Paul Bunyan Land Lives On!

Paul Bunyan and me (I'm the one in the white shirt!)

Hurry and get to Paul Bunyan Land before it closes for the season!

I had almost completed my eighty-mile trip up to the Brainerd Lakes area to visit some friends last night when I noticed some inconspicuous road signage flanking what looked like a dirt path on my right. I glanced over as I passed and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Paul Bunyan Land!

Here's what you see when you first enter Paul Bunyan Land

When my sister and I were kids, Paul Bunyan Land was on a par with Disneyland. There were rides (Tilt-a-Whirl!), carnival food, and chickens in glass booths who played the piano or shot basketballs. But the best part by far was when we first walked into the park through the main entrance. There in front of us was a colossal statue of Paul Bunyan that would personally greet us! “Hello there, Cindy and Kippy from White Bear Lake,” Paul would say as we nearly trembled with excitement at the magic of it all. When I grew up and had a kid of my own, I was thrilled to bring her to Paul Bunyan Land for the first time. As she entered the park and heard, “Hello there, Erin from Hopkins!” the look on her face was priceless! What a wonderful memory!

Babe the Blue Ox, Paul's trusty pal, now occupies a place of honor in the parking lot

On Tuesday, August 12, 2003, I had driven up to Brainerd to visit my friend Russ. As I drove by Paul Bunyan Land, I noticed a sign that said that the next day would be the park’s last day. I found out later that the land that Paul Bunyan Land occupied was deemed too valuable to host an amusement park. So the next day on my way out of town, I stopped at Paul Bunyan Land and paid the $10.60 entry fee (the 2011 fees are slightly higher) so I could tour one of my favorite kidhood places one more time before it closed for good. I walked in, stood in front of the statue and smiled as Paul Bunyan said, “Hi to Kippy from White Bear Lake!” I couldn’t resist giving them my childhood nickname and old hometown. Then I walked around and went in just about every shop. I walked through the haunted house behind some crying children and sat down next to the cowboy positioned on a bench. For old times sake, I even went on the Tilt-A-Whirl!

The current Tilt-a-Whirl ride at Paul Bunyan Land

The last time Erin and I visited Paul Bunyan Land, we capped off a perfect day with a Tilt-A-Whirl ride, then made the mistake of going on it a second time. Dumb! We both almost hurled! Yes, I felt nauseous during the ride and after it was over my head was sweaty and my shirt had big sweat marks on it. Oh, well, it was worth it. I then played tic-tac-toe and baseball with two chickens before paying a third chicken to give me a postcard. I even bought two old coupon books—one for my sister and one for me—gazed fondly at ol’ Paul one more time, then turned around and didn’t look back as I left.

I had heard shortly after that that someone had been interested in purchasing the Paul Bunyan statue but I don’t recall hearing anything more about it. According to its Wikipedia page, here’s how the park was resurrected:

The park, originally known as Paul Bunyan Center, was founded in 1950 in Baxter, Minnesota, by Sherm Levis. It was built around the statue of Paul that Levis and Roy Kuemicheal had purchased the previous year. The park grew over time to include over 40 rides. In 2003, the park announced that due to the high cost of running the park, it would be closing and that everything would be auctioned off. Fortunately, a local family owned business named This Old Farm was interested in keeping the entire park and bought the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as well as the rides. They moved the park onto their land six miles east of Brainerd on State Highway 18. The amusement park has 27 rides for children and is surrounded by 30 buildings.

The Zumur ride at Paul Bunyan Land. If this ride had been around when I was a kid, I don't think I would have had the nerve to go on it!

Yesterday, my friends were waiting for me seven miles up ahead so I couldn’t stop for a leisurely visit. But the next day, on my way back, I joyously took a left turn into a cherished childhood memory. Yep, there was Paul in all his ginormous glory! When I explained to Sharleen, who was selling tickets, how much Paul Bunyan Land meant to me, she graciously offered to take a photo of Paul and me (see above). Sharleen, a lovely young mother of three kids, told me how fun it was to work there and to see the faces on the kids who were greeted by name by Paul. Sharleen’s bubbly personality made the visit that much more special. It makes me happy to know that not only does Paul Bunyan Land live on, but that a new generation of children can experience the magic that captivated me so wonderfully. Thanks for all the great memories, Paul and Babe!

A little bear cub steers one of the Round Lake Boats at Paul Bunyan Land

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