Folks in Anoka County — home to the state’s largest outdoor water park, more than 10,000 acres of county parks and a flurry of free community festivals — know how to wring every ounce of fun out of summer.
I usually have to make some tough choices each weekend. Here are the contenders this year:
SURF’S UP: You can just roll with it in the huge wave pool at Bunker Beach Water Park in Coon Rapids. The pool generates waves of up to 3 feet at 15-minute intervals. The park, owned by Anoka County, includes six water slides, a lazy river, adventure pool, plunge pool, a giant sand box and aqua climbing walls. The park opens for the season at 11 a.m. on June 10. For more information, go to www.bunkerbeach.com.
SUMMER CHILLS: Gather at dusk with other chill seekers to learn about the “odd happenings and eerie encounters” on the Ghosts of Anoka Walking Tour. Costumed tour guides from the Anoka County Historical Society will lead guests through the historic river city’s spooky past.
The tours, billed as “60 percent history, 40 percent folklore” last 90 minutes and run Thursdays and Saturdays. To celebrate the tour’s “auspicious” 13th year, new ghost stories have been added. For more information, go to anokacountyhistory.org.
BLAINE BOOGIE: The annual Blaine Festival is a three-day summer extravaganza of free live music, carnival rides and zany competitions that include Oreo stacking and the not-so-ugly dog contest. This year’s party runs June 24-26 at Aquatore Park. All three nights feature “Street Dance under the Big Top” with a live band. For more information, go to blainefestival.org.
FOURTH FESTIVITIES: Not to be outdone, Coon Rapids’ Fourth of July Celebration is a three-day extravaganza of family events, live music, carnival rides and a fireworks finale on the evening of July 4. In years past, event organizers have ignited more than $35,000 of fireworks; they take it so seriously that a Coon Rapids firefighter became a licensed pyrotechnician just to coordinate the display. This year’s festivities run July 2-4 on the grounds of the Coon Rapids Ice Center. For more information, go to coonrapidsmn.gov.
CRAFT CRAZE: The following weekend, the party moves Up North to the city of Anoka for the annual Anoka Riverfest & Craft Fair. The free event on July 9 in downtown Anoka features more than 140 artisan vendors, who are properly vetted to ensure they’re selling handcrafted items. The event also features live music on two stages and a food court. For more information, go to anokariverfest.org.
NOD TO NATURE: Springbrook Nature Center, Fridley’s 127-acre oasis of green in the middle of suburbia, will show off its new digs at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 30. The 1970s-era nature center, which doubled as a storm shelter, has been replaced with a new and airy building that will feature a dramatic wall of windows, new classrooms, exhibits, rental spaces and a lounge with a fireplace.
The building is really just the cherry on the sundae; the showstopper at Springbrook is the nature center’s 3 miles of trails and floating boardwalks that wind through oak and aspen forests, prairies and wetlands. For more information, go to springbrooknaturecenter.org.
GLIDING TOUR: Here’s a chance to check out the beauty of Anoka County on the water — canoes and kayaks are available for rent at Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes. Boats are launched into George Watch Lake, but experienced paddlers can journey into connecting lakes, part of Anoka County’s Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Regional Park. More information on Wargo can be found at www.anokacounty.us.