Welcome to Pelican Rapids, a unique and beautiful community in the heart of Minnesota lakes country!
Located in western Otter Tail County, home to over a thousand lakes, the lake is never far away when you’re in Pelican Rapids. Whether you want to swim, fish, boat or simply relax on the shore, the lakes are a way of life here. With friendly people and unique shops, even rainy days hold the promise of a good time!
Historical monuments bring our rich local history to life, and the "flock" of pelican statues scattered throughout the area adds to the town’s rich arts scene. City parks and recreation provide entertainment and activities throughout the year. Or you can enjoy a scenic lake view drive down Highway 108 to reach nearby Maplewood State Park, with its camping sites, hiking trails, and breathtaking views.
The "world’s largest pelican" is no doubt the most photographed object in Pelican Rapids and continues to draw attention at the base of the Mill Pond Dam along the Pelican River in downtown Pelican Rapids.
The 15 1/2 steel and plaster symbol was erected in 1957 at the urging of civic leader Truman Strand, but it wasn’t until much later that the big pelican was named "Pete" in a contest sponsored by the Pelican Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
Historical Description of Pelican Rapids
The first settlers arrived in the Pelican Rapids area in 1868 to locate and establish trading posts for the British Northwest Company, which was interested in trading with Chippewa Indians living in the area. Word soon spread of the beautiful countryside and the area was wuickly homesteaded.
The City of Pelican Rapids, located in the northwest part of Otter Tail County, was located close to a trail leading from the Minneapolis–St Paul area, about 200 miles to the southeast, through St. Cloud and Alexandria, to Fargo–Moorhead, which are 45 miles to the northwest. The railroad arrived in Pelican Rapids in 1882, a branch line from Fergus Falls which was to continue northward. This never happened, however, and the lines remained a "dead end" until its removal some 100 years later. The City was incorporated in 1883.
Originally the area depended on agriculture, with numerous small farms dotting the countryside. Over the years, the dependence on agriculture has broadened to include processing if farm products, notable turkeys. At the same time, growth has been enjoyed in tourism and a variety of other industry: heavy manufacturing, electronics, wood products, precision machining, etc.
The opening of Maplewood State Park six miles east of Pelican Rapids provided additional growth in tourism. Visitors can view the "World’s Largest Pelican", a 250 foot steel and concrete structure, a pedestrian suspension bridge, and two city parks connected by the walkway: E.L. Peterson Memorial Park and Sherin Memorial Park.
Volunteers and Craftsmen — Pelican Pete in the Making
The local Chamber of Commerce had talked about creating a pelican symbol for many years before plans were made for the huge undertaking. Truman Strand was named to spearhead its construction. Local metalworkers Ted and Anton Resset made 5:1 scale drawings from a pelican that had died of injuries and had been stuffed and mounted for display. Using cardboard from Strand's hardware store, they made a life size–model of the pelican and placed it near the waterfall to determine the dimensions and placement of its concrete base. The Ressets constructed the steel framework for the pelican in their welding shop and finished shaping the bird with wire netting.
Volunteers on the direction of Gilman Resset poured the concrete base for the pelican, using more than 120 bags of cement. The concrete was dumped into wheelbarrows, wheeled by hand down the bank of the river and poured into the form for the base. Volunteers completed the job in three hours. Lake Region Electric Cooperative’s boom truck transported the huge framework of pelican of the pelicen from the Ressets’ blacksmith shop to the concrete base along the river.
The Ressets considered covering the frame with then–new fiberglass, but decided to use plaster to give it a realistic appearance. Alvin Anderson, a local tradesman, hand–plastered the bird, which was later painted white with an orange bill and feet. The total bill for the new pelican was $1200.
The Chamber of Commerce sold 5–cent postcards of the big pelican for many years, using the profits from the sale of thousands of postcards for maintenance of the structure. The City of Pelican Rapids has since assumed ownership of the pelican.
Pelican Birthday Party
To acknowledge the pelican’s 25th birthday, the community threw a party for the pelican on a hot summer day in 1992. A crowd estimated at over 700 celebrated with music, ice cream and a birthday cake, "the world’s largest!" 2007 marked Pelican Pete’s 50th birthday and the community again hosted a party to honor the beloved statue.
Symbol of Pelican
Today the big pelican symbol evokes a wide variety of memories. Some remember carefree childhood days spent fishing below the dam. Others recall stopping to take photos with guests from afar. Some keep an eye on the big bird daily, estimating the river’s water level by checking to see if Pete’s feet are wet or dry.
The words of the man behind the local landmark reflect the thoughts of many. Truman Strand said, "The Chamber of Commerce had a good idea in building the pelican. The pelican is a part of all of us, no matter how long we’ve lived here."