Doing Hard Things

I kept track of my time on a recent day, just as I would if I were billing a client. I wrote detailed entries about what I accomplished (or attempted to) down to each fifteen-minute interval. It was a pain. But it made me see that I’m not idle in this stay-at-home time and have no cause for guilt, as my over-bearing ego would have me believe. Continue reading “Doing Hard Things”

Welcoming Growth & Change + Northerly Park Explained – Part 3

Column 28 Published in the June 7, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

 

The growing season has arrived.

Our wily Angle kids will run free and far this summer. Barefoot and sun-freckled, they are trail-making, fort-building little workers who help hold up many a business around The Angle. They’ll grow in inches, confidence and a resourcefulness that child pavement pounders responsible only for their activity performance may never have the luxury of knowing.

Gardens are planted, flowers are on display and the smells of black dirt and freshly cut grass are a late-spring healing tonic all their own.

Business at The Angle is growing about as fast as my new basil plants.

Dahlia’s & Dirt, The Angle’s beautiful little greenhouse opened for its short season over the Memorial Day weekend. US-grown plants and soil aren’t allowed through the Canadian border, so we Angleites rely heavily on this little jem, now in its third year.

Long-time mechanical repair business D&S has sold to Jordan Story, a young hard-working Angle resident of five years and the great-grandson of Prothero’s Post owners Dale & Grace Prothero. He’s got Angle DNA in his blood, and the business, renamed Story’s Service and Storage, will offer service and storage, of course, and also parts, oil, batteries, boat detailing and a few items after Jordan’s own passions – Muskie tackle and premium coolers. They’ll also have an E-TEC diagnostics system up and running soon, which will save many distraught boat owners a dusty trip to town.

Oak Island Resort has new owners as well. Jenny and Kyle Kruidenier, whose family has been coming to The Angle for a combined thirty-odd years, just recently took the reins from Lori and Paul Jenson. The Krudienier’s are starting their first season this busy summer with a full book of business, and the community wishes them well.

New Flag Island Resort owners Andrea and Chuck Haggenmiller follow in the familial footsteps of many other family-run businesses here at The Angle.  After a winter full of adventures, they are well on their way to seasoned veteran status now in their second season.

I hope to profile some of our Angle newcomers in upcoming columns, giving them a proper meet and greet Angle Full of Grace style. *~*

This will be the last of my chatter about “Northerly Park” for a while. Now we wait. Within a month or two we’ll hear back from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails commission on the priority ranking, and if it’s what we hope then the real work begins. Here are the final two criteria applicants are asked to provide explaining how our park idea qualifies for regional designation and subsequent funding.

Criteria #3: Well-located to Serve a Regional Need and/or Tourist Destination

“Northerly Park” is exactly centrally located in Angle Inlet or “The Angle,” as it is known by the locals.  The park is at the intersection of two main roads; all vehicular traffic in and out of The Angle passes by the park.

Though The Angle is generally remote, according to the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, $1.9M was spent on lodging at The Angle in 2015, which has an economic impact to the area in excess of $10M. This is an increase of 15% over 2014 lodging expenditures, which means The Angle is growing. There are currently 16 lodging facilities in The Angle but no public facilities whatsoever. Day-trip visitors can’t even use the restroom without walking into a bar or a resort lodge.

Keeping the park as Day-Use Only (at least in the beginning) would maintain no- to low-impact on the two neighboring resorts that offer minimal camping spaces.

A new airport is in pre-construction planning stages, which would add another port of entry to the NW Angle. Visitors arrive primarily by road and secondarily by boat across Lake of the Woods. It is a hugely popular snowmobiling destination and the park’s central trail would connect the groomed lake trails to the Outlying Area Reporting Station (OARS) and the southbound land trails.

Mostly, the area is in need of an iconic emblem within a representative environment that denotes arrival at the northernmost spot in the lower 48. GPS units put that spot out in the shallow, weedy waters of Angle Inlet Bay and the locals believe it is a rock on the far side of Magnuson Island. Regardless, it is either inaccessible or on private property. The observation tower, and “Northerly Park” as a whole, gives visitors the opportunity to “be” at that northernmost spot.

Criteria #4: Fills a Gap in Recreational Opportunity within the Region

The nearest park to The Angle is the Roseau City park, 67 miles away, and there are other regional parks near Warroad, MN, 73 miles away. A remote state park exists on Garden Island of Lake of the Woods and at Zipple Bay on the south shores of Lake of the Woods, 87 miles away.

