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

By LAUREL BEAGER
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 www.recreation.gov 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 john_s_snyder@nps.gov, 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.

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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 www.nps.gov/VOYA, 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.org/shutdown


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 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.

CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

2014
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.

2015
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.

2016
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.

2017
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.

2018
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

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When
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

Where
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) .

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