Update on Vermilion

Q What's going on with Lake Vermilion State Park? I know the parkland was purchased in 2010, but has there been progress since?

A Already, you can land a boat on a dock in Lake Vermilion's Armstrong Bay to enjoy a picnic on the shore, or take a 2.4-mile hike on a marked trail near the adjacent Soudan Underground Mine State Park. This winter, there will be snowshoe routes (though no snowshoe rental) and 6 miles of marked snowmobile trails. The Legislature earmarked $8 million for the 3,000-acre park this year, and the area will be abuzz with preparations for visitors next spring.

An official park plan is in place, so the infusion of funds will be spent on the park's infrastructure, with an eye to laying the groundwork for campgrounds and other amenities while maximizing visitors' access.

"Some of the first things that people will start seeing next spring and summer is construction of the main park drive and development of sewer and water and roads that will be the foundation for whatever else happens," said Peter Hark, operations manager for Parks and Trails at the Department of Natural Resources.

Roads will open up the area for more day-use recreation, including land-side access to the Armstrong Bay picnic area (currently reachable only by boat). Visitors can also expect a return of interpreter-led pontoon-boat rides that showcase the lake and the natural and cultural history of the area. Those tours, which ran this summer, recently ended for the season. Together with Soudan, there are now 10 miles of state park shoreline on island-filled Lake Vermilion.

Hark envisions a campground, boat-in camping opportunities and eventually camper cabins or yurts in the park. "It's a tremendous resource," Hark said. "The fishery, the trees, the vegetation, the topography itself is pretty unique for the area."

Lake Vermilion State Park is near Tower, Minn. For more, go to www.startribune.com/a688.



A paddlewheeler returns

The American Queen steamboat, under new ownership by the Great American Steamboat Co., will again offer overnight trips on the Mississippi River beginning next spring. The first departure from St. Paul is slated for Sept. 21, 2012, a seven-night cruise designed to show off fall colors along the river. The inaugural sailing departs New Orleans on April 13 and will make stops at several Southern locales before returning to the Crescent City. Since 2008, the Delta Queen's last season, no steamboat has plied the great waterways of the heartland on overnight excursions. The 1920s-era Delta Queen is docked in Chattanooga, Tenn., relegated to a floating hotel. The American Queen, built in 1995 with 222 staterooms, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation in New Orleans in preparation for a 2012 season that will include trips along the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. "Steamboats have run through the heartland of this country for 200 years," said Tim Rubacky, senior vice president of marketing for Great American Steamboat Co. "Aside from being a commercial endeavor, this was a piece of America's history." The company will begin taking reservations on Sept. 30. For more information, check with a travel agent or go to www.great americansteamboatcompany.com.



Google adds flight search

Google unveiled its airfare search tool last week, offering what it says is a faster, more flexible online tool for finding the lowest fare. Reviews have been mixed, but Google says it plans to upgrade the site soon. The tool -- found at www.google.com/flights -- shows only domestic, round-trip, economy-class fares. Flights to many small cities are not included.



Oktoberfest in New Ulm

It's time again for Oktoberfest, one of the state's most popular German festivals, which kicks off Friday and Saturday and continues on Oct. 7-8 in New Ulm, Minn. Plenty of fun and food will be offered for all ages downtown and at the Holiday Inn. The festival features live entertainment including German brass bands, polka bands, a parade (11 a.m. Saturday), a beer garden, craft and antique shows, horse-drawn trolley rides (Saturdays only) and other activities. Free music from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 8 downtown. The hours are 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Oct. 7 ($5), and noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and Oct. 8 ($8) at the Holiday Inn. (1-877-359-2941; www.new ulmoktoberfest.com).