By Cameron Giebink
For the tenth straight year, Voyageurs National Park Association members gathered at Voyageurs National Park and worked with NPS staff to maintain the park’s natural splendor and visitor resources. This year’s event was attended by 28 volunteers from around the Midwest who participated in two days of group activities in service of Voyageurs.
On day one, volunteers planted over 300 native grasses, shrubs, and trees from the park's native plant nursery along the new Rainy Lake Recreation Trail. In order to ensure the preservation of the park’s native flora, park staff collect seeds from plants within the park, cultivate them in their own greenhouse and plant nursery, and then replant the developed native plants into areas altered by use or development. In all, 16 volunteers spent a total of 96 hours planting native species in order to ensure the integrity of the natural ecosystem to be enjoyed by visitors along the recreation trail.
After wrapping up the day’s planting, volunteers hiked with park staff at the “Ghosts of Voyageurs” program. The theatrical tour along the Oberholtzer Trail introduces visitors to past spirits of the Voyageurs region - French-Canadian voyageurs, gold miners, resort owners, and more.
The planting crew from day one was bolstered by reinforcements on Saturday as 12 additional volunteers arrived to clear the Black Bay Ridge Trail.
The Black Bay Ski Trail system is a 8-mile collection of loops covering various terrain (ponds, bogs, ridges, cedar swamps, pine forests). Because of limited resources, the northern most section, known as the Ridge Trail, had grown in with small trees, heavy vegetation and windfall. Large portions of this 2.5 mile trail had become nearly impossible to locate. Over the last three years, numerous volunteers and park staff have persisted to locate the original trail. The 2013 Volunteer Rendezvous was dedicated to working on clearing the trail and then again this year, one day of the event was dedicated to clearing trail.
The 28 volunteers that came out to the trail hiked over the rugged terrain and cleared about 0.4 miles of the heaviest vegetation found along the trails length. Based on a 10' wide trail corridor, this equates to nearly a half acre! Their enthusiasm for hard work was matched only by the wonderful weather. In total, volunteers logged 196 service hours clearing the Black Bay Ridge Trail circuit; meaning that for the first time in years, visitors will be able to complete that section of trail this winter.
Ranger Pete Sweger led Saturday’s charge through the brush and afterwards said, “Only in my wildest dreams would I have thought that we would have cleared as much trail as we did today.”
The event concluded with a dinner aboard the Voyageur tour boat. As the sun set over the picturesque waters of Rainy Lake volunteers and park staff were able to relax, mingle, and enjoy the beauty of Voyageurs National Park.
Chuck Nelson from Minneapolis summed up the experience of working with his fellow volunteers, “Working with this group of people whom I have met on one or two occasions is like being with old friends.”
Thank you to all our volunteers!