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Career Reflections by Ranger Pete Sweger

"Keep Your Boots Waxed!"

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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!"

The Kab-Ash Trail: A Path through the Wild North

By Tom Gable

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"The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of present travel...through the northern forests, the home of the giant moose, the forests of fragrant and murmuring life in summer, the iron-bound and melancholy of winter. The joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it"

- Theodore Roosevelt, The Joy of the Wild

Few that ever come to Voyageurs wander down the more than 20-some-mile long Kab-Ash Trail that runs from the resort community of Ash River and ends near Kabetogama, Minnesota. The Kab-Ash is the only large trail network in Voyageurs National Park that can be accessed year-round without a boat. The trail only has a few access points and typically the conditions during the summer—when most visit the park— are buggy, hot, and humid. Further the verdant Minnesota summers quickly swallow the trail in vegetation as the Kab-Ash is not regularly maintained throughout the summer. Given all of this, few ever use the trail making it an ideal path for those who crave a true wilderness experience. Over the past 3 years, I have hiked, for both research purposes and recreation, more than 200 miles on the Kab-Ash. Though the Kab-Ash trail does not have the scenic overlooks of famous trails in other national parks, it has a subtle magnetism and beauty—a beauty that is only found when spending time in seldom-visited wild places.

There is no doubt that the Kab-Ash is a wilderness trail. You almost certainly will not see another soul when on the trail and the miles of thick forests surrounding the trail stifle the sounds of the modern world. Indeed, once you get away from the trailhead the only sounds you will hear are the wind whispering through the weathered tops of the pines, the red squirrels alarmed by an intruder, and the gentle notes of birds all around. As a result, the Kab-Ash is a refuge of sorts, a place for reflection, contemplation, and introspection, a place to ponder the natural cycle of every living creature, to wrestle with the struggles of one’s life. On several days when I have simply needed to think and consider, I have rambled down the Kab-Ash for a few miles and mulled through the thoughts that were troubling me. Sometimes, I would just sit down at the base of a towering pine or on the roots of some ancient cedar, and be still. Sit, listen and observe. There is something refreshing and intoxicating about being a silent observer in a world where your problems or struggles are irrelevant, where life goes on the same day after day with or without you. Indeed, the eternality of nature provides a certain clarity regarding the brevity of our own lives and the often inconsequential nature of the problems we face.

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The open rock ridges of the Kab-Ash are particularly beautiful in the fall.

Yet, it is the wild and natural aspects of the Kab-Ash which facilitate its emotional value to wanderers such as myself. From one walk down the Kab-Ash, one could experience almost every habitat type in northern Minnesota and for this reason I would argue that the Kab-Ash, more than any trail in the park, is a perfect representation of the incredible diversity of forest and wetland habitats that Voyageurs National Park protects. Indeed, the Kab-Ash goes through the iconic mixed forests (coniferous and deciduous trees) of the northwoods, over red pine covered ridges (which are not common in VNP), through dark primordial cedar lowlands, across large sparsely vegetated barren rock ridges, around beaver ponds, through black spruce, tamarack and leatherleaf bogs, and along some stunning aspen and birch stands. Due to this large variety of habitats, incredible numbers of birds can be seen or heard during the summer on the Kab-Ash. Warblers, finches, and vireos fill the treetops of the upland forests while the thrushes and veeries seem to hide in the darker, more secretive areas. On a calm June morning just at sunrise, the sound of bird song on the Kab-Ash—or any area in Voyageurs for that matter—can be almost deafening from the multitudes of winged sentinels welcoming in another northern day. I am always left with a sense of splendor and wonderment when witnessing such vitality and vigor from these small creatures. How they make the woods seem to boil with life!

Many of the park’s larger residents also occupy haunts along the Kab-Ash, and though seeing them is rare, often some sign of these animals can be found. When snowshoeing on the Kab-Ash, I almost always see fisher, marten, and fox tracks in the snow. The foxes, it seems, like to use the Kab-Ash to travel as I have followed fox tracks for over a mile on the trail. In June 2016, I saw a female porcupine with a small porcupette (a porcupette is a baby porcupine) on the Kab-Ash, which was the first time I had ever seen a porcupette. Although uncommon, moose tracks can be found on the trail from time to time. In late summer, when the blueberries are ripe, some bears head for the large rock ridges that the Kab-Ash crosses over to eat berries. The blueberries are incredibly abundant in these places (another great reason to hike the Kab-Ash!) and thus these ridges are likely an excellent place for bears to start gaining weight for winter. Beavers commonly dam up the small creeks that the Kab-Ash crosses. There is a quaint woodland creek with a small foot bridge that crosses the Kab-Ash about 2 miles from the trailhead at the Beaver Pond Overlook. For the past 3 years the creek has quietly flowed out of a large black spruce bog, across the Kab-Ash, down a steep hill, into another beaver pond, and then into Lake Kabetogama. In summer 2017, however, a brave beaver or two worked their way up the steep hill, dammed the creek, and created a new pond about 100 yards from the Kab-Ash.

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A new beaver pond, created during summer 2017, about 100 yards from the Kab-Ash trail (photograph taken in late October 2017).

Then there are the wolves. Many come to Voyageurs and other parts of northern Minnesota excited about the prospect of seeing a wolf, which often does not happen (I studied wolves all last summer and only saw 1 wolf during this period and it was crossing the highway). Although your odds of seeing a wolf are extremely low on the Kab-Ash, wolf sign generally abounds, especially in the winter. The Kab-Ash goes right through the heart of two wolf packs— one that occupies the area east of Daley Bay and west of the Meadwood Road (the road to the Ash River visitor center), and another that occupies the area west of Daley Bay. In the summer wolves use the trail to get around their territory and while doing so commonly deposit scats (wolf turds) on the trail. And though you might not see a wolf, you could hear one. In 2015, I heard wolves howling off the Kab-Ash trail several times during the summer. In the winter, there are almost always wolf tracks somewhere along the Kab-Ash. In fact, I have yet to hike the Kab-Ash in the winter and not find wolf tracks. Just a few months ago in late October 2017, after a fresh snow, I was following a set of fresh wolf tracks down the Kab-Ash. The tracks veered off the trail, crossed the newly created beaver dam mentioned above and went over the beaver lodge where the beavers had been busy working the night before. I am guessing the wolf was hoping he could find an easy, free meal!

The most incredible area of the entire Kab-Ash, however, has remained seemingly undiscovered or at least unknown to almost everyone. When I first found this area on the section of trail just south of Irwin Bay I was in awe and beside myself for days. There, among the Voyageurs forest, a small grove of monstrous, old growth white pines with one giant, ancient white spruce. In total, I identified 8 white pines in a few hundred feet that were all over 4 feet in diameter, with one pine that had recently died measuring a staggering 5 feet in diameter. It is hard for me to put into words my feelings when standing next to these trees…I think one simply has to experience it. Based on some measurements, I estimated the trees were >300-400 years old. Consider that…these pines are probably older than our country! Moreover, these trees were almost certainly around in the days of the Voyageurs and perhaps could even hear the Voyageurs’ song as it danced across the water! Amazingly, for some reason almost a century ago, these old-growth trees were spared from the saw. I like to think that an old grizzled lumberjack, reflecting on the plight of the northern forests, left this stand for posterity and for others to enjoy decades after his time. After my discovery, I asked some park staff if they were aware of this grove of giants but could not find anyone who knew of this place. Though the grove is  about 4 miles from the nearest trailhead, the reward of seeing these trees is worth all the effort. Thoreau shared a similar sentiment regarding majestic trees, exclaiming, “I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines”.

