Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
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Bill signing ceremonies are always pleasant events in the life of a politician—at least for those on the winning side. Politicians gather around the political leader and listen while he/she congratulates those who led the effort to see the legislation successfully through the political process. In the legislative history of Voyageurs National Park the date was June 4, 1971, the political leader was Governor Wendell Anderson and the bill to be signed was authorization for the state to donate and transfer lands within the boundaries of the park to the federal government. Many of the state's newspapers carried a picture of the governor seated at a table with three of his predecessors, all of them instrumental in moving the Voyageurs project forward during their administrations: Elmer L. Andersen and Harold Levander, Republicans; and Karl Rolvagg, a Democrat. Behind the governors and next to a banner which read, "Historic Voyageurs National Park, America's 36th—A Great Opportunity for Minnesota," stood 8th District Congressman John Blatnik, a Democrat. [503] In his remarks, the governor said, "This park is set in one of the most ruggedly beautiful regions of North America. It is the only national park in the nation situated in the forest and lake country in our northern border region." [504] He also had special praise for Governor Anderson and Congressman Blatnik for their untiring efforts on behalf of Voyageurs.

The scene around the governor's table dramatically illustrated the importance of bipartisanship in the quest for approval of a project, which had as its central objective the preservation of a natural resource. But such bipartisan cooperation was not unusual during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly on environmental issues in the state legislatures and the Congress during that period. It was an explicit response to public awareness and concern over the health of the nation's environment and the management and preservation of its natural resources. It was a movement without precedent in American history. With the encouragement and new directives during the Kennedy-Johnson years, the NPS saw major change and expansion. Most of the changes and additions to the system came during what NPS historian Barry Mackintosh called the Hartzog years—1964-1972. [505] George Hartzog, Associate Director of the NPS, succeeded retiring Conrad Wirth as director in 1964. Wirth, who was familiar with Minnesota's geography and history from his boyhood years as the son of the superintendent of Minneapolis parks, helped initiate the Voyageurs project during his final two years as director. George Hartzog, no stranger to the NPS, said in his memoirs that the operation of the NPS is not nearly as smooth as the organizational chart. When he took the director's job, a friend told him his new assignment could be likened to that of a university president. "They each have a job that requires the skill to herd wild hogs on ice." [506]

Director Hartzog's recommendations for changes in the management policies of the NPS were reflected in Interior Secretary Udall's policy memorandum in July 1964. This document established three categories of NPS units including natural, historical and recreational. Under this tripartite scheme, sixty-nine new units were added to the NPS between 1964 and 1972, "nearly three quarters as many as had been permanently added in the preceding thirty years." [507]

It was during this period of environmental activism that the concept of a Voyageurs National Park, like so many other federal park facilities, was born and eventually realized. [508] New national parks and recreation areas received broad support from the general population with the exception of those people residing in communities and rural areas peripheral to the new units. This was certainly true for people residing near Voyageurs who weren't happy to be caught up in this wave of environmentalism, new jargon, new parks and especially if it was a federal park. Many had serious concerns about possible impacts the new park would have on existing socio-economic conditions, land use patterns and recreational activity. For new units like Voyageurs, it fell to the first park official assigned to explain and interpret the management philosophy of the NPS and allay fears of unreasonable intrusion on existing recreational customs. At Voyageurs, this task became the responsibility of the "project manager," a title used instead of superintendent until the park was formally established.

Anticipating the approval of land donation legislation, the NPS began to look around for someone to serve as project manager at Voyageurs. Sometimes the first person at a new unit was one schooled in land acquisition but with little experience in park management. However for Voyageurs, they selected a person with managerial experience who could deal with the public, ". . . in the types of problems that come up in relation to the actual management of the park. . ." [509] For the Voyageurs assignment, that person was Myrl Brooks. Brooks was a veteran NPS employee who had the credentials, personality and a thorough understanding of the NPS management philosophy. Eight days after Governor Wendell Anderson signed the donation law, Congressman John Blatnik announced the appointment of Brooks as project manager. In his statement Blatnik said, "This appointment right on the heels of the state bill becoming law is a definitive indication that the federal government is moving ahead vigorously on the park." [510]

Brooks, born in Roanoke, Virginia, had the manner of a soft-spoken southerner. He was thoroughly familiar with NPS policy and politics and with more than twenty years experience in the field and in the Washington office, he knew his way around the institution. In an interview in his Washington office before leaving for Minnesota, Brooks said, "Our endeavor there will be to be a good neighbor." [511] Upon his arrival in St. Paul, he spent several days making contacts and getting acquainted with key people familiar with the park and the efforts to secure its authorization. Most helpful was "Judge" U.W. Hella, Director of Minnesota State Parks and an early supporter of the park. Recalling these first days in a 1978 interview with the park historian, Brooks said he met one person in the capitol area he didn't forget—Lt. Governor Rudy Perpich. Brooks said, ". . .he was very cordial but informed me that he had been opposed to the park and continues to be opposed to it and really didn't plan to change his mind..." Looking back at that meeting, Brooks said, "He certainly lived up to all expectations in that regard." [512]

