Bemidji, Minnesota

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Statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Flag of Bemidji
"The First City on the Mississippi"
Location of the city of Bemidji within Beltrami County in the state of Minnesota
Location of the city of Bemidji
within Beltrami County
in the state of Minnesota
Coordinates: 47°28′25″N 94°52′49″W / 47.47361°N 94.88028°W / 47.47361; -94.88028Coordinates: 47°28′25″N 94°52′49″W / 47.47361°N 94.88028°W / 47.47361; -94.88028
CountryUnited States
 • MayorJorge Prince
 • City22.33 sq mi (57.85 km2)
 • Land17.44 sq mi (45.17 km2)
 • Water4.89 sq mi (12.68 km2)  8.63%
1,365 ft (416 m)
 • City14,574
 • Estimate 
 • Density835.71/sq mi (322.67/km2)
 • Metro
46,380 (US: 244th)
Time zoneUTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP Code
Area code218
FIPS code27-05068
GNIS feature ID0655325[4]

Bemidji (/bəˈmɪ/ bə-MIJ-ee) is a city and the county seat of Beltrami County,[5] in northern Minnesota, United States. The population was 14,574 at the 2020 census.[2] According to 2021 census estimates, the city is estimated to have a population of 15,279,[3] making it the largest commercial center between Grand Forks, North Dakota and Duluth.

As a central city for three Indian reservations, Bemidji is the site of many Native American services, including the Indian Health Service. Near Bemidji are the Red Lake Indian Reservation, White Earth Indian Reservation, and the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. Bemidji lies on the southwest shore of Lake Bemidji, the northernmost lake feeding the Mississippi River; it is nicknamed "The First City on the Mississippi". Bemidji is also the self-proclaimed "curling capital" of the U.S. and the alleged birthplace of legendary Paul Bunyan.


According to Minnesota Geographic Names, its name derives from the Ojibwe Buh-mid-ji-ga-maug (Double-Vowel orthography: bemijigamaag),[6] meaning "a lake with crossing waters".[7][8] This name stems from the way that the Mississippi River flows directly through the Lake. Shay-now-ish-kung, an Ojibwe leader, moved to the area in 1882 and became the first permanent settler of Bemidji.[9] He informed early white settlers of the name of the lake, but they misunderstood him to mean that bemidji was his own name.[8] Consequently, he was known to them as Chief Bemidji.

On occasion, in Ojibwe, Bemidji is called Wabigamaang ("at the lake channel/narrows"), because part of the city is situated on the Lakes Bemidji/Irving narrows, on the south end of Lake Bemidji, and extends to the eastern shore of Lake Irving.


Beltrami County was created on February 28, 1866, by an act of legislation.

Bemidji Township was surveyed by European Americans in 1874. It was organized in 1896, 24 days after the village of Bemidji was chartered, and is the oldest township in the county. In 1897, the county attorney declared the original Bemidji township organization illegal (no reason given) and the township reorganized on June 26, 1897.[10]

About 50 Leech Lake Indians lived along the south shore of the lake prior to the 1880s. They called the lake Bemidjigumaug, meaning "river or route flowing crosswise". Freeman and Besty Doud claimed 160 acres west of and including present-day Diamond Point; they were Bemidji's first homesteaders. The Porter Nye family soon followed them.

John Steidl's sawmill was on the east bank of the Mississippi River, close to Carson's Trading Post. Remore Hotel and Carl Carlson's blacksmith shop were on the west side of the river. Bemidji was incorporated on May 20, 1896, and by that time there were three publishing companies, Alber Kaiser, The Bemidji Pioneer, and the Beltrami County News. William Bartleson's Stage and Express Service was created to carry mail between Bemidji and Park Rapids. He was advertised by Speelman's Eagle, owned by Clarence Speelman, along with other stores. By 1898, railroads came to Bemidji and brought even more business. By 1900 the Village of Bemidji's population had grown to 2,000.

Thomas Barlow Walker and John S. and Charles Pillsbury invested millions into timber in 1874, since beaver pelts were nearing depletion by the mid-1890s. Walker owned Red River Lumber Company of Crookston, which claimed almost half of Beltrami County's timber. He soon sold his sawmill and timber claim to Thomas Shevlin and Frank Hixon. Logging was done in the winter and sawmilling in the summer. Crookston opened 13 logging camps, which provided jobs and homes for lumberjacks. Between 1907 and 1910 drought and forest fires came to northern Minnesota. Lumber production was Bemidji's major industry, but on July 19, 1914, a sawmill burned down, causing disaster for business. It was later rebuilt. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Bemidji's business profited, providing food, materials, and services for the Civilian Conservation Corps and Youth Conservation Corps programs. During the war years lumber business stopped, but when men came back from war lumber business boomed, since many people needed homes.

