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 www.recreation.gov 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 recreation.gov, 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 www.recreation.gov 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 -- https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/tent-camping.htm.

Instructions for making a campsite reservation can be found here -- https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/making-a-tent-campsite-reservation.htm

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.

Federal Decision Reopens Path for Twin Metals, Threatening BWCAW and Voyageurs

The Administration’s September 6th announcement reopens the path for Chilean-based Twin Metals, and other interested parties, the option to lease public lands in the Rainy River watershed for sulfide-ore copper mining.

Federal Administration officials have announced the cancellation of an application for mineral withdrawal that would have protected the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. 

The decision cancels a proposed 20-year ban on mining activity on 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands in the Rainy River watershed that drain toward the BWCAW and Voyageurs. It also cuts short a two-year environmental study, removing a widely-supported review process using science and public input to determine whether this watershed is the wrong place for this toxic industry.

  Photo by Don Breneman

Photo by Don Breneman

There is no indication the required environmental assessment was ever completed nor was it ever put out for public comment, which would be normal practice. The seemingly closed-door decision comes after public promises from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to finish this crucial study and make no decisions until after it was concluded. The study would have analyzed the threats and costs to regional communities posed by sulfide-ore copper mining.

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration unlawfully reinstated mineral leases to Twin Metals which had previously been denied, allowing them to circumvent environmental review. That decision is being challenged in court by partners like the Campaign the Save the Boundary Waters and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Voyageurs National Park encompasses more than 84,000 acres of water. The park is home to loons, snapping turtles and wood frogs, and 53 species of fish, including lake sturgeon, walleye, and northern pike. These native species rely on clean water to thrive. And, nearly 250,000 people visit Voyageurs each year to enjoy kayaking, canoeing, boating, camping, and world-class fishing in the pristine waters of Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, and Namakan Lakes.

recent hydrology study commissioned by Voyageurs National Park Association and the National Parks Conservation Association found that acid pollution from sulfide mines as far away as 100 miles will flow into the waters at Voyageurs National Park.

“Voyageurs is at the downstream end of its watershed, so everything entering the watershed passes through it before reaching Canada. Mercury contamination, leaching of arsenic, or other acid mine drainage will pass through the park.” — Tom Myers, PhD, Hydrologist

Read more on how sulfide mine development in the Rainy River Watershed as far away as 100 miles will flow into Voyageurs impacting its waters and wildlife.


Recent Wildland Fire Activity at Voyageurs National Park

Recent lightning activity resulted in a wildland fire within Voyageurs National Park. Park staff responded to the fire near Locator Lake Wednesday evening, August 22 and contained the fire to .5 acre in size. The Locator Fire was located southwest of Locator Lake and approximately 1-mile north of Kabetogama Lake.  It was in a remote, rugged area of the park and possesses no immediate threat to the public. The National Park Service continues to monitor this fire.



A United States Forest Service (USFS) aircraft out of Ely, MN and a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) helicopter out of Orr, MN dropped water on the fire prior to the ground crews arriving due to the difficult access.  As of September 1, 2018, the Locator Fire is fully contained.  The park’s fire management staff have stopped monitoring the fire.


Park staff urge all visitors to use extreme caution while having campfires when fire danger level is High in the Borderland region, including Voyageurs National Park. Currently, campfires are still permitted in established fire rings. Please make sure all campfires are tended and completely extinguished before leaving the campsite. Park staff encourage the public to report fires in the park by calling the park’s 24-hour dispatch at (440) 546-5945 or 911.

Voyageurs National Park Announces Fall Visitor Center Hours

  Photo by Gordy Lindgren

Photo by Gordy Lindgren

Voyageurs National Park visitor centers begin fall hours of operations starting Wednesday, September 5, 2018.

Due to unexpected early departures of multiple summer staff, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be open Saturdays through Wednesdays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm beginning Wednesday, September 5. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be closed on Thursdays and Fridays through September 30, 2018.  

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will have the following late fall and early winter hours:

  • October 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018: open Thursdays through Sundays, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

The Kabetogama Lake and Ash River Visitor Centers will remain open seven days a week through September from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Beginning Monday,  September 24, 2018 both visitor centers will close for the season and will reopen in mid-May 2019.

 Voyageurs National Park staff encourages you to come out and explore the park this fall and enjoy the colors of North Woods.

2018 National Park Teen Ambassador Program

At a campsite on Lake Kabetogama amongst the bushes of wild blueberries, tiptoeing around the knots of toads and braving the relentless buzzing of mosquitoes, the 2018 National Park Teen Ambassadors gather around the campfire to rest and reflect on their trip to Voyageurs National Park. All agree that the park offered a still, peaceful serenity that is hard to come by in more urban areas. The orange glow from the fire illuminates their faces showing signs of being immersed in the wilderness for five days - unkempt hair, dirt in unexpected places, tired but happy eyes. They are looking forward to a shower, but also cannot wait to share their experience with friends and family back home.