Brooks delighted in telling of his arrival at the International Falls airport on his first visit to the park in mid-June, 1971. From the plane window, he could see a group of people, including television cameras and press personnel, standing on the tarmac. As he got off the plane, he wondered who the VIP was that was on the same flight with him. He walked around the knot of people and into the terminal to rent a car, when he heard himself being paged. The waiting group had relied on George Esslinger to recognize Brooks. Esslinger assured them that he knew the new superintendent because he had worked for him when the NPS did its initial study of the area several years before. The man Esslinger recalled was Chester Brooks, who Esslinger thought was to be the park's superintendent. Brooks said they were all amused and although Esslinger was embarrassed, it turned out to be a very nice friendly welcome to the community. [513]

Brooks soon became a very familiar figure on the streets of International Falls. He very quickly learned to check the International Falls Daily Journal to find out how well he was doing at his new job. He was no doubt happy to read a timely editorial written by Erik Kendall of the Midland Cooperative (Wisconsin) and reprinted by the Daily Journal on June 16, 1971. In this piece, Kendall recalled the oratorical overkill employed by both sides in the debate over the park and concluded by saying, " is time for proponents and opponents of the national park to shake hands in friendship, turn the grimaces into smiles, and to pull together." [514]

There was certainly nothing ostentatious about the project manager's first office. During the first six weeks, it was a room in a motel and the back of a station wagon. His next office was a small, modest space across the Rainy River from the sometimes-odorous Boise Cascade paper mill in Ft. Frances. He remained in the downtown area until a pre-fabricated structure was erected in 1975 on U.S. Highway 53 on the south edge of International Falls.

For Voyageurs and the NPS, there was both good news and bad for the balance of 1971. The presence of the NPS would soon be felt in Duluth with the announcement that a land acquisition office would be opening soon to function as headquarters for processing the paper involved in the purchase of private lands in five new park units in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. (Purchases could not be made for Voyageurs until all state lands within the park boundaries were donated to the Federal Government). [515] In September, the Internal Revenue Service gave approval for tax exempt status for the interest on bonds sold by the state to reimburse the education trust fund for the land to be donated to the park. [516]

In St. Paul, the state was beginning to do the legal work to prepare state lands for donation to the federal government. For VNPA members, one of the most enjoyable events of the year was a recognition ceremony held in August during their annual meeting. The meeting was held at the historic Kettle Falls Hotel located on the east end of the Kabetogama Peninsula. The president of the association, Elmer L. Andersen, recognized people who had worked for almost ten years at the state and national levels to gain national park recognition for the beautiful and historic area. Those present for his untiring efforts, in turn recognized Andersen as the leader of this movement. He was finishing his term as the president of the association at this meeting and was succeeded by Martin Kellogg. Before stepping down, Governor Andersen sent a letter and certificate of appreciation to friends of Voyageurs who had worked for its establishment. In his letter, Andersen warned that opponents might mount efforts to stall development of the park and try to block its establishment. He made an appeal for membership renewal so that the association would be able to ward off such attempts. [517]

Within days of the VNPA meeting and the Andersen letter warning of possible obstructionist moves to thwart establishment, a suit was filed in the U.S. District Court challenging the disposition and value of school trust fund lands located in the park. [518] In effect, the suit asked the court to rule that the legislature's action authorizing donation and transfer of school lands to the NPS be invalidated. A ruling accepting the plaintiffs position could have stopped the donation process in its tracks. Park supporters hoped for a speedy court decision and it came on November 15, 1971 when Judge Edward Devitt ruled against the plaintiff. [519] However, as some expected, the decision was appealed by the plaintiff, a landowner in the park area, and the case went to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court denied the appeal in early June 1972, ruling that the case did not belong in the federal courts. [520] For over ten months, a cloud hung over the state's efforts to complete the required donation process and transfer the lands to the federal government. The challenge was not only costly to the state in time and money, but it confirmed Governor Andersen's warning that blocking efforts would be made against the park. Some believed the legal action against the state, though costly to the plaintiff, was best classified as harassment of the park and its supporters.

Although Brooks could watch this court challenge from the sidelines there were other matters that would draw his attention and involvement. One of these was a planning program for the area peripheral to the park. Park planning naturally focuses on the spaces within the boundaries of the park unit. Planning in areas on the periphery is the responsibility of local and state governments. But bad planning and zoning is all too obvious to the visitor approaching some parks. State and local officials were determined not to let this happen around Voyageurs. Within two months after the passage of the land transfer legislation, the MRC held a conference on perimeter planning and toured the area around the park and International Falls.