By the 1870s, timber cruisers were already making forays into the great pine forests that surrounded Bemidji. They were seeking new timberlands for Walker, the Pillsburys, Henry Akeley, Charles Ruggles and Frederick Weyerhaeuser, the barons of the wood industry.

Art Lee created the story that the folkloric figure Paul Bunyan came from the Northwoods. Tales about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox led to public sculptures of them in the 1930s.[citation needed] According to Discover America, the Paul and Babe statues are "the second most photographed statues in America," surpassed only by Mount Rushmore.[11] The Rotarians of Bemidji commissioned the statue of Paul Bunyan during the Great Depression as a tourist attraction. It was unveiled on January 15, 1937, to kick off a Winter Carnival that drew more than 10,000 visitors.

Today Bemidji is an important educational, governmental, trade and medical center for north central Minnesota. The wood industry is still a significant part of the local economy, with Georgia-Pacific, Potlatch, and Northwood Panelboard all having waferboard plants in the local area. They use wood species that were once classified as waste trees.[12]

Parks and recreation[edit]

Bemidji is near Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park, Lake Bemidji State Park, Big Bog State Recreation Area, and state forest areas. There are 400 lakes within 25 miles (40 km), 500 mi (800 km) of snowmobile trails and 99 mi (160 km) of cross-country ski trails.

The Paul Bunyan State Trail runs from Brainerd, Minnesota, and Lake Bemidji State Park. It is used for walking, biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.[13] There is also a bike trail around Lake Bemidji about 17 miles long. Each year an event is held where families and individuals can bike around the lake, with rest stops along the way.[14]

Art in the Park, hosted by Paul Bunyan Communications and Watermark Art Center, is held every year at Bemidji Library Park, across from the Watermark Art Center. Art in the Park has been a summer highlight for Bemidji residents since 1967. The event features more than 100 artists, food vendors, and live entertainment. A variety of items are sold, made in such materials as wood and ceramics, along with clothing and jewelry, photography, metalworking, greeting cards, homemade preserves, food, candles, and soaps. Roughly 4,000 people attend annually.[15] The festival has been renamed the Watermark Art Festival and was held at Library Park on July 16-17, 2022.

Every year, in the first week of August, teams compete in the Dragon Boat races. There are also many food vendors, kids' activities, and musical and cultural performances. In the early 21st century, dragon boat racing was the fastest growing water sport in the nation.[16]

The Bemidji Polar Days, also known as Winterfest, is a weeklong festival that includes many different activities, such as a polar plunge, and sled derby, broomball, a 5k polar walk/run, curling, pond hockey, and a cornhole tournament.[17]

The Paul Bunyan Triathlon takes place the third Saturday in August. The Minnesota Finlandia Ski Marathon is also held in Bemidji.[18]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 14.14 square miles (36.62 km2), of which 12.92 square miles (33.46 km2) is land and 1.22 square miles (3.16 km2) is water.[19]

Four-lane U.S. Route 2, U.S. Route 71 and Minnesota State Highway 197 are three of the main routes in the city. Minnesota State Highways 89 and 371 are nearby.

The largest earthquake on record for the Bemidji area was recorded on September 3, 1917. It is claimed that it shook houses in Bemidji and across northern Minnesota.[20] The epicenter was about 95 miles (153 km) away in Staples, Minnesota, and it affected an area of 48,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi); it had a magnitude 4.4 with a maximum intensity of VI to VII. The closest and most recent quake occurred in Walker, Minnesota, on September 27, 1982, with a magnitude of 2.0.[21]


Bemidji has a hemiboreal humid continental climate, Dfb in the Köppen climate classification: short, warm summers, and long, severe winters. The average mean annual temperature in Bemidji is 37.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest month is January with an average daily high of 16 degrees and an average daily low of −4 degrees. The warmest month is July with an average daily high of 79 degrees and an average daily low of 57 degrees. The average annual humidity is 47%. The average annual snowfall is 41.1 inches and the average annual rainfall is 23.8 inches. The average day Lake Bemidji freezes over is November 26 and the average day the ice goes off the lake is April 26.[citation needed]