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A monstrous white pine, estimated to be more than 300-400 years old, just off the Kab-Ash south of Irwin Bay. This pine is part of an old-growth stand that has remained seemingly undiscovered or at least unknown to almost everyone for many years. If there is one spot you should hike to on the Kab-Ash, this is it.

As aforementioned, the Kab-Ash traverses a variety of different habitats with unique and specific characteristics based on the topography, moisture, and soil type, which all influence the plant and animals that live in these areas. When starting at the Beaver Pond Overlook trailhead heading west (I have omitted discussing the ~3 mile stretch from the Beaver Pond Overlook to the community of Ash River), the path works its way around the well-known beaver pond and then climbs and descends several small rocky ridges covered with majestic white pines and blueberry bushes. The trail then reaches the first of several “loops”. You can either take the south or the north section of the loop. I suggest taking the south section first (take the north section on the way back) which climbs up a large granitic ridge covered in scrub oak, some weather-beaten pines, and vast amounts of blueberry bushes. The best views on the Kab-Ash trail are on this ridge and in certain spots you can look south for miles upon miles (this is especially true during winter when the leaves have dropped). The trail then works its way down the backside of the ridge through a jack pine and spruce forest before winding around a black spruce bog and the new beaver pond that I mentioned above. After passing the new beaver pond (and the creek that runs out of it and under the Kab-Ash), the trail continues for almost a mile through predominantly balsam fir and aspen forest before reaching the second loop of the trail. However, in this stretch the trail also crosses some dense red pine covered ridges and follows a boardwalk that meanders through a cool, mossy cedar lowland. There is also a giant white pine about 300 ft north of the trail in this section. It is hard to describe where exactly but you can see the pine towering above the rest of the forest if you look carefully.

At the second loop, I suggest taking the southern section which slowly climbs a large rocky ridge. Eventually the trail reaches the top of the ridge where there are scattered jack pines, blueberry bushes, and open rock faces. If you reach this section you are  about 5-6 miles from the trailhead. This area is quite remote and I suspect only a handful of people ever actually hike this far down the trail each year. In 2015, this area was used so little that a wolf pack established a rendezvous site (a place where the pups are kept in the summer while the adults go out to hunt food) on the rock ridge right next to the cairns of the Kab-Ash trail. After reaching the open rocky area the trail quickly descends down the ridge into the forest, curls around a beaver pond that is in a valley (by Minnesota standards) between two large rock ridges, and quickly starts to ascend the next big ridge. Once you get up the rock ridge, you reach the third loop on the trail. Again, I suggest taking the south loop which weaves and winds across the open granitic ridge top for about 0.3-0.5 miles. The trail then slowly descends, for about 0.5 miles, into white pine, birch, aspen, and balsam fir forest and before long the trail flattens out for about 1-1.5 miles as it goes through mixed forest lowlands. In the springtime this section can be quite soggy, however, there are some magnificent white spruce trees on the west side of the trail. In one spot, there are 5-6 lumbering spruces within a few feet of each other which is the largest grove of “big” spruces I have seen in the park. At the end of this section is a long (>100 ft) bridge that crosses the east fork of Daley Bay. The bridge is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the scenery. Waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans love this part of Daley Bay, and there is a beaver lodge close by the bridge where beavers are often out swimming around.

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The bridge that crosses Daley Bay is an excellent place to observe waterfowl and take in the evening sunlight.

After the bridge you continue down the trail through more lowland forest. Keep your eye out for an enormous aspen, about 3.5 ft in diameter, right next to the trail…I have measured a lot of aspen trees in VNP and few even come close to the size of this aspen. About 1 mile from the bridge the Kab-Ash intersects a snowmobile trail. If you continue straight ahead after crossing the snowmobile trail you will quickly reach the trailhead for the Kab-Ash on Ash River Trail Road (i.e., a parking lot). However, if you want to continue hiking more of the Kab-Ash, then turn west and follow the snowmobile trail until it crosses, via a small bridge, the west fork of Daley Bay. Just a warning, the snowmobile trail is swampy as you get closer to the west fork of Daley Bay so use caution. One misplaced step and you might have wet feet for the rest of your hike. Right after you cross the bridge over Daley Bay, keep your eye out for the trail which veers north off the snowmobile trail. The trail is poorly marked in this area but it is no more than 30 ft to the west of the bridge. Once on the trail, you will walk along Daley Creek through largely white spruce, balsam, and aspen forest. I find this section of the trail to be a very peaceful, tranquil stretch. The trail eventually ascends some small aspen and pine covered ridges before reaching a marvelous section of the Kab-Ash: the bog.

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An intimate view of a black spruce bog which are common in Minnesota. Bogs are very hard to walk through during the summer but luckily the Kab-Ash has a long boardwalk that goes through a bog which allows hikers a close-up look at one of Minnesota's most unique ecosystems.

Bogs are wet, soggy, hard to access places that have unique plant communities and are immensely beautiful. Fortunately, the Kab-Ash has a half mile of boardwalk that takes travelers right through the heart of a bog. The boardwalk weaves around mounds of sphagnum moss and Labrador tea, across black spruce and white cedar roots, and through stretches of tamarack forest. For a little while, you can experience a world that does not appear to change, a primordial place beyond time’s reach where the forest seems, per Gordon Lightfoot, “too silent to be real”.  The boardwalk through the bog does not appear to have been maintained in some time and in some areas the boardwalk floats up and down with the water level in the bog. I have crossed this section multiple times and kept my feet dry in hiking boots. However, exercise caution when crossing this section and go slowly as the boardwalk is often damp or covered in water, and therefore slippery. Nonetheless, this is one of my favorite sections to hike and there is no other place in Voyageurs where you literally walk through a bog and see it from the inside out.

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Snowshoeing down the Kab-Ash is an excellent way to see Voyageurs and experience the splendor of winter.

