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Boreal Community Media

Finding Magic. Right now

Aug 06, 2018 08:47AM ● By Editor

This is the view out the front window of Popple House. (Photo:  Tim McNiff)

By Tim McNiff of KARE 11-TV - August 6, 2018

GRAND MARAIS, THE NORTH SHORE, Minn. - I can’t prove to you that Minnesota’s North Shore is “magic”, but, I’m about to make a case for why I believe that it is.

In a previous Riff about “Cabin Hangover” I expressed frustration over my inability to acquire a cabin, a luxury that’s quite literally a rite of passage for many lucky Minnesotans. Today, with a healthy month of summer left on the calendar, I want to share with you my annual foray into the cabin lifestyle, what it’s done for me, and why I believe you should consider giving it a shot.

As some of you know, I am married and have been for the past 31-years. My wife Amy and I are the proud parents of two daughters, Bridget and Haley, and throughout my career in broadcasting I did my best to separate work from home and never sought to use either my wife or my kids as “props” to advance my career.

With the advent of ‘McNiff’s Riffs’, however, I am sharing much from my personal space: That includes this column, which today includes my wife and my girls because without them there would be no reason to write this column.

Both Amy and I come from big families and on my wife’s side, one of my brother-in-laws (another non-cabin owner) was always talking about this place they took their two kids each summer. He would go on-and-on about this tiny cabin they’d found, located right on Lake Superior, and all these wonderful adventures they had using the cabin as their base.

The place sounded ideal, from access to inland lakes and rivers to horseback riding and secluded campfires. It seemed to have it all, and to top it all off... it was both pet-friendly, and – wait for it – affordable.

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The simple North Shore cabin that has served as the backdrop to the best McNiff summers is called Popple House. (Tim McNiff) 

Well, that did it for me. I had to know where this place was, and how I could get in.

As soon as I asked those two questions, of course, said brother-in-law started doing some major backtracking. Suddenly it wasn’t THAT great a cabin, and it wasn’t THAT affordable, but I wasn’t having it. I kept up the pressure until he finally divulged the details. And now I know why he was reluctant to do so.

You see, the place is magic.

Our first trip to the cabin was in 2002. Bridget had just turned 9 years old and Haley was 6. Koeneke Shoredge is located just past Lutsen Mountain, 17-miles south of Grand Marais, right off Minnesota's famous Highway 61. There are actually three cabins on-site, but we stay in one of the two smaller cabins, called Popple House.

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All the rooms in Popple House could fit into Tim's master bedroom... but the small square footage has served to bring them closer. (Tim McNiff) 

Popple House is something of an anomaly because I’m fairly certain the entire cabin (two bedrooms, bathroom with shower, and a shared kitchen-living space) could fit in my master bedroom at home. This was not an issue when the girls were little, but sharing a bed proved to be somewhat contentious when they entered their teen years. 

No, Popple House isn’t about amenities, but location. Location, location, location. The complex of three and-a-half cabins sits directly on the rocks of Lake Superior, offering an ocean-like view. Sure, it’s not YOUR cabin, but you’re not in the middle of a campground either, and again... there’s that million-dollar view.

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Walk a few feet from the front door of Popple House and you get THIS. (Tim McNiff)

The McNiffs have done spring break in Florida and Mexico, we’ve done Disney, we’ve done cruises and we’ve driven cross-country. For us, the magic happens in a tiny cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior in Lutsen, Minnesota.

As my brother-in-law’s family had done before us, we’ve used Popple House as our base for countless trips up the Gunflint Trail, into Grand Marais, to Lutsen Mountain, and to the many State Park hiking trails and rivers that populate the area. We hike, jump off rocks into rivers, splash in waterfalls, play golf, brave the alpine slide, ride the gondola, and if we’re up for the challenge... swim in the icebox that is Lake Superior. If the weather is bad we simply stay inside reading books, playing games, and listening to music.

Nights usually bring intense game-playing followed by a trip to the fire pit. The fire pit is located on the rocks and features an unobstructed view of Lake Superior and stars the way you can’t see them in the Twin Cities. I used to close out the night with a fireworks display until the night I nearly burned down the cabins. That’s another story for another time, but suffice to say since then I’ve pretty much stayed away from fireworks.

So, here’s where the magic comes in. 

Every year at the end of our stay Amy and I ask ourselves if we should reserve our spot on the calendar for next year, and every year my wife and I agree that this had to be our last trip north with the girls. Yet even though conflicts with dance and soccer tryouts have now become conflicts with summer college courses, work schedules and kids living out-of-state, by some magic... year after year... we find ourselves together again for this week of unobstructed, highly treasured family time.

Seriously, how many 24 and 21-year olds want to spend a week with their parents? Especially a week in a tiny cabin, with no TV and limited internet connection? 

It MUST be magic, right?

I don’t know what your magic is or where it might be located, but with a month left before Labor Day I whole-heartedly encourage you to make an effort to spend quality time with the people you love. I can’t promise that it will produce 16-years worth of magic, but I do know that it won’t happen if you don’t MAKE it happen.

Coming soon in McNiff's Riffs I’m going to introduce you to one of my favorite artists, who happens to live up north, and take you to my 'happy place', a location that brings me as close to heaven on earth as I have found.

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some highlights from this year’s trip. They helped to produce the 2018 magic for me/us.

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here