Notes From the Field: Starry Skies

Erik Fremstad

Erik Fremstad

Summer at Voyageurs is in full swing! With a tornado touchdown, ripening blueberries, and plenty of fun events going on, it’s been a busy summer so far. But one of the coolest things happening at Voyageurs right now is that the park is in the process of applying for certification from the International Dark-Sky Association.  During the new moon at the end of July, VNPA got a sneak peek into the process. At 11pm on a clear night, we headed out into the park with Ashley Wilson, the park’s dark sky intern with the Future Park Leaders of Emerging Change program, and Cynthia Lapp, from the organization Starry Skies Lake Superior. The Milky Way was spread out overhead and every so often we caught a glimpse of one of the Perseid meteors shooting by. But we weren’t there just to stargaze. Armed with a device called a Sky Quality Meter (SQM) and a special camera, we visited each of the park’s three visitor centers to measure and photograph the night sky. 

The SQM measures the amount of light that strikes its sensor, which means that it tells you just how dark the night sky is. The darker the sky, the less light pollution and the more stars you can see. To use the SQM, you hold it up with the sensor pointing at the sky directly overhead and press a button. It takes a few moments to accumulate light particles, then displays a value measured in units called magnitudes per square arcsecond. Larger measurements indicate darker skies, with a value of 22.0 representing the darkest sky possible. One of the requirements for becoming an International Dark Sky Park is that this value has to be at least 21.2. We were regularly hitting values higher than this! 

As the application process continues, we’re excited to share more with you about these efforts.  Follow us on social media, where we’ll soon be posting some of the photos taken during this outing. If you want to try your hand at doing some dark sky measurements yourself, wherever you are, your smartphone can help! Apps such as Loss of the Night walk you through the process of measuring sky brightness using your eyes to identify which stars are visible. Your phone will submit a sky brightness reading to a citizen science database, where your efforts will contribute to how we understand light pollution.


Tornado touches down in Voyageurs National Park

Photo taken from NPS aircraft looking south from Marion Bay towards Locator Lake. The 200-600 yd swatch of the tornado can be seen as a light brown color against the green background of the standing forest (National Park Service)

Photo taken from NPS aircraft looking south from Marion Bay towards Locator Lake. The 200-600 yd swatch of the tornado can be seen as a light brown color against the green background of the standing forest (National Park Service)

Around 8:06 pm, July 17, 2019, a confirmed tornado with video documentation touched down in the Kabetogama Peninsula of Voyageurs National Park, causing significant damage along an approximately 2.5 mile path between Locator Lake and Marion Bay, Rainy Lake. The tornado was part of a larger cell of storms that passed through the area at that time. The National Weather Service office in Duluth, MN estimated the tornado as an EF-1 strength tornado with maximum winds of 100 MPH. Additional information about the tornado can be found here.

Aerial reconnaissance on July 24 confirmed the extent of this extreme weather event, the first confirmed tornado touchdown in the park’s 44-year history. Straight-line wind events that resulted in downed trees are more common in the northern part of Minnesota, with the most noteworthy such event being the 1999 blowdown event in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that flattened nearly 500,000 acres of trees. 

“Wind and fire are among the natural forces that shape our forests,” said Steve Windels, a wildlife biologist at Voyageurs National Park. “Even though this particular tornado only affected less than 500 acres of trees, it will result in the regeneration of young forest which is important habitat for species such as moose, forest grouse, songbirds, and other wildlife.”

“We are seeing more extreme weather events in our area.” said Windels. “Often accompanied with high rainfall amounts in summer storms. We’re not sure if this also means a higher likelihood of things like tornados in our future.”

Most of the downed trees occurred in aspen-dominated stands or within a black spruce bog, and the likelihood of future fires related to this event is low or will be of a minor scale, according to fire management officials at Voyageur National Park. 

Voyageurs National Park staff are working with forest ecologists in the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Network based out of Ashland, Wisconsin to learn more about this rare natural phenomenon. They have requested higher resolution satellite imagery of the area to better quantify and map the affected area. The continued monitoring of the location, size, and severity of these disturbances will provide insight into what the disturbance regime in the future may look like. 

Most of the damage that occurred is within the Proposed Wilderness Designation for Voyageurs National Park where few visitors ever venture, but a portion of the Locator Lake trail and a few houseboat mooring sites on Marion Bay, Rainy Lake were affected. Downed trees across the Locator Lake Trail were cleared and the trail is open for use. The Marion Bay West (R41) designated houseboat site continues to be closed due to the number of trees down in the area. The park hopes to have the site cleared and opened within a few weeks.

Map depicting estimated route of the tornado through the Kabetogama Peninsula, Voyageurs National Park (illustration by NPS staff).

Map depicting estimated route of the tornado through the Kabetogama Peninsula, Voyageurs National Park (illustration by NPS staff).

Close-up shot of tornado damage, showing circular pattern of downed trees that is typical in tornado events

Close-up shot of tornado damage, showing circular pattern of downed trees that is typical in tornado events

2019 National Park Teen Ambassadors Explore Voyageurs

On a recent rainy Sunday morning outside the Ash River Visitor Center at Voyageurs National Park, over twenty Minnesota high school students held up their right hands to recite the Junior Ranger pledge and receive their badges:

I promise to learn all I can about Voyageurs National Park and what makes this a special place. I will help protect the plants, animals, land, and water in Voyageurs National Park, and I will share what I learn with my friends and family.


