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Fargo’s Lake Country Culture

Fargo-Moorhead summers mean fun on the water

By Heather R. Johnson on August 17, 2015

A man holds onto a red canoe while standing on a rock overlooking a calm blue lake surrounded by evergreen trees on a sunny day.
Fargo / istock/GeorgePeters

With virtually hundreds of lakes within a 45-minute drive, Fargo-Moorhead enjoys a lake country lifestyle as much as their Minnesota neighbors. Almost every summer weekend, locals head to one of the area’s nearby lake towns to swim, boat, waterski and enjoy life by the water.

“There’s a laid-back camaraderie that, in many cases, defies socioeconomic differences,” Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, says. “Cabin neighbors all know each other and share food with each other. It’s a great community.”

Whether for a day, a weekend, or longer, a visit to “the lake,” can mean any number of lakes, as residents have access to more than 100 lakes within an hour’s drive. Some residents even invest in lakeside cabins.

“But you don’t have to own a cabin to enjoy the lake life,” Johnson adds.

Arguably the most popular lake destination, Detroit Lakes offers a mile-long beach, observation pier, and opportunities for boating, swimming, and fishing. Pelican Lake, another favorite, offers more of the same. Many area lakes offer casual, boat-up dining — the summer way to eat out.

“A lot of bars and restaurants cater to the boat-in crowd,” says Johnson. “It’s fun when you’re out at the lake to take the boat to another side, have dinner, and head back.”

The Lake Effect

The lake culture may also help Fargo-Moorhead attract new residents. The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC) spearheaded a survey of recently relocated IT professionals including recent college graduates and middle management professionals to determine in part how to attract and retain IT professionals.

The newcomers found lake activities a pleasant surprise upon settling in the area.

“Our respondents liked having recreation within reach,” Sherry Trepp, research strategy specialist for Prime, the research arm of Flint Communications, says. “They liked that they could get to a cabin in an hour rather than spend a half day in traffic.”

The respondents preferred to stay active in their free time.

“One newcomer told us, ‘Tech people aren’t indoor nerds. We like the outdoors too.’ The focus groups showed us that the lakes culture is very important to employee retention,” Trepp says.

Year-Round Recreation

Although Fargo residents flock to Minnesota lakes, the city doesn’t become a ghost town in the summer. The Red River sees its fair share of fishermen, kayakers and canoers.

“Fargo and Moorhead are both interested in enhancing riverfront opportunities, whether in the water or along the river,” Johnson says. “I think you’re going to see a lot of development on both sides of the state line over the next few years.”

Fargo-Moorhead also contains more than 90 miles of bike trails, popular for commuters and recreational riders alike. In March 2015, Fargo implemented a Bike Share rental program run by nonprofit Great Rides Fargo.

“The program set record numbers from the beginning,” Johnson says of the program, which is especially popular (and free) for North Dakota State University students. “We expect the program to expand to campuses in Moorhead.”

When the weather does turn chilly, and even downright cold, Fargo residents maintain their active lifestyle, only with more layers of clothing. Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, curling, ice skating and ice fishing are just a few ways residents stay entertained.

“It’s not like everyone sits in the house all winter,” Johnson says. “Most of the time it’s sunny and between 10 and 20 degrees. People enjoy being outside.”

To the delight of winter athletes, the Detroit Mountain Ski Area, near Detroit Lakes, recently reopened after a 10-year dormancy. Fargo residents can get there via shuttle from Scheels All Sports.

Regardless of season or temperature Fargonians have more than enough reason to enjoy the outdoors.

“People that live in the North Country adapt to every season,” Johnson says. “It gives you a wider variety of interests.”

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