Currently, there is no trail system in the area for walking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.  People utilize the main road, which is heavily traveled by vehicles towing boat and RV trailers.  All roads at The Angle are gravel with no sidewalks or side ATV trails, which poses a risk for pedestrians due to dust and flying rocks. The park would fill a huge safety gap for locals and resort goers who want outdoor exercise, bird watchers needing amenities, and winter sports enthusiasts needing a business-neutral warming location. It would also provide budget-conscious families with a public summer fishing spot and canoe access, something that does not currently exist at The Angle.

In the whole of the NW Angle, there exists one small educational or historical sign. The park would serve as an outdoor community museum of sorts, cataloging and documenting the varied and incredible history of this unique place.

 

Angle Days Planning Underway and Northerly Park Explained – Part 2

Column 27 Published in the May 24, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Last column marked a year of Angle Full of Grace and I celebrated by talking about my latest passion:  building a public park here at The Angle.

Before this vision started taking shape, there was the dream of growing The Angle’s summer event, the Blueberry Festival, into an inclusive representation of the unique facets of The Angle. We renamed it “Angle Days” and over the last three years its personality has started unfolding: family fun, quirky competitions, displays of resourcefulness, good cooking, and outdoor music and movies.

The planning is just getting underway now for the August 5-6th event. We are still a very small volunteer crew (2-3 of us) with a handful of folks in the wings who step-up to help as needed. I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in joining the fun!

If you haven’t been to Angle Days, book a cabin or a campsite now. The Angle fills up. The kids come out in droves. The weather almost always pleasantly surprises us. (Knock on wood.)  You can surely plan a day-trip too, just make certain to pack for all adventures. You may just end up sitting in a dunk tank or taking a spill off of a paddle board or dribbling epic chili down your front while navigating the crowd or singing your heart out with the band while dancing with your sweetie under the stars.

Angle Days is a great time and you’ll get a good taste of what this community is all about. Follow us at www.facebook.com/MinnesotaAngleDays for updates and tidbits leading up to the festival.

Back to “Northerly Park” – which is its working name – I want to share more of our application to the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. We were asked to explain how our park idea meets four specific state-wide criteria for regional designation and subsequent funding. Here are the first two:

LOCATION DESCRIPTION: This parcel of land is the southwest corner of Township 168, Range 35, Section 28. Lake of the Woods County is in process of purchasing the parcel from the state (for the agreed price of the closing costs) with sole purpose being construction of a public park. It is approximately .25 square miles or 162 acres. Currently untouched forest, the land is centrally located within the NW Angle community and borders the main road. The northwest corner of the parcel is partial muskeg on the waters of Angle Inlet Bay, near Minnesota Historic Site Fort St. Charles on Lake of the Woods.  The land encapsulates a near-perfect representation of Northwest Angle terrain and vegetation, missing only the exposed bedrock that is common and unique to the area.

CRITERIA #1: PROVIDES A HIGH-QUALITY OUTDOOR RECREATION EXPERIENCE

“Northerly Park” will attract outdoor enthusiasts in all seasons. Winter snowmobilers can pass from the nearby Outlying Area Reporting Station (OARS), to the park’s Warming Hut and directly out to trails on the frozen lake or southbound trails along the main roads. Snow-shoers and cross-country skiers will have access to wooded trails and lake trails, as well. Spring, summer and fall will provide flora and fauna tours, walking and biking trails, public fishing opportunities, and historical and educational experiences. The location of the park, along with the history of its land, makes this the most unique park in northern Minnesota.

The high-focus areas would include an observation tower overlooking the lake, cedar boardwalks over the muskeg and through the beautiful “cedar swamp,” as well as the primary structure, a 30×50 cedar log pavilion with six log picnic tables, all built from the trees logged during the park’s construction. Cement floor and steel roof provide durability and protection from the elements. A grand stone fireplace built from local stone can be used for cooking, heat and light. There would be a children’s natural play area and structure, as well as a rugged log outdoor fitness area with push-up logs, sit-up planks and pull-up bars. A small grass amphitheater (and future cedar log stage) would host local and visiting musicians, outdoor movies, weddings and other events, and possibly even the one-room school’s annual Spring Play.

