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Boreal Community Media

Meet your Cook County Neighbor: Paul Sundberg

Aug 26, 2023 08:53AM ● By Editor
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Boreal Community Media - August 26, 2023

How did you “land” in Cook County? Where did you live prior to life here?

I was raised on a small farm south of McGregor, Minnesota. After high school I attended Brainerd Vocational Technical School pursuing a career with the Department of Natural Resources. After serving two years in the military, I started my DNR career as the assistant park manager of Savanna Portage State Park. When the manager of Cascade River State Park retired, I was offered the position and with my wife Karla we moved to the beautiful North Shore. 

While working at Cascade we purchased ten acres of undeveloped land on the Pike Lake Road where we eventually built our retirement home. During my 40-year career I had the privilege of working at Jay Cooke, Savanna Portage, Cascade River, Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Tettegouche. I thoroughly enjoyed working as a park ranger and enjoyed going to work every day. I kept in mind what the parks director said we are here to “Protect special places and put smiles on people’s faces”. I have to say there are a lot of smiles when people visit state parks and I always tried to make someone’s day more enjoyable.

Did you always have an interest in photography or how did that come about?

Even as a young kid, photography always fascinated me. Although at that time all I had was an old box film camera. While serving in the Army at Ft Bliss, Texas I purchased my first decent camera. It wasn’t until we moved to the North Shore in 1976 that my second career in photography took off. I was never interested in portrait photography. My interest was spending time outdoors in pursuit of wildlife or finding that perfect landscape of which the North Shore has in abundance. 

What is one of your favorite spots to capture photos?

As an outdoor photographer one of my favorite places to capture images is camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The BWCAW has an endless amount of interesting topography and wildlife to photograph. I am so thankful of the many people that were involved with protecting this treasure as a wilderness area.

We have vast amounts of public land in northeastern Minnesota. Between the BWCA and nine state parks I never run out of subject material. I can spend hours photographing the shoreline of Lake Superior in its many moods. There are so many waterfalls on the North Shore, it would take a lifetime to visit them all. With the changing seasons and water levels it is a new experience every time you go. 

My favorite wildlife to photograph is the moose. During the fall rut I head into the Superior National Forest and call moose. I use a fiberglass megaphone to amplify the sound that I make with my mouth. It has taken me awhile to get the hang of it but it really does work. Over the years I have called in about three dozen bulls. I haven’t always gotten photos but it always gets your adrenaline pumping.  

Have you ever had an interesting wildlife or funny encounter when taking photos?

My most interesting wildlife encounter was while calling moose. It was a calm foggy morning up the Gunflint Trail. We started calling just before sunrise. After a couple of calls a wolf answered us. Each time I called it responded always just a little bit closer. Soon we found ourselves surrounded by seven wolves. One was a rare white or blond wolf. Only about 3% of the wolves in Minnesota are that white color.

When calling bull moose, I make the cow sound so that the bull will come in looking for love not to fight. To my amazement, the wolves thought I was a cow moose and they had found breakfast. Half the pack was behind us making noise to drive us to the wolves in the front. I got a glimpse of the white wolf which I thought was the dominant one in the pack. At that point I stopped calling and heard my heart pumping in my chest. When the white wolf saw me, it signaled to all the wolves and they disappeared into the forest without a sound. I never got a good photo that day but this once in a lifetime experience happened two days in a row. 

The next morning, we called about two miles south of where we were the first day and the same wolf pack showed up a second time. This time they climbed up on an old slash pile which allowed us to take photos of the entire pack. They weren’t fooled the second day as they didn’t come in close but the calling still caught their interest enough to check us out. It was an experience that I will never forget.

Who has been your inspiration throughout your life and why?

Several individuals have been my inspiration throughout my life. First was my science teacher at McGregor High School. Mr. Majerle was exceptionally knowledgeable and nice. He inspired me to pursue a career protecting outdoor spaces. A Japanese proverb I heard recently: ‘Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.’ I have to agree. 

Next was my first supervisor when I started working for DNR Parks. Bob Barry was the manager of Savanna Portage State Park and was a people person who treated everyone with respect. He passed on a lot of positive traits that helped me to be the person I am. 

David Brislance and I led a bird and wildlife photography workshop at North House for a few years. David was a bird expert. He spent countless hours in the woods. We were photo buddies making numerous treks into the woods pursuing our passion for photographing wildlife. David had great respect for the environment and the wildlife we photographed which was an inspiration to me.

I partnered with Travis Novitsky for several years teaching a workshop for the fourth graders at William Kelly Elementary School in Silver Bay. Travis is a resident of Grand Portage and the manager of Grand Portage State Park. One of the field trips was to Grand Portage where Travis and his staff taught the kids not only photography tips but also Ojibway culture. Travis is one of the most talented and humble photographers that I know. He is such an inspiration that people have visited Grand Portage State Park just to meet him. 

My wife Karla has also been an inspiration in my life. She is a very caring person and is always there for our family especially our granddaughters. This next year will be our 50th wedding anniversary.

Where is a favorite spot that you and your wife go to relax and enjoy nature?

We don’t have one favorite spot since there are so many places to enjoy nature in this area. We have always enjoyed camping in the BWCAW and the state parks along the North Shore. We have spent many hours with our granddaughters along the shore in Grand Marais. Artist Point and in front of the Grand Marais Rec Area have many spots to sit on the rocks or the beach and enjoy the sunrise or the magic of a moonrise. It is also surprising how plentiful wildlife are along the waterfront in Grand Marais.

Enjoy the photo gallery of Paul's work below.  To view more of his work or purchase photos, follow this link to his website.
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here