Annual snowfall in the Bemidji Area increased 5% in the 21st century vs. the 1930–1999 period, according to the National Weather Service.[22]

Climate data for Bemidji, Minnesota 1981–2010 Normals, snowfall 1987–2018
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 52
Average high °F (°C) 16.3
Daily mean °F (°C) 5.9
Average low °F (°C) −4.6
Record low °F (°C) −50
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.73
Average snowfall inches (cm) 10.7
Source 1: Climatography of the United States[23]
Source 2: XMACIS[24]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2021 (est.)15,279[3]4.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[25]
2020 Census[2]

2020 census[edit]

As of the census of 2020,[2][26] there were 14,574 people residing in the city, and 6,265 households with an average size of 2.15. The racial makeup of the city was 79.4% White, 2.2% African American, 8.5% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, and 9.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.1% of the population.

20.0% of residents were under the age of 18, 6.5% were under 5 years of age, and 15.3% were 65 and older.

2010 census[edit]

As of the census of 2010, there were 13,431 people, 5,339 households, and 2,557 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,039.6 inhabitants per square mile (401.4/km2). There were 5,748 housing units at an average density of 444.9 per square mile (171.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 81.3% White, 1.2% African American, 11.3% Native American, 1.4% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.3% from other races, and 4.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.9% of the population.

There were 5,339 households, of which 24.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.7% were married couples living together, 14.4% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.8% had a male householder with no wife present, and 52.1% were non-families. Of all households, 38.6% were made up of individuals, and 16.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.83.

The median age in the city was 27.1 years. 19.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 26.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 21.6% were from 25 to 44; 17.5% were from 45 to 64; and 14.8% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.7% male and 52.3% female.


Major Employers[edit]

According to the City's 2021 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[27] the largest employers in the city are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Sanford Health 2,200
2 Bemidji Public Schools 975
3 Bemidji State University 555
4 Beltrami County 325


Bemidji's Top 15 Industries (2012)
Industries Number of Employees
Healthcare and social assistance 6,782
Retail Trade 2,669
Accommodation and food services 1,327
Professional, scientific, and technical services 760
Other services (except public administrations) 550
Finance and insurance 351
Information 343
Wholesale trade 335
Transportation and warehousing 222
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 165
Manufacturing 149
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 130
Educational services 109
Utilities 93
Real estate and rental and leasing 60

These are the top 15 industries in Bemidji. On the United States Census Bureau American Factfinder, some industries had a range of employees, so the average number of employees were used. Also, some industries, such as healthcare and social assistance, professional, scientific, and technical services, other services, arts, entertainment, and reaction, and educational services were split into three different categories. The number of employees for the three categories was combined into one category.[28]


Current Government
Mayor Jorge Prince
Council Ward 1 Audrey Thayer
Council Ward 2 Josh Peterson
Council Ward 3 Ron Johnson
Council Ward 4 Emelie Rivera
Council Ward 5 Nancy Erickson
Council at-large Daniel Jourdain

Bemidji's government is made up of a mayor and a council, with the latter elected from five single-member districts or wards.[29]


Presidential election results
2020 Precinct Results Spreadsheet[30] 2016 Precinct Results Spreadsheet[31] 2012 Precinct Results Spreadsheet[32] 2008 Precinct Results Spreadsheet[33] 2004 Precinct Results Spreadsheet[34] 2000 Precinct Results Spreadsheet[35] 1996 Precinct Results[36] 1992 Precinct Results[37] 1988 Precinct Results[38] 1984 Precinct Results[39] 1980 Precinct Results[40] 1976 Precinct Results[41] 1968 Precinct Results[42] 1964 Precinct Results[43] 1960 Precinct Results[44]
Year Republican Democratic Third parties
2020 43.2% 3,068 53.3% 3,789 3.5% 247
2016 44.7% 2,912 42.9% 2,793 12.4% 805
2012 40.2% 2,708 56.2% 3,787 3.6% 247
2008 39.9% 2,608 57.4% 3,749 2.7% 176
2004 45.8% 2,825 52.3% 3,224 1.9% 118
2000 44.7% 2,344 42.5% 2,229 12.8% 667
1996 34.7% 1,553 55.1% 2,466 10.2% 454
1992 31.8% 1,631 46.1% 2,363 22.1% 1,134
1988 46.0% 2,105 54.0% 2,469 0.0% 0
1984 47.6% 2,411 52.4% 2,649 0.0% 0
1980 35.2% 2,172 48.8% 3,013 16.0% 990
1976 40.6% 2,172 55.8% 2,988 3.6% 194
1968 48.3% 1,629 46.5% 1,570 5.2% 174
1964 38.4% 1,388 61.5% 2,221 0.1% 4
1960 53.9% 2,014 46.0% 1,721 0.1% 3