The MRC was established by the legislature to help make decisions relative to the state's natural resources. During the conference, MRC Chairman Thomas Newcome, said, "He hoped local governments would be able to control development near recreation sites but if they don't I'm sure the state will feel it's important enough to usurp home rule." [521] Anticipating the need for better planning and zoning, the two counties, Koochiching and St. Louis, had already worked out a bi-county agreement to develop compatible zoning ordinances. The chairperson of the Koochiching County Planning Commission said that, "Our main aim is to protect our people from the bad development." [522] It soon became clear that the goal of developing new zoning and planning ordinances was beyond the reach of Koochiching County because of the limitations of funding and staff, and the research required. Further, because a number of state, county and local agencies would have to be involved, the governor believed it would be necessary to coordinate the efforts of the several agencies to accomplish the goals of good planning in the perimeter area. He therefore called on the state planning director to form a management committee, which would serve as a contact point for a joint effort by the three levels of government. [523] From the work of this committee, a four-year planning effort commenced, which resulted in a plan for the perimeter of Voyageurs. This plan was transmitted to the State Planning Agency in November 1975. [524] In his transmittal letter, the executive director of the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, which did much of the plan, said it was the first time that state, local and county units of government had coordinated their planning efforts before a national park was opened. [525]

During one of his meetings with the Koochiching County Board, Brooks said that he had plenty of work to do with the planning of the park, but he had made time to review the perimeter plan and make comments to planners. He said he was critical of the NPS for frequently designating a national park without giving much thought to its impact on the periphery. "The Service should recognize that a park cannot exist in a vacuum detached, independent and unaware of what's going on around it." [526]

As the calendar year 1971 drew to a close, two events occurred which affected Voyageurs. The NPS, in a move better understood by those familiar the NPS administrative maneuvering, transferred Voyageurs from the Midwest Regional Office to the Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia. This arrangement only lasted for twenty-six months before Voyageurs was back under the wing of the Omaha office. [527] Brooks didn't think the moves affected the park very much, however at the regional level it occasionally proved awkward. For example, during early discussions regarding a request to move the boundary at Black Bay on Rainy Lake, Midwest Regional Office Director Merrill Beal had to delay responding to the Commissioner of the Minnesota DNR regarding boundaries until he could retrieve necessary maps from the Northeast Region. [528] But it was the second event that took Brooks by surprise.

Brooks attended a meeting initiated by members of the Koochiching County Sportsmen's Club, DNR Area Game Manager Jim Schneeweis and State Representative Irv Anderson. The meeting was held in December 1971 to discuss, "...the possibility of moving the proposed park boundary to retain waterfowl hunting in the Gold Portage area." [529] Schneeweis noted in a memorandum written in February of 1972 that the Gold Portage area of Black Bay had traditionally been the best place for International Falls duck hunters. He concluded by stating, ". . .I believe the Department of Natural Resources should take immediate action at the highest level to have the proposed Voyageurs National Park boundary moved west so that the state can retain control of hunting rights in the Gold Portage area." [530] The Schneeweis memorandum was followed by a letter sent to DNR Commissioner Herbst from the Sportsmen's Association president and five days later a memorandum from an area employee of the DNR, Milt Stenlund to a DNR game supervisor. In his letter, Stenlund said, "It is unfortunate that absolutely no consideration was given to the hunters during proceedings establishing the park." [531] Earlier it was stressed that during the very first congressional sub-committee hearing at International Falls on August 21, 1969, Congressman Taylor was very specific when he said that public hunting would not be permitted in a national park. No one testified at that time to call attention to what in 1971, just two years later, was declared a special duck hunting area. No representative from the DNR appeared to testify at this hearing, nor did the agency file a statement with the subcommittee relating to any natural resource issue.

Commissioner Herbst, apprised of the Black Bay situation by personnel from the International Falls area, sent a letter to Director Hartzog recommending a boundary adjustment to remove the affected area from the park. He received a response to his letter from Associate Director Stanley Hulett stating that the suggested change, ". . . is, we believe, not minor and is not the type for which Congress delegated authority, therefore, only Congress can bring about the change you suggest." [532] Hulett's response was taken by Schneeweis as a no and that there was little hope of working directly with the NPS on the matter. "It is apparent that our best course of action would be to go directly to our congressional delegates through the Commissioner." [533] From this point in the spring of 1972 forward, for more than ten years, the Black Bay issue was a major concern for staff at Voyageurs and the Midwest Regional Office. The public became aware of the dispute during the fall 1975 hunting season, when duck hunters challenged NPS authority on Rainy Lake's Black Bay.

