Beautiful Lake Belle Taine
Lake Belle Taine is among Minnesota's premier recreation lakes, located in the heart of Minnesota's north-central lakes region between Park Rapids and Walker. Lake Belle Taine covers nearly 1500 acres, has a sandy bottom and shoreline, and beautiful water clarity with visibility over 15 feet.
Connected with more than ten other lakes by the Sand River, Lake Belle Taine is the third largest and southern-most lake in the famous Mantrap Chain of Lakes, a collection of lakes known for prize fishing and beautifully clean, clear waters. Although boaters may easily navigate the river between most lakes, including Lake Belle Taine and Shallow Lake, some parts of the river are best accessed by canoe or kayak.
Though our lake was named Elbow Lake in the late 1800s, likely because of its shape, the name was corrected to its native name in 1919, after it was discovered that the 1870 survey team led by Mahlon Black had recorded numerous times in their field notes the lake's native name
Lake Belle Taine. Black's team often referenced the Crow Wing River south of Belle Taine, indicating the team was aware of the native names of lakes and rivers. The field notes left little doubt that the natives and locals of the time had adopted the name Lake Belle Taine. Given the French term
belle tain, which means beautiful foil, - or perhaps beautiful mirror, beautiful reflection -, the name likely originated back in the earlier French fur-trading days.
In the general reference pages of those 1870 survey field notes, Black's team noted that Lake Belle Taine was the largest lake in the area, that a large stream flowed into the lake from the northwest, and that there was no outlet from the lake. They also made the observation
the water in lake [Belle Taine] is clear and pure, which is a characteristic of Lake Belle Taine we appreciate yet today.
Black platted on the 1870 survey the original White Earth Wagon Road that connected Leech Lake with the White Earth Reservation, and preceeded County 80 along the scenic southern shoreline of Lake Belle Taine.
Although the natives and locals had great respect for
Lake Belle Taine and its
beautiful reflection, it wasn't until after the 1870 survey that our lake reliably showed up on maps. Both Lake Itasca and Leech Lake were depicted and labeled on the earliest maps, and some early maps even plotted and named Fish Hook Lake north of Park Rapids. Two 1840's era maps depicted a mysterious
Lake of the Isles in a similar location to Belle Taine, but this 1873 map was likely the first to accurately depict Lake Belle Taine for all to see.
The Early Days
According to local resident Ren Holland, the Park Rapids lakes region gained fame due to its location along the original Jefferson Highway from New Orleans to Winnepeg. As early as 1916, tourists vacationing northward on the highway in search of lakes and tall pine trees first found them just south of Park Rapids. Even though the Mississippi Headwaters at Lake Itasca just 20 miles north of Park Rapids was an advertised attraction along the route, the Park Rapids lakes region with its many fishing lakes and family resorts became the final destination for many.
Years before the Jefferson Highway, travelers gained access to Park Rapids and Lake Belle Taine via the expanding railroad system. By 1872, the Northern Pacific Raiload ran through Brainerd and Wadena. A connector line was added from Wadena to Park Rapids in 1891, and by 1899 the line was completed between Park Rapids and Walker. The Great Northern Railroad ultimately acquired all the lines.
Lake Belle Taine received many early travelers due to its proximity along that Great Northern
K line, which had depots on both the west and east ends of the lake in Dorset and Nevis. Although the old Great Northern line was discontinued around 1972, the paved Heartland Trail makes great use of the old rail bed, as it connects Park Rapids to Walker and the 115-mile Paul Bunyan Trail system.
The Resort Era
More than 30 family resorts called Belle Taine their home over the years, according to local resident Ren Holland in his book The Early Resorts of Minnesota. Holland's historical map on the Lake Belle Taine Association website shows the locations and dates of those Lake Belle Taine resorts. Spending a week each summer at a resort became a family tradition for many, and resorts often saw the same families year after year.
With its prime location on the far west end of Lake Belle Taine, just south of the Dorset train depot, Camp Recreation was the first resort on Belle Taine, beginning sometime before 1910. Blue Bird Lodge became a popular resort, with its modern cabins, fish-cleaning house, and sauna on their beautiful sand beach.
Most resorts sold off their cabins in the later 1900s, but several resorts continue operation today. Just outside Nevis, you can stay at Woodson Cabins, the Pine Beach Resort, and Beauty Bay Lodge. On
Goat Island in the center of the lake, is the family campground Campers Paradise, which has been operating since 1960.
See Ren Holland's website to view his comprehensive collection of photos, maps, and stories about resort life in Minnesota.