1894 photo of Carson's Trading Post, Bemidji's first business owned by European Americans. Brothers George Earl and Merian Ellsworth Carson moved to the area in 1888. Merian eventually married a woman from a Leech Lake Band.[45]

Bemidji is a college city, with strong arts influences. The city's streets are lined with small shops and adorned with sculptures and other forms of public art.

The Concordia Language Villages are near Bemidji. They have supported several language conversational groups (including French, Chinese, Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, and German) that meet weekly in local coffeehouses. In 2018 Concordia's Korean Language Village received a $5 million grant. The Korean village is the newest of the Villages.[46]

In 2011, Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation complimented Bemidji's Ojibwe language signage in places of business.[47]

During the summer, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse operates a non-Equity, summer stock theater at the Chief Theater.[48] The Bemidji Community Theatre provides live theatre there when the Paul Bunyan Playhouse is not in operation.[49] Bemidji is also home to the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra (BSO), which was established in 1938 under the auspices of what was then Bemidji State College. In 2000 the BSO became an independent arts organization.[50]

The statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are a popular tourist destinations. Many people photograph themselves in front of them. The statues are next to the Bemidji Tourist Information Center, where tourists can learn about local activities, events, and attractions. The center also includes many artifacts of the lumberjack's legend and a giant visitors' book travelers can sign; the names go back a long time. An old fireplace there was built with 900 stones, taken from every state in the United States, and most of the Canadian provinces, and Minnesota national parks.[51]


The city is well-known to hockey fans. As a Division II team, Bemidji State was a hockey dynasty in the 1980s and '90s. Bemidji State was in the title game eight straight years, winning five titles. It became a Division I team in 1999, and has not won any Division I titles.

The city is also familiar to curling fans. Both men's and women's rinks from the Bemidji Curling Club won the right to represent the United States in the 2005 World Curling Championship and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Pete Fenson, the skip of the U.S. curling team that took the bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, is a native of Bemidji, as is Natalie Nicholson, who was the lead for the United States women's team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

A city referendum for a Bemidji Regional Events Center passed by a slim majority of 43 votes out of 4,583 cast in November 2006.[citation needed] Opening in 2010, the center was renamed the Sanford Center and serves as home to the Bemidji State University hockey team. The men's and women's hockey teams are both members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. From 2014 to 2015, the Sanford Center was the home of the city's first-ever professional sports team, the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League.[52]

From January 16 to January 19, Bemidji hosted Hockey Day Minnesota, a three-day event aired on Fox Sports. The Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University boys and girls hockey teams both played on outdoor rinks outside of the Sanford Center. The Minnesota Wild team also played on the outdoor rinks.

In 2013, runners signed up for the first Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon. The race, run in October, draws athletes and recreational runners from around the region. The events spawned a weekend of races that includes two kids races, a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and a 26K that circles Lake Bemidji.[53]


Bemidji is home to Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College, and Oak Hills Christian College. Public education, served by Bemidji Area Schools, is a part of Independent School District 31, and includes eight elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. Also in the district are TrekNorth Charter High School, Voyagers Charter High School, Schoolcraft Charter School, and Bemidji is home to three private schools: St. Philip's Catholic School, St. Mark's Lutheran School and Heartland Christian Academy.

Regional center[edit]

Bemidji is as a regional center for shopping, arts, entertainment, education, health services, worship, and government services. The Bemidji area includes parts or all of Beltrami (pop. 46,380), Hubbard (pop. 21,715), Cass (pop. 30,639), Itasca (pop. 45,070), Koochiching (pop. 11,941), Lake of the Woods (pop. 3,823), Marshall (pop. 8,988), Pennington (pop. 13,780), Red Lake (pop. 3,933), Clearwater (pop. 8,576), and Mahnomen (pop. 5,414) counties, the White Earth (pop. 9,726) and Leech Lake (pop. 11,388) Reservations and the Sovereign Nation of Red Lake (pop. 5,506). Lexington Realty International places the Bemidji Area population at 200,259 in the 2021 Estimate.[54]



The Bemidji Pioneer is the local newspaper, published twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday.[55] Now owned by Forum Communications Company, it was founded as a weekly in 1896.[56]

TV stations[edit]

Most of Bemidji's TV stations primarily rebroadcast the television stations of the Twin Cities.