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In its sixth year, the National Park Teen Ambassador Program continued its mission to connect youth from throughout the state of Minnesota to the outdoors and environmental careers. Participants paddled and camped in Voyageurs National Park and explored the Mississippi River and Recreation Area. This years’ Teen Ambassador cohort all heralded from the Twin Cities area, and, for most, this was their first time in a national park! During their 5 day, four night stay at Voyageurs, the youth met with park staff, helped install wildlife cameras in the woods with park researchers, and explored the historical sites on Lake Kabetogama.


A couple weeks after returning home, the Teen Ambassadors met up again for a weekend excursion at Fort Snelling. This trip gave them the opportunity to explore a park right in their backyard. Along with hiking around Pike Island and paddling on Lake Snelling, the Teen Ambassadors participated in a citizen science activity by testing the water quality of the Mississippi River.  

The youth represented eight different high schools, with ages ranging from 15 to 18 years old. Many were first generation students, all came from varying backgrounds, and they bonded together over a mutual interest in the environment.

Mary, a Teen Ambassador from Champlin Park said, “This trip gave me the opportunity to meet some people who are interested in nature like me. I really enjoyed canoeing with everyone and comparing Voyageurs National Park to the Mississippi River and Recreation Area, because they are both so different but really cool.”

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Her fellow Ambassador, Tony from Harding High School, agreed, “The highlight of my time in [Voyageurs National Park and] the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is sharing a new experience with kids my age because this generation is mostly about technology and not learning about wildlife and how to preserve it.”

It is this shared experience that Tony mentions that makes the National Park Teen Ambassador program so special. Before the trip, none of the Teen Ambassadors knew one another. As they discovered the beauty, history and importance of preserving national parks, and the experienced trials and tribulations of being out in the wilderness for 5 days together, a lasting bond was formed. Up next, the Teen Ambassadors will share their experience with the friends, families, and communities, serving as the next generation of champions for national parks.


Thank you to our program partners and sponsors: Wilderness Inquiry, The National Park Service, The National Park Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, The Fredrikson & Byron Foundation, The Edina Morningside Rotary, Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation, Scott and Di Photography and AmeriCorps VISTA.

Kettle Falls Archeological Inventory

By Andrew LaBounty, National Park Service

For the past four years, Voyageurs National Park has been developing an archeological inventory of the Kettle Falls area.  The project began with a review of what we know, and from there the project was designed to target missing information.  For example: there are hundreds of historic photographs of the Kettle Falls area, but it is often a mystery exactly what they show, where the photographer was standing, and when the shot was taken.  Through careful review of the historical record and a little bit of careful excavation, we learned a number of things about Kettle Falls in the past few years – and generated a lot more questions.

One of park staff’s main goals for the archeological inventory was to pin down the location of historic buildings that are no longer standing.  There are many examples of historic structures at Kettle Falls, but Chris Monson’s trading post is one of the most iconic.

Chris Monson was the first damtender who lived in the old log cabin that stands toward the west end of the National Park Service (NPS) marina on Namakan Lake at Kettle Falls.  At some point after 1910, he built and operated a trading post on the Namakan side of Kettle Falls.  There are many photos and oral histories, but little evidence of when or where his store was located.

The archeological inventory combined four kinds of data: 1) ground penetrating radar, 2) archeological excavation, 3) historical photo analysis, and 4) oral histories.  Using all four of these, park staff were able to put Chris Monson’s trading post on the map with confidence, and to assign it some tentative dates of operation within the greater history of Kettle Falls.

Chris Monson’s Trading Post and the Timeline of Archeological Research

Park staff knew the general location of Chris Monson’s trading post through oral histories and previous archeological research.  For example: in 1991 Reuben Christenson related to a Voyageurs National Park (VNP) historian that:

“Chris was a very likeable guy, wore glasses. He lived in the building where he operated his store. It was located near the lake shore in front of where the company house [the white building] is now on the Namakan side. It was still there in 1938.” –Reuben Christenson, 1991

This provided a starting point for recording the physical location of the building and determining what—if anything—was left.

  Blue/purple shading shows the compacted detected by ground penetrating radar in 2015. Two different areas look like they may have been related to buildings.

Blue/purple shading shows the compacted detected by ground penetrating radar in 2015. Two different areas look like they may have been related to buildings.

In hopes of putting Chris Monson’s trading post on a map, park staff operated ground penetrating radar over the lawn of the existing company house in 2015.  The results were inconclusive, and did not identify a foundation.  Instead, a few highly compacted areas of soil were revealed, which park staff believed indicated where a large building sat directly on the ground surface.