The trail then meanders through some rocky mixed forest woodlands until climbing a peaceful red pine covered ridge—a place that has an ethereal, almost heaven-like, quality when warm beams of sunshine slip through the red pine boughs and illuminate patches of forest below. I think it does the soul well to sit in places like this for a few moments to soak in the wonder; akin to Gordon Lightfoot’s sentiments, “Just for now I’d like to rest in the shade of a maple tree, to the blue Canadian sky I’ll say a prayer for the world out there”. After the ridge, the trail flattens out and follows the base of a fair-sized rock ridge to the north through an aspen and birch forest. This stretch of forest, however, is unique because it has a relatively open understory which allows travelers to see through the forest (this is uncommon in the dense boreal forest of VNP). This stand is especially glorious in the spring and fall when the colors of tree buds or turned leaves glisten against blue skies. Another highlight of this section is a large, lone spruce tree right along the trail. After reaching this spruce, the trail heads north and skirts along the southwestern edge of a massive active beaver pond, which my friend and fellow wolf researcher, Austin Homkes has named “Dead Birch Pond”, due to the large quantity of dead birch trees poking out of the bog mat in the pond. The trail actually crosses just below the dam of the pond and in 2016-2017 the beavers were particularly active in this area, cutting several large balsam poplar and aspen, some of which fell over the trail. In fact, in spring of 2017, the beavers were actually using the Kab-Ash as a trail to reach trees to cut.

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There are some beautiful aspen and birch stand along the Kab-Ash.

For another ¾ miles, the trail undulates over small rocky knolls and down into lowland forests before reaching the southern tip of Bowman Bay. When there are no leaves on the trees, Bowman Bay/Lake Kabetogama can be seen easily from the trail. After passing Bowman Bay, the trail turns swampy for about a half-mile as the terrain becomes flat, wet, and soggy. Ash lowlands predominate this stretch, with some enormous, stately cedar trees scattered about, and in the spring marsh marigolds carpet the forest floor in bright yellow. This trek through the swamp, though, is worth every muddy step because just beyond it lies the old growth forest discussed above. You will know when you reach this cathedral because right on the north side of the trail will be a towering white spruce and just beyond on the south side of the trail will be more of the ancient beasts—the pines are so much larger and taller than the rest of the trees that you cannot miss them. Take some time and revel in this natural wonder! Once passing through this old growth grove, all other trees on the Kab-Ash pale in comparison.

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This towering old growth spruce that lingers high above the Kab-Ash marks the location of a grove of old-growth trees. Monstrous white pines can be seen in the background behind this spruce.

After passing this grove, the next 2 miles go through relatively flat mixed forest habitats until reaching a recently logged area that is just outside of the park. The trail follows the main logging road used to harvest this stand of cedars. In all seasons this logging road is muddy, wet and messy, and in the summer the vegetation on the road is incredibly dense because the trail is not well-maintained in this section. I generally choose to hike on the edge of the road where it is a little less wet and the vegetation not as thick. Eventually the logging road/Kab-Ash reaches the Arrowhead Snowmobile trail, and on the other side of the trail the Kab-Ash continues as a small hiking path through the primeval-looking cedar forests. The trail crosses a drained beaver pond via a boardwalk, continues through more cedar forest, and crosses the Arrowhead snowmobile trail once again. The last mile or so of the Kab-Ash goes through thick balsam forest and the typical mixed forest habitats of northern Minnesota. The last few miles of the Kab-Ash are not the most enthralling of the trail but still have that exquisite Northwood’s beauty.

The Kab-Ash is an obscure trail in a national park best known for fishing and boating, not hiking and exploring the wilderness. However, I would argue that the Kab-Ash, and most of Voyageurs National Park, is for all lovers of wilderness. Indeed, anyone who appreciates and enjoys the sights, sounds, and solitude of expansive areas of untouched forest, water, and wetlands would feel at home in the Park. Although the sound of boat motors might be prevalent on the main lakes of Voyageurs, it does not take much to escape the sound of the machines and find oneself in the midst of the wild north, a place where man is but an observer and witness to the grandeur of the natural world. It is here that the true beauty of Voyageurs lies. Dick Proenekke, a bushman and wilderness lover from Alaska, stated that one “who walks the land knows the land”. If you want to know Voyageurs National Park, the Northwoods, and wilderness itself, take a walk down the Kab-Ash. ♦

Government Shutdown Impacts at Voyageurs

Jan. 23, 2018 Update From Voyageurs National Park: Following the enactment of the continuing resolution, staff at Voyageurs National Park have resumed regular operations. Please visit www.nps.gov/voya for updated information about the park.

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will resume normal winter operational hours. The Winter Event Series will resume as scheduled and park staff have resumed monitoring and grooming of trails.

Voyageurs National Park’s employees are happy to be back at work, serving the American people and welcoming visitors to their national parks.

Government Shutdown Impacts at Voyageurs

The federal government shut down on January 20, 2018. During the shutdown, Voyageurs National Park's remains accessible to the public, but emergency and rescue services are limited. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is closed and most park staff will be on furlough until the shutdown ends.

There will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services at Voyageurs, including public information, restrooms, trash collection, and facilities and roads maintenance, including plowing and trail grooming. Please use extreme caution when using trails and ice roads.

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, including: the Winter Event Series, at this time.

Voyageurs National Park Association will provide updated information as able.

The Department of the Interior is directing staff to “keep national parks as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.”  Therefore, many sites will remain open for people to enter, but there will be very few staff on hand to protect visitors or park resources. A partial closure puts people and places at risk. We urge Congress to find quick solutions.

More about shutdown impacts from our partner, the National Parks Conservation Association.

 

Top 10 Winter Experiences at Voyageurs National Park

Top 10 Winter Experiences at Voyageurs National Park

If Minneapolis-St. Paul is the new 'Bold North' Voyageurs National Park is the Wild North. For a truly Minnesota winter experience, embrace the cold and venture to Voyageurs where the crisp air and fresh snow welcomes you. Voyageurs National Park is the ideal place for you to reconnect with yourself, friends and family, and the outdoors, even in colder weather. Here are a handful of the amazing experiences you can have at Voyageurs in the winter months.

Cross Country Ski Echo Bay, Black Bay, or Tilson Creek Trails

Immerse yourself in the tranquility of Voyageurs National Park with a day of cross country skiing. The Echo Bay Trail is located three miles from the Kabetogama Visitor Center (closed in winter) off County Road 122. This trail offers a wide path that takes you from aspens to pines as you pass through lowlands and rocky outcrops. Sections of this trail are groomed for skiing in the winter months - perfect for novice skiers - while other parts of the trail are of intermediate difficulty.

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center offers adult and child-sized skis, boots and poles free-of-charge. Call the Rainy Lake Visitor Center at (218) 286-5258 for availability. From the visitor center, you can access the Tilson Creek Ski Trails (just outside of Voyageurs) via a connector trail. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages this ten mile network of interconnected ski trails. Several routes are possible, ranging from short loops to longer excursions. Traveling 1 miles north from the visitor center, across frozen Rainy Lake, you can access the Black Bay Ski Trails.

You can also launch your cross country skiing exploration from other gateway communities around the park. Try the Kab-Ash Trail or follow these links for trail information near Crane Lake and Ash River.

Explore the Blind Ash Bay and Oberholtzer Trails by Snowshoe 

If skiing isn’t your thing, you can also explore the trails of Voyageurs National Park on snowshoes! The Blind Ash Bay Trail consists of a 2.5 mile loop of moderate difficulty accessible through the Ash River Visitor Center trailhead. The narrow winding trail will allow you to experience the wonders of the boreal forest and view spectacular scenery.