Schneeweis was correct in his assessment of the situation and also the remedy. Before long, state representatives from the area, especially Irvin Anderson from International Falls, Congressman Jim Oberstar (after Blatnik's retirement), Senator Durenberger, Governor Wendell Anderson and Commissioner Herbst, carried the appeal to the highest levels of the NPS and the Department of the Interior, urging changes in the boundary of the park to exclude the Black Bay waterfowl area and place it under the management of the DNR. At the park, Brooks and two of his successors, along with the small staff of rangers, had to confront firsthand the challenge to federal jurisdiction at Voyageurs. Sometimes it was simply a matter of explaining park policy and their task in carrying out the mandates of the authorizing legislation. On several occasions it was issuing citations.

When Brooks told the reporter before leaving Washington that his first endeavor would be to establish a good neighbor relationship with the people in International Falls, he meant it. Of course, good neighbors talk to each other and Brooks began the dialog with a presentation in January 1972, at a forum sponsored by the Rainy Lake Women's Club. He used slides from other national parks to familiarize his audience with NPS policy in place at these parks. For example, he told them limited development within the park would be a goal for Voyageurs. Only two percent of the land area would be developed and private enterprise would be encouraged to provide overnight accommodations outside the park. He said no overuse of park facilities would be permitted and he emphasized that there would be seasonal management and safeguards of the forest, wildlife and natural features to protect park values. [534] Brooks' presentation was followed by four other programs related to park issues including wilderness, commercial development, perimeter planning and zoning, and state highway department plans for roads to the park.

A few months later, Brooks made a similar presentation to the Izaak Walton League chapter in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. During his talk he said, "We are determined that Voyageurs Park will become a living symbol of a nation that treasures its natural heritage and conserves its natural resources." [535] This was the NPS mission for all of its units and it was also Brooks' mission. He could have expressed as much in the first person—"I am determined that VNP..." He was personally committed to seeing that management policies would allow Voyageurs to reach the goal of full restoration of its 18th century natural state. Brooks believed these policies should be implemented in its early years as a national park. Even his adversaries in the International Falls area soon realized that they were dealing with an individual who understood the Congressional mandate for Voyageurs, and while they may have had their disagreements, tried to administer the required procedures and plans firmly and fairly.

On June 25, 1972, almost one year to the day of his arrival at Voyageurs, a three-person park evaluation team from the Northeast Regional Office greeted Brooks. In their final report, they acknowledged that there were some who opposed the park, especially summer homeowners whose property was within the park, but that aside, they wrote that Brooks, ". . .has established an excellent rapport with the local people. Myrl is a first class 'missionary' for the park and the Service so that public attitudes toward Voyageurs is the envy of many newly established areas." [536] Perhaps had the team returned two years later, its final assessment would have been less effusive.

The evaluation report, divided into operational categories, stated under organization that, "the organization at Voyageurs is a 'one man band' which is the Project Manager, with the able assistance of a Secretary." [537] The office secretary was convalescing following surgery when the team visited the park. She died several weeks later and Brooks found himself manager of a national park with no clerical assistance and no land to manage. But he still carried the awesome responsibility of explaining to a large number of local skeptics what national parks were all about and what to expect at Voyageurs when it was finally established, on a date he couldn't give because it hadn't been set. It was a very demanding assignment, even for a veteran ranger and administrator like Brooks.

Under the heading "legislation," the evaluation report stated that the authorizing law, ". . .is a landmark piece of legislation which prevents the Secretary [of the Department of the Interior] from establishing the Park and acquiring private lands until the lands owned by the state of Minnesota and its political subdivisions have been donated to the federal government." [538] Although long delays between authorization and establishment happened at other parks, the postponement at Voyageurs was particularly difficult. The four-year lag time led to a quarrelsome session in the state legislature, delayed land acquisition and development of visitor facilities, and increased confusion and mistrust among local residents. Visitors who traveled many miles to see the park became angry when they discovered there were no directional signs to the park, no visitor center or other facilities common to a national park, and few people who could give them a proper explanation for the situation.

Who was to blame for the conditional clause in the authorizing legislation? The answer can be found in the record of the house subcommittee hearings on the park in the summer of 1970. Serious doubts had arisen among committee members over the ability of the state administration to deliver on the required donation of state land to the federal government. Chairman Aspinall of the House Interior Committee, therefore insisted the restrictive clause be added to the bill. Congressman Aspinall's grip over the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, which he had used to very nearly kill the Voyageurs legislation, ended with his defeat in a primary election in the fall of 1972 in his home district in Colorado. He was the target of several environmental groups who were upset with inaction on legislation by powerful House committee chairmen. A New York Times editorial saw Aspinall's defeat as an indication that voters, ". . .do not share its built-in reverence for senority. . ." [539]

There was some good news regarding land acquisition for Voyageurs. In the fall of 1972 during his governor's "Tour of the Park," Governor Anderson presented a deed for more than 5000 acres of state land within the park to the NPS Deputy Director Ray Freeman. [540] The NPS also announced that contracts were awarded for mapping the area, an abstract company was engaged to do legal work to prepare lands for transfer to the NPS and appraisal of Boise Cascade lands had begun.