  NPS Archeologists from Lincoln, Nebraska carefully excavate layers of soil in 2016 to recover any preserved information related to Chris Monson’s trading post.  One Test Unit is in the foreground; a second Test Unit can be seen in the background.

NPS Archeologists from Lincoln, Nebraska carefully excavate layers of soil in 2016 to recover any preserved information related to Chris Monson’s trading post.  One Test Unit is in the foreground; a second Test Unit can be seen in the background.

After using ground penetrating radar to select excavation locations, few artifacts were revealed indicating a building ever existed. One small area east of the supposed structure revealed rusted nails and tarpaper tacks that suggest the location of Chris Monson’s Trading post.

All of the evidence gathered so far was brought into a geographic information system (GIS) using precision Global Positioning System (GPS) and field measurements. This allowed park staff to overlay historic maps with the compacted soil, the meager collection of structural artifacts, and any existing landscape features (such as the company house mentioned by Reuben Christenson). Through these overlays, the International Boundary Commission survey was found to be the earliest map with a corresponding building at the correct location. The map dates to 1913 or 1914, just about exactly when the Kettle Falls hotel was built, which happens to be a logical construction date for a trading post as well.

Using historic photos and the known location of another trading post to the east, park staff were able to confirm the identity of Chris Monson’s trading post. This “unlocked” several new visual cues and dates.  When looking through historic photographs related to Kettle Falls, just one photo shows all three structures in sequence—the 1910 damtender’s cabin on the left, Monson’s store in the center, and the second trading post to the right.  The same buildings could then be identified by their style from different angles in other historic photos, generating a visual record and additional dates, helping to build the timeline of all three structures.

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International Boundary Commission survey map, sheet 14.  Survey data was collected in 1913 and 1914, and then published in 1928 (Source: VNP Collection).  Circled in red: the most likely location of Chris Monson’s trading post according to archeological survey results.  What are the other large structures at the Namakan landing?  Why doesn’t Jack Ryan’s trading post appear here?

Continuing Research
It is still not exactly clear when Chris Monson’s trading post was closed and removed.  Reuben Christenson relates that it happened sometime after 1938, and the store was probably gone by the time the company house was built in 1945 (the white cabin you see when you disembark at the Namakan landing today).  What is clear, however, is that Chris Monson’s store was a prominent landmark in the history of the Kettle Falls area.  We now know precisely where this building was located, we know its size and orientation, and we recognize evidence of the structure in a layer of compacted soil.  Based on soil profiles in the immediate area, we also believe that part of Chris Monson’s trading post may have been impacted by flooding and erosion, with a section of the building now lost to the lake.  Perhaps it was the dynamic shoreline and the water levels behind the dam that ultimately prompted the veteran damtender to move into his new house in 1945 (which is high and dry, comfortably upslope behind the old trading post).

Archeological research continues in 2018 to further develop this and other stories throughout the Kettle Falls area.  Park staff are currently working on a full report of the archeological inventory, which will help guide park planning and lead to greater interpretation on-site and in park records.  As each question is answered, however, more questions are raised.  What are the other two large structures depicted on the International Boundary Commission map west of Monson’s store?  When was Jack Ryan’s trading post established, and why doesn’t it also appear on the map?  Archeological research is often iterative, and as one research project raises questions, the next research project will build toward new answers.

 1910 Log Cabin (center-left), Chris Monson’s trading post (center-right), and Jack Ryan’s trading post (far right). Photo taken toward the northeast from Namakan Lake between 1913 and 1930, when Jack Ryan’s trading post burns down (Source: VNP Collection).

1910 Log Cabin (center-left), Chris Monson’s trading post (center-right), and Jack Ryan’s trading post (far right). Photo taken toward the northeast from Namakan Lake between 1913 and 1930, when Jack Ryan’s trading post burns down (Source: VNP Collection).

Cattail Removal Kicks Off in Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park staff are working with contractors to remove areas of invasive, hybrid cattail in selected wetlands within Voyageurs National Park from July through October of 2018. Activities include “grinding” up mats of floating cattails with specialized floating barges and then removing the debris using a harvesting barge where it is deposited on shore to decay naturally. Some areas of treated wetlands will also be re-seeded with native aquatic vegetation such as wild rice and bulrushes.

Hybrid cattails have invaded approximately 500-acres of wetlands in Voyageurs, displacing native communities of plants such as wild rice, sedges, rushes, and native cattail. This long-term project will improve habitat for wildlife, provide enhanced opportunities for fishing, and help restore wetlands to more diverse, natural states. More information on the project can be found at: www.nps.gov/voya/learn/nature/cattails.