Rainy Lake Visitor Center has snowshoes in many sizes and shapes available free-of-charge. Call ahead for availability. From there you can access the 1.7-mile Oberholtzer Trail, snowshoeing through forests and wetlands.

There are many other snowshoe trails throughout the park. Find all of your options here! All open trails are available for snowshoeing and cross country skiing during the winter months conditions permitting. It is courteous to not trudge with snowshoes through cross country ski tracks. 

Go Sledding!

Did you know Voyageurs has an official sledding hill? The Sphunge Island Sledding Hill is open and accessible from the Kabetogama Lake Ice Road complete with picnic tables and a fire ring. The sledding hill consists of a small hill for younger children and a larger hill for older children and adults. To access the sledding hill, take the Kabetogama-Ash River Ice Road from the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center.  The Sphunge Island sledding hill opens annually once there is sufficient snowfall and the ice road gets plowed on Kabetogama Lake.  There's also a skating rink at the site.              

                                                                                                   

Embrace the Cold at Icebox Days and other Community Events

Embrace the cold with the communities that surround Voyageurs National Park. Icebox Days, held annually in January, is packed full of fun and zany games for all people, including frozen turkey bowling; the locally invented “smoosh” races; moonlight skiing in Voyageurs National Park; the infamous “Gizzard” runs and much more. Find the full schedule of wacky events here.

The Voyageur National Park gateway communities of Kabetogama, Crane Lake, and Ash River also host a variety events and activities throughout the winter months.

Snowmobile the Chain of Lakes

For those who want to cover more ground when exploring Voyageurs in winter, the park allows snowmobiling on frozen lake surfaces and designated safety portages. There are 110 miles of staked and groomed trails for snowmobiling throughout the park. Be sure to obey all closure signs, speed limits, and familiarize yourself with the park snowmobile map. Areas are closed for your safety and to protect sensitive resources. For up-to-date local area trail conditions visit the following links: International Falls; Ash River/ Kabetogama; Crane Lake and surrounding area; Arrowhead State Trail

Dare to Winter Camp 

Spend a night, or two, or three, in the Voyageurs winter wonderland. Camping offers amazing opportunities for night sky and wildlife viewing. Perhaps you'll even catch the Northern Lights. Campsites are accessible via snowmobile, skiing and snowshoeing. Keep in mind all overnight stays at campsites within the park require a reservation in advance. You can access the reservation page by following this linkIf you need some convincing, check out this compelling argument about why camping in the cold is the way to go!

Fish from Your Ice House in a National Park

Winter quiet, rugged piney shorelines, and outstanding angling make Voyageurs National Park an ice angler’s dream. Place ice houses at least 50-feet from the center of snowmobile trails and the ice road. Check ice conditions before going out. Fishing license and ice house registration is required.                               

Explore Voyageurs by Ice Road 

Discover a new way of getting around the park's ice highways! The Rainy Lake Ice Road departs from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat launch. The Kabetogama Lake Ice Road travels between the boat launches of the Ash River and Kabetogama Lake Visitor Centers. The speed limit is a slow and steady 30 mph. Familiarize yourself with safety on the ice roads. Ice road routes change from year to year depending on ice conditions. Contact the Rainy Lake Visitor Center for the latest ice conditions or check the park’s website before planning a trip to see which ice roads are open for the season.                                    

Warm up at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center 

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open year-round. Stop in before you head out to explore the park to chat with park rangers, learn more about the history of Voyageurs National Park, and pick up skis or snowshoes to play in for the day. Come back through after your day of winter activities to warm up and browse the park bookstore! During the winter season, RLVC is open Wednesday - Sunday from 10am to 4:30pm.                                           

2018 Winter Event Series 

Voyageurs National Park staff have some fun events planned for the coming winter months! From special wildlife speakers, to snowshoe hikes, to a painting workshop, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy. Check out the Winter Event Series for the full listing of events and registration information!

Minnesotans are known to be kind and resilient folk, but be sure to be smart when enjoying the outdoors in cold winter conditions. Be sure to layer up, carry food and water, always check conditions before heading out, and bring a friend along for company and safety.

See you out there!

Winter Trail Report 12-22-17

Voyageurs National Park Winter Ice and Trail Conditions Report

 The Rainy Lake/Black Bay to Kabetogama Lake to Ash River (Green Snowmobile Trail) has been staked and opened. Please be advised that trail conditions along the lake surfaces are rough due to wind-blown snow.  Several pressure ridges have formed on Kabetogama Lake and Black Bay. These pressure ridges have been marked and are safe to cross at designated crossings along the trail system. Trail users are advised to use caution when travelling across frozen lake surfaces at this time.

This winter season, the most up-to-date information regarding Voyageurs’ ice and trail conditions will be posted each Wednesday to the park’s Facebook page (VoyageursNPS) and on the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/winter-ice-and-trail-conditions.htm.

Future winter ice and trail condition press releases will be issued only during major changes in trail conditions.

Snowmobile Trails

International Falls to Kettle Falls (Purple Trail) – Closed

Rainy Lake/Black Bay to Kabetogama Lake to Ash River (Green Trail) – Open

Ash River to Crane Lake (Green Trail) – Closed

Chain of Lakes (Dashed Black Trail) – Closed

Ash River to Kettle Falls (Yellow Trail) – Closed

East Namakan Lake to Sand Point Lake (Blue Trail) – Closed

Rainy Lake Ice Road – Closed

Kabetogama Lake Ice Road – Closed

Ski Trails

Echo Bay Ski Trail – Packed and tracked

Black Bay Ski Trail – Packed, not tracked

Tilson Connector Trail – Packed, not tracked

KabAsh Trail – Open, not packed or tracked

Snowshoe Trails

Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail – Open, not packed

Blind Ash Bay Trail – Open, not packed

Oberholtzer Trail – Open, not packed

Sullivan Bay Trail – Open, not packed

Rainy Lake Recreation Trail – Open, not packed

“STAKED TRAILS MAKE SAFETY SENSE”

ORANGE IDENTIFIES HAZARDS

www.nps.gov

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 417  national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov.

The Wilderness of Voyageurs and What it Means to Me

By Tom Gable “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” - Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things"

Many come to Voyageurs to boat, camp, fish, or snowmobile while experiencing the beauty of the outdoors. Yet, Voyageurs is a vast area with large tracts of wild, undisturbed forests in which people rarely step foot. It is these wild places that give Voyageurs an intrinsic value outside of the recreational activities that most come to the park for. However, I think this intrinsic value of the park is rarely articulated, expressed, or appreciated.

I have spent the past four years studying wolves in Voyageurs National Park as both a graduate student and then an employee of the park. Much of my work entailed following wolves. Wolves cover large distances each day. As a result, to follow and understand them, I had to do the same. Thus, I have been fortunate to have an excuse to visit and experience parts of the park that few have ever seen or stepped foot in since the formation of the park in 1975. I have been fortunate to experience the park’s true wilderness.

