Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
NPS Logo



In early March 1963, when Wayne Judy made his appeal for a public meeting on Voyageurs at International Falls, he, along with most other park supporters, was unaware of the interagency controversy over the territorial extent of the proposed park. This dispute, and the realization that the earlier field studies did not yield the kind of detail needed for a suitable report, caused the NPS to shy away from public hearings in the spring of 1963. However, they did schedule a briefing session for the benefit of the new governor, Karl Rolvaag, and other state officials.

George Amidon, representing the M&O Paper Company, the largest landowner on the Kabetogama Peninsula and Sigurd Olson also attended the meeting, which took place during the later part of April in St. Paul. According to newspaper accounts of the meeting, Regional Director Baker described the purpose of the proposed park and also announced NPS intentions to hold a series of public meetings around the state so that citizens could learn about the park and raise questions concerning details of their plan for Voyageurs. [97]

Although Baker set no dates for these meetings, it might be assumed that the NPS had late fall or early winter in mind, because a revision of the park proposal was expected in September. It was evident that they needed some time to work things out with the USFS and also get answers to some important questions certain to be on the minds of residents, particularly those living near the proposed park. For example, they realized they would be hard-pressed to answer questions about wildlife management because they lacked specifics on the ecology of the Kabetogama Peninsula. [98] But for a more comprehensive assessment of informational needs and also for a current "reading" on the park issue in northeastern Minnesota, the NPS turned to Eliot Davis, superintendent of Grand Portage National Monument and the NPS's "key man" on the Voyageurs project in Minnesota.

Davis spent a week in early June 1963 traveling throughout the proposed park area and talking to residents, state foresters, conservation officers, resort owners, and other business people. His report was remarkable for its clarity, objectivity and, especially, for its candor. After sifting through several hundred documents pertaining to the earliest years of the Voyageurs story, the Davis report could be regarded as the most useful statement on the kinds of information the NPS would need if they wanted to be successful with their proposals for the park. Davis was especially candid in his assessment of local feelings regarding a national park in the Kabetogama area. In Davis' direct manner he said, "They don't want one!" [99]

The straightforward style of the Davis memorandums may have been unusual for interoffice communications, but there is evidence that it caught the attention of those responsible for planning Voyageurs. Davis warned his colleagues that they would need to find answers to a lot of very important questions before trying to sell the park locally. He said park planners should move quickly to close some vital information gaps before meeting the public in open hearings in the fall. In this report, Davis made the following observations, which are summarized here: [100]

  • Not one single person is in favor of a park in a truly altruistic sense. They are in favor or against it because they have some "iron in the fire" that will make or lose them a dollar or they will lose some privilege they now enjoy.

  • The proposed park is not canoe country—canoeing can be dangerous. (He saw only one canoe in his travels through the park area.) Powerboats will be required for access.

  • The NPS does not have first-hand knowledge of the area. No one from the NPS has ever been over the Kabetogama Peninsula on foot.

  • Archeological fieldwork should be done regarding Indian cemeteries and the protection of Indian artifacts will be necessary.

  • Some trappers make a living in the area—especially trapping beaver.

  • Land values in the park area are inflated, but this isn't obvious by looking at the tax assessment records. The M&O and the state are no longer leasing land that makes private holdings more valuable. "The worst shack on Kabetogama will be worth 100 times what it would cost in International Falls, and no one will want to sell when he gets a life lease and even then it's going to be a tough job."

  • The Kettle Falls Hotel is a ramshackle firetrap but has significant historic and strategic value. There is no relation between the actual building value and what it will cost to purchase the place.

  • In his conversation with Sigurd Olson, Davis mentions the possibility of a recreation area instead of a national park. [Olson let it be known that he was absolutely opposed to a national recreation area and it shouldn't ever be mentioned again—it must be a national park.]

  • Land acquisition costs will be greatly increased by the cost of purchasing resorts and especially Jeno Paulucci's lodge on Kabetogama. [Paulucci is president of the Chun King Corporation.]

