Up North: East Central Men’s Circle Hosts Picnic in the Park

Pine City Minnesota, is one of those towns that most folks in the Twin Cities probably don’t think about—that you pass through on the way to or from something, but not go to. It’s where you expect to find boats, snowmobiles, and camouflage clothing as the norm much of the year.

But Pine City isn’t just that, at least not as far as the East Central Men’s Circle is concerned. This gay and bi men’s group strives to bring together the rural community, whether they live in Askov, Cloquet, or Pine City. With biweekly gatherings, the group manages to gather a community scattered by the miles, helping make socializing easier for men from their 20s to their 60s.

On June 1, Noon-5 PM, the Men’s Circle will be holding its fourth annual Picnic in the Park in Pine City. It has been billed the only rural Pride celebration in the country.

Pine City is more then just a launching pad into the wilderness. Its Downtown is basically a two-street affair. Old Highway 61, the main road in from the south for those who don’t travel by interstate, becomes Main Street, the busiest in town. Fifth Street, one block over, is home to many “must do” places, such as the award-winning Pizza Pub; Sprouts-n-More health food store; and Sauser’s Hardware, a true slice of nostalgia. Downtown is dressed-up enough for an entertaining afternoon or evening walk through the half-dozen (or so) blocks that make up the business district, with stops for food and shopping.

Mom’s and Nicoll’s are two traditional cafés of choice. The former serves breakfast all day. The latter is a family-style restaurant with Wi-Fi. On Sunday, you may have to wait a little to be seated for your breakfast at Mom’s, but when it arrives, you may find it one of the best you ever tasted. With this quintessential piece of Midwest Americana, who needs Perkins or Starbucks?

You can walk off breakfast, lunch, or dinner along the Voyageur Trail, which leads to a Minnesota Historical Society site, the North West Company Fur Post, just 1.5 miles west of town. There, it gets interesting. You can step out of the modern visitor’s center into the re-created world of 1804, stop at an Ojibwe encampment, learn from a costumed guide, and take a short hike to the reconstructed Wintering Post.

Walking not for you? For bicyclists, the Munger Trail, which can be accessed 10 minutes north of town, leads to Duluth. For gym rats who cannot take a day off, get a day pass at Pine Health & Fitness. After your workout, you’ve earned a jaunt to Main Street Milkhouse for ice cream (known to locals for its $1 milkshakes).

For shopping, a nice rest stop is Picturing Pine, which has artwork and gifts featuring images of Pine City and the surrounding area. Pinewood Gallery showcases the work of local artisans, all in an environment that doesn’t make you feel guilty for being a casual browser.

Need to top off a day with a night out? Reddog Billy’s, at the busy corner of I-35 and Hillside Avenue, is slightly hip and very family, with outdoor tables and an indoor dance floor. Eclectic Froggy’s, hosting bands, is a place to shake your tail feathers as well.

So, why not take some time off from the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities to visit Pine City for a laid-back day or even weekend, and see a one-of-a-kind town and Pride gathering.

For more info, visit www.menscircle.org or www.pinecitychamber.com.

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