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COLUMN: East Otter Tail: land of lakes, prairies, frisbee golf, bocce ball, skatebording...and culture?

Perham and East Otter Tail may be on to something-without entirely realizing it.

Where else in Minnesota would you find an area with rural character, lakes, trees, unique main streets...and bocce ball, Frisbee golf, skateboarding, BMX bicycling, a sculpture park and a world class art and cultural center?

The Perham Parks and Recreation Board meeting Tuesday night, March 30, reminded me of all the little pieces that combine to create a top-notch travel-tourism location.

Frisbee golf: Even Perham's Mayor Tim Meehl was puzzled over this one, as he listened to Kelli Wegscheid talk about the possibilities. Serious "disc golfers" actually have a variety of discs, including different sizes and weights for the long and short game-not unlike a golf bag with a putter, nine iron and woods.

"People travel to play specific courses," said Wegscheid, an architect with Hammers Construction, who volunteered to help the city park department create a disc golf course. With her connections at NDSU, the city could possibly get free or low cost designs from architecture students.

She has played in Colorado and California. In Fargo-Moorhead, there are disc golf leagues, she noted.

Disc golf is affordable, and it becomes a family activity, because kids can easily tag along and play, too.

Skateboard, BMX: Skateboarders, unfairly, have been described as undesirables. So, when yet another group mobilized to create a skateboard park, there were more than a few Perham folks who rolled their eyes and shook their heads disapprovingly. Nobody thought the park promoters would ever get this far. Now, the dedicated group is only about $6,000 away from the fundraising goal.

I remember a discussion with city attorney Dennis Happel, who took an entirely different view of the skatepark plan. Instead of berating those baggy-pants skateboarding characters-why not embrace them, and bring 'em to Perham? If we're going to build a skateboard facility, said Happel, let's make it the best damn skatepark in the region-so it becomes a draw, an attraction.

Why not? It is yet one more recreational activity to bring people to the area. And those people are sure to spend a few bucks while they're here.

Bocce ball: Hey, chuckle about this odd lawn game if you will, but just wait until July, when 300 Special Olympics athletes from around the state show up in Perham for a major tournament. They will be bringing families and friends-and no doubt a bit of disposable income as well.

Under the water tower, on the south side of town, are a couple of nice bocce ball courts. The Special Olympics will be bringing in portable courts for the big tournament. But imagine, if you will, a day when Perham has the best and finest permanent bocce courts in the land? Courts with park benches, shelters and picnic tables.

Another advantage with facilities like bocce courts, Frisbee golf courses and skateboard parks: The up front cost, and the ongoing maintenance, is relatively inexpensive.

Culture and arts: Take a look at the front page of the Focus this week. The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center has been selected as a model by the National Endowment for the Arts. This puts NY Mills right up there with metro areas like Chicago and Philadelphia.

How many of you have taken a walk around the sculpture park, right on Highway 10 in New York Mills? It really is an unusual experience-one that is right under our nose, but is easily overlooked.

In Perham, the veterans museum and history museum are also cultural attractions.

RV camping: Unfortunately, this travel-tourism puzzle piece won't be created this year. Budget setbacks have pushed the park to year 2011.

But the plan is on the drawing board, and when completed, this park will become another lodging option that will benefit the economy for all of East Otter Tail.

Pioneer Village: One of the most unique and underutilized facilities in the area will serve as headquarters this summer for a couple major events.

Turtle Fest weekend, the Perham Sportsman's Club will be hosting a large fishing tournament. Then, in July, the Dreams for Kids/Make-A-Wish Foundation will be hosting the annual motorcycle run, dinner and dance.

The facilities at the Pioneer Village will be home base for both of these events. Limited camping will be allowed in that area of Arvig Park, so it will be an interesting test run for a future RV campground.

Wow...Now all we need is some decent horseshoe courts to round out our alternative recreational facilities. Wait...we do have a great horseshoe park-right behind the VFW Club in New York Mills...

Croquet, anyone? How about a court out at Perham Lakeside Golf Course?