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Named for a rapids on the Pelican River, Pelican Rapids is in northeastern Otter Tail County, in central-west Minnesota. The river cuts through the center of the city, forming a wide, lake-like appearance in the eastern part of the town. Several other bodies of water are within and nearby the city, including Prairie Lake, just north of Pelican Rapids. The main routes through the city are US Highway 59 and Minnesota Highway 108. Nearby localities include Dunvilla, Erhard, and Norwegian Grove. The first settlers who arrived in the area of Pelican Rapids came to establish trading posts for the British Northwest Company in 1868. A post office was established there in 1872. It wasn't long before homesteaders arrived. Pelican Rapids was founded near a trail that led from the Twin Cities area, about two hundred miles southeast, through St. Cloud and Alexandria, to the Fargo-Moorhead area, about forty-five miles northwest. A branch line of the railroad from Fergus Falls came through in 1882. Although the rail line was intended to continue north, but that never happened, and the railroad remained a branch terminus until it was removed a century later. Pelican Rapids was incorporated in 1883. Its economy was initially dependent on agriculture and farm products but, over the years, tourism and industry have played a role. Maplewood State Park, six miles east, bring tourists into town. In some downtown Pelican Rapid buildings, old storefronts can be found in the basement, as businesses moved upstairs to be level with the new street after the river-level road was raised. Although never a large city, the population of Pelican Rapids has generally increased since 1910, with more than a 25% increase in 2000. Cormorant Township, Dunn Township, Pelican Rapids Township, and Scambler Township are headquartered in Pelican Rapids, that being the nearest city with a post office.

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