The park was also able to announce the addition of a Chief Ranger, Bob Walker, in November 1972 and in February 1973, Joe Cayou came as District Ranger. With two experienced rangers on his staff, Brooks no longer had to shoulder the administrative duties by himself. He could devote more time for contact with the public. For example, in January of 1973, he released a statement of management objectives for the park and informed the public that work on the park's Master Plan was underway. [541] Both are standard documents for new units of the NPS created to convey the philosophy and mission of the NPS and engage the public in planning for park operations. At Voyageurs, it was hoped that such documents would be especially useful in northeastern Minnesota where the population was less familiar with the NPS than in other parts of the Midwest. Many would say a summer vacation traveling many miles to a national park couldn't be compared to weekends and a two or three week stay at a summer cabin on an area lake. For some it was amazing that people would travel hundreds of miles to visit Rainy or Kabetogama lakes just because they were now within a national park. But it was no mystery to the inveterate national park visitors around the country and the world. They came because of the beauty of the parks but also because of the interpretive services, the emphasis on historical and scientific research that supported programs and the professional staff in attendance. It is a standard of excellence the visitor has come to appreciate and expect at a national park—and Voyageurs was to be a participating unit in that system.

A few days after Brooks attended a special meeting of the VNPA in Minneapolis, a story appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune describing what had quickly become a routine activity at the park since the project manager arrived—picking up trash. The article, written by outdoor editor Jim Blubaugh, records a boating journey through the park with Brooks. Blubaugh wrote, ". . .one of our biggest surprises while touring Voyageurs was the amount of trash piled on many of the islands. There was a nice sand beach, seemingly a great place to camp or swim or whatever. But only a few feet back of the sand was garbage—a pile of unbelievable proportions—similar to a small landfill. Only this spot isn't supposed to be a landfill." [542] Brooks said that in 1972, the park hauled out 800 large bags of trash and there were more than 100 other sites to clean up. He said it was a "monumental task," a monument of an era that man could never afford again. [543] Most of the dumps were created by summer residents and resort and houseboat operations, in the days when there was less concern about environmental standards. Brooks believed that with stricter standards being implemented now so much accumulation should not occur again. [544] The presence of unsightly dumps belies the claim frequently made by residents at public hearings that they had taken good care of the park area but now feared pollution on a grand scale if it became a national park.

Not long after Voyageurs was authorized by Congress, the Conservation Foundation, on the 100th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park, published an important volume on the future of national parks in America. One of the book's recommendations was that, "...the National Park system be used as a showcase of man's proper stewardship of land, water and air." [545] Mindful of this charge to the NPS, Brooks told his guest from the newspaper that although Voyageurs didn't have a distinctive feature like Old Faithful, "This is a composite of land, water and blue skies...a combination of these things for now and the future." [546] By implication, Brooks saw this as equal to or even more significant than some of the other parks in the system. He saw Voyageurs as a challenge to the NPS to help restore the area to the full natural glory of the fur trade era. He believed early implementation of NPS standards to be the key to meeting that challenge. "We have the same old problem of providing uses with conflicts. We can't make everybody happy. We have to look at what is reasonable and fair and fulfill responsibilities Congress has given us to preserve the area." [547]

In mid-August 1974, the directors of the VNPA held a special meeting at the Normandy Inn in downtown Minneapolis to hear from federal and state officials on the status of land acquisition, perimeter planning and master plan preparations for the park. President Lloyd Brandt announced that condemnation of state trust fund lands had been completed and, "it is now possible to complete the transfer to the NPS, representing a major milestone towards establishment of park operations." [548] Once the state lands were transferred to the NPS and added to other lands acquired from the Forest Service and earlier private donations, the Secretary of the Interior could seriously consider formal establishment of Voyageurs. Myrl Brooks told the author in an interview in 1990 that he, along with Midwest Regional Director Merrill Beal and staff people from the NPS legal department in Washington, advised the Secretary as to when a sufficient amount of land and water had been donated to warrant full establishment in accordance with the authorizing legislation. [549] The actual transfer of 32,000 acres of state and local land took place during a ceremony at the State Capitol on December 12, 1974, when Governor Wendell Anderson presented deeds to NPS Deputy Director Russell Dickenson. [550]

The August meeting of the VNPA also included discussion of the proposed Master Plan, which Brooks said would be ready for public hearing in early 1975. Maurice Chandler from the State Planning Agency announced that his agency had a contract with the Arrowhead Regional Planning Commission in Duluth to complete the perimeter planning in 1975. Before adjournment, Brooks was asked about the proposal to delete the duck hunting area in Black Bay. His response was brief. He simply said that a deletion of the size proposed would require congressional action.

Actually the Black Bay issue was very much alive at the time of this meeting and Brooks certainly had more information on the subject, but chose not to go in to detail at that time. There were very few stories on the subject in the press, but there was a lot of activity through exchanges of memos and letters within the DNR and between some DNR personnel and elected officials in Minnesota and Washington. The decision by International Falls area DNR staff and local sportsmen in the spring of 1972, to press their case for a boundary change by pressuring elected officials and key staff people in the DNR and NPS worked well, perhaps beyond their expectations. A key figure in this campaign was DNR Commissioner Robert Herbst, who, as cited earlier had recommended deletion to Director Hartzog. [551] The response from Washington was the same as always—it would take congressional action to make the change.

By October, Congressman Blatnik had had enough and in a letter to Director Hartzog, he made two suggestions. One, that the NPS get a legal opinion from the solicitor as to whether Voyageurs legislation permitted deletion of acreage from the park by executive action by the Secretary of the Interior or by Congressional action and secondly; the NPS should conduct a study of the Gold Portage area of Black Bay to determine its value as a waterfowl breeding ground and hunting area. [552] The NPS agreed to this and as Blatnik had hoped, the issue cooled down and didn't surface again until the spring of 1974.

The hunting study was carried out in the fall of 1973 in a cooperative spirit between the NPS and the DNR. Then in the spring of 1974, an article appeared in the International Falls newspaper saying that the DNR and its local game manager backed a change in the park boundary to accommodate local duck hunters. [553] The same article urged local sportsmen to get strongly behind the effort to remove Gold Portage from the park. Now, for the first time, the issue was out in the open and the Blatnik-inspired "quiet time" had expired. But because Blatnik had announced his intention to retire, his successor and former administrative assistant Jim Oberstar would handle the next rounds in the Black Bay fight. Not long after the Daily Journal article about the DNR's support for the boundary change, the Hibbing newspaper carried the news that the MRC had also agreed to support the proposed change. This was the same commission whose chairman, Thomas Newcome, had testified in support of the park during the congressional hearings in the summer of 1970. The difference in 1974 was the presence of International Falls Representative Irv Anderson on the commission. [554]

The next episode in the "saga" of Black Bay took place in the fall when two park rangers confronted hunters on the first day of duck season. Later Brooks said the solicitor's office had informed him the day before the season opened, that the land adjacent to the bay had been donated to the government and therefore park laws prevailed and he was required to enforce no hunting regulations. Chief Ranger Bob Walker said, "Our purpose is not to write citations, but to work with and help hunters understand Park Service regulations." [555] The ranger's policy and hunter cooperation kept the scene peaceful. Earlier in July, during a telephone conversation with the Midwest Regional Director and an NPS official in the Washington office, Brooks said, in reference to the Black Bay issue, that while there was a good deal of smoke, there really was not much fire, and that the NPS should keep its cool and ride it out. He said the park had not received a single letter on the matter. [556] By the 1975 fall hunting season, Brooks would have a very different view.

At long last Brooks could announce that the long-awaited Master Plan to revise the 1968 plan would be ready for public hearing in June. However, the people in International Falls were given a preview of its principal contents at a public meeting in February. Brooks said everything should be considered tentative until the public hearing process had run its course. But he could tell them that the main visitor center would be located on Black Bay rather than Sullivan Bay and that the plan proposed deletion of the Gold Shores development. The 1968 plan had showed facility development on a peninsula jutting into Rainy Lake about a half mile north of Highway 11 and one and a half miles northwest of the proposed main visitor center site on Black Bay. The area, known locally as Gold Shores, was proposed as the site of a large campground, marina and visitor center. In the proposed revision, the NPS decided to delete this area for several reasons, including the cost of acquiring a number of private homes and properties and the decision to develop wilderness campsites on islands and shoreline within the main body of the park rather than near entrances to the park. The NPS hoped the private sector would provide camping facilities at these sites.

Other matters, such as NPS tenancy options for continued occupancy of property scheduled for inclusion in the park were also outlined. [557] This was another of the many public sessions that Brooks held during his tenure at Voyageurs. In the author's opinion, he was at his best at such public meetings. Unfortunately, he frequently had to tell his audiences things that some didn't want to hear. He knew he was often being judged as the bearer of bad news, i.e. informing people of policy matters that he had little to do with. He must have thought that in a medieval setting, he might have been executed. But as the time went on, even his bitterest enemies came to respect him for his forthrightness and courage even in the midst of hostile audiences.

Now that the state's land had been duly transferred to the federal government and the Secretary of the Interior had been advised by his committee of Brooks, the Midwest Regional Director and members of his legal staff, that the state had met the conditions of the authorizing act, he could issue the order formally establishing Voyageurs National Park. In a manner about as low key as imaginable, the Secretary's order was published, as required, in the Federal Register on April 8, 1975 and the official announcement made by Congressman Oberstar the following day. [558] As soon as Brooks learned that the Secretary had authorized the publication in the Federal Register, he called his good friend and local park supporter, Wayne Judy and told him the good news. Then he celebrated. [559]

Voyageurs National Park was only the 36th national park established in the more than 200 years of the United States. It was classed as a "natural area" by the NPS, the same category as country's largest and most popular western parks. The human connection was its link to the French Canadian voyageurs, who for more than a century used the large lakes in the park as part of what Sigurd Olson called the "Voyageurs Highway." Al Eisele of the Ridder News Service, who followed closely the events leading the park's authorization said, "The long-sought dream of northern Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park became a reality—as the National Park Service formally established the 220,000 acre land and water reserve as the nation's 36th national park." [560]

Establishment came more than four years after the president signed the authorizing legislation. To park supporters, it seemed like an interminable stretch, due in no small measure to efforts by opponents to modify park policies and even request that a segment of the park be removed. Also four years with restrictions on land acquisition set park development back. But four years is certainly no record. Several very popular national parks, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks, waited twice that long between authorization and establishment, primarily because of donation requirements. Also, both parks had a large number of inholders who had to be bought out and, in the years before the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the money simply wasn't there for ready purchase by the federal government. [561]

Events before and after establishment were clear indications that making Voyageurs a full member of the NPS would not protect park officials from challenges to their judgement and authority. Mr. Brooks would have his hands full. Five weeks before the park was established, a bill was introduced by majority leader Irv Anderson to create a Citizens Committee on Voyageurs National Park. The committee members would serve without compensation but would be reimbursed by the state for expenses. Anderson said the committee was necessary to provide citizen input as decisions concerning the park's operation were made. [562] President Lloyd Brandt of the VNPA quickly challenged the need for the committee since the VNPA was a "true citizens organization," without allegiance to anyone or any group. Its sole purpose was the establishment of a national park, ". . .that will preserve the beauty of an area and serve the best interests of Minnesota." [563] In a letter to Brooks, Midwest Regional Director Merrill D. Beal said the new committee would have no official relationship to the park and no preferred status so far as the NPS was concerned. [564]

Brooks would soon get better acquainted with the citizens committee. His chief concern after the park was established, was to prepare for five Master Plan hearings in June. These meetings were scheduled for International Falls, Orr, Virginia, Duluth and Minneapolis, in that order. In the years to follow, park superintendents could always expect things to "brighten up" after the sessions on the Iron Range. The pattern was established at this set of hearings on the Master Plan.

Reading the press accounts after more than twenty years have passed is truly an alarming experience. Few at the first three meetings spoke a favorable word for the national park or its project manager. At International Falls, only George Esslinger, a mild-mannered man and early supporter of Voyageurs, spoke up for the national park. Bitter, intemperate remarks against park regulations, the federal government and the plan were the rule. At Virginia, one speaker said, "They call this a master plan for the park but it's a master plan to control people." [565] A careful reading of the document shows it to be essentially a passive one. It describes the area, gives a brief legislative history, identifies park concepts, interpretive concepts, park access and circulation, land classification, visitor facilities and proposed locations of main entrances and proposed development areas. The word "control" appears twice, once in reference to the International Joint Commission, which determines the water levels of the border lakes and secondly when the plan mentions developing a comprehensive water pollution control program for the park.

Myrl Brooks, soon to become the park's first superintendent, had to listen to ten hours of vituperative, sometimes abusive remarks. He and two rangers found themselves in the midst of very unhappy people. Brooks once said that after occasions like this, he would return to International Falls and take refuge in the quiet of the park. Once, while sitting with friends on the porch of his home on Rainy Lake, someone said, "this place is too pretty to fight in." He agreed. [566]

A major challenge to the park's authority came in the fall of 1975 when a number of duck hunters threatened to challenge NPS regulations against hunting in park waters of Black Bay. According to Brooks, many hunters were led to believe that the state had jurisdiction over the waters around the park. As a show of concern by the NPS, two additional rangers were sent from the St. Croix and the Ozark Scenic Riverways to assist the Voyageurs' rangers. Brooks said later that the plan was to issue citations to deliberate challenges and they, the park rangers, would pick an appropriate time. A citation was issued several days into the season to Carl Brown. Brown proceeded to challenge the park's authority in the courts. On appeal, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus upholding the lower court's ruling that the NPS did have jurisdiction over the waters in the park. [567]

Also in October, meeting for the first time, the Citizens Committee on Voyageurs National Park (CCVNP) passed a resolution asking the NPS to consider modifying its policy prohibiting all hunting in national parks and urged that 960 acres of prime duck hunting land at Black Bay be deleted from Voyageurs. [568]

Voyageurs hadn't been "official" eight months and its superintendent and small staff faced challenges and problems of major significance to the future of the park. An opportunity to list these problems came when on November 11, 1975, the Midwest Regional Director relayed a memorandum he had received from the Washington office. It read in part, "We are again requesting that you survey the programs under your jurisdiction and report to us events or projects which will force decisions by the Washington office or by the Secretary's office." [569] Brook's response listed four issues or problems at Voyageurs which he believed met the criteria of "action forcing events." This was an opportunity to let the Regional and Washington offices know what the park staff was attempting to deal with and which, in his judgement, would become even more difficult in the future.

  • Continued pressure for the deletion of lands or waters in the Gold Portage area of Black Bay to accommodate duck hunting.

  • Increasing activity to redesignate Voyageurs National Park as a national recreation area. [On exactly the same day that the Midwest Regional Director sent his memo, the Daily Journal in International Falls reported that three men from the Kabetogama-Namakan Sportsmen's Club had returned from Washington where they lobbied politicians for redesignation of Voyageurs to a recreation area.]

  • Contention by the state and a local legislator that the legislative boundary line across the east end of Black Bay was not located in accordance with planning intent.

  • Almost any action on the part of Voyageurs that establishes a park presence that is not in agreement with State Representative Irv Anderson's special interest desires. [570]

In January 1976, Brooks filed his annual report for 1975. Under the category, "The Future," Brooks continued to identify troublesome issues for the young park. "There will be a continuing local relations problem as we establish a park identity. The enforcement of hunting, trapping, aircraft, snowmobiling and water safety [regulations] necessitates strong support from the courts." [571] But in his concluding statement, he recognized that to counter criticism, he had to take the offensive, "The best way to establish a park identity is through interpretive and education programs and stronger emphasis needs to be given as soon as protection activities approach standards." [572] Under the heading "Public Relations," Brook said that the park was a target of county (Koochiching) and state politicians who seemed bent on destroying Voyageurs as a national park and having a national recreation area designated instead. "This activity generates, feeds and encourages through a receptive news media, which exemplifies yellow journalism at its best; opposition which otherwise would not be as strong or as hard to work with." [573]

Under "Wilderness Management" in the annual report, Brooks wrote, "The status of land acquisition and master planning for Voyageurs National Park complicate the management of land in relation to potential wilderness. Motorized use [snowmobile and aircraft] in much of the land area is in conflict and cannot be allowed to become a traditional use in portions of the established park." [574]

The 1975 report may well have been written when Brooks was at his lowest in his feelings about accomplishments at Voyageurs and the future of the park. It was a "cranky" document revealing a mood of exasperation over the course of events and which he most certainly believed were not in the best long-term interests of the park. Most administrators of any private business or public institution would admit to similar misgivings about their accomplishments from time to time. As Brooks wrote his annual report, he knew that Black Bay was lost. He had letters in his file, which showed that the leading politicians with interests and responsibilities for Voyageurs had already taken positions advocating deletion, including Congressman Oberstar, Commissioner Herbst, Governor Wendell Anderson and Representative Irvin Anderson. He also knew that eventually the NPS would agree to a compromise permitting deletion of Black Bay in exchange for road access to the Ash River Visitor Center near Sullivan Bay, deletion of the Gold Shores area and the addition of land for a visitor center at the north end of Black Bay. He saw these events as capitulation and appeasement, which, according to some in and out of the NPS, would lead to tranquility at Voyageurs. He also saw the new CCVNP as a major negative factor in the park's future. And he saw these and other changes leading to a move to change its designation from national park to national recreation area. [575]

The annual report for 1976 was short and, with the exception of a comment on the CCVNP, was relatively routine. He said the CCVNP's primary function, ". . .has been to serve special interest groups or individuals opposed to the park or national park management for the area." [576] The 1977 report was report by the chief ranger in a short, narrative style and included park statistics for the year.

In 1978, Brooks was granted his request for a transfer. He assumed his new duties as superintendent of Padre Island National Seashore in Texas on October 15, 1978. After several years in Texas, he retired to a lovely home in the country outside Chattanooga, Tennessee.

This last chapter about the four years between authorization and establishment of Voyageurs National Park has emphasized the experiences, dedication and efforts of its first superintendent. By any measure, he was the dominant figure and the guiding force for the park. Toward the close of his tenure at Voyageurs he said his assignment to the park was the biggest challenge of his life—but not likely the most pleasant years of his career. Former NPS Director George Hartzog wrote after his retirement, "The National Park Service is operated with three levels of management: The director's office in Washington, which is responsible for translating the Secretary's objections into action; the regional offices [six during his tenure] are responsible for coordination of field management; and the parks, each in the charge of a superintendent responsible for on-site accomplishment of the service mission, namely, preserve the park resources and serve the visitor." [577] Hartzog also made this observation, "Park people are intensely committed to their mission, hard-working, strong-willed and fiercely independent." [578] This is an excellent description of Myrl Brooks, first superintendent of Voyageurs National Park.

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009