Health and safety

IBSL strives to maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all station users. Whether you are at the station or in the field, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings and location. For more information about research safety practices, please see our Research Safety page.

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Area Emergency Contacts

  • Itasca State Park Security 218-255-2248
  • Clearwater County Sheriff’s Department 218-694-6226 (Itasca Station is inside Clearwater County)
  • Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department 218-732-3331 (Itasca State Park includes Hubbard County, to the south)

Area hospitals and clinics

Itasca station does not have medical facilities or staff. If you need to seek urgent medical treatment, notify a Station staff member and proceed to one of the following hospitals with an ER:

  • Park Rapids CHI St. Joseph’s Health
    • address: 600 Pleasant Avenue South, Park Rapids, MN, 56470
    • phone: 218-732-3311
  • Sanford Bemidji Medical Center
    • address: 1300 Anne Street NW, Bemidji, MN, 56601
    • phone: 218-751-5430

For less urgent issues, the closest clinic is in Park Rapids. Please be sure to sign out of any meals in the dining hall you may miss while you are away from the station. 

  • Park Rapids Essentia Clinic
    • address: 1103 First Street East, Park Rapids, MN, 56470
    • phone: 218-732-2800

Station resources for minor injuries or illnesses

The station does not have any medical professionals on staff. Over-the-counter medications for minor ailments, basic first aid supplies, and poison ivy exposure wash/ointments are available in the Biome Center Office (building 75). The station does not have prescription allergy medications. If you have known allergies or medical issues, please be sure to bring your own medication.

Building Emergencies and Power Outages

Electrical outages, heat source trouble, potential gas leaks, sewer and water issues are considered emergencies. For emergency cabin repairs, immediately contact the Facilities Lead (Eric Sather) by calling or texting his cell phone 218-308-0863. He can also be notified in-person at his home in cabin 60 after hours.

For non-serious building issues, report the incident or repair by sending an e-mail to Eric Sather or, during the summer, you may write on the repair clipboard in the Assembly Hall (building 53) or Biome Center (building 75).

During a power outage, please refrain from using water in cabins, classrooms, and bunkhouses. The power to the water supply for much of the station would be shut down, so sinks and toilets will not work. The only toilets and sinks that should be used are those in the two main bathhouses (Buildings 50 and 54 on the station map). 

The only corded phone that will work during a power outage can be found in the utility hallway in the east end of the Biome Center (building 75). All other corded phones at the station operate on the internet network, and will not work during a power outage.

Severe Weather

The station does not have extreme weather warning sirens. Station users are responsible for staying alert to changing weather conditions. Follow this link to the National Weather Service Forecast for the Lake Itasca area.

If you hear thunder or see lightning: 

  • stay off or get off of the lake
  • get indoors to a safe place
  • check the internet or radio for the potential of severe weather

Storm shelter locations: Check the station map for your nearest storm shelter. They can be found in the basements of:

  • Assembly Hall (Building 53)
  • Building 48
  • Building 44
  • Cabins 2, 13, 70

Waterfront and Watercraft Safety

All waterfront activities are undertaken at your own risk. There is never a life guard on duty at the station or in the state park.

Do not attempt to swim across the lake. Do not swim at night. If you see someone in distress or drowning, immediately shout for help. Use the practice of “Reach, Throw, Row, Go.” You can reach out to them from land, throw a flotation device or life-saving ring, or row a canoe out to get closer access. Do not swim out to a drowning person, unless you are trained as a lifeguard and wearing a flotation device. A drowning victim can easily drown another person who is not trained. AEDs are located in the Assembly Hall and in the Biome Center foyer.

Pontoons, motorboats, and John/V-hull boats are for not for general use. They are reserved for field courses or research purposes only, and their use must be pre-arranged with IBSL staff (see our Pontoon and Motorboat Protocol for more information).

Minnesota law requires one U.S. Coast Guard approved, properly sized, and easily accessible life jacket per person on all boats, including the station's recreational watercraft (canoes, kayaks and paddleboards). Anyone planning to use the station's recreational watercraft should review paddling safety tips before heading out on the water. All children under ten are required to wear an approved life jacket when boats are underway. While not required by law, we recommend that everyone wear a life jacket when using boats. All participants in station-sponsored boating activities will be required to wear a life jacket. 

Station boats are not fitted with nighttime running lights and are not allowed to be used after dark. Provide at least a 15-minute grace period, especially before sunset, to ensure you are not on the lake after dark. DNR fines may result at the expense of the operator from boating after dark without the proper lighting. 

Tick-borne diseases

EPA Insect Repellant Finder Tool

The following information was made available through the Minnesota Department of Health annual blacklegged tick surveillance report conducted in Itasca State Park and the surrounding region:

Blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks) in the Itasca State Park are vectors for several disease, including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Tickborne-relapsing fever.

Blacklegged ticks are readily found in wooded and brushy habitat. The risk of getting bitten from a blacklegged tick is highest from May through July, when the small and hard-to-see, immature life stage (nymph) is most actively seeking hosts. Not all ticks are infected with a disease agent but a relatively high proportion of them are. While infection prevalence can vary from location to location and year to year, on average in our region approximately 1 in 3 adult blacklegged ticks and 1 in 4 nymphs are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Other disease agents are found at a lower infection prevalence, although roughly 1 in 10 ticks are coinfected with more than one disease agent so it is important to consider other tickborne diseases in addition to Lyme disease. 

