Itasca State Park is 125 years old today – so here are 4 cool facts about it

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Itasca State Park, where the Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile path to the Gulf of Mexico, turns 125 years old Wednesday.

It became Minnesota's first official state park back in 1891, the Minnesota Historical Society says. Never been? There's a virtual tour available here.

So in honor of the old park's birthday, here are four things you probably didn't know about the park and the start of the Mississippi River.

Who discovered Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi?

Who should get credit for finding Lake Itasca was the source of the Mississippi River has a muddled answer.

The Morrison County Historical Society explains:

A bunch of different expeditions – the earliest happening in 1805 – were sent to find the source of the Mississippi. And for 80-plus years, people kept pointing to different waters in the same general region. Things boiled over when, in 1881, St. Paul resident Willard Glazier traveled up the river and claimed to have discovered the source – but it quickly backfired, with critics arguing he actually plagiarized earlier explorers' works. (Seriously, people were mad).

And they all actually might have been late to the party – William Morrison (whom Morrison County is named after) later said he actually found that lake in 1804.

People have been there for a long, long time

The earliest signs of human life around Itasca State Park date back thousands of years – the Mississippi Headwaters Board says nomadic hunters were there as many as 10,000 years ago, while the Historical Society pegs evidence of people in Itasca back about 8,000 years.

Spanish and French explorers traveled the Mississippi River, searching for its source, just a few hundred years ago.

There are hundreds of animal species there

According to the Mississippi Headwaters Board, more than 350 animal species live around the headwaters – that includes nearly all of the endangered, rare or threatened species in the state.

A lot of people visit

How many people visit Itasca State Park every year? About 550,599, the DNR says. There are about 107,000 overnight trips.

In 2014, it was the third most-visited state park in Minnesota, the Pioneer Press said (with Gooseberry Falls and Fort Snelling above it).

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