  • Sand Point and Namakan Lake areas should be included in the park. "But the Forest Service has their foot in the door and unless Mr. Udall can pry Mr. Freeman's shoe out of the crack, we are going to have a smaller park."

  • State foresters cannot be relied upon to help much with ecological studies. "Fine men but most are not college graduates and have come up through experience and self-study. They are multiple-use men—to them a park is wasteful of wood and wildlife. Their jobs are at stake if a park is formed and they can't get jobs with other agencies except on the basis of experience. Forest Service has no room except for college trained men..."

Davis said that before the NPS tried to sell the park locally, it should have the answers to several questions and he recommended the following actions summarized here:

  • A comprehensive ecological survey should be made of what is there now and what changes can be expected over the next fifty years. Determine what impact fluctuating water levels on the park's lakes have on the ecology of the area.

  • Conduct a survey of historical and archeological sites.

  • Conduct an economic survey including a tax study to determine the park's impact in the surrounding area.

  • Complete a study of all lands and leases and an inventory of all structures.

  • Complete a recreation survey and plan including access roads.

Davis said, "We shall be questioned frequently about our plans and we should have something to sell such as the Forest Service plan for Crane Lake and Namakan. This has had a powerful effect in consolidating this new section of the National Forest and stimulating interest. If we go ahead without a plan we bring confusion and indecision rather than calm, purposeful administration that builds immediate confidence."

Hindsight shows that Davis was accurate in his assessment of the kinds of information required to meet the challenge of local public hearings on Voyageurs. But to acquire the information would take months of background research including an economic impact study, land ownership analysis, assessments of wildlife populations, and a determination of the kind of wildlife management policies that would be appropriate for the proposed park. It was evident to the NPS by late summer that public hearings and a formal printed proposal and report for public distribution could not be completed in 1963. But the NPS did not share this knowledge with local residents.

After the NPS announced its support for a park on the Kabetogama Peninsula in 1962, local residents and landowners in the proposed park area adopted a wait-and-see attitude. However, by late summer and fall a year later, what goodwill existed between the NPS and local residents began to slip away. And NPS planners weren't very careful about keeping their supporters informed either. Records of correspondence between park advocates and the NPS show a decided reluctance on the part of the NPS to level with them regarding the primary reasons for the delay in completing the report and their decision not to schedule public hearings for late 1963.

For their part, it appears that park supporters were naive about the process and procedures for gaining legislative approval for a national park. In their own enthusiasm for a park, they apparently believed that a general plan and an NPS recommendation for a national park would be sufficient. Many were successful professional people, and their own personal experience as visitors in the nation's western parks had convinced them that the NPS could be trusted to manage the Kabetogama area in the same professional manner.

As the months went by, even supporters close to the park project became impatient. There were not many supporters at this time because no formal organization for promoting the park proposal had yet been formed, and a number of prominent leaders lived outside the area in the downstate section of Minnesota. And so they continued to have confidence that the NPS would come forward in a timely fashion with details about the proposed park and how it would mesh with the existing social and economic patterns of the area. Nevertheless, they were genuinely surprised by the anti-park sentiment that was beginning to surface.

Former Governor Andersen, apparently unaware of the true situation in Washington, tried to put the best face on the situation by announcing in early October 1963 that the NPS would shortly release a report recommending a national park at Kabetogama, thus assuring "the preservation of a significant portion of our great wilderness canoe country." [101] However, just a month later, unimpressed with such pronouncements as just stalling tactics and also troubled by references to "preservation," "wilderness," and "canoe country," a number of citizens showed up at a meeting of the International Falls City Council to express their opposition to a national park on the peninsula.

