As summer kicks off around the Whitefish chain, so do a variety of fun activities in the towns surrounding the chain. Between Nisswa’s Turtle Races, the Pine River Duck Races and Big Fun Tuesdays in Crosslake, kids can have a ball all week long.
Nisswa’s Turtle Races are often referred to by the event's announcer as “Small town America at its finest” -- and it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. The races are at once simple, adorable, exciting and funny.
The Turtle Races begin June 1 and continue every Wednesday until Aug. 17. Sign up begins every Wednesday at 1 p.m. and races begin at 2 p.m. For $4, racers get turtle rental and a racing button. Racing works like this: The racetrack is on Main Street in Nisswa, outside of the MN Surf Co. building. It consists of three concentric circles. The outside circle marks the spectator line, the innermost circle is the turtle starting line, and the middle circle is the turtle finish line.
Racers, who will receive their turtles in a bucket, set the turtle down in front of them just behind the line of the innermost circle. When the start of the race is signaled, racers let their turtle go and employ whatever tactics they can think of (aside from touching the turtle) to get the turtle to head for the finish line. There’s always water in the turtle bucket, so some employ the strategy of tossing the water over the turtle in order to urge him along (or perhaps offer some relief from the heat.
Other racers feel that the key to success is turtle selection. Size is a big debate. Do big turtles move faster, or little ones? Your guess is as good as any.
The Pine River Duck Races are a bit different from the Turtle Races. The Duck Races take place every Friday in Pine River from June 17 to Aug. 12. Registration is at 1:30 p.m. and races begin at 2 p.m. “Duck” rental (these are actually decoys) is just $1.
The Duck Races have been a tradition in Pine River for more than 15 years. The races take place just down river of the Pine River dam, right on main street (Barclay Ave.) in Pine River. At the sound of a shotgun, the duck decoys are ceremoniously dumped from the top of the dam into the water, and the first duck to travel 100 yards downstream is the winner. Prizes are awarded to the first three finishing ducks as well as the slowest duck. Three to six race heats are held, depending on the enthusiasm of the crowd. At the end, all the winners and the slow ducks are invited to race again in the “Mighty Duck Off Race” for the day’s grand prize! Watch for the naming of the Duke and Dutchess 'O' Duck!
Big Fun Tuesdays in Crosslake are also a big hit among children. A variety of Paul Bunyan-sized games are held every Tuesday from 1-3 p.m. in Crosslake’s Town Square. Games include minnow races in Paul’s straws, a pancake toss, “Paul’s Life Boat,” feed Paul beans (bean bag toss), gunny sack races in Paul’s socks, the giant s’mores game, and face painting and tattoos. Every child gets a loot bag with toys and candy.
All these activities are also a great opportunity to explore their host towns and all they have to offer. In Pine River, the Duck Races are held not far from downtown shops and restaurants, not to mention the Pine River swimming beach (just upstream from the dam) and the dam park playground- all within walking distance! When races aren’t in progress, the spot below the dam in Pine River is popular for fishing and safely divided from swimmers by the dam.
Nisswa’s downtown is nearly always bustling, but never so much as on Turtle Race day. Shopping and restaurants are plentiful on Main Street where the Turtle Races are held, and nearby is the Nisswa Pioneer Village, packed with Minnesota heritage and history.
Finally, Crosslake’s Town Square is a popular shopping area, and not just for the Chocolate Ox location nearby! Throughout town are shopping and recreation opportunities, from ice cream to parks and swimming beaches to restaurants.
So, if you're on the Whitefish Chain for a week and need some fun family activities, especially for the kids, we've got three days of the week covered! Tuesdays at Big Fun Tuesdays, Wednesdays at the Nisswa Turtle Races and Fridays in Pine River at the Duck Races.