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State park's tipis offer a unique camping experience

Rhonda Gronseth of St. Cloud and her sons enjoyed the unique opportunity to camp in a tipi at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park earlier this week. She is shown with sons, Calvin, 10, clockwise from left, Avery, 12, and Reece, 5. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

UPPER SIOUX AGENCY STATE PARK -- Some of Rhonda Gronseth's fondest childhood memories were made on camping trips with her mother.

She's just one-upped her mother.

"Oh, cool,'' she said her young sons told her as she led them into their lodging for two nights: a tipi.

"It's actually really pretty neat,'' said Gronseth of the experience.

Gronseth, of St. Cloud, and her three young sons rolled out their sleeping bags last Sunday evening in one of three tipis that are offered for campers at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

The Upper Sioux Agency State Park is the only state park offering the unique experience of spending the night in a tipi, but that distinction will soon be shared. The Blue Mounds State Park in the southwestern corner of the state will be adding a tipi.

The Upper Sioux Agency State Park erected its first tipi in 1999.

The opportunity to camp in a tipi was a hit from the start, and remains so today, according to Terri Dinesen, manager of the state park.

The tipis are reserved as much as three months in advance for weekend dates, she said. There's less lead time required to reserve the tipis for week days.

Gronseth said she was looking to take her sons, ages 12, 10 and 5, on a final summer camping outing when she went online to explore her options. She Googled "camper cabins'' and tipis showed up as well.

"That's mine,'' she said.

Photos of the tipis on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website clinched the deal for her.

The uniqueness of sleeping in a tipi was what attracted her, but the convenience was a factor too. Gronseth said her mother was an avid camper who used to sleep under the stars. She prefers shelter, preferably more than a tent would provide.

The family was in the Twin Cities on Sunday, where son Calvin played in a hockey tournament. Immediately after, they hopped into their vehicle and drove straight to the state park. They arrived at dusk, but only had to unroll their sleeping bags in the tipi to start their adventure.

Gronseth said she was surprised when she learned she could camp in a tipi, and so were her friends when she told them of her plans.

She was also pleasantly surprised by what she discovered at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park, thanks to the tipi. "It's been really nice,'' she said. She enjoys the park's scenery and its relaxed, quiet atmosphere.

Her sons like the miles of hiking trails, where they've been testing the range of their walkie-talkies, and the fishing on the Minnesota River.

Dinesen said there is no doubt that the tipis have played a big role in introducing new visitors to the park. She said campers booking the tipis tend to come from locations all over the map, and often are making their first visits to the park.

That's changing, however. Once they've enjoyed a night in the tipis, many of the campers tend to become repeat visitors.

Gronseth is among those who will be returning. "Absolutely,'' she said.

Best of all, Gronseth said the experience has been a memory-making one for her sons, just as she had hoped.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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