They had just returned from a five-day paddling and camping trip in the park. Some were a little damp from the morning’s rainy paddle, but smiling nonetheless. Throughout their visit to the park, the students had participated in some classic camping experiences: they roasted marshmallows, swatted away mosquitoes, slept in tents, and told scary stories around a campfire. But this was more than your average camping trip. 

Since 2012, Voyageurs National Park Association’s Teen Ambassador Program has sought to connect youth from all over Minnesota to the outdoors and environmental stewardship and careers. This year, Teen Ambassadors from 14 different high schools ranging from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais to Virginia came together for the trip of a lifetime. 


The Teen Ambassadors learned about the many facets of a national park’s operation. They talked to park scientists about current research projects, were the first members of the public to see some recently captured footage of wolf pups in their den, learned to operate water sampling equipment, and got to ask questions of park law enforcement rangers who stopped by their campsite for a visit. They explored Kabetogama Lake by canoe, and caught a ride on the park’s tour boat to search out eagle nests and visit the Ellsworth Rock Garden. Each day, they spent time just enjoying being outside and reflected on their experiences with the help of their trip guides.

While a few of the Teen Ambassadors had previous experience visiting national parks, paddling and camping, for many, this experience was a first. But Teen Ambassador Zubeda, from Minneapolis, knows it won’t be her last:

“One thing I’ll tell my family is how much I’ve learned from this trip, and what I’ve been missing out [on]. Definitely going to go on more camping [trips].”

Later this summer, the Teen Ambassadors will reunite for a day of paddling on the Mississippi, seeing their new friends again, and participating in a Civic Voice workshop to learn how they can help protect the environment through public advocacy. 

Thank you to our program partners including Wilderness Inquiry, the National Park Service, AmeriCorps VISTA, and the National Parks Conservation Association. Special thanks to Nature Valley for their lead support of the 2019 National Park Teen Ambassador program!

Thank you for sharing Voyageurs National Park with this wonderful group of kids! Our members make this program free for Ambassadors.


Volunteer Profile: Sharon Oswald

Sharon Oswald is proud to be a Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA) board member, sustaining monthly donor, and volunteer. She believes strongly in the mission of the National Parks and wants to help Minnesota protect its parks. “Voyageurs is a beautiful piece of our state,” says Sharon.

Sharon O.jpg

Originally from Wisconsin, Minnesota has been home ever since her college days at the University of St Thomas. Sharon is currently Strategy Officer and Program Director at Delta Dental of Minnesota. She has the privilege of helping guide the foundation’s philanthropic efforts to improve the oral health of underserved people in Minnesota. She says, “I love my work. I get to meet and work with so many wonderful leaders in Minnesota dedicated to the common good. It’s very inspiring and meaningful.”

Sharon first experienced Voyageurs National Park on a canoeing trip with friends who knew about the park. She couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and how she had no idea it was there. Forrest Flint, a VNPA board member and Delta Dental co-worker, knew of Sharon’s interest in the environment and invited her to a VNPA event. Sharon volunteered with the VNPA events committee and became convinced of Voyageurs’ worthiness and impact. When Forrest retired from the board, he encouraged Sharon to take his seat. Sharon has served on the board now for 3 years.

Sharon’s favorite Voyageurs memories have to do with the community surrounding the organization. One was a Voyageurs anniversary event at Surly Brewing with great turn-out and an exciting celebratory feel. “It was exhilarating,” she recalls. Another was a VNPA boat tour in the park led by Voyageurs Superintendent Bob DeGross himself. She recalls how special it was to experience the park with Bob and the group. “We got to see and learn about unique areas of the park and cultural history I hadn’t noticed before.”

Sharon is a monthly sustaining donor because she feels it makes it easier for VNPA to plan and be more effective in the long-run. She laughs, “it’s also a smaller amount for me each month.” She’s very appreciative of her employer Delta Dental of Minnesota’s corporate support. They match a portion of her donations, and they have become a corporate partner for Voyageurs.

When asked why she supports Voyageurs with her time, talents and money, Sharon replies that VNPA provides the opportunity for long-term support and vision for a beautiful piece of Minnesota currently threatened by climate change and many other threats. She says the best things about VNPA are making more people aware of the park and encouraging more access to the park. Sharing more knowledge about health and its connection with nature is important to Sharon. “Voyageurs is a huge asset I’d like to see more people utilize.”

Volunteers Needed at the Historic Ash River Visitor Center!

The view from the docks at the Ash River Visitor Center

The view from the docks at the Ash River Visitor Center

Voyageurs National Park’s Ash River Visitor Center, located in the historic Meadwood Lodge, is in need of volunteers for this summer.

If you’re a local resident and can commit to volunteering one or two days a week for the summer, the park would love to have you! There is also an opportunity for a non-local volunteer, with housing included if you’re able to volunteer 32 hours a week (cabin or RV pad with hookups).

Email us ( if you are interested in either of these opportunities, and we will connect you with park staff!