But what is wilderness? Today there are increasingly more natural places, parks, and green spaces. While these areas are undoubtedly valuable, they are not wilderness. Many (such as Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, and Sigurd Olson) over the past 200 years have discussed what wilderness really means and how to preserve it. To me, wilderness is much more a feeling than a definition as wilderness is not simply a piece of land that meets measurable criteria – though there is importance in defining wilderness so that it  can be preserved. Indeed, I cannot strictly define, and often struggle to articulate, what I think wilderness is, but when in wilderness I know it. Although, the ‘feeling’ of wilderness always seems to come from the combination of solitude, silence, and the perception of physical isolation in the natural world. If one perceives that they are in a remote place, then it is wilderness. There are a multitude of scenic places in noisy areas that have exquisite physical beauty. However, because there is no solitude and silence, the experience is nothing more than what it is: a beautiful place in a noisy world.

The interior of Voyageurs National Park is a seemingly impenetrable forest with hundreds of beaver ponds, bogs and lakes. Traveling through these woods is challenging and, after a certain amount of time, a person feels swallowed by the forest. Covering even short distances can be arduous and take considerable time. However, therein is the beauty. Within minutes a person feels like they are in the middle of nowhere, lost in miles upon miles of wild forest. In a short while a person perceives wilderness and gains the esthetic and emotional benefits of being in a wild place. That is what Voyageurs is to me – a place of wilderness, a place to get lost, a place of quiet, peace, and solitude. In the truest sense, my soul feels rested and quiet when wandering through the woods of the park.

Often when traveling through the forest of Voyageurs, I am reminded of the prescient quote by Sigurd Olson: “Here again was the silence, and I thought how rare it is to know it, how increasingly difficult to ever achieve real quiet and the peace that comes with it, how true the statement ‘Tranquility is beyond price’.”

Here again was the silence and I thought how rare it is to know it.

In the busyness of the world with all its distractions, problems, and sadness, Voyageurs National Park is a refuge from it all. For a period of time, I can step out of the human world and slip into the natural world. Each day creatures live and die, and yet there is an eternal quality to everything in Voyageurs.

Over time, I start to feel and experience the fragility and resiliency of life, the changing of seasons, the rhythms of nature. During the spring and summer, the park’s treetops are invaded by thousands of singing warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and thrushes. With the coming of winter, these birds head south and different birds return from the far north of Canada. Flocks of delicately adorned white snow buntings heading south flit along the shorelines during ice-in. During the dead of winter, the soft whistle of the pine grosbeaks in the spruce trees– one of the most beautiful sounds of winter –dances across the frozen land.

The vast expanse of wild forest in Voyageurs supports many of the park’s elusive year-round residents such as the wolf, the moose, the bear, and the lynx. What they do, where they go, and how they live are a mystery. I often hope to catch a glimpse of these animals when I am in the woods, but I rarely ever do. Yet to know that they are out there is enough.

What pleases me most is the possibility of seeing them. Without these animals, Voyageurs would lose much of that indescribable feeling of wilderness. I recently moved to the Twin Cities to continue my graduate education. There is hardly a greater dichotomy between wilderness and civilization than going from spending every day in Voyageurs to spending every day in St. Paul. Instead of mile upon mile of untouched forest, it is mile upon mile of roads, buildings, and an endless stream of vehicles. Yet this only highlights the intrinsic value and importance of Voyageurs. The value is in knowing that, not far away, there is a vast wilderness, a place to escape the noisy and rushed world. The value is in the woods, the water, and the animals that live in the park. The value is in the possibility to perceive and experience wilderness, to sense true quiet and solitude, and to experience the seemingly eternal quality of the natural world as the busyness of life fades away.

Voyageurs is a place where I feel a boundless freedom and a peace that comes with it.

Photos by Tom Gable

 

 

 

Overnight Camping/Houseboating Reservations for the 2018 Summer Season Open November 15

Park staff would like to remind visitors that overnight tent camping and houseboat reservations for the 2018 season will become available on November 15, 2017 at 9 am CDT. Park staff encourages visitors, who wish to camp or stay overnight on a houseboat or any other boat, to make a reservation as soon as they know their plans. Visitors may make reservations by going on-line at www.recreation.gov or by calling the National Call Center at (877) 444-6777. Overnight houseboat visitors to the park may find a summary of the reservation program at the following link -- https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/houseboating.htm

Overnight tent visitors to the park may find a summary of the reservation program at the following link-- https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/tent-camping.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: mooring rings, docks, bear-proof food lockers, tent pads, picnic tables, fire rings, and site cleaning.

A reminder to all visitors who use www.recreation.gov, in the main search box enter: Voyageurs National Park Camping Permits or Voyageurs National Park Houseboat Permits.

Buoy Removal and No Hunting Reminders from Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park staff will be conducting hazard marker and regulatory buoy removal within the park starting October 1, 2017. In addition, Voyageurs National Park reminds visitors that hunting and trapping of any type or manner is prohibited on Federal lands and all waters within the boundary of Voyageurs  National Park. This includes the removal of animals that have entered the park boundary after being shot outside the park.

Park rangers enforce hunting and trapping laws under Federal regulations. Park officials remind hunters to know where they are hunting. Maps showing the park boundary and area information are available at visitor centers, boat launch kiosks, and at park headquarters.

 

Beavers of Voyageurs

Dr. Carol Johnston, formerly at the Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth but now at South Dakota State University, recently published a book titled "Beavers: Boreal Ecosystem Engineers" summarizing the research she and her colleagues did at Voyageurs National Park on the effects of beavers on ecosystems from the 1980s to present. "This 88-year record of beaver landscape occupation and alteration documented by Johnston and colleagues from aerial photography and field work provides a unique resource toward understanding the ecosystem effects and sustainability of beaver activity."

Voyageurs National Park Announces 2017 Fall Visitor Center Hours

The Kabetogama Lake and Ash River Visitor Centers will be closed for the season beginning Sunday, October 1, 2017. Both visitor centers will reopen in mid-May 2018. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10:00am to 4:00pm from October 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017. Look for winter hours soon.

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

 

Paddling Into the Past on Rainy Lake

Eric Grunwald, National Park Service It was a calm and warm mid-September day when my friend Jeff and I put our canoe in the water at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat ramp. Jeff is a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park and I was excited to show him the sites of some of the most interesting historic events that took place on Rainy Lake inside what is now Voyageurs National Park. As we paddled away from the boat ramp the North Woods were in all their splendor. A loon dove under the water no more than 50 yards away and an eagle soared overhead. The very first hint of fall color shone on a few of the scattered aspens on the lakeshore.

We made quick time on the calm waters of Black Bay, and before we knew it we were at the dock marking the site of Rainy Lake City. Today the city is no more than the grassy trace of an old city street. Though there are two buildings on the site, these buildings do not date from Rainy Lake City, but from a later time in northern Minnesota history. As we docked the canoe and headed into the forest, there seemed to be more going on in Rainy Lake City than met the eye. We walked the trace of what had been one of the town's streets and I told Jeff a little bit about the town's history.

