From jobs to arts and culture, and of course lakes and great people, see what makes our West-central Minnesota lakes country one of the best places to raise a family or retire.

Have you ever pondered the perfect place to raise a family or retire? Here are just a few of the things WE love about living in lakes country, maybe you will too.

🚤 Lakes

We got a lot of um! Out of 10,000 plus lakes in Minnesota, there are 1,048 just in Otter Tail County! That’s more lakes than any other county in the United States.

So whether your passion is fishing, swimming, water skiing, jet skiing or touring on a pontoon, you will have many great bodies of water to choose from, not to mention those in neighboring counties.

Some of the larger lakes include Battle Lake, Dead Lake, Lake Lida, Little and Big Pine Lakes, Ottertail Lake, Rush Lake, Star Lake, but there are a plethora of medium and small lakes and quite a few that are unnamed. Check out this list of the 424 named lakes in Otter Tail County, listed by the proximity to the closest town.

Taking a scenic drive around a few lakes gives you a good feel for the area and neighborhood. Most have a public access boat launch so you can try as many as you like before deciding where you want to live the lake life.

🏛 Historic sites and other points of interest

West Central Minnesota is steeped in history, with communities taking pride in their cultural heritage. Check out the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the History Museum of East Otter Tail County as a starting point to learning about the region.

In exploring the area, check out these landmarks:

Phelps Mill County Park. In the late 1800s, wheat was the primary crop of the region, and with an abundance of water, it followed that milling the wheat into flour became prolific throughout the county. Otter Tail County had the most mills outside of Minneapolis, along the Otter Tail river, then known as the Red River. At a point of slight rapids, William E. Thomas built such a mill, which was later named Phelps Mill after his wife’s maiden name. After the turn of century, Steam, gasoline and electricity powered mills were found more efficient, making water powered mills obsolete.

Otter Tail County purchased the property and surrounding land in 1965. Today, it is one of the most scenic parks, with a river running through, a walking bridge, and the old mill as a backdrop. The mill is open seasonally for self-guided tours. The park hosts a popular arts festival each July.

Fort Juelson. West Central Minnesota was a vast wilderness occupied by Dakota Indians when European settlers began pouring into the territory in the 1850s. Conflicts over land and resources led to the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, just to the south, and settlers were terrified of an uprising in the region. Two Norwegian settlers, Hans Juelson and Berge O. Lee, constructed Fort Juelson to protect their community. You have to use a little imagination when visiting Fort Juelson, two miles east of Underwood, as none of original structure remains. However, a flag marks the hilltop where the fort once stood, providing a place of refuge should conflict arise (it didn’t).

The Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, locally known as “The Kirkbride” is a former insane asylum that is now a spacious park, with seasonal tours of the shuttered main building.

Located in Fergus Falls, the property was developed in the Kirkbride style- a mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-19th century. Opening to patients in 1890, it served as one of the main hospitals for the mentally ill in the state, and also served people with developmental disabilities and chemical dependency issues. The property received National Register of Historic Places recognition in 1986. Ongoing discussions and funding scenarios have arisen to rehab and reuse the historic structure. Read more about the ongoing efforts on the Friends of the Kirkbride page.

🏫 Great schools

Otter Tail Otter Tail County has 31 public schools, and maintains a lower than average student to teacher ratio. One of the best schools is Kennedy Secondary School in Fergus Falls, which is rated among the top in the nation according to Great! Schools. Battle Lake Elementary in Battle Lake has been honored as a National Blue Ribbon School for helping students attain outstanding academic achievement. Fergus Falls Public School District enrolls 4% of the population of Otter Tail County.

The area is served by several colleges- Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena, Alexandria Community and Technical College in Alexandria, and the University of Minnesota campus in Morris.

🎉 Thriving arts and culture

Lakes country benefits from being served by a Regional Arts Council that financially supports arts opportunities and programming, and Springboard for the Arts, an economic and community development organization for artists and by artists. Both organizations have offices in Fergus Falls.

Among significant fine art enclaves such as Fergus Falls Kaddatz Gallery or live performances at A Center for the Arts, there are also unique galleries and studios throughout the countryside. Drop by White Pine Studios near Clitherall for a free glass blowing demonstration, or swing by the Arthouse Studio on Rush lake to browse a unique assortment of fish prints, woodcuts, paintings, ceramics and jewelry.

Each town seems to have its own summer festival, filled with crafters and musicians. Winter is lively too, with a Frostbite Festival, polar plunges and quilt hopping (touring several quilt stores and collecting a stamp to win a prize of fabric).

💼 Job opportunities

Even if your into retirement, having a healthy workforce is good for the economy. The area has median age of 46.7, and a stable population base for its labor force.

Several health and social assistance organizations make up the largest job sector (16.7%), including companies like Lake Region Healthcare, Tri County Health and Pioneer Care. Manufacturing comprises 13.9%, and includes companies like Lund Boats, Northern Contours (cabinets), KLN Family Brands (snack food and dog food) and Shearer’s Snacks. Retail is the third largest category, followed by education and construction. Other job categories comprise less than 35% of jobs.

According to Data USA, Otter Tail county has an unusually high number Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting and Utilities jobs (state telecom Arvig is based in the county). It also is noted for high paying management positions.

👪 The people and communities

Different towns in the region have their own flavor, but one thing is common here: good, decent people. From cultural traditions or religious gatherings to festivities honoring veterans or helping those in need, lakes people are involved. People that grew up or make the lakes country their home adopt a certain way of being “Minnesota Nice” and helpful, while also being fiercely independent and respecting privacy. While we can’t escape all social ills such as drugs and crime, we sure worry a lot less than those in urban areas. Those that want to be a positive part of these special communities are always welcome.

Your real estate agent is the best source of information about the local community and real estate topics. Call Tom Verhelst at 218-205-2604 | Karen Zell at 218-731-6836 to learn more about local areas, discuss selling a house, or tour available homes for sale.

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