USFS Roving Crew Part 2: Making the Most of Minnesota

Hanging out in Bemidji, MN (Left to right: Zircon, Rock, Moss and Mud)
 
I have fifteen mosquito bites on my face, twelve on my neck, and some weird red marks on my collarbone. Over the course of three weeks, I’ve written over a dozen incident reports: nine embedded ticks, a burned hand and multiple minor vehicle mishaps. Moss, through some great fortune, has managed to get nearly half of the ticks herself. We debate the probability of us all contracting Lyme Disease. 
 
But let’s go back to the beginning of our journey in Minnesota…
 
  
Moss and Mud hiking Carl’s Lake at Camp Rabideau. 
 
Driving up north, we passed through Northern Missouri and Iowa on our way up to Chippewa National Forest and Camp Rabideau, a former CCC camp where we would be staying for the next three weeks. The Civilian Conservation Corps, for those who don’t know, was established by FDR in 1933 as part of the New Deal in order to create jobs for young, unmarried men during the Great Depression. While it only ran for nine years (the program having been shut down due to World War II), the CCC was responsible for countless conservation projects throughout the country from national forests like Chippewa to major national parks like Shenandoah. Photographs of our beloved boys in green show them as eternally shirtless, wielding Pulaskis or sledgehammers and purposefully staring out into the distance like some kind of Greek gods. I’m a big fan of these. 
 
  
CCC men just doing some casual work.
 
Camp Rabideau itself, arguably the best preserved CCC camp in the nation, was established in 1935 and housed many of those fine-looking CCC lads until it was abandoned during the war. For some years, the camp lay empty, until in 1946 the University of Illinois took over the site, using the buildings as a part of their forestry school into the early 1970s. 
 
  
Camp Rabideau, Blackduck, MN
 
Now, the camp holds weekly tours given by site host and artist, Wanda Yoemans, where visitors can get a look inside the site’s renovated buildings and hear what life was like at the camp. A hot spot for amateur ghost hunters, Camp Rabideau is believed by some to be haunted by many a young CCC fella. Though Wanda, herself, claims not to believe in spirits, she has wondered from time to time if the camp was still occupied. 
 
We frequently take night walks around camp, holding onto citronella candles and waiting for something spooky to happen. Nothing ever does, but still I’d like to think there is a CCC man or two hanging ‘round these parts, shirtless even in the afterlife. (Note: There is absolutely no evidence of any deaths ever occurring at Camp Rabideau) 
 
  
Tour at Camp Rabideau (Left to right: Rock, Moss, Mud and Wanda)
 
After work Zircon, Moss and I often head over to Benjamin Lake to go swimming and hang out on the dock soaking up the summer sun. While floating around in the murky water, Wanda’s voice comes back to us, “Leeches! Snapping turtles! Swimmer’s itch!” We scan our arms and legs in an obsessively paranoid manner every time we accidentally touch a bit of kelp or a reed. At night I dream of a fifty-pound leech that’s attached itself to my back. 
 
 
Benjamin Lake, just a short walk from Camp Rabideau
 
During our first week working in Chippewa, our program partner, Ken, introduced us to many of the fine folks working out of the Blackduck District, helped train us to take photographs of campsites for Recreation.gov, and planned out all of the sites we would visit for the next three weeks.
 
Our first sites were out in the Blackduck and Cass Lake areas, not far from Camp Rabideau. Minnesota, the “land of 10,000 lakes”, in reality has close to 11,482 according to the Department of Natural Resources. Because of this, nearly all of the sites we survey are lakefront. We drive from campground to campground shaking wobbly signposts and rotted out picnic tables along these beautiful crystal clear waters. At lunch times, we sit out on docks swarming with mosquitos and watch the locals out fishing and canoeing. The sites are lined with red, white and jack pines, spruce and aspens. The red pines are my personal favorite: tall, sturdy-looking fellas that loom overhead and somehow manage to convey a real air of pride. 
 
We surveyed the Lost 40 Trailhead, on the northern end of Chippewa National Forest, which is home to both old growth red and white pines. An error made by a survey crew in 1882 led this area to be accidentally protected from the wrath of Minnesota’s logging industry and today it remains a favorite trail for hikers. 
 
  
Reading a sign on the Lost 40 trail (Left). Moss and Mud surveying a dock (right).
 
At the end of the first week in Chippewa, our second vehicle incident occurred. As stated on my incident report, it was Friday at  3:44 pm CT, a warm, cloudless day. The afternoon was looking up, we’d just finished with work and had headed over to Blackduck to fill up on gas before the weekend. We planned to head out on separate trips, some of us going to Badlands National Park in South Dakota and some heading up north near Voyageurs National Park. I filled up Ed, while Moss filled up our second vehicle, Ken, a gray Nissan Titan which we had picked up in St. Louis on our way out to Minnesota. That’s when it all went wrong. While making fun of a diesel advertisement, I noticed the green pump stuck into the side of Ken and my heart sank. Ken wasn’t a diesel truck. We called roadside assistance and Ken went off to the big farm in the sky, or more literally, the Enterprise at Bemidji Regional Airport where we would never see him again. 
 
  
Moss and Mud looking out at Cass Lake (Left). Pines at one of our survey sites (Right).
 
We spent that evening out in Bemidji, the closest big town, and in the morning we all headed out to Voyageurs National Park. A popular place to check out the northern lights in the wintertime, Voyageurs is just south of the Canadian border and home to some gorgeous lakes and rivers as well as southern boreal forests. Moss, Mud and I backpacked on the Kab-Ash Trail within Voyageurs while Rock and Zircon camped in the state forest just outside the park and next to the beautiful Ash River. In the morning, we met up with Rock and Zircon and we all canoed on the Ash River to a waterfall four miles downstream. We spotted a bald eagle up in the trees and painted turtles sunning themselves on the logs at the river’s edge.
 
  
Moss canoeing on Ash River (Left). The waterfall we canoed to on Ash River (Right).
 
The second week of condition surveys went by in a blur. A good portion of our days were spent alternating between driving and checking ourselves anxiously for ticks after spotting ones crawling around the truck. We surveyed a number of tucked away lakes, down overgrown and bumpy roads, passing through seemingly endless corridors of green. We camped out at North Star Campground for two of the nights, an idyllic little spot with staircases down to the lake and benches overlooking the water. The second night, Moss and I went out for a dip before dinner and watched some fellow campers kayak around the lake as the sun started to set. 
 
 
Zircon looking out at a pond near one of our sites (Left). The Laurentian Divide (Right).
 
On the final day of our second week, we surveyed a spot along the Laurentian Divide. Also known as the Northern Divide, it’s a continental divide that separates the Hudson Bay watershed from the Gulf of Mexico watershed. Though the divide stretches all the way from Northeastern Montana to the tip of the Labrador Peninsula, none of us had ever heard of it. We finished up our day of condition surveys, stopping at a few more boating sites and campgrounds along the way and then headed east toward Duluth, MN and the Apostle Islands in Northwestern Wisconsin for another weekend of exploring. 
 
  
More photos taken during the Camp Rabideau tour.

Visit the Roving Resource Crew Series page for more entries.