In 1894 a small town, perhaps as large as 500 inhabitants, grew at the site where we walked. Rainy Lake City held many of the conveniences that one would expect in a town of the mid-1890s. Very early on in its existence Charles W. Moore wrote that the town has "eight drygoods stores, as many groceries, three hotels and restaurants, two newspapers, one livery barn, three laundries...one doctor and one lawyer." Perhaps L.D. Chadbourne described the scene at Rainy Lake City best when he wrote in 1894 "the population of Rainy Lake City is 214, eleven of whom are females... there are places where you can get whiskey at 15 cents per small glass; or play any kind of robbers game that you are looking for." Chadbourne concluded by writing "Every branch of business that is needed in a new town is well represented, especially the saloon business. There are only 16 saloons at present, but the people have faith there are more to follow." There must have been a wild and transient atmosphere to the town, and just like many of the towns that sprang up overnight in the American West, the reason why Rainy Lake City was developed was to support the mining industry, in this case the only gold mines in Minnesota.

We walked the grassy road trace to the point where it seemed to disappear. Then, we turned around and started to make our way back to the canoe. As we walked, I swear I could almost hear the muted laughter and conversation of men drinking and playing cards. "This must have been quite the place in the 1890s," Jeff said to me as the canoe came into sight. Before we left Rainy Lake City we decided to head into the old log building that's left unlocked for visitors to explore. I went on to explain to Jeff that the building that we were inside does not date from the Rainy Lake Gold Rush of the 1890s, but to a later date, the Prohibition Era of the 1920s. It is what was called a "blind pig" or speakeasy where patrons could get alcohol even though its sale was illegal. It seems even though Rainy Lake City was largely a ghost town by 1901, people were still drawn to the seclusion of the site well into the 20th century.

Koochiching County Historical Society

We got back into the canoe at the dock and started to make our way west on Rainy Lake. We had yet another destination in mind, the only Minnesota gold mine to ever turn a profit on Little American Island. While the winds had been calm on Black Bay, we were less sheltered now that we were on more open water. It is incredible how a wind as light as 5 miles per hour can make paddling more difficult. A few fishing boats passed us as we made our way to the north side of Little American Island and the dock for the trailhead.

Little American Island marks the site where, in 1893, prospector George W Davis gouged out a sample of quartz from a vein on the island. The quartz sample was sent to Duluth to be assayed, or tested for gold, and sure enough the test showed an average of about $98 worth of gold per ton of ore. Quickly, a party of men paid $10,000 for the island. Jeff and I docked the canoe and walked to easy gravel trail to an old horizontal mine shaft, called an adit, now partially filled with water. We continued on the trail to the site of a vertical mine shaft. Besides the mining shaft, a pair of adits, and a large metal wheel, not much evidence remains of the mining operation on Little American Island. Due to the high costs of mining and processing ore, and poor management, mining activity at Little American Island did not last long. In early 1898 all mining operations ceased there and the property was soon seized by the Itasca County Sheriff.

Our last stop on the island was an overlook of a portion of the Rainy Lake gold field. Not only does the site offer a wonderful view of Rainy Lake and islands dotted with boreal vegetation, it also includes an interpretive panel complete with a map of other mining sites that are now within the boundary of Voyageurs National Park. With names like Busyhead, Big American, and Hope-Still; each site seemed to beckon us to explore further. Alas, the wind was starting to pick up, and Jeff and I did not want to get stranded, unable to make headway in strong winds. We opted to paddle the canoe back to the boat ramp near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.

As we made our way back to the boat ramp, Jeff and I talked about all we had explored that day. We agreed that while in the 1890s men had seen value in the gold locked up in the rocks of what is now Voyageurs National Park, there is still great value in these lands and waters. Today the value lies not in material resources, but in the scenery of the North Woods, the animals that inhabit the area, the opportunity to canoe or motorboat on waters that were once plied by the voyageurs as park of a wold-wide trade network, and the idea that all of it will be preserved not just for us, but for future generations of visitors to northern Minnesota.

 

Learn more about Little American Island by listening to this podcast.

 

 

Voyageurs National Park Association Announces New Elections to Board of Directors

Voyageurs National Park Association announced the election of three new members to the 2017 VNPA Board of Directors: Sharon Oswald Jim Bizal Megan Bond, JD

VNPA couldn’t be more excited about their experience, ideas, wisdom, and passion for Voyageurs National Park.

Sharon Oswald has worked in Minnesota’s nonprofit sector and government relations for over 20 years, primarily dedicated to public health. She currently works with Delta Dental of Minnesota as a foundation program manager, and enjoys nature and helping protect Minnesota's outdoor heritage. 

Jim Bizal has extensive experience serving on several boards within his community and has spent the past 25 years exploring Voyageurs’ Sand Point and Namakan Lakes with his family. When Jim isn’t spending time with his family or giving back, he runs a home remodeling business in Edina, Minnesota.

Megan Bond has been active with VNPA since 2012 in a variety of roles including committee member, volunteer, and policy coordinator. Megan earned her Juris Doctor degree and masters in public policy at the University of St. Thomas. She lives in International Falls enjoying all seasons on Rainy Lake and working as a judicial law clerk.

Sharon Oswald commented, “Voyageurs National Park Association has the mission, values, vision, and team of people that I would like to contribute my time and efforts towards. VNPA has served as the primary support to our only national park in Minnesota, and its importance is ever more apparent as we continue addressing the pressures, ideas, and varied interests for the parks usage.”

If you’re attending the fall member breakfast, be sure to introduce yourself to our new board members.

Full list of 2017 Board of Directors.

If you are interested in exploring committee or board service, please contact our board chair, Jeffrey Brown via vnpa@voyageurs.org.

 

About Voyageurs National Park Association

Voyageurs National Park Association’s mission is to connect people to Voyageurs National Park, enhance the visitor experience, and protect the park for present and future generations. VNPA is the park’s nonprofit partner, serving as the leading voice for protection and outreach, providing financial and volunteer support for recreation and conservation projects, and working together with the National Park Service to preserve the visitor experience and wild nature of Voyageurs for future generations.

First Comment Period on Mining Study Comes to Close

The first public comment period on the study of risks to the Boundary Waters region from sulfide-ore copper mining ended on August 17. Here’s a quick video explaining the process. Over 126,000 comments were submitted. That's a record high level of public engagement in any environmental review process in Minnesota and further shows the importance of protecting the BWCAW and Voyageurs from this threat.

Read the comments VNPA submitted to the Forest Service and thank you to those who submitted their own.

This recent comment period helps to launch a two-year science-based environmental review of the region’s unique water-based ecosystem and will help determine if the Rainy River watershed is the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining.

Voyageurs and the BWCAW are national treasures, of immeasurable value to people in Minnesota and across the United States. Clean water is the foundation of Minnesota’s natural heritage. Voyageurs National Park Association fully supports this two-year environmental review which is essential to allow federal agencies and the public to examine the science.

Related Links:

http://queticosuperior.org/blog/minnesota-lawmakers-attempt-stop-superior-national-forest-mining-study

Fall Ranger-led Boat Tours and Programs at Voyageurs National Park

Haven't made it up to Voyageurs yet this season? There is still time to reserve a spot to explore the waters and islands of Minnesota's national park. Ticket sales for tour boats stop 30 minutes prior to departure. Reservations are highly recommended. Call (877) 444-6777 or go online at www.recreation.gov.