This small group that appeared at the council meeting proved to be a precursor of public opposition—organized and unorganized—which would be expressed about Voyageurs over the next six years. In his response to the citizen group, the mayor of International Falls appealed to them, and the public generally, to keep an open mind on the proposal and asked the city clerk to write a letter to the NPS requesting public meetings on the issue. [102] The following day the editor of the daily newspaper also called for a public meeting with the NPS, "before we either condemn or sanction a national park in our area. It is apparent that it is this lack of definite information that is giving rise to much opposition to the plans for a park. Until the government announces specific plans, it might be wise to withhold judgement, lest too much premature opposition kill an asset that most any community in the nation would give its right arm to have established in its back yard. We should reserve judgement until the facts are known." [103]

In early December, George Amidon, vice president of the Woodlands Division of the M&O called the Minnesota Department of Conservation regarding the need for a public hearing to offset rumors circulating about the park proposal. [104] By year's end, the situation was so bad one conservation officer was moved to write to the state parks director that, "There is little question about what the possibility for local support on the subject proposal is fast deteriorating and perhaps has already passed the point of recovery." [105]

Opposition to the proposed park continued to build in the early months of 1964. In the absence of an official printed report detailing the purpose and objectives of the park and the processes and plans for achieving those goals, the public was left with the difficult task of trying to sort out rumor from fact. Some public officials added energy and encouragement to the opposition movement, making it even more difficult for the average citizen to take a position on the issue. Many county officials, including members of the two county boards in Koochiching and St. Louis counties, where the park was to be located, quickly took an anti-park stance. It became obvious early on that official bodies from both counties would never endorse the park and, indeed, would prove to be strong allies of those individuals and organizations opposed to the park proposal through the 1960s. The NPS's contact for Voyageurs, Eliot Davis, brought this fact to the attention of the regional director on several occasions beginning with a memorandum in January 1964, "From what I have been able to learn the purpose of the [county] board is to see how a park can be prevented rather than established." [106]

The interagency jurisdictional dispute over the Namakan-Crane Lake area has already been identified as a major stumbling block in producing an early preliminary report for Voyageurs. A search of the files shows continued exchange of correspondence between the two agencies throughout the spring and summer of 1964—all concerned with arriving at mutually acceptable language for describing the future disposition and management of that area. But NPS planner John Kawamoto, the official with the longest identification with Voyageurs recalled additional factors contributing not only to the delay in completing the initial report, but to winning local support for Voyageurs legislation.

As previously mentioned, the largest landowner in the proposed park (two-thirds of the Kabetogama Peninsula) was the M&O Paper Company located in International Falls. From the beginning, Governor Andersen and other supporters hoped for a land exchange arrangement that would bring these private lands under public ownership for donation to the federal government for the park. M&O would exchange their Kabetogama holdings (which was mostly logged over) for state forested land outside the park. The state could also make some exchanges with the USFS to add more federal lands within the proposed park boundaries.

Kawamoto recalled that in the case of M&O lands, going from private to public ownership in the manner just described was the most expedient way of meeting land acquisition goals for the NPS. [107] George Amidon had participated in the early meetings with Governor Andersen, NPS officials (including Director Wirth) as well as other state and federal officials as they lay the groundwork for the park proposal. Amidon, always the spokesman for the M&O on matters related to the park proposal, remained on good terms with Governor Andersen and many other park advocates throughout the controversy over Voyageurs. He knew that the key to a successful proposal was to find an expeditious and mutually acceptable way of shifting the M&O lands to the NPS. [108]

A locally based company at the time, the M&O initially gave the impression that things could be worked out relative to the land acquisition issue. However, according to Kawamoto, park officials detected a change in the attitude of the M&O toward Voyageurs in the spring of 1964. Confirmation that M&O's position was shifting is evident in a letter to the NPS in which Amidon cited rising local opposition to the park. In it he said, "The local opposition concerns our company and will influence our decision as to whether we will consider an exchange of company lands on the peninsula." [109]

Kawamoto now believes that negotiations were already underway early in 1964 for a buyout of the M&O by the Boise Cascade Corporation (Boise) that Amidon's lukewarm attitude really reflected Boise's philosophy, which turned out to be much less friendly to the NPS. He also felt that Amidon's detailed knowledge of early plans and discussions on Voyageurs with NPS and state officials gave Boise an advantage in later public hearings on the park. [110] Wayne Judy, International Falls businessman and the strongest park advocate in the area, was acutely aware of the impact the M&O's position on the park would have in the community. In a letter to Wayne Olson, Governor Rolvaag's commissioner of conservation, Judy wrote, "As you know, in our one industry town we have what is known as the 'Great White Father,' the M&O paper company and, on the surface at least it seems as if they are opposed to the park and their employees are reluctant to express themselves otherwise." [111]