The Park Rapids Lakes Region
The Park Rapids Lakes Region was, and still is, a perfect stopping point for those interested in lakes, tall pines, and outdoor activites. Park Rapids draws a population of nearly thirty thousand, so this area is active all year. The region offers unique dining and shopping, many family resorts, hotels and campgrounds, ten local golf courses, and five state forests. This is a great area for biking, with easy access to the 49-mile paved Paul Bunyan Trail (Heartland Trail), plus many miles biking around the local lakes and forests. Frequent summer festivals and music events include "We Fest" in Detroit Lakes, stage plays at the Long Lake and other local theaters, Nevis Muskie Days and Ufda Fest in Nevis, the "Taste of Dorset", and even the annual Rodeo. Winter adventures include ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling on nearly 250 miles of locally groomed trails, and many more miles through the area forests.
Oh, and we have easy access to well over 200 fishing lakes within 20 miles, many of which have sandy bottoms and pristine water clarity.
Fishing on Lake Belle Taine
No one gets skunked when fishing Lake Belle Taine and the surrounding lakes. Sunfish, crappie, and perch are plentiful, and most will catch a few bass and northern. Walleye are elusive but plentiful. Although few will catch a muskie in Belle Taine, everyone visting nearby Nevis will see the largest muskie in the region.
Surveys by the Minnesota DNR show that Lake Belle Taine offers plenty for the fisherman. In a series of nettings, the Minnesota DNR recorded the number of each type of fish pulled from Belle Taine and compared that to other similar lakes. Lake Belle Taine has more than average numbers of crappie, bluegill, northern, rock bass, and walleye. See the Minnesota DNR Lake Information page for more data about Lake Belle Taine.
Click here for the Current Fishing Regulations
Growing-Up on Belle Taine
As a life-long resident on Lake Belle Taine, Fred (Tomaszewski) Tomas provides the cherished backstories and connection to an earlier time on Belle Taine. His father Joseph Tomaszewski first purchased property on Fish Hook Lake near Park Rapids in the late 1920s, but found his place on Lake Belle Taine in 1939. Fred lives on that same Belle Taine property today.
Beginning around ten years old, each year after completing grade school in St. Paul, Fred would venture north to Nevis to spend the entire summer on Belle Taine. Those long summers allowed him to first participate in the various events we now consider tradition, and to experience events most others have long forgotten. As a young resident without a car, Fred frequently used his row boat to navigate the lake, especially to Beauty Bay Resort and to Nevis to buy supplies.
Nevis Muskie Days
Fred attended the first Muskie Days in 1952, and for many years afterward, entertained guests with the help of his brothers Joseph and Gene and their popular Polish polka band Jolly Brothers and Band, which recorded at least five albums over the years.
Fred recalls when Nevis resident and taxidermist (Baulitt) deigned and built the now-famous Largest Muskie in Nevis. (Baulitt) was known for mounting the prize muskies caught on area lakes, so it seemed fitting that (Baulitt) would claim the prize for Largest Muskie.
Fred once claimed largest fish caught on Belle Taine when he claimed the $25 prize for largest Silver Pike caught on Belle Taine in 1963. Silver Pike are hard to find today, but Fred remembers catching one as recently as the early 2000s.
Fireworks Over Belle Taine
Freds father Joseph played an important role in the history of Lake Belle Taine. In 1954, Joseph initiated the 4th of July fireworks display on Belle Taine, a tradition that has continued for nearly 70 years.
The Dam Incident
Before the fireworks over Belle Taine, there were fireworks on the lake. According to Fred, in the 1940s, to improve her land ownership position, a local land owner erected a dam across the Sand River near Round Lake. The dam caused Lake Belle Taine water levels to drop substantially, disconnecting more than seven bays from the larger lake and making navigation to Nevis impossible. As anger grew amongst local residents and resort owners, a plan was hatched to eliminate the dam. According to Fred, his father Joseph Tomaszewski rallied forces one evening with friend (Rales) and Beauty Bay Resort owner Metszewski to blow-up the dam, allowing water levels to return to normal.
In later years, Fred worked with his brother and friend to dig out the constricted areas on the Sand River to allow easier passage up the river to Round Lake.
The Forgotten Paddle Boat Between Nevis and Mantrap
Fred remembers local Nevis resident (Baulitt) recalling a Nevis to Mantrap paddle boat operation. Apparently, in the early 1900s, there was a paddle boat excursion between Nevis and Mantrap via the Sand River, likely to transport tourists from the Nevis depot up to Mantrap lake.