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July 15, 2012

In retrospect, perhaps planning a surprise two-day trip to Itasca on the heels of a week at Korean culture camp and a day away for my husband and me at a book engagement was just too much….

As you’ll see, we had a lot of fun!

Until the ride home. But by that time I’d exhausted my camera battery so you’ll just have to take my word for it :).

The trip to Itasca had its genesis last summer when the girls and I went with my sister and the cousins to visit a dam on the Mississippi River.

I’ve grown up with the Mississippi coursing through the geographic fringes of my life; I’m sorry to say I hardly pay it any attention except when it does something spectacular like flood.

Not Mercy. She was completely taken in by the Mississippi and it’s legends, like the fabled place named Itasca where the river begins and is so narrow that people skip across the river on stepping stones.

I promised we’d visit Itasca someday. Then about a month ago, Grandma mentioned that she and my dad were going to drive home from their anniversary trip by way of Itasca and a plan was born: we’d meet them at the headwaters of the Mississippi.

The girls didn’t know we’d see Grandma and Grandpa there until we walked into the visitors’ center and found them waiting for us.

The girls very quickly figured out that we’d planned a surprise. But Joy couldn’t figure out how Grandma got to this strange place.

We had lunch,

ran a few races,

then headed off to find the source of the Mississippi. The woods were heavily scented with pine from hundreds of trees like this one downed in recent storms.

This is the outlet of Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The water was crystal clear and very cold.The lake was so high and the current moving over the rocks so swift, that only a couple of hardy teen-aged boys attempted to walk across the river on the famous rocks.

But the girls ran  over the log bridge.

Joy sat on a rock with her feet in the water and splashed when she wasn’t engrossed in the sound of other people splashing .

We had a fun day together getting wet and muddy and baking dry in the summer sun. And thanks to Grandma and her camera, it didn’t even matter that I remembered to pack everything but a spare camera battery.


It was a pleasant surprise to find that Itasca State Park is quite accessible. There is often a gap between the idea and the implementation of accessibility. But even though the paths were unpaved, despite recent heavy rains the paths were as compact and smooth as asphalt. And because the headwaters are only about half a mile from a visitors center, people were making the trek in chairs and with walkers, crutches, and canes.

The water is not accessible; the lowest drop to the water is 12 inches over small boulders. The log bridge is also not accessible; it is an 8 inch step above the path. But the visitors centers are newer, meaning they were built, not retrofitted for accessibility.

I don’t think the designers of the exhibit in the Brower Visitor Center had universal design in mind. While there was a lot for Joy to look at, she could not touch much without us carrying her. I was surprised to find there is a lodge and camper cabins in the park. The cabins I saw (there may be others) were not wheelchair accessible and I forgot to check out the lodge. From its age, I’d guess its accessibility has been retrofitted.

Still, as a day trip or short-stay destination (we stayed at a hotel in Park Rapids) we found Itasca to be more accessible than many destinations that bill themselves as accessible.

And we had fun.

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