Work began in early July in a wetland near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center on Rainy Lake. Once completed, efforts will be shifted to remove a large floating mat in Rudder Bay, Kabetogama Lake, before returning to Rainy Lake to treat selected wetlands in Reuter Creek and Dove Bay in the park. Removal operations will only occur during daylight hours, and some noise is generated by the specialized grinding barges. Park visitors are reminded to not attempt to use boats or watercraft in recently treated wetlands to avoid getting stuck, as these areas are naturally shallow and mucky. Follow-up removals will be repeated this summer as necessary to remove any debris.

This project is funded by a variety of organizations including Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA), Clean Air Act Settlement Fund, the National Park Service, and by the Initiative Foundation and the Outdoor Heritage Fund as part of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.


  Photo courtesy National Park Service. Large dense stands of cattail from years without proper management. This is a region wide issue.

Photo courtesy National Park Service. Large dense stands of cattail from years without proper management. This is a region wide issue.

Eagle Banding in Voyageurs National Park

As the waters warm and spring arrives, you can see any number of animals emerging and even more returning from other waters to the south where they have been wintering. Loons, ducks, and even smaller songbirds such as White Throated Sparrows. But it is the eagles that fascinate many of us.

With wingspans sometimes greater than six feet and the ability to fly at seventy-five miles an hour, eagles are physically impressive birds. They sit atop the food chain and strongly affect their environments. They regulate other predators through their territorial nature, especially during the breeding season. They also serve as bellwethers for the health of the waters they fish.

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As common and established as the Bald Eagle is today, that was not always true for Voyageurs or the nation as a whole. They were sadly and strongly affected by a chemical that was a part of life for many Americans: DDT. While it excelled at killing all manner of insects harmful to people, it had unforeseen consequences for the animals that ate those insects. Perched at the top of the food chain, eagles were particularly harmed. Although they weren’t killed when they ate fish contaminated by the toxin, it affected their eggs. Tragically, the chemical caused the shells of their eggs to form too thin, and when the eagles sat on their eggs, they would break.

This DDT poisoning nearly led to the extinction of bald eagles in the United States. It was only a nationwide recognition of the problem and a concerted effort to cease use of the chemical that helped save the bald eagle. Once this was accomplished, work began towards the stabilization and eventual revitalization of the eagle population, bringing them back from the brink. At its inception, Voyageurs National Park only had one successful breeding pair of eagles; today we have over fifty.

Today those efforts to monitor and study the park’s eagles continue. In mid-June, eagle banding season began once again. Biologists and volunteers ventured out to nests all throughout the park, braving the angry parents circling above, to carefully place special bands on the legs of this year’s eaglets. While their feathers and bodies might have more growing to do, when they are five to six weeks old the chicks’ feet and talons are fully developed. Once banded, they are returned to the nest where their parents continue to care for them. Not long after banding, the eaglets will fledge and begin to fly and hunt for themselves.

Banding of eaglets is vital to researchers nationwide as it allows for eagles captured anywhere in the nation to be traced back to the waters of their birth. Additionally, biologists can use these banded eagles to tell us useful facts such as their migration routes, their age, and many other things. Eagles generally nest in the same locations year after year, so biologists can use these bands to learn which birds survived another year no matter where they choose to spend their winters.

So keep an eye on the skies as you explore your park. You might see one of these amazing birds and a little piece of metal on their leg, reminding us how we can make a difference in our world for the better.

Courtesy of Namakan District Interpretation Staff

Fuel Oil Spill on Kabetogama Lake

On Friday June 22, staff at Voyageurs National Park were notified that there had been a 15-20 gallon fuel oil spill on the north side of Peterson Bay at a private residence during a delivery of fuel by contractors. 

Within an hour of the reported spill, 130 feet of fuel containment boom and 200 fuel spill absorbent pads were deployed around the fuel spill area to contain it. The U.S Coast Guard Response Center, EPA, MN DNR, Kabetogama Fire Department, and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were all contacted and notified of the spill. 

Due to the fuel oil being diluted and dispersed after the spill, containment efforts were not fully successful as fuel oil spread out beyond the boom.  At 9:04 p.m. the park received reports that fuel was along the beach on the south side of Peterson Bay.  Rangers responded and found that there was an oily sheen along the southern shoreline.  

At this time the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has advised us that evaporation is our best option as there is no way to siphon or soak up the diluted fuel off the water surface.  The park is monitoring the fuels movement and the boom will stay in place until Monday June 25th at 9 a.m. to allow for evaporation to occur. 

The Park Service reminds local businesses and contractors who dispense fuel to have fuel containment supplies on hand and containment plans in place prior to spills.  Rangers are working to contact local residents and businesses to advise them of the incident, and continue to investigate.