Another problem for park proponents was the charge by opponents that Voyageurs would simply represent an extension of the BWCA. Just about the time that the park's preliminary proposal was ready for public distribution, Congress passed the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964. A special BWCA review committee appointed by Agriculture Secretary Freeman, was holding hearings in northeastern Minnesota, gathering information for its recommendations on management of the canoe country. Before the year was out, the committee recommended a larger no-cut zone in the BWCA and made other recommendations that upset local advocates of multiple use.

Proximity to the controversial BWCA would prove to be a distinct disadvantage in promoting the proposal for Voyageurs National Park. Kawamoto, as well as others associated with the park movement, observed that many people confused Voyageurs with the BWCA. The association of Voyageurs with the often-quarrelsome events and issues in the BWCA was detrimental to progress on the park proposal. Kawamoto later observed that frequently some decision or event favorable to Voyageurs seemed to, "come out after something had occurred at the BWCA and we tended to take the brunt of the public's ire against bureaucracy and a few other things. So when the Park Service proposal for Voyageurs came out, even though we said boats, motorboats, would be able to use the lakes because of the large bodies of water and so forth, no one believed the Park Service. . ." [112]

Internal disagreements and procedural problems also contributed to the long delay in completing the initial proposal for Voyageurs. George Hartzog, who assumed the NPS director's position in January 1964, reviewed the Voyageurs proposal and then raised questions about the area's qualifications for national park status. His concern, and that of other professionals in the early studies on Voyageurs, related to the fluctuating water levels on the big lakes in the park. In response, Kawamoto said, "These were natural lakes, but the water level had been raised through the construction of the dam here at International Falls and the dam at Kettle Falls. So I remember that the Director. . .we had to discuss with him the fact that the water levels were raised, but we were still dealing with natural conditions in a sense that it didn't change it that much." [113]

Some park professionals were also concerned that the area was not in pristine condition—it had been logged and some logging was underway at the time the park was under discussion. Also, the park's relatively small size and location adjacent to sustained yield forestry activity could make it difficult, "to maintain natural conditions. They would be spraying for one reason or another and we would not, obviously, allow that within the park, and then we became what might be the breeding grounds for something." [114] Kawamoto said that the questions about the area's qualifications were finally resolved by agreeing, "to look beyond today, perhaps say a hundred years from now or beyond, and [look at] what conditions this area would be [in] if set aside as a national park, the contention being that it would be rather unique by that time..." [115]

Another factor contributing to the delay in completing the preliminary proposal for public inspection was the NPS's failure to keep Congressman John Blatnik properly informed on studies and plans for a park in his own district. Only rarely has an NPS unit been approved without the local congressman's endorsement. According to Kawamoto, park officials continued their contacts with former Governor Andersen and state officials in Governor Rolvaag's administration, but did not involve Congressman Blatnik in these early stages of planning for Voyageurs. Kawamoto believes that this was not intentional but was due to procedural errors and inexperience with the implementation of the "new area studies" process for preparing new projects. [116] But the fact remains that Blatnik was miffed by the oversight. This helps to explain his less than enthusiastic public support in the summer of 1964.

Institutional inertia plagued the Voyageurs proposal as it has many other government programs including creation of a number of national parks. For Voyageurs, it can be illustrated in the quest for funds and research personnel to conduct an economic impact study of the proposed park. Eliot Davis urged such a study in June 1963 calling it essential if the NPS hoped to "sell" the proposal to people in northeastern Minnesota. In September of that year, Sigurd Olson was looking for state funds to pay for the study and in October the NPS said it might find funds for such a study. [117] Eight months later the NPS offered $4,000 to the University of Minnesota College of Agriculture in St. Paul to do the study, but the offer was rejected by the dean who said the amount was insufficient to fund the study. [118]

Finally the NPS turned to the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus, and on June 29 a contract was made with Professor Richard Sielaff, chairman of the Department of Business and Economics, to conduct the study for the budgeted amount. [119] The study report, completed on December 1, 1964, was never seriously challenged as to its objectivity during the entire public debate over Voyageurs. It was unfortunate that it took more than a year to engage the research team to complete the study. It would have been useful to NPS personnel at public hearings and in meetings with public officials, particularly when confronted with assertions that removing Kabetogama lands from the tax rolls would be harmful to county taxing units. The economic study findings did not support such assertions.

