If you lived on the Gunflint Trail in the early days, chances are you owned a dog team.
Bob Spooner, who grew up on Magnetic Lake, remembered in an interview with the Gunflint Trail Historical Society that he “took care of the dogs from when I was knee high to a grasshopper.”
For early settlers on the Gunflint Trail, such as Charlie and Petra Boostrom, who settled year-round on Clearwater Lake in 1915, dog teams were an important means of transportation during the winter months. Harriet Taus, daughter of Charlie and Petra, recalled that her mother would hook up the dog team on beautiful winter days, load her children into the dog sled, and travel over Hungry Jack Lodge to pick up the mail.
Justine Kerfoot of Gunflint Lodge, used her dog team for chores such as hauling firewood. She would also occasionally give guests dog sled rides. As handy as the dogs were during the winter, they also required a lot of food, a fair amount of time had to be devoted to maintenance of their harnesses and sleds, and they didn’t exactly earn their keep during the summer months.
In Woman of the Boundary Waters, Kerfoot wrote: “Raising dogs and running a resort sometimes created opposing problems. In the summer the dogs were not worked and chafed for a run. Guests invariably wandered among them so it was paramount we not have a vicious dog in our string. It was essential they stay quiet at night and not disturb the guests, but when a bear came near, they created an uproar.”
Snowmobiles, which began gaining popularity in the 1950s, would eventually replace most dog sled teams on the Trail, despite Justine Kerfoot’s astute observation that, “You never walked home with a dog team.”
Although they’ve lost most of their practical application these days, dogs are still kept on the Gunflint Trail. A dog sled ride with one of the beloved dog teams at one of the Gunflint Trail’s resorts offers residents and visitors to the area a taste of what life was once like in the Minnesota wilds.
The Gunflint Trail will be hosting some sled dog action this week with the 100 mile Gunflint Trail Mail Run Sled Dog Race which takes off from Devil Track Landing on Monday, January 30 at 4 p.m. Whether as transportation or racing, sled dogs continue to play a pivotal role in Gunflint Trail history.