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Kenmare has identified with geese for decades; their school mascot is a snow goose, and their sports teams are called the Honkers.

The town’s goose appreciation is at its zenith this week as the city celebrates its 15th Annual Goosefest. As the self-proclaimed Goose Capital of North Dakota, the city hosts this 7-day hunting festival every October during the peak migration of snow geese.

North Dakota, located in the Central Flyway, is known as the "duck factory" of the United States, with 63 wildlife refuges – more than any other state. Three of those refuges are within 30 miles of Kenmare – Des Lacs, Upper Souris, and Lostwood – making the region a yearly stopover for not only ducks, but also about 400,000 snow geese as they migrate south from their Canadian nesting grounds. The region also offers wildlife enthusiasts swans, cranes, eagles, hawks, songbirds and shore birds.

For hunters, though, the big draw is snow geese, as well as the yearly flocks of between 25- and 30,000 Canadian geese. The refuges provide sanctuary and roosting areas, and grain left on the ground after harvesting provides the incentive for these birds to stop and stay awhile.

There are also large numbers of Hungarian partridge, sharptail grouse, and ringneck pheasants in the grasslands, so hunters have a number of different options they can exercise over the week.

Kenmare’s Goosefest has become more and more popular over the years; many farmers allow free hunting on their land, and some families pick up a little spending money by renting out rooms to visitors. Hunters take part in contests as well as free feeds at local bars, musical entertainment, presentations by national shot-shell dealers, a wildlife art show, family activities, and prizes for bagging the biggest birds.

Then there’s the Goose Hunter's Hall of Fame induction, which won widespread recognition when Minnesota Vikings’ coach, Bud Grant – a yearly participant – was inducted in 1990. Grant said, “Snow geese are the ultimate challenge. They’re smarter and warier, and, of course, they’re protected on the refuges, so you have to be smart enough to get them off. And you can’t find nicer people than here.”

Another attraction in Kenmare is its city square featuring an authentic Dutch windmill. The mill was built by a Danish immigrant, Christian Jensen, who homesteaded north of town in 1898. Farmers from miles around hauled their grain to Jensen’s farm, and over time, the demand got so high that the mill was operated around the clock. With mill stones forty inches across, ten inches thick and weighing 1800 pounds apiece, the windmill turned out up to 200 sacks of flour a day.

The mill was last used during World War I, and soon after, all that was left of the giant wind wheel was its shaft. Fortunately, Kenmare’s Association of Commerce rescued the mill and moved it to its present location, where it was restored to working condition. The land under it was then deeded to the State Historical Society to ensure its future.

Now, whether it’s more fun to look up at the windmill or watch honkers overhead is pretty much up in the air (groan); but if Kenmare has been in your travel plans, this is the week to do it.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm