The Goings On of School Kids and Grown Ups

(Published Tuesday, May 30 in the Warroad Pioneer)

Last week was a busy one at The Angle before the holiday weekend even started.

The Angle Ladies Adventure Society, with leaders Bre Gjovik and Sara Magoon, finished painting the new northernmost point landmark, a project sponsored by Lake of the Woods County Commissioners and organized by the NW Angle Edge Riders. The icon is similar to the southernmost landmark in the Florida Keys but for color. The ladies chose the colors yellow, blue and green to represent the sun, water and land of the NW Angle, as well as the elusive muskie that brings so many visitors to our area. The landmark is currently located at the end of Young’s Bay Drive on Lake of the Woods and awaits your photos! Continue reading “The Goings On of School Kids and Grown Ups”

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.

“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

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