Airport of the Month
April 1, 2017
Milaca is a shortened version of Mille Lacs. The name, given to an area in Central Minnesota by 18th century French traders, translates as “Thousand Lakes”. Milaca is the seat of Mille Lacs County, but the County only has 34 lakes. The City is on a river that connects Lake Mille Lacs to the Mississippi. Water has an important role in the religion of Native Americans. The Dakota call it the “Spirit” or “Mystic” River. The French had a different kind “spirit” in mind and named it the Rum River. Today it’s part of the national system of “Wild and Scenic” Rivers.
In the 19th century, the US Army came to the Rum River region to get lumber for construction at Fort Snelling. There was plenty of wood, and by 1885 a settlement called “Oak City” was established around a saw mill. The village was formally platted in 1886 and renamed Milaca. By 1900 the lumber industry was gone, and other types of commerce took over. In the mid-1960s a major manufacturing firm was considering Milaca for a new facility. The City lacked two key requirements, an industrial park and an airport. Both got built, with the airport opening in 1968 and the industrial park in 1972.
However, the company didn’t come to Milaca after all and the airport languished. The single turf runway was in such bad condition that it was described as a “pasture”, but there were several airplanes based there. One local pilot would regularly nag the public works director to cut the grass. Then in 1983 the director turned to his new employee and said, “go mow the grass at the airport”, and a new era had arrived at the Milaca Municipal Airport.
The new employee was Steve Burklund. He liked airplanes then, and still does. About 1975 a family friend gave him a ride in his Super Cub, and the love affair was on. Steve took the airport job seriously and became the manager. In 1992 he was appointed the City’s Director of Public Works, but continued to manage the airport. The runway is still grass, but is now described as “like landing on a golf course”.
Today the Milaca Municipal Airport has a 2900-foot-long lighted turf runway. There’s self-service fuel, an aircraft wash station, and a nice Arrival/Departure Building. The courtesy car is a “Dodge Charger” that retired from police service and just might go faster than some airplanes. The hangar sites are in a nicely wooded area. Milaca is now home to 24 airplanes, but a few spaces are still available. If you’re looking for a business opportunity, there’s an FBO hangar and office available for the right operation.
Every year on the first Sunday after the Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh, Milaca hosts a fly-in breakfast that often attracts some exotic airplanes. Camping is encouraged in the park-like setting next to the A/D building. There’s also wi-fi at the building, and the adjacent patio has grills and picnic tables for your fly-in dining pleasure.
Milaca Airport is known for hospitality. The local pilots make it that way, and Steve Burklund is the “point man” in the effort. In 2016 he led a discussion on the subject at the Minnesota Airports conference. Steve learned to fly in 1988. He restored a couple Stinsons and has owned “5 or 6” airplanes over the years. His current ride is a Bellanca Citabria. In Milaca, the Public Works Director wears a lot of hats including “Airport Manager” and “local pilot”.
Fly-ins and airports might not satisfy everyone. The City and County have a well know system of biking and hiking trails, and the Rum River is very popular for canoeing and kayaking. “Milaca Days” is a typical small town festival and happens the third week in June. If you like music, the City hosts a Blue Grass festival in July called “Recfest”. Golf can be played with both balls and “Frisbees”, or you can hunt for bargains at “Milaca Unclaimed Freight”. If cooking on the grill isn’t your thing, several good eating places are within a mile of the airport. There’s a couple nice hotels available as well, so you don’t have to sleep with your airplane.
Even if the original plan for catering to business aircraft wasn’t realized, today the gorgeous Airport in Milaca is certainly a wonderful asset for the City and general aviation in Minnesota.