Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finishing? with Voyageurs National Park

Shortly after coming home, my family made the goal to visit every state park—and we completed that in under a little less than three years. We also tacked our National Parks onto our goal—there are only three: Voyageur’s, Pipestone and the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Voyageur’s National Park was the last of our parks on the list. My children’s summer schedules keep me extremely busy and there is not enough time for camping. Well, at least for me—never enough time for camping for me. However, last year, prior to my daughter starting college under the Minnesota Post Secondary Options act, I wanted to make sure we had completed everything.
We had finished visiting all of our state parks the year before—but, Voyageurs, so far up there on the Canadian border, had seemed so elusive. Voyageur’s has three visitor centers: Rainy Lake in International Falls, Kabetogama (south of International Falls) and Ash River in Ely. The center in Ely is only open seasonally during summer months. Each has some exhibits on wildlife and life as a voyageur.

We finally made it to the International Falls center and took a great tour of the park on a pontoon boat. We got to see a gold mine and an old fishing camp. It was interesting to hear about the gold mining that once took place here—never profitable, the gold mines were eventually abandoned. Since private cabins have been taken over by the National Park Service, the cabins have fallen into serious disrepair and the surrounding area is returning to a natural state. It was really funny to see an outhouse deteriorated so badly that the only remaining part was the toilet seat—the white ring sticking out of the lush green surrounding. Maybe a little elementary humor, but my kids were very amused (maybe me too). I met someone whose family’s cabin was taken under eminent domain when the park was created to help preserve a large tract of the boundary waters and accompanying wilderness. Though her family has a few more years to use the cabin they are not allowed to improve the structure. I believe the cabin will be eliminated after that time period has ended. As a park lover, I appreciate her family’s sacrifice. I don’t think that was any consolation.

It is a beautiful park that can make you easily think about what life in these woods would have been like before modernization or European contact. It, like so many other places, is dealing with invasive species, for them it is the water flea. To help combat the spread of the flea, private boats are limited and not permitted on interior lakes of the park. I enjoyed the park—but like so many things people visit, our visit didn’t do this park justice. There were so many things that I would have liked to do: canoeing, more hiking and exploring. I hope we can get to the Ely center this summer some time to get some camping in. We hope to see the other sites up there that we have been missing: the North American Bear Center, the International Wolf Center and Eagle Mountain—the highest point in Minnesota. How is it possible that every time we visit somewhere we only seem to add to our list of places to go and people to see?

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