American dog (wood) ticks commonly bite people and are found throughout Minnesota in grassy, more open habitat and woods. Two particular diseases, including tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can be spread by this tick species so it is important for people to be aware of all tickborne diseases that are endemic here in Minnesota and prevent tick bites.

The following is recommended to prevent tick-borne diseases: 

  • Use an EPA-registered repellent (e.g., DEET 20-30% and permethrin 0.5%) when in or near wooded, brushy, or grassy habitat. You can use this tool to find the repellant that's right for you.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks to prevent exposure
  • Treat field clothing with permethrin to repel ticks
  • Conduct frequent tick checks (at least once a day) and remove ticks as soon as possible. Private tick check stations with full length mirrors are located in the Biome Center, Building 43, and the bathhouses. 
  • Tumble dry clothing and gear in a dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes (or at least 60 minutes if wet) to kill any blacklegged ticks remaining on your clothing
  • Watch yourself for symptoms of tickborne disease (e.g., rash, fever, fatigue, muscle or joint aches), especially within 30 days of being in tick habitat, and tell your doctor about your possible exposure to blacklegged ticks if you become sick

Visit the Minnesota Department of Health website to learn more about preventing tick-born diseases and view their informational videos.

Other Field Safety Considerations

First Aid and CPR

For work in remote areas where professional medical help is not in near proximity, it is strongly recommended that at least one member of your group has current training in first aid/CPR and/or wilderness first aid. Adequate first aid supplies should be readily available. AEDs are located in the Assembly Hall and in the Biome Center foyer.

Driving Safety

Driving to and from field sites is one of the highest risk activities that field scientists undertake. Rural two-lane highways are more deadly than urban freeways. These roads, along with the Main Park Drive in the state park, can become congested during the peak of the summer field season. Follow all Minnesota traffic laws, and always be a diligent driver. The speed limit on station roads is 10 MPH. Station vehicles may be driven only by those who have been authorized by IBSL staff.

Getting Lost

Cell phone service in the state park is not reliable. Do not rely on your phone for communication or navigation when you are away from station buildings with wireless access. Use the “buddy system” whenever doing fieldwork or recreating in remote areas of the park. Before leaving the station, always let someone in your group know your plans: where you are going and when you expect to return. If you become lost, do not panic – S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Prepare). Stay in one place, especially at night. Itasca staff and/or the Itasca State Park Patrol will find you.

Insect Bites and Stings

Mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, ticks, and other biting and stinging insects are an inevitable part of field work in the North Woods. See the section above on Tick-Borne Diseases for more information on preventing tick bites. If you are severely allergic to insect bites or stings, it is your responsibility to communicate this with those around you and to carry an EpiPen with you at all times. The station does not have medical staff on duty or medications available to treat severe allergic reaction.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy can cause severe rashes. Ask someone familiar with the area to point out this plant to you if you are in doubt (remember: “leaves of three, let it be”). Poison Ivy most commonly occurs in semi-disturbed areas such as trail and roadside edges. Exposure ointments and washes are available in the Biome Center Office and the Supply Room in lower 48.

Black Bears

The Itasca Station is located in the heart of black bear habitat, and bear encounters are not uncommon. Black bears are rarely aggressive and actual attacks are rare. Knowing how to behave when encountering bears and how rare bear attacks actually are can keep you safe and provide peace-of-mind.

  • Prevention: Bears are attracted to food sources. Proper trash disposal is key to preventing the occurrence of problem bears. It is everyone at the station's responsibility that we not habituate bears or other wildlife to eating trash. Bears that are habituated may need to be euthanized. Don't leave trash out overnight. Trash should only be placed in outside receptacles according to the timeline detailed in our Station Policies in order to coordinate with our maintenance staff rounds.
  • Responding: If you encounter a black bear, do not approach it. Do not panic. Stop what you are doing and evaluate the situation. Make your presence known by speaking firmly but in a calm tone. Don’t startle the bear. Alter your route or back away slowly, preferably in the direction you came. Walk, do not run, and keep your eye on the bear so you can see how it reacts. Running may startle the bear and trigger a chase response. In most cases, the bear will flee. If a bear follows you, act boldly: yell, raise your arms and throw things directly at it. If a black bear attacks or tries to make contact, fight for your life. Do not play dead. Kick, punch or hit the bear with whatever weapon is available. Concentrate on the face, eyes and nose.

Current State Park Alerts

Users should be aware of current conditions at Itasca State Park. View the State Park Alerts Page for updates on park alerts and seasonal notices. Current fire danger and burning restrictions for Itasca can be viewed here.

Personal Safety

IBSL is committed to fostering research, education, and community engagement in a welcoming and inclusive environment. The IBSL Code of Conduct outlines expected behaviors for all station users and describes unacceptable behaviors, consequences for unacceptable behaviors, and reporting mechanisms. 

Sexual harassment or assault

The University of Minnesota is committed to taking prompt and effective steps intended to end sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking, relationship violence, and related retaliation, prevent their recurrence and, as appropriate, remedy their effects. Please refer to the UMN policy on sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence


All University members are prohibited from engaging in, or assisting or abetting another’s engagement in, discrimination and related retaliation. The University of Minnesota will take prompt and effective steps intended to end prohibited conduct; prevent its recurrence; and, as appropriate, remedy its effects. Please refer to the UMN policy on discrimination