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Dog teams on the early Gunflint Trail

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.

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Looking forward to the 2012 season

Since opening in July 2010, Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center has striven not only to be a quality history museum, but also to provide both Gunflint Trail residents and visitors with interesting, in-depth, and timely presentations, talks, and demonstrations centered on the Gunflint Trail’s nature world.  Chik-Wauk began hosting the U.S. Forest Service ranger presentations of the “Becoming A Boundary Waters Family” program in summer 2010. Last year, Chik-Wauk developed its own naturalist series, the well-attended Sunday Nature Walks and Talks presented by local naturalists. These programs are offered at no additional cost to Chik-Wauk visitors.

In 2012, we’d love to further expand programming to include more kids activities, history talks, and more.  But to ensure that a sustainable program is developed,  we need to make sure we’re meeting our visitors’ needs. We’d so appreciate it if you’d take this short 10 question survey regarding further developments of Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center public programming. Your feedback will directly help shape the future of Chik-Wauk’s naturalist and history programming offerings. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

On a related note:

Are you a naturalist? Are you a history buff with extensive knowledge of  a topic pertinent to northeastern Minnesota? If you’d be interested in presenting at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center during the 2012 season  please drop us a line at info at chikwauk dot com for more details. We’d also love to hear from you if you’re interested in assisting with or coordinating kids activities during the summer months.
Thank you all for your feedback!

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Trail Wildlife

A couple recent posts about wildlife on the Gunflint Trail from Steve Ramberg and Sue Prom got us thinking about the role wildlife’s played throughout Gunflint Trail history. The Gunflint Trail has always been a wild place where humans and wildlife often cross paths.  Historically, wildlife have provided Gunflint Trail residents with a livelihood, food, and many, many good stories.  In Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center’s own short history, we’ve had several encounters with moose, foxes, loons, turtles, and more.  One of our favorite run-ins with wildlife came this past June when Mama Moose and her two calves decided to take an after lunch stroll on Chik-Wauk’s nature trails. (See above photo.)

Here are some of our favorite wildlife stories from the Gunflint Trail historical archives:

In Janna Webster’s Ki-osh-kons: people, places and stories of Seagull Lake, Webster described how Gunflint Trail doyenne and owner of several Gunflint Trail businesses, Eve Blankenburg could predict bear trouble, much to the dismay of her husband, Russell: “[Eve] was able to accurately predict when they would have bear trouble at the resort. She would occasionally announce, ‘We are going to have a bear tonight.’ It just about did Russell in that Eve could do this. Eve never did tell him that her clairvoyance was due to the fact that, without fail, they would get a visiting bear anytime she cooked a ham.”

Sue Kerfoot remembered in The Gunflint Lodge Cookbook, a hair-raising experience with wolves one winter during her early days on Gunflint Lake: “I was home alone with only our dog, Itzy, for companionship. My city fears of being alone at night were coming to the surface. Itzy was really restless. She kept getting up to look out the window. The fur would stand up on her neck. I let her out. Then she wanted in. Five minutes later it was out again. The outside flood light was on. I couldn’t see anything except deep shadows. Finally I stepped outside to see if I could hear anything. There was a pack of wolves very close to the house. Their howling sounded like it was right next to me. A chill went down my spine. I stepped back into the house and called Itzy in. For the next few minutes I sat inside and tried to convince myself that it was silly to be afraid. What could the wolves do to me? I was inside; they were outside.”

Wildlife of any size can create quite the impression. Paula Beattie remembers one incident while operating Moosehorn Lodge (now Cross River Lodge) in A Taste of the Gunflint Trail:  “I was painting the kitchen when I heard a noise. I peeked around the corner into the dining room and saw nothing. I inched my way toward the living room. The noise of something wildly moving around was getting louder, and then I saw it: a DUCK! It was flying around the room crashing into windows, which is pretty much the whole front of the lodge. I was relieved, but then I had to get him out. “ Eventually, Beattie would get the duck out of the building, but it proved to be just the beginning of many wildlife encounters during her time on the Trail.

You can read more personal tales of wildlife encounters in the local resident book located in Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center’s reading corner.

What are some of your favorite Gunflint Trail wildlife stories?

Website by Katherine Hellner and Boreal Access