad , now the longest ice path in the U.S.

Getting put on the right side of the track with a stay at the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast , an inn consisting of remodeled antique train cars.

Learning the ropes of darkhouse spearfishing on Lake Bemidji with a local outdoorsman.

Ringing in the holidays at Concordia Language Villages’ Nordic Weekend , an immersive workshop for adults to celebrate Christmastime the Scandinavian way.

And finally, taking a relaxing getaway to Grand Marais during its off-season and discovering a wealth of activity amidst empty streets.

Of course, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, it changed my trajectory as a reporter with the Pioneer. I soon settled into local features, where my focus has mostly remained.

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While my heart has always been with travel, the change expanded my horizons, honed my skills as a journalist, and allowed me to venture out and meet some fantastic people I never would’ve known otherwise.

When I first arrived in Bemidji to work at the Pioneer, I set a goal, vowing to leave something good behind. Now, as I head into my final few weeks at the Pioneer, I sincerely hope I leave behind something as good as the impression the Northwoods and its people have left on me.

So, in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.

Bria Barton is a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, she can be reached at bbarton@bemidjipioneer.com.

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