REI Partners with Voyageurs National Park Association, Park Service to Open New Launching Dock for Paddlers

June 23rd Ribbon Cutting and Festivities at the Paddle-Picnic-Yoga Family Event at Rainy Lake Visitor Center

The public is invited to witness the opening of Voyageurs National Park’s new launching dock for paddlers on Saturday, June 23. The new launching dock is made possible with support from REI and Voyageurs National Park Association. The ribbon cutting ceremony will take place during the Paddle-Picnic-Yoga for Families celebration at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center picnic area, located near the boat launch and new paddle launch. Guests can pack a snack and join Voyageurs National Park Association for an afternoon outdoors in Minnesota’s national park. There will be canoes and kayaks for anyone to use, hot dogs on the grill, family-friendly yoga, and lawn games.

Paddle-Picnic-Yoga Day


Saturday, June 23, 2018, 11:00 am - 1:30 pm

11:00 am: Ribbon cutting

11:30 am - 1:30 pm: Outdoor activities including canoes/kayaks available to use, lawn games, family-friendly yoga at 12:30

Rainy Lake Visitor Center, Voyageurs National Park (picnic area located near the boat launch and new paddle launch)

Voyageurs National Park Association’s Paddle-Picnic-Yoga event partners include: REI, Voyageurs Outfitters, Community Wellness Action Council, and Replenish Yoga and Wellness.

About the New Paddle Launch

REI works to reduce the barriers to life outside. Since 1976, REI and The REI Foundation have invested more than $87 million in organizations across the country that share our goal of creating access to outdoor places and enabling transformational experiences in the outdoors for all people. Voyageurs National Park Association and the National Park Service are proud to partner with REI to make this new recreation project possible. 

Previously, paddlers launching at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center had to share a launch area with visitors using motorized boats causing safety issues. The new dock will make it safer and more enjoyable for paddlers to begin their Voyageurs National Park adventure, provide a gear staging area, and ease congestion for other boats at the main launch.

Special thanks to the Park Service team that constructed the new launch:
Bill Johnson
Mark Goulet
Keith Stevens
Brad King
Garrett King
John Sloan
Von Morgan

Jack Ellsworth's Vision

By Catherine Crawford, National Park Service

Jack Ellsworth started with a rock ridge in the wilderness and created a work of art.  Beginning in 1944 and over the course of 20-plus years, Jack built rock-walled garden beds, pathways, sculptures, architecturally interesting structures, and directional features to form the “Showplace of Kabetogama.”  Jack’s creation was intriguing to many and people visited Ellsworth Rock Gardens by the thousands. 

 Aerial View of Ellsworth Rock Garden in the Early 1960s

Aerial View of Ellsworth Rock Garden in the Early 1960s

Due to poor health, Jack Ellsworth never returned to his cabin and rock gardens after 1965.  The forest slowly recaptured the rock formations and, by the time the National Park Service purchased the property from Jack’s widow Elsie in 1978, only a few statues were visible among the trees and shrubs.  Yet, the allure of Jack’s masterwork endured and people continued to visit the gardens in the summer.

 View of the Gardens from the Lawn Facing West, 1979

View of the Gardens from the Lawn Facing West, 1979

In 1996, after pressure from the local Kabetogama Lake community, park staff began removing trees and shrubs from the gardens.  Since the first “Garden Blitz” in 2000, staff, contractors, and volunteers have repaired statues and rock walls and buildings, continued to remove non-historic vegetation, and replanted historic flower varieties.  With the help of volunteers, work continues each summer to restore and preserve Ellsworth Rock Gardens.  Slowly, Jack Ellsworth’s concept is re -emerging.   

Changes will be taking place at Ellsworth Rock Gardens starting June of 2018.  In the works is a two-year project that will improve visitor accessibility, provide better information about the history of gardens, and increase dock space. The dock system will be moved to a location that is closer to the Ellsworth’s original dock which will enhance sharing the story of the site.  This year, phase 1, will include construction of an accessible comfort station, accessible path to the picnic shelter, and development of interpretive media.  The new dock system will be completed by spring 2019 and Jack’s gardens will continue to charm and welcome a wider audience. 

 2018-2019 Project to Improve Visitor Accessibility, Provide Better Site History, and Increase Dock Space

2018-2019 Project to Improve Visitor Accessibility, Provide Better Site History, and Increase Dock Space


All current facilities will remain open throughout construction.

Funding from Voyageurs National Park Association and its generous donor community will be used to support some of the restoration and visitor education elements of this Ellsworth project.

Ash River Visitor Center Gets New Accessible Picnic Area

By Seth Nelson, National Park Service

This spring, Voyageurs National Park maintenance staff constructed a new picnic area on the lawn of the Ash River Visitor Center that is accessible to all.  The new picnic area has two accessible picnic tables and an accessible fire ring for visitors to enjoy a lunch or just have a fire and enjoy the evening. The Ash River Visitor Center sits on top of a rock ridge overlooking beautiful Kabetogama Lake with views to the east and west.  The previous picnic area was located on a point below the visitor center with a steep incline that was difficult to access. 