The area has significant history. Local schools already journey to The Angle for class field trips. “Northerly Park” would be a natural extension and educational experience for existing field trips and would attract additional groups.

Criteria #2: Provides a Natural and Scenic Setting Offering a Compelling Sense of Place

Arriving at The Angle by vehicle, all visitors would see the entrance to “Northerly Park” – a naturally-wooded, picturesque day-use area for outdoor enthusiasts of all seasons. It will be a peaceful place to decompress after a dusty drive, get a first glimpse of beautiful Lake of the Woods, and learn about The Angle’s unique history.  Apart from asking the community elders, no other such educational opportunity has existed in the past. And apart from the small church and the one-room school’s playground structure, there are no other public facilities at The Angle. They are sorely needed.

It is a remote area and yet a very popular outdoor destination at the same time. The park would serve as a representative microcosm for all that The Angle has to offer: winter and summer trails, wildlife, fishing, birding, and the perfection and solitude of untouched nature.  A four-mile circuit of intersecting trails with unique stopping points would highlight the park’s main activities, including the Observation Tower, foot bridge over a spring stream, boardwalk through the cedar swamp, Showy Lady Slipper observation, bird watching, fishing, etc.  The boardwalks would help provide access for all ages to the pristine natural environment of The Angle.  A muskeg boardwalk leads visitors to a floating dock system and fishing platform, the first public access to Lake of the Woods at The Angle proper.

Many visitors come simply to document being at the northernmost spot in the contiguous US, but they are quickly enthralled with the uniquely rugged attributes and quaint remote lifestyle. They stay on, or often return again, to learn more about how life came to be as it is here. Northerly Park would be a first-of-its-kind public place at The Angle, a place to take it all in, learn and enjoy.

Northerly Park Part 3

 

 

 

 

Explaining “Northerly Park” – Part 1

Column 26 Published in the May 10, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

 

The Angle was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning. The long-running program’s Lee Cowan made the trip to The Angle, interviewed a few locals, went fishing and filmed all the usual spots. It’s a six-minute video glimpse into the quaint and remote lifestyle I try to capture every other week in this, our nearest newspaper.

For me, it’s column 26. For anyone who’s followed along since the beginning, after a full-year of Angle Full of Grace at about five minutes a pop, you’ve invested 130 minutes into learning about The Angle, my personal journey here at The Angle and whatever else I feel like “spewing.” Columns are nifty like that.

National coverage, like the CBS Sunday Morning spot, is always a treat and happens in some fashion almost yearly. The one-room school house has been a popular topic nationally, but it’s the “geographic oddity” of the place, as Cowan put it, that is the primary draw.

It’s this oddity that makes The Northwest Angle a perfect location for a regional park, and because I felt in my gut that some unnamed thing was somehow missing in the CBS spot, I’d like to devote the rest of my space this week to the application submitted to the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. (They help divvy up the state monies allocated specifically for recreational purposes.)

Elevator Pitch: “Northerly Park” would serve as an iconic landmark for the tens of thousands of visitors who journey to this most northern point in the contiguous United States each year. It would provide a much-needed budget-friendly, business-neutral location for historic and educational purposes, day-use picnicking, public fishing access, summer- and winter-use trails, and small-group assembly. The park would also unite a growing rural community by providing centrally-located amenities neutral of any area business or land ownership.

Park Overview (which needed to include regional significance, target users, facilities and programs, and proximity to other parks and trails): “Northerly Park” would be the most northern park in the lower 48, providing equitable access to the Northwest Angle, a unique and beautiful landmark location. Currently, unless you have a resort reservation or know a cabin owner, The Angle is generally inaccessible to budget-conscious outdoor enthusiasts due to the lack of public day-use facilities or even a public restroom. The park would serve resort goers, day-trip visitors and the local community with outdoor recreation, group gathering amenities, and educational experiences ideal for area school field trips. “Northerly Park” would allow thousands of tourists to document (via photos, geocache and other social media) their visit to this northernmost spot with a special iconic marker, similar to the buoy in Key West, Florida.

Built in phases, “Northerly Park” begins as a rustic, low-maintenance day-use only destination, with outhouses in lieu of plumbing and gravel roads and parking lots. Two acres of open grassy area with shade trees holds a rugged children’s play structure, exercise equipment, and several trail heads.  A 30×50 cedar log pavilion is the primary structure, complete with cement floor, steel roof, six log picnic tables, cooking grills and a stone fireplace. The park contains ten additional separate picnicking spots. A unique grass amphitheater is built off the main area and is used for outdoor movies, weddings, and music festivals. In later phases, the park will evolve to plumbing and its own well. Compost toilets are a goal.