 

Rainy Lake Visitor Center

Grand Tour:

2:00pm - 4:30pm, September 6th, 13th, 16th, 20th, 23rd, 27th, and 30th, 2017 (4 passenger minimum)

Board the Voyageur tour boat and navigate Rainy Lake in search of eagles, view a commercial fish camp from the boat, and spot fall colors. A stop at Little American Island (1/4 mile accessible walk) explores the 1890s Rainy Lake gold rush.

Pricing: 17 & up $30, 3-16 $15, 2 & under $3

Kettle Falls Cruise:

9:30am - 4:00pm, September 2nd and 9th, 2017 (22 passenger minimum)

Voyage to the historic Kettle Falls area while viewing fall colors and wildlife. Spend 2 hours on land, dine at the hotel, enjoy a picnic lunch, or explore the hotel and nearby dam. Meal fee separate.

Pricing: 17 & up $50, 3-16 $25, 2 & under $3

Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center

Kettle Falls Cruise:

10:00am - 3:30pm, September 1st, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 15th, 17th, 18th, 22nd, 24th, and 25th, 2017 (6 passenger minimum)

Voyage to the historic Kettle Falls area while viewing fall colors and wildlife. Spend 2 hours on land, dine at the hotel, enjoy a picnic lunch, or explore the hotel and nearby dam. Meal fee separate.

Pricing: 17 & up $40, 3-16 $20, 2 & under $3


Please note that all programs are subject to change. Please call ahead for the most up-to-date program schedule.

Kettle Falls Archeology, Part 2

By Drew LaBounty, National Park Service Read part 1 here.

The second year of archeological inventory has been completed at Kettle Falls, and with it, the physical exploration of soils and artifacts. Now it is up to written history (and often living memory) to fill in the gaps.

In 2015 visitors might have seen a team of archeologists operating geological survey equipment. This equipment measures the magnetism of buried objects and the compaction of soils. In the construction world, such a survey might locate buried utilities. For archeologists, it helps locate historical buildings and activity areas. At Kettle Falls, geophysical survey was used to search for the original Monson's Trading Post in the front lawn of the iconic 1940s Dam Tender's House (the red-roofed white building on the Namakan side).

In 2016, investigations ramped up to more physical exploration. National Park Service archeologists from a regional center in Lincoln, Nebraska traveled to Voyageurs to establish one meter by one meter Test Units that exposed the "anomalies" identified in the geophysics. Led by Voyageurs National Park staff, the NPS team completed two formal Test Units and an additional 22 smaller quick tests in the front lawn of the Dam Tender's House.

The results of these excavations were surprising. Very little evidence remains of Chris Monson's trading post, and the exact location of the building itself has been wiped away by years of use and re-use of the front lawn. Archeologists targeted two of the geophysical anomalies (see photos). When the sod layer was stripped away, there was no evidence of a formal foundation. Instead, buildings sat directly atop the soil, which caused it to compact and leave behind harder layers of soil. Surprisingly however, virtually no artifacts remain in the lawn to confirm the presence of the trading post. On top of that, historic photographs seem to depict Monson's trading post in an entirely different location closer to shore, where no physical evidence of a building was found.

What does it all mean? The compacted soils in the yard of the Dam Tender's House might not represent a structure at all. Changing water levels might also give the appearance of a different shoreline in historic photographs. The same changing water levels might also have flooded the former trading post location, making identification more difficult. All of these possibilities will be examined and teased out this year, mostly using written accounts, photographs, and local memory.

Our ongoing attempt to pinpoint the location of Chris Monson's original trading post, and to tell its story more completely through physical remains, highlights the importance of tracing several lines of evidence in archeological work. And this holds true throughout the rest of the Kettle Falls area. Other activity areas besides the lawn were investigated over the past two years, and multiple other structures were located, often through trash and debris from the same time period. For example: did you know there were up to six other buildings near the Kettle Falls dam overlook, inhabited by come of the most colorful residents of the Northwoods in the 1910s and 20s? It will take another year of careful research and assembling evidence in order to tell these stories accurately and completely.

The park looks forward to assembling this information, to sharing the stories of Kettle Falls in more color and clarity, and to learning even more about the area in years to come.

Lifespan of a Building

By Beau Readman and Catherine CrawfordNational Park Service

Imagine you are time traveling, your destination is a sandy beach on the northeast shore of Crane Lake, Minnesota, and the time is July 1880. You will encounter a beach that is edged with a forest of pine. You may see wildlife, but it is less likely you will encounter another human or signs of human habitation. Travel forward in time to the summer of 1934 and the same site on the northeast shore of Crane Lake. You are surprised to find a small one-bedroom log cabin with shorter than normal doorways and a screened-in front porch that was just built by Dr. Jake Casareto. Now you decide to speed forward to the summer of 2014, same place, and discover that the Casareto cabin has many whimsical log additions. You try to imagine the seasons, the harsh winters, and the use which the cabin has managed to survive through the past 80 years.

Casareto Cabin 1934

Casareto Cabin 2014

If you were to time travel to the south shore of Hoist Bay, Namakan Lake in July 1880 you would find a quiet, hidden shore forested with large pines. Maybe you would encounter members of the Bois Forte Ojibwe. Travel forward to a summer in the early 1900s in Hoist Bay and the change is drastic; railroad tracks extend far out into the bay, the trees have been cut, and tar paper buildings of Virginia & Rainy Lake Logging Camp 75 line the south shore. Skip to the late 1940s, same site, and a trim row of white guest cabins replaces the tar paper buildings. The property was purchased by Ted and Fern Monson and they have built a little tourist oasis in the quiet north woods. Today, many decades later, signs of the logging camp remain on the landscape and the cabins and other buildings from the resort still stand at Hoist Bay.

Camp 75 at Hoist Bay

Monson's Hoist Bay Resort

If structures are left to weather the seasons without care, they slowly molder back into the landscape. Keeping vegetation away from buildings; replacing roofs; and repairing and painting logs, siding, or trim helps to preserve them. This summer, the Casareto cabin will enjoy tender care. Logs will be repaired and painted and siding, windows, doors, and trim will be scraped and painted. At Hoist Bay, the seven historic buildings will receive new roofing, siding will be repaired, and all structures will get a fresh coat of paint

Voyageurs National Park is striving to preserve its historic structures for future time travelers.

