With Agate Days, Moose Lake polishes image of the state gem

Jessica Sander and Jen Majkrzak (right). Majkrzak's dad collected agates and took her out to pick agates all the time when she was a kid. Now she's passing it down to her sister (pictured) and son. Saturday was their first time finding agates. Megan Burks | MPR News
Walt Lower Jr., 88, dreamed up Agate Days with his friend 50 years ago and came up with the idea for their famous agate stampede. Megan Burks | MPR News
Jen Majkrzak holds a small agate up in the sunlight to show her sister and son what to look for. "Just get all the dirt off and once the sun hits it, that red that comes through is so pretty and you know it's an agate," Majkrzak said. Megan Burks | MPR News

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An estimated 3,000 people descended on Moose Lake over the weekend to celebrate the 50th annual Agate Days Festival.

The festival got its start in a conversation over coffee between Floyd Clark, an accountant, and Walt Lower Jr., owner of Moose Lake's movie theater. Clark was an agate hunter and Lower was a businessman who needed to attract customers to his theater.

They started with some displays in a small tent in the street near the theater. Each year, Lower recalled, they got a bigger tent. And today, instead of a tent, they use the hockey arena down the road.

A highlight of the festival nowadays is the Clark-Olsen Agate Stampede. Organizers dump two truckloads of gravel, 400 pounds of agates and $400 in coins down the middle of Elm Avenue, then let families and pickers dig.

Organizer Craig Prudhomme said it was "perhaps unfortunate" that "years ago, someone got the idea to call it a stampede."

"I would prefer to call it the Moose Lake Walk Casually and Safely," he said. "But that doesn't have the same pizazz."

Correction (July 16, 2019): Jen Majkrzak's name was misspelled in a photo caption in an earlier version of this story.

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