As a visitor center volunteer, you will be tasked with providing information about the park to visitors. This can include tasks such as handing out maps and other printed materials, helping visitors to plan their visit to the park and surrounding area, and answering visitor phone calls. You will also help with the visitor center’s gift shop, including making sales with a cash register and performing opening and closing procedures.

Visitor centers are a vital part of the park’s operations, and you would be helping to ensure that visitors who launch from the popular Ash River area would be able to get the information they need. It’s an amazing opportunity to share your love of the park with others and help make sure they understand the significance of this beautiful place!

More information about the full-time (32 hours a week) position is here:

Voyageurs National Park’s Water Invaders

While they may not be readily apparent from the surface, aquatic invasive species (AIS) are a very real threat to the ecosystems of places like Voyageurs National Park. Across Minnesota and much of the United States, species such as the spiny water flea, zebra mussels, and Asian carp are already affecting habitats and food chains in waterways where they have been introduced.

In Northern Minnesota, including parts of Voyageurs, the spiny water flea has already decreased the biomass of zooplankton in some lakes by up to 40-60%. This decrease in a key food source in the lake-based food chain may cause declines in natural fish populations that feed on these organisms, and is likely having negative effects on popular species like walleye. Other invasive species can damage critical fish habitat. Rusty crayfish, another species that has infiltrated parts of Voyageurs, survive by eating the vegetation that usually provides habitat for many freshwater fish.

Besides their effect on the fish populations so prized by anglers at Voyageurs, some invasive species can directly impact boaters by clogging boat motors, damaging equipment, or disrupting the lakes in general. In the long run, these issues can become a damaging economic burden for individuals, small businesses, public land managers, and communities.

In order to combat these problems and avoid long-term negative consequences, many different groups and agencies are working together to understand them. Groups such as the International Joint Commission (IJC), the National Park Service, the University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are conducting research on the effects, spread, and prevention of aquatic invasive species in Voyageurs and its surrounding watershed.

As Voyageurs National Park copes with the emerging effects of species such as spiny water flea and rusty crayfish, the park also works to make sure that other species don’t manage to invade in the first place. So far, Voyageurs has been able to avoid invasion of zebra mussels, but many fishing lakes within driving distance have been infested, including Lake Superior, many waters in Crow Wing County, Itasca County, and as close as Red Lake.

With multiple jurisdictions involved in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed in both the U.S. and Canada, solutions and further measures to prevent invasion will take time, effort, and cooperation between many different groups. Regional scientists and resource managers are exploring ways to complete a comprehensive AIS risk assessment for the entire watershed to give us a better picture of the current state of our ecosystems and any emerging issues.

Other areas have begun pilot programs to start to address these issues. Recently, resort owners on Lake Vermilion and Pelican Lake went through voluntary MN DNR training and became part of a program run by the North St. Louis County SWCD to help with early detection of AIS. This resort ambassador program is intended to help create community accountability in our waterways and is being explored for areas like Kabetogama in the future.

Koochiching County helped bring in a decontamination unit near Rainy Lake which has been available for public use for several years. For boaters who frequently launch from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center or nearby marinas, we encourage you to use the decontamination station (location rotates around entry points on Highway 11). St. Louis County is working with the Park Service and others to establish new decontamination stations near the park. Both counties run boat inspection programs at major entry points and are exploring other prevention methods. Voyageurs is also working on a rapid response strategy so that staff may be able to prevent a zebra mussel infestation if a new introduction is detected early and in a confined area such as a marina.

Great Fishing!Molyeux4.jpg

You Can Help

As a visitor to Voyageurs National Park, you can play an important role in ensuring that you do not contribute to the spread of these species. These invasions can happen both intentionally and unintentionally. Deliberately transferring species into a new environment, such as dumping a home aquarium into a lake, is an easily avoidable intentional introduction. Unintentional introduction, such as having AIS attached to the boat or fishing gear that you bring into the park, is harder to avoid. But by being vigilant and following a few key suggestions, you can help make sure that you don’t accidentally introduce invasive species.

To ensure that you don’t bring invasive species into or out of the waters of Voyageurs, remember to Clean, Drain, Dry, and Dispose!  

  • Clean your boat as best you can with hot water both before and after boating in the park, using decontamination stations where they are available.

  • Drain live wells, bilge, and anything else that holds water before you leave the access area after boating.  

  • Dry your boat and fishing equipment before using them in a new lake. Boats should either be dried for five days or washed with hot water before launching in a new lake (and before they arrive at Voyageurs).

  • Dispose of unwanted bait and fish parts in the trash. Encourage others to do the same!  If everyone does their part, we can help keep our waters clean and free of damaging aquatic invasive species.

More great information on AIS prevention can be found on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ website.

VNPA is partnering with NPS to support prevention efforts specifically with volunteers, visitor education and funding. Thank you for helping keep Voyageurs wild and protecting it from aquatic invasive species.

Protecting Voyageurs National Park’s Interior Lakes

Fortunately, the park’s beautiful interior lakes are not currently infested with invasive animal species, making it all the more important for visitors to be vigilant and do their part to help protect them.

The National Park Service has adopted the following measures to protect the interior lakes in Voyageurs National Park from the spiny water flea, other exotic species, and fish diseases:

  • artificial bait only on all interior lakes

  • no privately-owned watercraft allowed in interior lakes (the park will continue to provide canoes and rowboats for rent and through a commercial partner on Mukooda Lake)

  • no float plane landings on interior lakes

If you plan to explore the park’s interior lakes, please follow these best management practices:

  • Bring a separate set of gear that is likely to contact lake water (including fishing gear) to use on the interior lakes, or before using any gear on an interior lake, make sure that all gear has been thoroughly dried for 5+ days or washed with hot water (>140 degrees F)

  • When leaving any lake, remove aquatic plants and animals, including gelatinous or cotton batting-like material from equipment, including fishing line

Photos by Susan Potter, Bob Molyneux

Environmental Review Complete for Mukooda Lake Development

VNPA is partnering with the park to create new recreational facilities at Mukooda Lake! Voyageurs National Park has completed the environmental review process for this development. The final Environmental Assessment and the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) can be found on the NPS’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment website and on the park’s website.

Public scoping for this project began in July, 2017 and the Environmental Assessment was on review from February 4, 2019 through February 15, 2019. The park analyzed two alternatives and selected the alternative that will redesign the existing campground and add a day use area and hiking trail. The campground will consist of two small campsites, each with two tent pads and one large campsite with four tent pads.  A new day use area will be separated from the campsites and a trail system will connect all the sites to the existing well and comfort station.

Approximately 3 miles of newly-developed trails will also connect the campground to the historic Filben Cabin ruins to the south and provide day hiking opportunities via a looped trail to the north.  The existing dock on Sand Point Lake will also be redesigned to accommodate more boats.

Mukooda Lake is located near the southeast end of the park, north of Crane Lake.  The small campground on the eastern shore of Mukooda Lake was established by the State of Minnesota and pre-dates the establishment of the park, and is now managed by the National Park Service.  This project, a joint effort between the park and VNPA, will improve upon and add to the recreational opportunities in the Sand Point Lake area of the park.

Shoepack and Little Shoepack Lakes Temporarily Closed for Muskellunge Study

In spring and early summer of 2019, the National Park Service (NPS) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) staff will perform a study to estimate the population size of the native and genetically-distinct muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) that live in Shoepack Lake.  

To enable this study, backcountry campsites and boats on Shoepack and Little Shoepack lakes will be closed to public use from April 20 to May 24, 2019, and also from July 1 to July 14, 2019. Canoes and campsites on both lakes are expected to remain open for all other summer dates in 2019. The fishing season for muskellunge begins June 1, 2019.

In 2001, a beaver dam at the outlet of Shoepack Lake failed, leading to a 47% reduction in lake area. Models that incorporated this reduction in lake area predicted a decrease in population to a potentially unstable level. The lake level and area have recovered since then, and the effects of this reduction on the muskellunge population are still unknown. The 2019 study will help the NPS and MN DNR assess whether current management in Shoepack Lake is adequate to maintain this unique strain of native fish.

Summer Tour Boat Reservations Open

Summer Tour Boat Reservations Open

Reservations for guided boat tours at the park this summer are now open! These tours offer an amazing opportunity to explore and learn about the park with a ranger. You’ll get to visit historic sites in the park, watch for wildlife, and enjoy the beautiful scenery! We highly recommend booking your tour well in advance, as they usually fill up ahead of time. To book your tour, go to and search “Voyageurs National Park Tours". Tours for September 2019 will be available to book starting June 1, 2019.

You can check the park’s website ( for updated information. The schedule we’ve included below is taken from, and we can’t guarantee its accuracy, as the park may update these dates and times.

2019 Heart of the Continent Science Symposium: April 8th-9th

Scientific symposium will share international research from across the Heart of the Continent region.

The Heart of the Continent Partnership invites you to attend/participate in our second science symposium April 8-9 in Duluth Minnesota. Heart of the Continent’s Science Committee is continuing its mission to build and strengthen a coalition of scientists, land managers, and stakeholders dedicated to the preservation of natural and cultural resources across the Heart of the Continent landscape.

The conference will take place April 8-9 in Duluth, with an evening session April 8 at Duluth Folk School, featuring research posters, and a full day of presentations on April 9 at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

April 8th- Evening Poster Presentations - 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm Duluth Folk School 1917 W. Superior St.

April 9 – Oral Presentations – 8:30 am – 4:30 pm University of Minnesota – Kirby Student Center – Kirby Rafters – 1120 Kirby Drive

Registration is available on the National Geographic Geotourism Web/MapGuide

The Heart of the Continent Partnership is a Canadian-American coalition of land managers and local stakeholders working together on cross-border projects that promote the region’s economic, cultural and natural health of the lakes, forests and communities.

Bidding Farewell to Conservation Pioneer and VNPA Founder Martin Kellogg

Martin Kellogg quietly helped create Voyageurs National Park, Grand Portage State Park and numerous environmental organizations
Martin Kellogg Obituary

A giant tree just fell in the forest and there is a reason why you might not have heard it. Though he played a key role in the creation of two iconic Minnesota parks and several key environmental institutions, Martin Kellogg never sought to be the center of attention. Instead, he was driven by a desire to protect Minnesota’s most special outdoor treasures by using his influence with key political, business and conservation leaders in ways that will benefit Minnesotans for generations to come. Kellogg died March 21 at the age of 88.

"When you think about outdoor recreation, conservation and tourism in Minnesota you have to recognize Martin's role in the development of all three," said Brett Feldman, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota executive director. "All of us should give thanks that Martin loved rugged physical challenges as much as he loved Minnesota's Great Outdoors because once you combine those qualities with his business smarts and political connections you end up with a relentless guy whose legacy was helping to make sure that Voyageurs National Park and Grand Portage State Park and numerous other special places exist today."

Kellogg's conservation work spanned both federal and state park systems and also included involvement in the creation of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, but it was his pivotal role in the creation of Minnesota's National Park, Voyageurs, that may never be fully appreciated.

"He worked to bring Gov. Elmer Andersen's vision for a park protecting the Kabetogama Peninsula to life, serving as a founding board member of Voyageurs National Park Association, coordinating broad public support for the park across the state, and testifying before Congress," said Christina Hausman, Voyageurs National Park Association executive director. "Like many of his other conservation efforts, he found ways to bridge diverse and influential groups of people together, always being respectful of differing opinions, and galvanizing them towards a common goal for Minnesota's outdoor legacy."

At around the same time Kellogg was helping to lead the charge for Voyageurs, he got involved with other parkland preservation visionaries who were building the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota (P&TC), an advocacy organization that exists to acquire, protect and enhance critical land for the public's use and benefit. Remarkably, Kellogg stayed deeply involved with both VNPA and P&TC for a half century.

A marine veteran with degrees in law, business administration and industrial engineering; and master's degrees in accounting and economics, Kellogg worked for more than four decades as a business executive, retiring as President and CEO of United For Excellence (UFE) Inc, an international manufacturer of precision molded plastics. Kellogg sold UFE in 2008.

Kellogg used his business acumen to help build several environmental nonprofit organizations. He understood that creating parks and wilderness areas alone didn't guarantee they would be protected forever. He believed ongoing stewardship was a job for nonprofit groups with staff, volunteers and resources that could defend them at all costs. So even though he could count such dignitaries as Gov. Elmer Anderson and American author and wilderness protection advocate Sigurd Olson among his friends, Kellogg was deeply committed to finding and nurturing the next generation of conservation leaders to continue work he was doing. He did this with numerous people and organizations.

Nothing illustrates this more than the way he groomed the dynamic husband and wife team of Mark and Joan Strobel to take over parkland protection efforts on the North Shore. “Martin Kellogg was our patient mentor and exceptional teacher," said Former P&TC Land Acquisition Chair Mark Strobel. "Our first and in some ways the most memorable of all the North Shore projects we worked on was the protection of Pigeon Falls in Grand Portage State Park. Beyond a doubt, Pigeon Falls is the most spectacular waterfall in Minnesota – and clearly the highest. We will always treasure our partnership with Martin in making Grand Portage State Park a reality."

In addition to VNPA and P&TC, Kellogg also helped launch the Minnesota Environmental Fund, and he served on or chaired the boards of the Metropolitan Council, the Nature Conservancy, the Carpenter Nature Center, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota. He received numerous awards for his conservation work, including P&TC's prestigious Reuel Harmon Award and the Wilderness Society's Environmental Hero Award.

During a 2006 interview for Minnesota Trails magazine, Kellogg summed up his 50 years of working to protect Minnesota’s Great Outdoors with a simple yet poignant reflection: “My only regret is that there have not been more days to enjoy the comradeship of the good hearts and minds that frequent the bastions of protection for our natural resources. Yet I am more than rewarded by a vision that someday there will be still another person walking through some parkland wondering as I have wondered, who were the thoughtful people whose foresight kept this beautiful landscape free of development and free for the public to enjoy?"

In reflecting on Voyageurs, he wrote, "Our descendants should have a much greater legacy than our fading photographs, our trophies mounted on walls, and a few parks and zoos. That is the full meaning of most everyone's longing and revering of a park such as Voyageurs National Park."

Kellogg believed that we all have a role to play in the ongoing stewardship of places like Voyageurs and supported Voyageurs National Park Association with his leadership, giving, and service for over 50 years. Thank you, Martin.

This article was written by the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park Association.

As Voyageurs National Park matures, it’s mission to protect and preserve has remained the same, and expanded.

The Journal, International Falls, MN

As Voyageurs National Park matures, it’s mission to protect and preserve has remained the same, and expanded.

Included in the park’s 2018-2022 priorities are to preserve and manage cultural resources within the park, including historic structures and objects.

Harry Oveson Fish Camp on Rainy Lake is one of those historic structures for which the park has spent the past couple of years maintaining and improving as a visitor destination, said Eric Grunwald, VNP ranger, interpretation.

“The park wanted to open areas to the general public who weren’t necessarily going fishing, but wanted places to go by boat that tell the story,” Grunwald said. Other destinations include Little American Island gold mine, which has been completed, and soon to be developed the site of Rainy Lake City’s gold rush that started in 1894.

The fish camp, located between Cranberry and Lost bays, tells the story of Oveson, who in 1959 built the site that would serve as his base for commercial netting of whitefish and walleye that would be transported every other day to local resorts and beyond.

Original structures, like Oveson’s camp, tell an important story in the history of what is now Voyageurs, Grunwald said.

Remaining at the site is Oveson’s cabin, an ice storage house, the outhouse tucked behind the cabin, and a fish processing building.

New to the site is a crushed rock trail featuring several interpretive panels with colorful photos and stories about the man and his life on the lake, a picnic site and tables, and updated restrooms.

A new dock offers room for several boats, and makes it feasible for the park to consider using a smaller tour boat to bring visitors to the site, Grunwald said.

Voyageurs National Park Association recently helped fund the new educational panels at the Oveson Fish Camp site in Voyageurs National Park!   Photo by Linda Webster

Voyageurs National Park Association recently helped fund the new educational panels at the Oveson Fish Camp site in Voyageurs National Park!
Photo by Linda Webster

The story of Oveson’s life has been told by the National Park Service online and in an interview with him July 24, 1975.

“In a typical day, Harry would rise before dawn and often see the sun come up from his front window,” said NPS. “By 6:00 am he headed out on his 16-foot Alumacraft boat to lift his nets, remove the fish, and reset the nets for the next morning’s catch. At 10:00 am he would be back at the fish house to prepare and pack the fish. He removed the entrails of the whitefish, but the walleye could be packed whole. His catch of the day would be packaged in fish boxes and put on crushed ice for transport. A good day’s catch would produce around 300 lbs. of whitefish and 50 lbs. of walleye. As a bachelor, he was content with his dog Goofball and the various birds that frequented his North Woods haven. Quiet evenings and dark skys made for excellent reading and star gazing, two of Harry’s other interests.”

Today, the north facing view from the front of Oveson’s camp continues to be awesome for visitors. Grunwald said the interview with Oveson includes his descriptions of waking to the sunrises out his front window.

And some may have wondered whether Oveson experienced winters at the camp.

He did not, said Grunwald, who noted Oveson was a bachelor his entire life. He was apparently among the early snowbirds, who leave Borderland for warmer temperatures, said Grunwald.

“He spent most of the winter in Arizona, but around the time for ice harvest, he would come back, around Christmas, and clear the ice field and with friends and family harvest ice,” he said. “It would take four or five hours and he had enough ice to last two years.”

“After about four laborious hours, the ice house would be filled 16 by 10 feet and 8-feet high of tightly packed ice,” said NPS. “Harry would finish up by packing a thick layer of insulating sawdust on top of the ice. The ice house walls filled with cedar shavings and complete with a vapor seal and a layer of sawdust did a remarkable job keeping ice frozen. In fact, while most commercial fishermen would harvest ice annually, Harry’s ice house was so well insulated, his ice would last two summers.”

The commercial walleye fishing licenses held by Oveson and two other Rainy Lake fishermen were “bought out” by the the state July 1, 1985, for $17,633.31 each, noted Grunwald.

He said the end of the commercial walleye netting on Rainy Lake came following concern about the quantity of fish being taken by the three netters and sport anglers. In addition, he said the late 1970s and early ‘80s saw some conflict between sport anglers and commercial netters.

After surrendering his license, Oveson closed up camp and moved to Arizona where he died in 1990 at the age of 84.

Grunwald said establishing the camp as a visitor destination is part of the park’s mission to keep alive the stories about the time before the park was established, in 1975.

“This is another way for visitors to Voyageurs National Park to experience the park by visiting Harry Oveson’s Fish Camp,” Grunwald said. “They can learn more about what it was like to be a commercial fisherman on Rainy Lake. In the future, hopefully we will be able to have more destination sites to learn more about the different aspects on Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Crane and Sand Point lakes as well.”

Overnight Houseboat Reservations for the 2019 Summer Season Now Open

Overnight houseboat reservations for the 2019 season at Voyageurs National Park are now available.

Park staff encourage visitors who wish to camp via houseboat or tent in the park to make a reservation as soon as they know their plans. Visitors may make reservations by going online at or by calling the National Call Center at (877) 444-6777. 

  • Overnight houseboat visitors may find a summary of the reservation program and policies here.

  • Instructions for making a houseboat reservation can be found here.

Income generated from overnight fees are used for the improvement and maintenance of visitor amenities at Voyageurs National Park, site cleaning, and the operation of the reservation system.

Voyageurs National Park Seeking Public Comments for Mukooda Lake Development Environmental Assessment

The National Park Service seeks public comments regarding an Environmental Assessment (EA) to improve the facilities and add a hiking trail at the Mukooda Lake small campground in Voyageurs National Park.  

The EA evaluates the potential impacts of modifying and improving the small campground at Mukooda Lake, adding day-use facilities, adding dock space, and adding a new hiking trail. The existing campground is poorly designed, is threatening sensitive resources, and there are currently no hiking trails serving visitors at the eastern end of the park.

Voyageurs National Park Association is a partner with the National Park Service on this project providing funding and volunteer support. Project plans balance sustainable recreation opportunities with natural and archaeological resource protection. Please join us in voicing our support for this effort.

The public is welcome to review the EA and provide comment on the National Park Service’s website. A hard copy can be requested by calling park headquarters at (218) 283-6600. The public can submit comments online, by email to, or by mail to: Voyageurs National Park, 360 Highway 11 East, International Falls, MN 56649. 

Comments must be postmarked or submitted by February 15, 2019.


Statement from Voyageurs National Park on the Resumption of Visitor Services Following End of Government Shutdown

With the enactment of the continuing resolution, staff at Voyageurs National Park will resume full park operations on Monday, January 28. The visitor center will be open Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and 27, as it has during the last few weeks of the shutdown. However, the Winter Speaker Series program scheduled for Sunday, January 27 is canceled. Please visit, and our social media platforms, for updated information about the park.

The team at Voyageurs National Park is ecstatic to return to the jobs that we love and are dedicated to. We look forward to assuring the on-going protection of the resources of the park and providing outstanding opportunities for visitors to enjoy and connect to this special place. I want to recognize Jeff Quam, Raphael Gelo, Ben Line, Mark Goulet, Eric Grunwald, and Lois Fogelberg, the excepted / exempted employees during the recent shutdown, for assuring the continuity of federal facilities, protection of resources, and providing basic visitor services.  

I also want to thank the team – Adam Hanson, Rusty Lehto, Adam Miles, Steve Schultz, Keith Stevens, and those excepted employees mentioned previously – for working diligently to establish the green trail for snowmobile travel connecting our gateway communities through the park. Establishing this trail assured that safe travel could continue during this winter operations period. 

Thanks also to the Voyageurs National Park Association, and the organizations with whom they garnered further support, for the funding to assure we could provide expanded basic visitor services during the shutdown and directly pay, at some level, those employees that continued to work. Thank you to the rest of the Voyageurs NP team who were furloughed completely for your patience during this challenging time.

Finally, thank you to the gateway community members that showed support to all of the Federal employees during this time, there are too many to list for fear of potentially missing someone or some organization. The kindness and generosity that you showed is greatly appreciated.

Once we resume full operations on Monday the NPS team will work diligently to safely establish the whole range of winter operational facilities.

Keeping the Public Safe During the Shutdown

For the most up to date information, please refer to our special shutdown webpage:

Voyageurs National Park Association, the official nonprofit Friends group of the park, is providing special funding assistance to sustain partial winter operations for visitor safety at Voyageurs National Park during the partial government shutdown.

Support provided by the Voyageurs National Park Association will allow staff at Voyageurs National Park to pack and groom cross country ski trails in the vicinity of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, assuring safe access and use by those seeking winter experience opportunities. Park employees will also staff the visitor center on Saturday and Sundays from 10 to 4:30 over the next few weeks through this financial assistance, providing people with information on safe travel routes. With the visitor center open, limited opportunities to loan skis will be available. 

If ice conditions allow the Black Bay Trails to be opened skiers will only be able to access the trail network by skiing across the frozen surface of Black Bay to the trail head.

Through this support staff will be able to continue assessment and grooming of open trails, including the Green Trail, the only safe marked snowmobile trail open in the park at this time.

Park staff are working diligently with the National Park Service's Washington Office to identify other non-appropriated funding sources that might be used to assure the continued monitoring and grooming of the limited trails that are open to assure safe travel.

Providing limited, reasonable, safe access is considered the most prudent approach to managing the park during the period of the recent government shutdown, given the difficult and unlikely ability of implementing a hard closure to all access to park lands and frozen lake surfaces.

Federal Government Shutdown Impacts at Voyageurs

January 2, 2019 Update:
A small Park Service crew was given permission to work during the partial federal government shutdown on December 29 and 30th to do an ice condition assessment and stake the Green Trail from Frank's Bay (Rainy Lake) to Crane Lake. They received permission to do this since "closing" Voyageurs National Park is unrealistic given the "porous" nature of access. The establishment of this one trail will help mitigate risk to winter visitors, providing snowmobilers a primary, assessed, and marked trail for safe travel. Snowmobilers should use caution as conditions change daily, pressure ridges may form that will not be marked, and the route will likely be rough since park staff are not able to continue grooming yet.

Voyageurs National Park Association is providing special funding to support additional winter operations. More information soon on how those funds will help keep the Rainy Lake Visitor Center open and aid further winter trail support.

December 22, 2018:
During the shutdown of the federal government, national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Park roads at Voyageurs National Park may remain accessible to visitors, but will not be plowed. Emergency and rescue services will be limited. Please use extreme caution.

There will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services at Voyageurs National Park, including public information, restrooms, trash collection, and facilities and roads maintenance, including plowing and snowmobile trail grooming.

Trail condition assessment, marking and opening will not resume until following the government shutdown. Because of the federal government shutdown, NPS social media and websites are not being monitored or updated and may not reflect current conditions. All park programs have been canceled at this time.


Photo by Tom Gable

Photo by Tom Gable

Tent Camping Reservations for the 2019 Summer Season Open November 15

Overnight tent camping reservations for the 2019 season at Voyageurs National Park will become available on November 15, 2018 at 9 am CST.

