BEMIDJI – Photo opportunities with the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji will be limited in the coming weeks as a construction project has begun to help preserve the statues by improving drainage in the square.
In recent years, spring freezes and thaws have damaged Babe’s feet. The statues, which were installed in 1937, have also suffered decades of wear and tear, leading to cracks and Paul briefly losing an arm in 2021.
Both statues underwent restoration in response to these concerns, but further damage was expected unless the drainage of the plaza was resolved.
Installed in 2015 at a cost of $1.6 million, the concrete plaza around the statues has the unfortunate consequence of draining water near Babe, which the current project aims to address.
Phase 1 of the project will involve raising the ox statue 15 inches to reduce additional water damage. Phase 2 of the project will consist of redirecting drainage from the plaza, installing a catch basin and adding green space to the area.
The Visitor Information Center and other amenities at Paul Bunyan Park will remain open to the public as construction continues and work is expected to be complete by the end of September.
The project to repair the square and preserve the 85-year-old statues was approved by the Bemidji City Council during its May 16 session, having originally been presented as a proposal to the council in August 2021.
Phase 1 of the project will be carried out by Jensen Conservation, while phase 2 will be managed by Reierson Construction. The cost for the entire project is estimated at $271,187.
Construction progress can be monitored in real time via webcams operated by Visit Bemidji.
Paul and Babe have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988 and are a major tourist attraction in Bemidji. Further restoration of the statues has been discussed, but no formal decision has been made as to when this project might take place.