About the Ash River Visitor Center

The Ash River Visitor Center is located in the historic Meadwood Lodge. Take a moment to explore this historic, rustic building. There is a bookstore, a children's activity corner, exhibits, a small theater, and a staffed information desk. Programs are sometimes offered as staffing allows. There is a free public boat launch and separate paddle access area are available.The Ash River Visitor is closed from late September - late May. The Ash River area is accessed off Highway 53 just south of the Kabetogama Lake turn-off. Drive on the scenic Ash River Trail (County Road 129) .


Tourism to Voyageurs National Park Creates Over $18 Million in Economic Benefit

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 237,249 visitors to Voyageurs National Park in 2017 spent over $18 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 273 jobs in the local area. "The environment of northern Minnesota is integral to our economy in so many ways. Assuring we have places like Voyageurs National Park to provide a way to escape to and connect with our environment is vital to our economy as well,” said Superintendent Bob DeGross.


The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service Environmental Quality control economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas, Lynne Koontz, and Egan Cornachione. The report shows $18.2 billion of direct spending by 331 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $35.8 billion.

To download the report visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm. The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

Voyageurs National Park Association Welcomes Carl Numrich and Matt Mueller to Board of Directors

It is with great pleasure that VNPA announces the addition of two new board members: Carl Numrich and Matthew Mueller. Both of these individuals are poised to offer their experience, enthusiasm, wisdom and commitment to public lands and protecting Voyageurs National Park.

Carl Numrich joins the board as an associate attorney at Fredrikson & Byron P.A., a firm that has supported VNPA through pro-bono services, volunteer leadership, and grant funding over many years. Carl brings to the board his legal expertise, commitment to giving back to the greater Minnesota community, and a desire to help VNPA continue to grow.

“I am fortunate to work for a law firm that values and encourages community presence and service,” commented Numrich. “With a strong, enthusiastic executive director and an engaged board, VNPA seems poised for growth. I look forward to joining the Voyageurs community, meeting park supporters, and helping grow VNPA.”

Matt Mueller has been involved in the commercial property and casualty insurance industry for over thirty years. He is the founder, and currently serves as the president of Berkley Technology Underwriters in Minneapolis. With his organizational and business development skills, Matt strives to make the state of Minnesota a great place to live, work, play and visit.

“There is nothing more quintessentially Minnesota than Voyageurs National Park, It houses and protects a landscape and environment that is special and unique. It is also home to a history that is important on a transcontinental level,” said Mueller. “As ‘Minnesota’s National Park’ more of our state residents and those from beyond, need to be connected in some way to the park. At Voyageurs, the north woods were never greater. To me the park is very much an “everyone” type of place; paddlers, motor boaters, snowmobilers, birders, rock climbers – they all have a home there.”

Matt has visited 30+ national parks so far, but you will always find him at least one week out of the year pursuing Northern Pike on Rainy Lake.  

The Quiet of Spring in Voyageurs

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”

– Gordon Hempton


Spring might be the quietest season in Voyageurs National Park. The snow and ice have melted enough to prohibit snowmobiling, but fishing opener has not yet started. For a short period, the park is free from the drone of the boats and snowmobiles, and the wild qualities of this vast land can be sensed by sight, sound, and smell. I love spring in Voyageurs because of this.

In early April 2014, when I started my first field season working at Voyageurs, I arrived at park housing by the Ash River Visitor Center where I lived for a month. I quickly realized that there was not a soul around; there were never any cars at the Ash River Visitor Center parking lot, there was a foot of ice on the lake still, and when I hiked the Kab-Ash or Blind Ash Bay trails I never saw other footprints in the remaining patches of snow. Here I was in a national park and I had it all to myself!

Most nights during April, I would walk down to the rocky point by the Ash River Visitor Center and sit on the barren rock, watch the sunset, and absorb the sounds of spring. The warm glow of the sinking sun on my face during these calm spring evenings was reason enough to come to the point every night. Yet there was a stillness and silence across the land that was particularly intoxicating and satisfying. There is immense peace and contentment found when listening to the wild unimpeded, when detecting the minute sounds of the forest. Sadly, I have found so few places in the world that I can still experience the natural world without the sounds of people or their machines.


Often on the point there was a robin who would perch in the top of a tall, lanky spruce and sing with a joyful warble. The robin’s song would echo across the icy lake and far away I could hear several other robins adding their song to the silence. When the robin would stop, I could hear the soft tinkle of thousands of small ice shards dropping from the thick ice sheets that had been pushed up on the rocky shoreline. A few red squirrels over by Lost Lake seemed to argue with one another each evening, using their long high-pitched shrills and barks to state their discontent. During dusk, a saw-whet owl would sound from a shoreline across the icy desert with its eerie too-too-too call. Every once in a while, a sudden large crack would rip across the frozen lake as the ice sheets battled the spring thaw.


