July 4th is a day to celebrate American history, and on this July 4th, the Gunflint Trail will celebrate its own history, with the grand opening of Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center.
Chik-Wauk Lodge, at the end of the Gunflint Trail, is a beautiful stone structure, built in early 1930’s. A popular vacation destination for decades, Chik-Wauk was eventually sold to the federal government in the late 1970’s, a casualty of the 1978 Boundary Waters Wilderness legislation. The building was used as a private cabin until the late 1990’s, and in 2005, the fledgling Gunflint Trail Historical Society began what would be a five-year effort to turn Chik-Wauk into a museum celebrating the history and the peoples of the Gunflint Trail. They succeeded, and on July 4th, Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center will open to the public.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for people up this way.”
That’s Fred Smith, a Gunflint Trail resident and incoming president of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society.
“It’s been a marvelous experience to see this transformation. You know, it was pretty shabby when we came in here five years ago. It’s just been a fantastic community effort. You just cant’ believe the number of people who stepped to the front and volunteered some elbow grease when we needed it and obviously some financial resources, and I’m thrilled to see it done. And it now gives us a destination at the end of the trail, other than canoeing and fishing you know, there’s really a reason to come up here now. So, we’re hoping that it entices people to come up and see the story we’re telling about the people.”
Trail residents John and Julie Henricksson were part of the effort to create Chik-Wauk museum, and they got a preview earlier this week.
“It’s kind of overwhelming I think, really. They’ve done such a wonderful job,” said John Henricksson.
“And to think that most of this is done by volunteers is fantastic," added Julie Henrocksson. "And after five years of working on this, the culmination is wonderful. It’s marvelous. Wonderful building. Beautiful stone building. It’s something that everybody should come up for. A lot of people who live in Grand Marais don’t get up this far, and hopefully this will draw them up."
The exhibits in the 2,000 square foot building are state-of-the-art and kid-friendly.
“We wanted lots of “please touch” things, so it wasn’t the museum that you had to hold your breath in. So that’s what we did.”
Ada Igoe is the site manager at Chik-Wauk.
“People always want to go up the Gunflint Trail because they’ve heard of it, and they’ve heard all the stories, but they never know quite what they’re supposed to do once they’re on the Gunflint Trail. And I think lots of them take the hour and ten minutes it takes to drive up, turn around at Trail’s End Campground and go, ‘huh!, well, saw that! ' And now, I think, we have a destination, at the end of the Gunflint Trail, there’s a place where people can gather, where they can bring their families if they’re visiting. I just think it’s a huge asset to have a public building where people can not only learn about the area, but be part of the area for a little while.”
The exhibits at Chik-Wauk focus on the people of the Gunflint Trail, from Native Americans to the pioneer families. Bruce Kerfoot, owner of Gunflint Lodge, is himself the son of Gunflint Trail pioneers, and he was instrumental in raising the nearly $1 million dollars it took to build the museum.
“We’re all getting excited,” said Kerfoot, “even those of us that have worked on it for the five years from its inception, are finding ourselves a bit overwhelmed, because it came together better than we expected. So much was gathered that was nearly lost, of generations of people that have now moved away, but still had diaries and boxes of books and pictures in their attics, left from their grandparents’ days, or something of that nature. And those things, you know, those things start to disappear on you. We found stuff that we never even imagined existed any longer, that filled in gaps for those of us that still live here.”
Excitement is building for the 4th of July grand opening. Site manager Ada Igoe:
“On the 4th, our gates will open at 11:00 a.m., so people, we’re hoping that they will come and bring a picnic lunch and sit on our picnic benches and have a chance to hike around our nature trails. At noon, we’ll kind of start up the festivities. We’ll have an accordion player who will be playing for an hour, and then at 1:00 we’ll kind of do our main presentation. So, recognizing all the people who have helped with the project. Jim Sanders, who is the supervisor of the Superior National Forest will be our keynote speaker. And then we’ll do a ribbon cutting and invite everyone to see the museum.”
For more information about Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, and the schedule of events for July 4th’s grand opening, visit the Gunflint Trail Historical Society website or call 388-9915.