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Eddy Gilmore: Hundreds of freebies in Duluth

As massive ominous clouds poured over the hill to surround the track at Denfeld like mobsters at an East Coast construction site, I realized the Wednesday Night at the Races event probably was going to be a bust. The occasional lightning sealed i...

As massive ominous clouds poured over the hill to surround the track at Denfeld like mobsters at an East Coast construction site, I realized the Wednesday Night at the Races event probably was going to be a bust. The occasional lightning sealed it, unfortunately, and the event was cancelled.

So we got the 4 year olds out for a run-about on the soft orange track, and boy did they have fun running in the lanes like bona fide track stars. Lots of other kids of all ages were also there, and so were many young families to cheer them on. What a fun and happy time these free races are.

Most children just love to run, and it does a body good. All racers go home with a nice ribbon for their efforts as well.

Here are some more ideas for free things to do with your family:

Music in the Park at Chester Bowl is on Tuesday nights at 7 (weather permitting). For those in your family who aren't into the music, there's plenty of great hiking to be had, and there's an awesome playground with perhaps the tallest corkscrew slide in the city, if not the world. The kids never tire of it.

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Have you been to Movies in the Park on Friday nights? Neither have I, but I hear they are hugely popular, and it's impossible to find a better venue this side of the Mississippi than dusk at Leif Erikson Park.

Another way to avoid the vortex that is centered around all the big-box stores on a Saturday morning is to head to the Duluth Farmers' Market, where you'll find abundant produce and other farm products. Often there's lively music playing as you do a little jig from stall to stall, sampling various products.

This is a great opportunity to become acquainted with several friendly local farmers and others who are passionate about food. More importantly, your kids can learn that food doesn't come shrink-wrapped in its natural state. The Duluth Farmers' Market is also open Wednesday mornings, and there's another market at UMD every Wednesday afternoon and a different one in the mall parking lot (near Coldwater Creek) on Thursday afternoons.

There are also various free fairs in the city such as the harvest festival and energy fair in the fall down at Bayfront. Last year we rolled off what must have been a world (or at least county) record cabbage, judging by its girth, that more than bested many pumpkins I've seen in the grocery store. My wife decided to experiment with fermenting the stuff, and though it didn't turn out to be a "Bam!" moment, it was $4 well spent on a real blue ribbon prize-winning piece of produce and for the experience. Kids can also blow off some steam with free kites and ample room to spread out for kite flying fun.

Parks, parks, parks. Duluth has one of the most extensive park systems in the nation with 129 municipal parks, playgrounds and public spaces. One near you is certain to strike a love connection in your or your family's heart. Nearly 12,000 acres are maintained by the parks department, and there are countless other secret spots out there to be discovered.

For example, the whole Gilmore clan came upon the ruins of an old boathouse or something along those lines on the shore of Lake Superior the other day. Some shady-lookin' folks were smoking in there, so the cautious dad in me wanted to keep my kids away from the possible Mary-Juana festival happening within its confines. I couldn't keep the kids out of there though, and the non-hooligans turned out to be far friendlier than I. They had built an awesome little hangout within the open-air confines, complete with a couch made from pea sized gravel and driftwood (surprisingly comfortable, by the way) and other amenities. They extinguished the cancer sticks and demonstrated their bouldering skills for the munchkins. This was very cool, and not something you would see anywhere else.

I mention this because it's as if the community comes alive again in the summer, and we all have these opportunities to get together during this short season.

Duluth has far more to offer in terms of public space and community events than any other place I've lived by far, so I'm bewildered when hearing the near-constant refrain about there being nothing to do here. It's not true.

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Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. E-mail him at eddyg_123@yahoo.com .

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