Lake Pepin

Map of Lake Pepin

Lake City, Minnesota is privileged to be nestled along the beautiful shores of Lake Pepin, a breathtaking landmark with incredible scenic and historic value. The significance of the lake, both to its immediate surroundings and those far reaching, is currently being presented in a proposal to name Lake Pepin an official UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage site.

UNESCO is a worldwide organization that seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. There are 23 current World Heritage sites in the United States, including Grand Canyon National Park and the Statue of Liberty.

Lake Pepin is a 22-mile-long, 2-mile-wide natural broadening of the Mississippi, covering 30,000 acres with majestic bluffs surrounding a natural lake of stunning beauty with cities and towns trickling down it’s shores. Some of these cities include Maiden Rock, Reads Landing and Stockholm. However, Lake City remains to be the largest settlement on Lake Pepin’s shores. Due to its prime real estate, Lake City has benefitted from the bounties of Lake Pepin since before it’s incorporation in 1872.  The depth of the lake allowed for the construction and use of a port, amplifying the towns profitable market status and greatly increasing Lake City’s volume of trade. Steamboats had become an important means of transportation and commerce in the 19th century and Lake Pepin was no exception.

Ralph Samuelson and Ben Simons, harbormaster, with Samuelson’s early edition water skis

Participants of Water Ski Days performs on Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin’s most famous and cherished characteristic remains it’s significant place in watersport history. Popularly known as “The Birthplace of Waterskiing”, Lake City is where Ralph Samuelson, at the young age of 19, successfully took to Lake Pepin with his home-made water skis made of pine boards that measured a whopping eight feet long and nine inches wide. In the summer of 1922 Samuelson performed the sport for the first time in front of an audience on Lake Pepin’s ideal waters, effectively putting Lake City’s name and Samuelson’s in the history books.

Water sports in the 1920’s hadn’t made their breakthrough into becoming the popular pastime that they are today. Thus the site of Samuelson skipping across the water’s surface struck intrigue among his spectators. Samuelson began performing water ski shows from Michigan to Florida which spread interest in the new sport across America.

The spark Samuelson ignited turned water skiing into the world wide sport that it is today with participants ranging from Asia to Africa. In the United States alone, there are approximately 11 million water skiers and over 900 sanctioned water ski competitions every year. Lake City even has its very own celebration for the ‘Father of Water Skiing’ called Water Ski Days in June.

In the 1930’s the Lake’s beauty was recognized in the work of famous author, Laura Ingalls Wilder when she and her family take their wagon to the shores of Lake Pepin in the chapter ‘Going to Town’ of Little House In the Big Woods. Laura describes her first look at Lake Pepin in the following exert:

“After a long time Laura began to see glimpses of blue water between the trees.” … “Then all at once the road came out of the woods and Laura saw the lake. It was as blue as the sky, and it went to the edge of the world. As far as she could see, there was nothing but flat, blue water.” The scenic lake makes another appearance in Wilder’s most famous book, Little House on the Prairie in the chapter “Going West”.

William Cullen Bryant once said, “Lake Pepin ought to be visited by every poet and painter in the land.” The proposal for Pepin’s World Heritage Site status exemplifies this idea to best if it’s ability. Being named as an UNESCO World Heritage site is a highly prestigious designation, reserved for unique sites like Lake Pepin that are of outstanding value to humanity, for cultural or natural reasons. The 43rd World Heritage Committee meets to consider and evaluate Lake Pepin and other site contenders in Baku, Azerbaijan from June 30 to July 10th of this year. We anxiously await their decision to deservingly commemorate Lake Pepin’s outstanding value to humanity.