The looping trail system is four miles long and culminates at a remote picnic area with an observation tower overlooking Lake of the Woods and the bountiful muskeg bird- and wildlife. From this higher vantage, visitors can point to the northernmost spot, take photographs and learn the history. The tower would surely become a Must-See attraction at The Angle.  A floating dock system would allow additional park recreation, such as fishing, canoeing and wildlife viewing opportunities. Durable park signage, trail maps and natural insect control, i.e., Bat Houses and Lake Swallow Houses, would be a priority.

Educational signage compliments the natural scenery. Visitors learn about local Native American history, European explorers, Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to obtaining The Angle, Fort St. Charles, the homesteaders, historical logging and fishing industries, flora and fauna, and present day life, including The Angle’s one-room school house, Minnesota’s last. Park volunteers are available for educational tours.

A cedar boardwalk would allow better accessibility for all ages and keep visitors on-trail in the delicate cedar swamp areas, protecting the state flower, the Showy Lady Slipper, a wild orchard that abounds in the area. The central trail is open to snowmobilers in the winter, connecting the park to hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails throughout Minnesota, Ontario and Manitoba.

There are no parks in the Northwest Angle; the closest are in neighboring towns, Warroad and Roseau, 60+ miles away. There is a remote state park on Garden Island of Lake of the Woods and at Zipple Bay on the south shores of Lake of the Woods, 87 miles away.**

Next column, I plan to continue this glimpse into the future possibility of “Northerly Park” for The Angle. Putting it out there into the universe is powerful, and using this small pulpit is one little thing I can do to help make a dream become a reality.

To view the CBS Sunday Morning spot on The Angle, visit cbsnews.com/news/minnesotas-northwest-angle-an-american-geographic-oddity/. To learn more about “Northerly Park,” stay tuned until next column.

Northerly Park Part 2

“Change is inevitable but growth is intentional”

Column 24 Published in the April 12 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

It’s early still, in this change of seasons, but we’re impatient, we northerners, and we grumble as the snowflakes fall in April. They paint the roads muddy in their graceful descent and then insulate the frost boils for yet another weekend.

Birds are flocking, waiting, calling. We have very little for open water yet here at The Angle and we love to humanize their scouting calls. “Which feather-brained wing-nut made the executive decision to head this far north this early?”

The crows have long since arrived. The Canadian geese, snow geese and even trumpeter swans are on the move. The sandhill cranes return to their same haunts and walk gangly through the dead grasses and frozen turf, searching for a meager meal. Being close enough to see the swath of red across their forehead is nearly as thrilling as being surprised close-range by their freight-train bugle. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so high.

It has not been a spring of constant exploring for me as past springs have been. I’m on the hunt for pussy willow tufts but I’ve done little walking to find them. Moving house, making music and the recent Blandin Community Leadership retreat for a week in Grand Rapids has kept me scattered and on the move.

For now, The Angle rests, preparing for its next onslaught of visitors and the return migration of half its population.

As I worked beside fellow Warroad community devotees at the Blandin intensive, I was able to better appreciate how truly unique and yet inaccessible The Angle is. A new friend pointed out that he didn’t know when he’d be able to return to The Angle now that his only contacts had moved away, and it made me realize how exclusive (and not in a good way) my home is. Unless visitors have a reservation or friends with a cabin, there’s no place to have a picnic, no trails to explore, nowhere to even use the restroom without walking into a business.

Aside from the small church or the school playground, locals don’t have a neutral gathering place either.

The resorts and bars keep very open doors, of course, but if you’re a family on a budget and simply want to take a day-trip to The Angle to learn the history, grill a burger, or walk a trail you’re out of luck. Unless you know the right old-timers to approach, your questions about how they brought power to the islands, the travails of making the road, or the culture of living room marine-band radio gossip way-back-when will go unanswered.

And yes, you’ll be in the northernmost spot in the lower 48, but there’s not even an iconic marker to pose with for a picture. This designation is a surprising draw. Each year, many different groups and individuals journey to The Angle simply because it is an extreme geographic locale in the U.S.

