Heritage History


Bucking up a large white pine with a crosscut saw ca. 1890's

1919 Forest Examiner Schreck in canoe on White Iron Lake surveying potential summer home site. 



For an in-depth account of the Superior National Forest's history, check out Wes Whites's "Evolution of the Superior National Forest".      For a quick overview, read on...



Homesteading: 1869-1900, building of railroads, mineral exploration (especially discovery of iron ore) and lumbering attracted people to the area.  While there was a rush of immigrants settling lands, many of the claims were fraudulently claimed to acquire timbered lands for the big lumber companies or were soon abandoned by legitimate settlers due to poor farming conditions in northeastern Minnesota.   Those who stayed were miners or loggers and their families.




1922 Loading government logs with horse jammer.

Big pine timber logging began on the Superior National Forest in the 1890's and continued into the 1920s.  The border lakes region presented numerous challenges to loggings companies in accessing and harvesting timbered stands, which effectively left much of it untouched until the 1890's, when vast extents of the border lakes forests had been stripped away in Michigan and Wisconsin.  Early logging was accomplished by means of river driving of logs. As timber near rivers became depleted, railroad logging became the primary method of getting the wood to the mill.  Frozen ground conditions in the winter steered the logging industry to build ice roads providing greater access to timber stands. Logging after 1929 focused more and more on pulp species and the wood products industry.

Historical Highlight


Mining came early to Northeast Minnesota.  By the 1870s, exploration parties were on the Vermilion Range.  In 1882, Charlemagne Tower and Samuel Munson incorporated the Minnesota Iron Company.  The town of Tower was soon formed and became the first mining town on the range.  A rail line was built from Two Harbors to Tower in 1884, formally connecting the iron range to Lake Superior 's North Shore.  By 1888, mining had expanded to Ely, MN.  


Early prospecting was also ongoing on the eastern side of the Forest. One of the most well known and shortest-lived was the Paulson Mine, which was located just west of Gunflint Lake and the modern day Gunflint Trail.  Exploration activities commenced around 1886 and, by 1892, a savvy group of investors had managed to connect the mine site by railroad to the city of Port Arthur in adjacent Ontario.  The investors had hoped to connect the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railroad to the bustling port city of Duluth, Minnesota, however these aspirations would never be realized.  A nation-wide economic depression known as the Panic of 1893 led to the retraction of financing and to the collapse of the Paulson Mine enterprise in that year.  The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railroad became financially irrelevant soon thereafter, and was completely abandoned by 1914 after hauling only a single load of ore.


Boundary Designation

1916 - International Boundary Commission; joint effort to delineate US/Canada Boundary.

Forest Service Administration

1916 - Forest officers making a portage.  As a rule, a pack for two men for a two week's trip weighed from 70 to 90 pounds.  A new canoe weighed 75 pounds and increased as it was repaired.

On February 13, 1909, Theodore Roosevelt signed a Presidential Proclamation officially creating the Superior National Forest.  Thus began an era of early forest administration.  Original acreage on the Superior NF was 644,114 acres, much of which was of cut-over and/or burned over lands, lands that nobody wanted.  A 1924 Forest map shows 20 Ranger Stations scattered about the forest with an additional 5 residences to house lookouts.  These small one room cabins were used by Forest guards, providing overnight housing as they traveled and worked around the Forest.  Today, the Forest has nearly quadrupled in size.  Forest personnel work out five ranger district offices, one work center, four guard stations, and the Supervisor's Office in Duluth, MN.

Historical Highlight



1940 - Three campers eating lunch at a canoe campsite on Birch Point on the south arm of Knife Lake.


An increasingly mobile and affluent public during the teens and twenties of the 20th century stimulated a nationwide call to recreate on Forest lands.  Encouraged by the Forest Service, summer home groups and resorts began to populate forest lands under permit to the US Forest Service.  During the 1920's through the mid 1970's, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was a remote roadless area providing ample camping opportunities to recreationists.  Resort owners capitalized on this, providing motor boat and airplane access into remote forest areas to hunt and fish.  Effective 1951, an air space reservation was placed over the BWCA, effectively ending airplane service into these locations.

NIRA (National Industrial Recovery Act) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps)

A predecessor to the CCC, the National Industrial Recovery Act was designed to provide employment and complete a variety of conservation work.  There were 8 NIRA camps on the Superior National Forest.  The Timber Survey poem aptly captures the nature of timber survey in the northern lakes region (date and author unknown).  


The Emergency Conservation Work Bill of 1933 formally established the Civilian Conservation Corps. to provide relief for the country's economic plunge resulting from the Great Depression.  The CCC were tasked with numerous conservation projects on public lands.  The great accomplishments of the CCC are still visible on the Superior National Forest today in the form of pine plantations, FS administrative buildings, and miles of Forest trails.  There were 30 CCC camps on the Superior National Forest during its tenure.



1940 - John Jacobsen, CCC enrollee at Gegoka Camp, collecting red pine cones

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Championed by many notable persons such as Arthur Carhart, Ernest Oberholtzer, Sigurd Olson, and Bud Heinselman, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is enjoyed for its beauty and solitude where the traveler feels closer to nature.  The BWCAW elicits an exceptional recreational experience over land and over water by canoe travel, unique to this region of the country.  Originally designated a Roadless Area in 1926, it would be nearly 40 years before it was designated a wilderness area in 1964.  A major wilderness destination, the BWCAW has withstood a turbulent history of controversy and conflict that continues to this day.  Still, the peacefulness, the grandness, and beauty of the Boundary Waters continue to beckon the wilderness traveler.



1921 - Forest Guard Soderback on Clear Lake during survey with Forest Landscape Architect, Arthur Carhart

BWCAW timeline:


1921:  Arthur Carhart's (Forest Landscape Architect) publication "Preliminary Prospectus:  An Outline Plan for the Recreational Development of the Superior National Forest" is released following a survey conducted by Carhart and Forest Guard Soderback in the Boundary Waters region.  This publication was to set the framework for the future designation of the BWCAW.

1930:   Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act passed placing restrictions aimed at preserving the wilderness nature of lake and stream shorelines.


1934:   President Franklin D. Roosevelt designates the Quetico-Superior Committee to work with government agencies in the conservation, preservation, and use of northeast Minnesota 's wilderness areas.


1948:   Thye-Blatnik Act authorizes federal government to acquire private land holdings within roadless areas, increasing acreage within the boundary waters roadless area.


1949:   Passage of Executive Order 10092, establishing an airspace boundary over the boundary waters roadless area.  Highly controversial, this order effectively ended a particular type of recreation in the boundary waters, that of the remote fly-in resort.   Resort operators had until 1951 to halt air traffic within 4000 feet of the roadless area.


1958:   The Superior Roadless Areas were renamed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area(BWCA).   Conflict over motorized use in the roadless area increases.


1964:   Passage of the national Wilderness Act with special provision regarding the BWCA, allowing some motorized use and logging within the Boundary Water's wilderness boundaries.

1978:  Passage of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act.  Specific to the BWCAW, this legislation eliminated logging and snowmobiling, restricted mining and allowed motorboats on 1/4 of the water area.