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Visitors to the Tamarac Fall Festival are invited to wander the refuge's trails and take part in various nature-related activities. Photo by - Brian Basham

Tamarac's Fall Fest

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Almost 140 years ago, the trumpeter swan virtually disappeared from Minnesota's lakes and rivers due to overzealous hunting.

But today, this magnificent white bird is flourishing in our state once again, in large part due to a swan restoration program that was launched at the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge 25 years ago.

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That successful program will be the focus of this year's Tamarac Fall Festival, set to take place at the Refuge on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

But the festival is also an opportunity for Refuge staff to showcase the beauty of Tamarac, and its abundant fall foliage.

"It's a celebration of the refuge," park ranger Kelly Blackledge said.

Blackledge encourages visitors to bring their cameras to the Fall Festival to take photos in the historical cabins and also on the photography trail near there.

"Tamarac is really beautiful with fall color," she said.

Fall Festival attendees will also have the opportunity to vote on their favorite entries in Tamarac's annual photo contest; the entries will be prominently displayed inside the visitor welcome tent.

Unlike previous years' Fall Festivals, this year, the event won't be at the Refuge's visitor center, which is in the midst of construction. Instead, it will be held at a site about half a mile east of there.

"It will be held in the woods outside the Refuge's historic cabins," said Vonnie Jacobson, a member of this year's festival committee.

"It will be held outdoors, with tents," she added. "This is a one-time thing -- a truly unique opportunity."

Jacobson is a volunteer with the Friends of Tamarac, which organizes the annual event.

The Friends have chosen a truly "swan-centric" theme for the event, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of the trumpeter swan into the refuge.

Festival presentations will be focused on sharing the story of how the trumpeter swan was reintroduced to the refuge after disappearing from Minnesota about 100 years ago, due to being overhunted, Blackledge said.

"Today you can see hundreds of swans on the refuge," she added.

The fall festival will include refuge tours, where visitors can see the swans congregating before they migrate south for the winter.

There will be many children's activities focused on the swans as well. As you walk the Trumpeter Trail to the historic cabins, kids will have opportunities to do the swan swagger, test their skills at identifying trumpeters from other types of swans, listen for the song of the swan and learn what swans eat for lunch.

The event will feature special guest Michael Gallo, a professional puppeteer who will tell the story of the trumpeter swans with puppets.

"He's a great storyteller," Jacobson said.

As for the historic cabins, volunteers from the Becker County Historical Society will be doing walk-through demonstrations and sharing information about how the cabins were built by early settlers of the Tamarac area.

There will be a silent auction featuring nature and wildlife-themed items from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and food, snacks and beverages will be available for sale as well.

"We'll have pulled pork sandwiches, chips, beverages and homemade cookies (donated by Friends of Tamarac volunteers)," Jacobson said. The price of a meal is $6 per person.

There will be a separate table of silent auction items geared specifically toward kids as well, she added.

Other than the silent auction and food concessions, all activities at the fall festival are available free of charge, and there is no admission fee.

Last year's festival attracted about 600 people.

"It was our biggest crowd ever," Jacobson said, "and we're hoping to bring in the same kind of numbers this year."

All proceeds from the silent auction will benefit Tamarac's environmental education programs, she added, while proceeds from the concessions will benefit other Refuge activities.

Toast to Tamarac benefit a success

The Friends of Tamarac also hosted their second annual Toast to Tamarac benefit at Richwood Winery on Friday, Sept. 14.

"We had 206 people there," said Jacobson, who chaired the committee for this year's benefit.

"It was magical -- the music was just wonderful, and the weather, phenomenal," she added.

"It's just a gorgeous time of year at the winery, with lots of big, dark grapes on the vines, and we also had lots of nice comments on the food," Jacobson said. People really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

"The silent auction was also very successful, and we had a lot of people who were interested in our flat screen television presentation on environmental education," she added. "Overall, it was a lovely evening."

All proceeds from this benefit will go toward the environmental education programs at Tamarac as well, Jacobson noted.

"The Friends' mission is connecting children with nature," she said.

Kids from Detroit Lakes, Lake Park-Audubon, Frazee-Vergas, Waubun-Ogema-White Earth, Circle of Life and Moorhead schools have all taken part in those programs, which include plant and animal identification, GPS tracking, tree planting, and learning about how Tamarac's wildlife adapts to the change of seasons.

For more information, contact the Tamarac Refuge at 218-847-2641, or visit the website, www.fws.gov/refuge/tamarac.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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