Building a Boundary Waters boardwalk

TofteOn a rainy day in mid-July, four volunteers and a wilderness ranger from the Superior National Forest paddled out into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Traveling from Duluth, Minneapolis and as far away as Flagstaff, Arizona, these individuals came to experience the wilderness, but with the goal of leaving this treasured public place a little better than how they found it.

“The Boundary Waters had been a bucket list item for me, so I was happy to secure a working vacation here,” said Lisa Foss who participated in the project along with her teenage son, Andrew.

The group headed up Larch Creek to the Granite River where they would spend five days working to improve a boardwalk on a particularly muddy portage, aptly named the Swamp Portage. This trail allows paddlers to bypass rapids on a section of the river between Granite Lake and Gneiss Lake.

This work party came together through the Northwoods Volunteer Connection, a non-profit organization based in Tofte, which coordinates volunteer efforts on public lands in the northeastern part of the state. The project on the Granite River was one of two, multiple-day projects in the Boundary Waters completed this summer by Northwoods volunteers in collaboration with the Superior National Forest. The Northwoods Volunteer Connection also offers single-day volunteer projects and other programs that promote sustainable recreation and natural resource conservation.

The location of the project along the Granite River, which runs along the border between Canada and the U.S., allowed for the unique opportunity to collaborate with La Verandrye Provincial Park in Ontario. The idea for such collaboration arose in the spring of 2017 during a meeting of the Heart of the Continent Partnership (HOCP). HOCP is a Canadian/American coalition of land managers and local stakeholders working together on cross-border projects that promote the economic, cultural and natural health of the lakes, forests and communities on the Ontario/Minnesota border. In 2011, agencies along the border agreed that it was beneficial to collaborate on shared common goals for the benefit of the public lands and gateway communities. A Sister Sites Arrangement was signed by representatives from Ontario Parks, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.

Ontario Parks wardens Chris Stromberg and Eric Boyd paddled from La Verandrye Provincial Park up the Granite River to meet with the volunteer group lead by Tamer Ibrahim of the Gunflint District of the Superior National Forest. After an initial day of rain, the group was treated to a few beautiful northwoods summer days of blue skies and warm weather. Collaboration came easy to this international work group, which was determined to make the Swamp Portage into a trail that would no longer be dreaded by the traveling canoeists. Visitors who made their way over the portage were delighted to see the improvements being made and were surprised to be greeted by enforcement from both the Superior National Forest and Ontario Parks. It was obvious to rangers to see the benefits of the collaborative ranger presence to help educate the public of the rules for traveling between the neighboring public lands.

Over the course of their trip, the volunteers learned a great deal about trail construction and stewardship while working alongside professionals with many years of experience under their belts. Highlights included testing out paddling skills on a few of the Granite River’s rapids and sharing stories and meals around the fire after a hard day’s work. Ibrahim was impressed with the amount of work that the group was able to accomplish in a short period of time and the positive attitudes of the volunteers.

“I would take any of these volunteers out on another Boundary Waters project,” said Ibrahim. “They are as good as they come.”

In all, Northwoods volunteers and National Forest and Provincial Park staff installed and repaired 176 feet of boardwalk and cleared brush from another 132 rods of portage trail (approximately 1/2 mile).

“The adventure was worth all of the hard work. It is an experience I will not soon forget,” wrote Lisa Foss while recounting her thoughts on the project.

This project was made possible by funds from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, the NWSA National Forest System Trail Stewardship Grant and the U.S. Forest Service.Laurel Wilson and Chris Stromberg