When I first arrived on the Gunflint Ranger District, one of the first places I visited was the Chik Wauk lodge. Under the provisions of the 1978 BWCAW Act from Congress, the Forest Service would acquire resorts if the owners felt that the new law would negatively affect their business. And so it seems did the owners of Chik Wauk and in 1979 we purchased the resort and associated lands.
Ralph and Bea Griffis, the owners, retained a 20 lease on the property so the Forest Service did not take possession of the lodge until 1999, which was just a year before I arrived on the forest. So as I visited the site, I was given a brief history, I looked at the rather unique lodge building, walked around he site to see the natural beauty of Chik Wauk and pondered what we would do with what is now National Forest land. I’ll admit a lot of thoughts swirled through my head. I had a history class in college where we spent time learning about this piece of land. How through the centuries this land was so important to the American Indians. At times the Sioux, the Ojibwa, and the Huron occupied the land surrounding Lake Superior. Later the French fur traders established the Voyageur’s Highway. More recently how we have struggled with the concept of a modern day wilderness call the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. And then there is the Gunflint Trail….I wondered if we could tell the history of these lands?
But Chik Wauk was a building in disrepair. The stone structure might last quite a while but the wood parts and roof system did not look good. And there were all those “out buildings” that were pretty much collapsing on themselves. Any way you looked at this site, it was going to be an expensive venture. But still……..what if?
We, in the Forest Service, found some funds and took action to at least halt the deterioration of the lodge and clean up the rest of the site. Then we did what is called a “Future Use Determination” which is pretty much what it sounds like. If I remember, there were several options from simply taking pictures of the site then tearing it down to transforming it into a weekly family rental cabin, a few other assorted options and then there was the concept of a museum.
In 2004 as it would happen we were talking to the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway committee of the Gunflint Trail Association. It seems they had been pondering the same question, and also had dreams of a museum. I think at just about the same time, we both asked “Do you know how much this would cost?” But the dreams quickly grew into a proposal from the Association. I simply asked for a business plan (and it seems coming from an association of businesses, that wasn’t too hard) and we were off to the races.
Five years, countless volunteers, thousands of hours and one million dollars of donations and grants later, on July 4, 2010 the grand opening of Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center took place. The museum truly is a marvel of creativity, imagination, professionalism and plain hard work. The displays are a walk through time. Hands on features are available for kids of all ages. Video screens bring history alive and the technology will keep the stories fresh. And the library will fill every nook and cranny of brain cells you have left. Once you’re done inside the museum, hike the numerous walking trails to learn all that nature has to offer in this land of sky blue waters.
Fred Smith the master of ceremonies for both the Saturday open house and the Sunday Grand Opening did a great job recognizing the leadership for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and those who worked on this project. Jim Sanders, the Forest Supervisor for the Superior National Forest gave the keynote address which included a fascinating sketch of the Boundary Waters and the Gunflint Trail. The ceremonies concluded with some door prizes, the Chik Wauk raffle quilt was awarded and then the ribbon was cut to begin tours of the museum.
Most of us have heard that the Hamm’s beer company filmed many of their commercials of a canoeist and a grizzly bear at Chik Wauk. One of the great stories of the day was the man who was photographed with that grizzly bear in the canoe, Rolf Skrien was with us for the Grand Opening. How cool is that!
I encourage all take a couple hours and visit the upper Gunflint’s newest attraction the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center, it is a dream come true. Check the gallery for more photos.