One evening, I laid down on the sun-warmed rock and closed my eyes just to listen and breath deep the cool northern spring air. All the cares of life just seemed to slip away for a few minutes, for a brief second I was part and parcel of the wild north. For a while as I laid there I became envious of the people who for thousands of years lived not separated from but in the natural world; I was envious of the Voyageurs who saw the lands of the park when the towering pines still stood and the caribou roamed. I wonder if these canoe men ever considered that the wild places they traversed might one day be irreparably changed.


After a while, I opened my eyes and far across the ice I could see a red fox dancing along the shoreline. Although the animal and plant life of Voyageurs might be different today, the protection of this land as a national park has preserved some of the eternal qualities—such as the silence and wildness—that have existed since the formation of this land eons ago. During the busy seasons of summer and winter these qualities can be elusive at times but in the spring the quiet can still be heard, but more importantly, it can be felt. One has only to come sit on the point near Ash River in April and be still. There you can experience the land of old, sense the majestic silence, and be touched by the glowing sun.


Article and photos by Tom Gable

Voyageurs National Park Closes Ice Roads and Snowmobile Trails for Season

Voyageurs National Park is no longer recommending travel on frozen lake surfaces within the park. Due to warming weather and lack of snow; ice conditions are deteriorating, standing water is appearing on frozen lake surfaces, and bare ground is appearing on the safety portages.

Park trail markers and hazard signs are no longer able to remain upright so park staff have begun the removal of those markers. The Rainy Lake Ice Road, Kabetogama Lake Ice Road, and all snowmobile routes are closed. Other winter recreation trails in Voyageurs National Park are no longer being maintained.

Visitors are welcome to come and hike the Oberholtzer Trail and the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail as conditions permit. Park staff would like to remind visitors the Rainy Lake Visitor Center remains open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.

Thank you to all Voyageurs National Park visitors for making this a safe and enjoyable winter season.

Ringing in 2018 with a Ski to Ellsworth Rock Gardens

By Eric Grunwald, Voygeurs National Park Interpretive Ranger

It was the first day of 2018 and I was excited to get the new year off to an adventurous start by getting outside and doing some exploring. It had been a cold end to 2017 with temperatures in the last week of the year bottoming out at -37F. With a forecast high of 0F, I wanted to enjoy some of the relative “warmth.” I layered my clothing and packed up my gear: my skis, poles and lumbar pack with snacks, map, warm water (so that it wouldn’t freeze), and ice picks. When I reached the parking lot at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center boat ramp, it appeared I would have Voyageurs National Park all to myself; not a single other vehicle was parked there.

I strapped my boots into my ski bindings and set off. It was a cold start to the day at -19 and my skis didn’t seem to glide very well on the crusty, wind-blown snow. I picked out landmarks across Kabetogama Lake to guide my way to my destination: Ellsworth Rock Gardens about 4 miles distant. My first landmark was a distant Sugarbush Island. As my skis warmed up through the friction of gliding across the snow, they seemed to slide a bit more easily. Soon enough I found myself in between 3 islands, Sugarbush Island and an unnamed island to my right and Harris Island to my left. I stopped for a short break in the relative shelter of the islands, and then continued on to my next landmark, the southeast side of Cutover Island.

Every now and then I would pick out some animal tracks in the snow. Wind had obliterated most to the point where they were unrecognizable, but I was able to identify a few wolf tracks, unmistakable in their size. As I rounded the south side of Cutover Island a wooden boat dock came into view; I was nearly at Ellsworth Rock Gardens. I arrived at the rock gardens to find that I was the first human visitor in quite some time. The only footprints in the snow belonged to animals, mostly foxes and deer.

The gardens are a whimsical landscape of terraced flower beds and over 200 simple, rock sculptures. Some would describe the site as folk art, but I like to think of it as an “art environment” where one can fully immerse him or herself in the vision of the artist. In winter, the site is devoid of flowers, but the snow draping the sculptures seemed to add to the scenery and mystique of the place. It made me wonder if its creator, Chicago building contractor Jack Ellsworth, ever got to see his creations covered with soft, fluffy snow. Jack Ellsworth built the rock gardens between 1944 and 1965. The reason for Mr. Ellsworth’s labors are not quite clear. In a rare interview with a reporter from the International Falls Daily Journal, Ellsworth stated “We love this country and wish we could spend more time here, but I just had to have something to keep me busy.” The rock gardens certainly kept him busy. At one point Ellsworth estimated he spent over 14,000 hours laboring on his beloved masterpiece and one local resident recounts a story of when Jack Ellsworth’s wife was struck by lightning one summer. Supposedly Mr. Ellsworth refused to take his wife to the hospital after the incident “because he was too busy in the garden.”