Visitors to will experience a new and improved website design that is more contemporary and user friendly. However, due to the large volume of facilities being serviced by, houseboat reservations in Voyageurs National Park will not go live until April 2019.

Park staff encourage visitors who wish to camp in the park to make a reservation as soon as they know their plans. Visitors may make reservations by going online at or by calling the National Call Center at (877) 444-6777.

Please note that cancellation policies have changed in the hope that more campers who are unable to make their trip will cancel their reservation to make that site available to other visitors.  

Overnight tent visitors may find a summary of the reservation program and policies at the following link --

Instructions for making a campsite reservation can be found here --

All income generated from overnight fees stays at Voyageurs National Park. These fees are used for the improvement of amenities at the sites, which include tent pads, docks, bear-proof food lockers, picnic tables, fire rings, mooring rings and site cleaning.

Photo by Athena Sutton

Photo by Athena Sutton

Dirty Job, but now a safer job.

By Jenna Wieber, National Park Service

One could say it’s an annual late fall tradition of the park.  No, it’s not watching the leaves fall, or the visitor centers switch to winter hours, or even the start of the new federal fiscal year.  It’s the removal of the hazard buoys throughout Voyageurs National Park.

Every year after October 1st, park law enforcement rangers trade in their gun belts for rain slickers and rubber gloves.  The crisp fall mornings, switching winds, and heavily dew covered boats already make this a daunting task to begin.  But tackling, bear hugging, and “heave hoeing” a 60 inch tall, 10 in diameter buoy that is attached to about 10 feet of rusty chain and a large cement anchor, is a whole other task. Not to mention this buoy has been floating, soaking up, and growing slick algae on it since their deployment after ice out, typically in May.

Just shy of 200 rock, no-wake, and a few inside-channel navigation aids are deployed and retrieved every May and October. This is literally back breaking work, but it has to be done to ensure safety within the park.  Not all rocks are marked within the park, but at least ones that at varying water levels, are either just slightly exposed or just below the water surface. Whether located along the United States Coast Guard (USGS) channel or the middle of the open lake.

Up until the fall of 2017, staff would have to grab these wet, water-logged, slimy buoys and struggle to get them pulled into a boat. The safety risks were numerous.  From potentially falling overboard into the brisk water, to getting a hang pinched between a chain, buoy, or cement block, to even pulled or strained muscles. But with some ingenuity from a local mechanic and metal fabricator working along with our park staff, an electric buoy wench system was created to assist the rangers and park staff to make this a safer, more efficient process.

How does it work? Using the electric wench system, which is attached to a small barge, staff pull up fairly close to a buoy and throw a chain around it.  This chain hooks just below the bottom of the buoy to secure it, then with just a press of a button, the wench begins to retract. This leaves staff responsible for only guiding the buoy, chain, and anchor onto the barge floor.  The risk of injury is greatly reduced.

It is still a dirty job, whether spring or fall. But it is amazing what a little ingenuity can bring to the workforce to work safer, and not harder.



Voyageurs National Park Association Conserves 6 Acres on Rainy Lake

In August, Voyageurs National Park Association completed the purchase of 6 acres within Voyageurs National Park. The formerly privately owned site is on the Rainy Lake side of a 75,000-acre roadless area, the Kabetogama Peninsula, which provides habitat for wolves, black bear, moose, otter and eagles.

While the previous landowners wish to remain anonymous, they provided the following comment:

“We are grateful our piece of property in the beautiful wilderness will remain a wilderness and not cluttered or despoiled by billboards or commercialization. We also recognize constant vigilance is necessary to protect and preserve a wilderness. The National Park system at present offers this assurance. May it always be so!”

The property is the third transfer yet under Voyageurs National Park Association'™s Land Preservation Initiative. Under this innovative program, the park's nonprofit partner works with willing sellers to acquire for the park the remaining private properties within Voyageurs' boundaries. Through the Land Preservation Initiative, VNPA can step in to acquire properties and hold them until the National Park Service completes the ownership transfer to the park. The acquisition of these private lands is one of the highest priorities for Voyageurs National Park, as it furthers their goals of restoring developed acreage to a pristine natural state, improving scenic views, and opening additional space for all park visitors to enjoy.

The Land Preservation Initiative is made possible through the Wallace C. Dayton Voyageurs National Park Legacy Fund, a critical land conservation fund created in partnership with the WM Foundation. It is named in memory of Wallace Dayton, a well-beloved conservationist and outdoor enthusiast who was one of the founders of Voyageurs National Park.

In 2019, the National Park Service will acquire the parcel from Voyageurs National Park Association, officially adding this scenic place to Voyageurs National Park.

Voyageurs National Park Association wishes to thank our members and contributors to the Wallace C. Dayton Voyageurs National Park Legacy Fund for making this possible, as well as Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. for their ongoing pro bono support of land conservation efforts in Voyageurs National Park. Special thanks to Kate and Stuart Nielsen, Lisa Lindenfelser, Larry Berg, Ken Kadash, Carl Numrich, and Megan Bond.

Voyageurs National Park, one of the nation's wildest, most remote and unique national parks, stretches 55-miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border, encompassing 218,055 acres of land and water. Over 900-acres of privately-owned properties remain within the park.