Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
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When I read the concluding chapter of this book, contradictory feelings and thoughts came to mind. First, that everything had changed in the twenty-five years since the park was established in 1975. And, second that nothing had changed.

Most of the controversial issues that I have dealt with or continue to deal with as superintendent, were either apparent or presaged in this recounting of the key actions that led to the establishment of Voyageurs National Park. As Myrl Brooks, the park's first superintendent, and his staff dealt with land acquisition, wilderness, hunting, and snowmobiles—my staff and I continue to deal with these issues. It would be easy to assume that nothing has changed. But that is too facile and it is also wrong.

I imagine that our attitudes towards the period of 25 years that Voyageurs National Park has existed depend on our ages, places of residence and our individual quirks and personality traits. For some of us, the best days in what is now the park are clearly behind us—nothing in the future can possibly compare to our memories and experiences of the past. For families who owned cabins and spent uncomplicated days on the lakes, their experiences of the park will always be tinged with a sense of wistfulness and regret. For others of us, each day in the park is a wonder that passes too quickly. And for still others of us, the future clearly holds the promise of best days yet to come, enjoying the spontaneity and freedom of recreating in the park. Perhaps each of us has a combination of these attitudes—depending on the day, the issue, or one's mood. And we bring those attitudes and experiences to this national park.

It is in this context that Voyageurs National Park holds a special place in our state and communities' consciousness. For some, the park's establishment was the culmination of many years of work to commemorate the history and set aside the lands and waters for all of the people of the United States. They had seen intensive recreational land development—mostly private cabins—gradually make its way north. They thought it was important to have a place where motorboats and canoes could co-exist. Some of them felt that opportunities for the kind of free and unconfined use of publicly owned lands they had known—as children and as families—would be no more than a remnant of the past unless action was taken to make what is now Voyageurs into a national park. Others felt those folks should mind their own business.

The story Fred Witzig has told here only begins to describe the reality of the park. In many ways, enacting the legislation that created the park was simply the first of many steps. Over the course of the last 25 years, there have been several titanic legal battles and some minor skirmishes of other kinds as well—all focussed on this national park and what it is and will be. But that is another story. It is one that needs to be told but one that can be best understood in the context that Fred Witzig has provided here.

What has motivated me and the other NPS employees who have been part of Voyageurs' development—its gradual change from a place of one kind to being a national park—is different for each of us. But surely influencing us all is its spectacular scenery and geology, its connections with an important aspect of North America's past, and the opportunities it offers to experience the northwoods in independent and unconfined ways. Voyageurs National Park is now a vital part of the nation's great system of national parks preserved for the people—for their enjoyment and inspiration.

The process by which it came into being was not easy and was not, somehow, inexorable or foreordained. This book makes that clear. There are any number of ways in which the park could have been derailed before it existed. And despite the efforts of others, it continues to be a national park—something that was in doubt as recently as five years ago. What this story finally demonstrates is that struggle is a part of our national character and the process of struggle changes us and creates our national heritage, changes us and invigorates our national heritage.

Barbara West, Superintendent

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009