Channel Callsign Affiliation Branding Subchannels Owner
(Virtual) Channel Programming
9.1 KAWE PBS Lakeland PBS 9.2
First Nations Experience
PBS Kids
PBS Encore
Minnesota Channel
Northern Minnesota Public Television, Inc.
11.1 K20MN-D
(KRII Translator)
NBC KBJR 6 11.2
Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
12.1 KCCW
(WCCO-TV Satellite)
CBS WCCO 4 12.2 Start TV CBS Corporation
13.1 K24MM-D
(WIRT Translator)
ABC WCCO 4 13.2
Ion Television
Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
19.1 K32MF-D
(WGN-TV Translator)
WGN-TV Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
22.1 KAWB PBS Lakeland PBS 22.2
First Nations Experience
PBS Kids
PBS Encore
Minnesota Channel
Northern Minnesota Public Television, Inc.
26.1 KFTC
(WFTC Satellite)
FOX FOX 9 26.2
Fox Television Stations, Inc.

Radio stations[edit]


FM radio stations
Frequency Call sign Name Format Owner
88.5 FM KCRB Classical MPR Classical music Minnesota Public Radio
89.7 FM KBSB FM 90 College radio/Top 40 (CHR) Bemidji State University
90.5 FM KBXE Northern Community Radio Music, local news & arts, National Public Radio Northern Community Radio
91.3 FM KNBJ MPR News NPR Minnesota Public Radio
92.1 FM WMIS-FM The River 92.1 Adult Hits Paskvan Media
92.7 FM W224AB
(KBHW Translator)
Psalm 99:5 Christian Oak Hills Fellowship
93.5 FM K228EW
(KOPJ Translator)
LifeTalk Radio Christian Seventh-day Adventist Church
94.3 FM W232DS
(KPMI Translator)
The Legends Classic Country Paskvan Media
94.9 FM K235BP
(KBUN (AM) Translator)
The Bun Sports Paul Bunyan Broadcasting
95.5 FM KKZY KZY 95.5 Adult contemporary Paul Bunyan Broadcasting
96.7 FM KKCQ-FM Q Country Country R&J Broadcasting, Inc
98.3 FM WBJI-FM Babe Country 98.3 Country RP Broadcasting
99.1 FM KLLZ-FM Z99 Classic rock Paul Bunyan Broadcasting
101.1 FM KBHP KB101 Country Paul Bunyan Broadcasting
102.5 FM KKWB Coyote 102.5 Country De La Hunt Broadcasting
103.1 FM K276EP
(KKWB Translator)
Coyote 102.5 Country De La Hunt Broadcasting
103.7 FM KKBJ-FM Mix 103.7 Hot AC RP Broadcasting
104.5 FM KBUN-FM Sports Paul Bunyan Broadcasting
105.3 FM K287AD
(KOJB Translator)
Community radio Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
107.1 FM KKEQ Your Q FM Contemporary Christian music Pine to Prairie Broadcasting


AM radio stations
Frequency Call sign Name Format Owner
820 AM WBKK AM 820 Catholic Talk Real Presence Radio
1300 AM KPMI County Legends Classic Country Paskvan Media
1360 AM KKBJ Talkradio 1360 News/Talk RP Broadcasting
1450 AM KBUN The Bun Sports
(KFAN/ESPN programming)
Paul Bunyan Broadcasting


  • inBemidji, a quarterly lifestyle magazine focused on the Bemidji area. First published in December 2013 (as inMagazine) by The Bemidji Pioneer.[57]
  • Northwoods Woman, a bimonthly magazine published from 2008 to 2013, launched in Bemidji, Walker and Park Rapids, included articles about women who live and work in northern Minnesota.[58]


Major highways[edit]

The following routes are in the Bemidji area.

Air service[edit]

Bemidji is served by Bemidji Airport, which has passenger services on three airlines, Delta Connection, Sun Country Airlines and Bemidji Airlines, the latter of which is based in Bemidji. Bemidji Airlines also operates cargo flights, while Corporate Air is the only airline to operate all-cargo-only flights to the airport, on behalf of FedEx Express.

Notable people[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The first season of the FX TV series Fargo, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, is mainly set in and around Bemidji and Duluth.[59] It was filmed in Calgary, Alberta.



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