 

 

Restoring Native Plants in Voyageurs

by Claire Kissane, National Park Service This summer, Voyageurs National Park will begin removing exotic cattails and restoring natural wetlands. The invasive cattails seen throughout the park are actually hybrids of non-native narrow-leaved cattails and native broad-leaved cattail, which has out-competed both parents species, resulting in the vast majority of cattails found in the park being hybridized. These have in turn begin to dominate the landscape because they are more aggressive and can occupy a wider range of water depths than their parent species. Over the past 20+ years, more and more Voyageurs wetlands have been affected by the growing hybrid cattail populations. The invasion has reduced native plant and animal diversity, impaired cultural resources like wild rice, reduced fish and wildlife habitat, and limited the use of waterways for recreation and navigation. Stands of invasive hybrid cattails are also replacing native vegetation such as sedges, wild rice, rushes, pondweeds, and native cattails, causing an overall decline in plant diversity within the park. As boaters are well-aware, these cattails can also form dense floating mats expanding outward from the land. At Voyageurs, most of these dense stands and mats are located on Kabetogama shorelines, with smaller stands on Namakan and Rainy Lakes.

Here is a helpful guide on who to tell cattail species apart.

Here is a great FAQ on native vs. non-native species.

Photo by Doug Berlin

There are an estimated 500 acres of hybrid invasive cattails in Voyageurs National Park. The goal of this project is to control at least half of them in the next 2-3 years, with a long-term plan of controlling the rest of the invasive cattails within the next 5-10 years. This will allow native species to repopulate the bays, restoring natural diversity and habitat to the park area. The project is supported by multiple partners including VNPA and is funded by a variety of sources including the National Park Service and matching donors, VNPA, settlement funds, and the Minnesota Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment administered through the Initiative Foundation.

Several methods will be used to eradicate the cattails:

  1. They will be removed mostly using harvesting barges and smaller equipment.
  2. Any cattails not accessible by heaver equipment will be removed by hand.
  3. Burning may also be used as a tool to thin cattail areas before harvesting.
  4. Additionally, native muskrats will be reintroduced to help control the cattails.

Muskrats have the ability to reduce the density of wetland vegetation by eating the plants and making channels through the water, and may be the best long-term method to naturally limit cattail populations before they expand. Since native muskrat populations have decreased in recent years however, animals from outside the park will be introduced to the densest cattail areas within Voyageurs. With an improved habitat, a healthy population of muskrats may help to keep the cattails in check once they are removed.

After the thick mats of hybrid cattails are eliminated, wild rice and other native aquatic plants can take hold without any further effort. Many native seeds can remain in the soil under cattails for years and natural vegetation will return when given the chance. To help the process along, staff will collect and distribute seeds from healthy wetlands in the park, and will go even further by purchasing seed mixtures from local nurseries. The VNPA Volunteer Rendezvous weekend in September will be an important part of the native seed collection, with a goal of collecting 300 pounds of wild rice seed and up to 50 pounds of sedge and rush seed during the volunteer weekend, all from within the park. Within a few days of collection, the seed will be distributed at sites recently cleared of cattails.

Wildlife and plant species living around the cattail mats will be monitored before, during, and after the cattail removal, restoration, and muskrat reintroduction. This will help determine the effectiveness of the restoration methods, and it will help identify any impacts the project might have on wetland ecosystems. Through the efforts of this project, the wetland habitats throughout Voyageurs will once again be healthy and thriving.

Park officials will be primarily working in Black Bay on Rainy Lake outside of the main boating channel this summer. Visitors should inform park staff is they come across a floating mat blocking a campsite or in or near a boating channel.

Voyageurs National Park Announces Resurfacing of Entrance Roads and Boat Launch Areas

Voyageurs National Park would like to inform the public about the resurfacing of the Rainy Lake and Ash River Visitor Center's entrance roads and boat launch parking lot on Rainy Lake. Starting mid-June through July, visitors will experience one-lane closures with a pilot car escort provided during business hours.

Park staff would like to remind visitors, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat launch ramp will be restricted to one-lane use during the construction period.

Effective Tuesday, June 20, over-night parking will not be allowed in the lower lot of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat launch. This no-parking notice will be in affect through the end of the project. Violators will be towed at the owner's expense.

 

National Park Service

Seeking Experts to Help Reconstruct the Kettle Falls Overlook

Voyageurs National Park Association is seeking pro bono landscape architecture services as Voyageurs National Park begins planning the reconstruction of the Kettle Falls overlook in Minnesota's National Park.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 1.22.40 PM

Voyageurs National Park's Kettle Falls has been a crossroads of travel and history for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Kettle Falls was a main artery of the travel route along the wilderness border region. Native peoples gathered, hunted, and speared sturgeon at the falls, voyageurs paddled and portaged through the area carrying their goods and furs, and prospectors traveled to the picturesque resting place on their way to the Rainy Lake gold mines.

The park's Kettle Falls Historic District is a large area with multiple historic, natural, and recreational features, access points, and types of visitors. The Historic District retains several significant historic features, including the Kettle Falls Hotel and associated buildings, the Kettle Falls Dam, a log damkeeper's cabin built in 1910, and numerous other historic and archeological features. Kettle Falls is a unique place offering visitors the opportunity to learn about the rich stories of the people and time periods that passed through these waterways.

Over 40,000 visitors come to Kettle Falls annually. Boat launch ramps and visitor docking are located on both Namakan and Rainy Lakes. Food, lodging, gas, and portage services are available.

This project involves rehabilitating the 30-year-old visitor overlook and surrounding area at Kettle Falls. The wood observation deck and walkways have shifted and settled over the years and now pose numerous tripping, splintering, and falling hazards for park visitors. The overlook offers rich opportunities for scenic views as well as historic and environmental education to visitors.

Kids standing on Kettle Falls Overlook

 

Can you help?

Professional landscape architecture or architecture services are needed to develop construction drawings for the new Kettle Falls overlook.

Project Timeline

●  August/September 2017 - Landscape architect site visit to Voyageurs National Park ●  August 2018 - Draft construction drawings prepared for NPS review ●  January 2019 - Final construction drawings to NPS ●  September 2019 - Site demolition; construction begins

Contact If you are interested in learning more about ways you can support this project through donated services, please contact: Christina Hausman chausman@voyageurs.org

Voyageurs National Park Announces Summer Hours of Operation

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center hours of operation are:

  • May 5 - May 27, 2017: Wednesday through Sunday, 10am - 4:30pm
  • May 28 - September 30, 2017: Open seven days a week, 9am - 5pm

The Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center hours of operation are:

  • May 27 - May 28, 2017: 9am - 5pm
  • June 3 - June 4, 2017: 9am - 5pm
  • June 10 - September 30, 2017: Open seven days a week, 9am - 5pm

The Ash River Visitor Center hours of operation are:

  • June 10 - September 30, 2017: Open seven days a week, 9am - 5pm

Interior of the Ash River Visitor Center. Kat Audette-Luebke/VNPA

This reduction in days and hours of operation is due to delays with hiring our summer workforce that are beyond our control. Visitors can expect boat tours to start June 25, 2017 and should call ahead for scheduled ranger-led programs.

For a complete list of up-to-date programs visit www.nps.gov/voya. To make a reservation for boat tours visit www.recreation.gov. For all other ranger-led programs visitors should inquire at the visitor center they wish to explore.

  • Rainy Lake Visitor Center: 218-286-5258
  • Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center: 218-875-2111
  • Ash River Visitor Center: 218-374-3221

Voyageurs National Park staff encourages you to come out and explore the opportunities available this summer and enjoy the North Woods.