I sure wish we had a better way of welcoming them.

Because it’s quiet now at The Angle, because we have time to refresh and refocus, because I was given a gift from a foundation intent on strengthening rural Minnesota, I feel so much more confident in writing about what I hope for my beloved Angle’s future.

I’m not a business owner, a land-owner (yet), or even a home-owner. Perhaps it’s the lack of those labels that allows me to see how a central gathering place that is business-neutral and yet represents all The Angle has to offer would help bring our tiny community together and serve its visitors in a landmark way. Perhaps it would become a draw for the next generation and positively impact our small economy in the long run.

I’ve written several times about my idea for a solution (Northerly Park), and now it’s time to step back from that and let the need do the talking. Oh, we’ll get our Greater Minnesota Parks and Recreation grant application in by the end-of-April deadline regardless, but in the meantime, now we’re prepared for a better conversation with those who loath change, those who fear the impact on their family-run business, and those who want The Angle to stay The Angle.

It is a changing of the season and a changing of the guard. We may grumble and groan, but we stretch and grow regardless.

Press Release: Warroad area residents complete Blandin Community Leadership Program retreat

column-24-blandin-group

 

The Long Goodbye

Column 19 Published in the January 26, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Is the long goodbye a Minnesota phenomenon? A product of isolation? Here at The Angle it’s seems quite natural to keep talking as you stand at the door, hand on door knob, still visiting for an hour after you’ve said you better get going. Then we’ll chat on the front porch, follow you out to the car, and visit through the car window until you finally inch away. Be sure to look back, we’ll be waving as you turn out of the driveway. Continue reading “The Long Goodbye”

The World is Too Much With Us

Column 8 Published in the August 11 Warroad Pioneer

It occurred to me some time ago, as I watched my two-year old run joyously up and down the grassy ditches of our driveway, that this glacier-smoothed prairie land isn’t flat to her. She has mountains to climb every day, valleys to explore, caverns and arroyos. There is no cellular longing in her for the great pines that used to anchor the soil and the wolves here. No ancestral guilt for the unchecked logging of a century ago that left us with only the fast growing birch, popple and balm of gilead. “Junk wood” as I’ve heard it called by the old timers. When you’ve survived sixty some winters on the sweat of your own labor cutting, hauling, stacking, and tending to the fires, I suppose you’ve earned the right to judge the wood that warms your family.

The land feels flat to me of late. I walked the road, and the curing crunch of gravel underfoot offered up only a minor healing tonic. “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth knew. He saw clearly the growing disconnect with nature. My distracted mind can’t see the summer moss and mushroom patches. The wild lilies bloomed and broke, and I barely noticed.

This place, this Angle drew me home four years ago this September and never have I regretted it. But the worldly world still pulls and tugs and busy-ness erodes the rhythm of deep, barefoot breathing. The sunrise and sunset of the harvest blue moon sang quietly through my window as I worked diligently at my computer, its ghastly light interrupting sleep patterns and dream therapy.

We’ve moved from one reactive happening to the next this spring and summer. Northerly Park grant planning, a friend’s death, a sibling’s wedding, a 300+ person community event, and oh  my  gosh, potty training. Why did no one tell me it’s so hard!? I read a how-to book, for goodness sake, and felt like a fool doing so, but I’ve been at my wit’s end too many times these last many months. Still it drags on.

Our Angle Days event will be behind me when this goes to press, but now, as it breathes down my neck like a disorganized dragon, I wonder how it always comes together like it does. Each year, we bite off more and more, plan bigger and broader, invite, advertise, market – all in hopes to share this place, this simple beautiful life.

And as the stress roils, the Angle works its silent magic to gently bring me back.

Today it was the east wind and a soft blanket of rain that reminded me, brought me home. I stared over a flat gray lake and let the mist meet my skin just as I used to in the monotone winters of the Pacific Northwest.

You have forgotten, the wind breathed to me. This is The Angle. This is the truth of life. Somehow, someway it all always works out perfectly. Everything is as it should be. Even the spending and getting. Even the flatness.

You have chosen to remember, it said, sweeping across the miles of rocky shorelines and untouched islands of Lake of the Woods, bringing the cleansing rain as easterlies always seem to do. Remember you are home. Remember you are whole. Remember you are enough.

Now go. Get up. Run with the wolves again. Show your little one just how majestic these flatland hills truly are.