Unfortunately, by 1966 Jack Ellsworth’s health had declined to the point that he was no longer able to spend his summers at his rock gardens. He passed away in 1974, by which time his gardens had become overgrown. In 1977 or 1978 the National Park Service purchased the property for inclusion in Voyageurs National Park. In 1996 a site survey, inventory and preservation plan were drafted, leading to the reestablishment of Ellsworth Rock Gardens as the “Showplace of Kabetogama Lake.”

I trudged through the snow and admired the art. Some of the boulders that Jack Ellsworth used in creating his sculptures must weigh several hundred pounds. It must have been hard work moving them around. As much as I wanted to spend more time at the gardens, a cold wind was starting to blow. It was time to move on. While Jack Ellsworth was never at this site in the winter, the brutal cold got me thinking about another group of people who may have spent their winter at this site, though before there were any rock gardens here. Where the gardens now sit, was once the site of a logging camp. Winter was prime time for logging in the North Woods. No biting insects to contend with and a nice frozen surface where there had been swampland in the summer. Was the logging camp that existed where Ellsworth Rock Gardens now sits a winter camp? We don’t know for sure, but it seems logical that it was.

I imagine the loggers working here in the extreme cold, felling trees with crosscut saws and moving them by horse drawn sleigh to the shores of Kabetogama Lake where they would be floated in huge booms to the sawmill come ice out. I imagine the trip back to their crude log bunkhouse after a long day in the woods. Think of what a welcome sight and feeling it would be to warm up inside the bunkhouse by the hot stove and eat a hearty meal in the camp dining hall. The thought of it was getting me thinking about making my way back to my own warm home, and so I made the ski back across Kabetogama Lake to my car for the drive home.

As I drove I reflected on what I had seen on that day and thought about all the changes that had happened to the lands where Ellsworth Rock Gardens now sits. We know about the logging camp and the gardens, but we don’t know what was there before. Did anyone live there before the logging camp? Perhaps an Ojibwe family once called the area home. If so could they have ever envisioned what the site has become? And what does the future hold for this interesting spot on the northern shore of Kabetogama Lake?

Career Reflections by Ranger Pete Sweger

"Keep Your Boots Waxed!"


By Pete Sweger, Voyageurs National Park Ranger

I was working a wildland fire in the Boundary Waters in the summer of 2006. My crew arrived late in the fire and was responsible for a lot of mop-up operations. One day during a break I was sitting on the steps waxing my boots to keep them water-proof. The incident commander walked by and paused as he saw what I was doing. During that pause I briefly wondered if I was in trouble.

He then said, "A lot of times it is not about what we've done as what we are prepared to do," and then he walked off. That comment has stuck with me for the last 12 years because it captures the essence of my job.

I am a park ranger in the Visitor and Resource Protection Division which means emergency response, among other things. Emergencies have included wildland fires, snowmobile crashes, broken arms, lost boaters, capsized boats, hazardous material spills and a variety of law enforcement situations. Nobody wants an emergency to happen. Nobody can predict when an emergency will happen. The best we can hope for is that we are available and ready to respond when the call comes.

That comment from 12 years ago means that you are ready to respond. Whether or not a call comes, being ready is a mark of doing the job right. You must prepare your mind, your body and your gear. Getting adequate rest is critical for alertness and good decision making. Proper nutrition gives you the energy you need and lends to good health. Appropriate and regular training keeps your skills sharp and your confidence high. Keeping your boots waxed makes them waterproof so you are ready to hustle down the trail no matter what puddles lie ahead. Of course, there is more than just boots to take care of.

You never know when the next call will come. It might happen before you've finished the paperwork from the first emergency. Equipments is always made ready immediately after being used. Make sure the snowmobile is fueled up, the truck tires are inflated, the medical bad is re-stocked, the tow line is dried and neatly coiled, put fresh batteries in the flashlight and sharpen that knife. Or, it could be several weeks before the next big emergency. Emergencies don't happen every day and a break can be nice. This gives you chance to congratulate the sportsman on their trophy fish or hear the camper's tale of a visiting bear. But, there is a challenge to remaining vigilant as time goes by. The need for training seems less urgent, and you get assigned other tasks to keep you busy. Pretty soon you are so bogged down with chores that you failed to stay ready. you feel interrupted when the emergency call comes.

As a ranger, I routinely hear visitors say "Boy, you've got a great job! I always wanted to be a park ranger!" I'm sure other rangers hear this too. I wonder how many of them just nod and smile like I do. I wonder if the visitor realizes just how much time and effort it takes to stay response ready. Being reading isn't only about getting your chores done on time. It is a state of mind. It's a way of life. I guess visitors are right, because it is a great life. For all of those who wanted to be a ranger but never did, "Keep your boots waxed!"