Taken together, the time-consuming bureaucratic maneuvers, procedural errors, and interagency squabbles almost proved lethal for a project that was seen by many of the state's top officials, a number of leading conservationists and many other citizens as such a logical proposition when it was first advanced in 1961.

Impatient and tired of waiting for the long-promised NPS proposal for Voyageurs, the Koochiching County Sportsman's Association sponsored a public meeting on August 27, 1964. The meeting featured a panel of local business and professional people, most of them opposed to the notion that a national park on Kabetogama was the best thing for the area. It was a restless and angry crowd of about 200 people who heard repeated claims that this would be just another federal land grab, an extension of the BWCA wilderness area, and a removal of valuable land from the tax rolls.

George Amidon, representing the M&O, said that his company would base its decision on public opinion and the final boundaries proposed by the NPS and that, "the paper industry is fundamentally opposed to the locking up of large areas for single use." [120] This was the same position the timber industry was taking in the west where the industry and the USFS were fighting about expansion of park lands and wilderness designations. It was also an indication that M&O was beginning to reflect the philosophy of the Boise Cascade Corporation, whose formal merger with M&O was only a few months away. The day after the meeting, the local newspaper scolded the NPS for failing to provide the public with solid information as to its plans for Kabetogama and noted that in the absence of such information formidable opposition had developed. "If park representatives were present and said little, it was because they had little if any factual information to present and it is this lack of information from the Park Service that has given rise to the opposition." [121]

The NPS finally announced a public hearing schedule for Voyageurs in early September. Three meeting places were identified—International Falls, Duluth and Minneapolis. A later announcement said that the long-awaited report on Voyageurs would be available for public comment in time for the meetings, but the NPS was careful to note that this would be a preliminary report that had not been formally submitted to the Interior Department for final approval. [122]

But even before the report was available and public hearings completed, Governor Rolvaag and Congressman Blatnik were getting messages from area citizens, including multimillionaire Jeno Paulucci, vigorously opposing the park. Paulucci, founder and president of Chun King Food Corporation was a native of northeastern Minnesota's Iron Range and typically followed the regional custom of supporting democrats. Blatnik and Rolvaag had been the beneficiaries of Paulucci's support in the past. They also knew that he owned an elaborate forest lodge and retreat on the Kabetogama Peninsula. In his personal letters and through his Northeast Minnesota Organization for Economic Education (NEMO), Paulucci attacked in his customary aggressive style the, "bureaucrats from Washington, the government land grabbers, and the sleeping bag enthusiasts who already had plenty of territory in the BWCA." [123] Paulucci's letters and public comments intimidated neither Rolvaag nor Blatnik. Both replied that they would study the proposal, and Blatnik indicated in a letter to Paulucci that he thought a properly planned park would be a "boon to the entire region." [124]

On the day of the public meeting in International Falls, the Daily Journal admonished its readers to take a long, hard look at the NPS proposal. Having already read the report, the editor said the report was, "as vital for what it does not say as for what it does say." The editorial concluded by stating, "If after Saturday's public meeting, there is the least shadow of doubt about Park Service plans and intentions, and if we cannot be assured that this is not a federal land grab or a veiled attempt to extend the so-called wilderness area, then, the Journal sincerely believes we should vigorously oppose the proposed National Park." [125]

The newspaper estimated the crowd at more than 800 at the International Falls meeting. George Baggley, Glen Bean and John Kawamoto from the NPS regional office explained the park proposal. Director of State Parks Hella attended the meeting but did not speak. Wayne Judy and George Esslinger, a Kabetogama resort owner, helped distribute reports before the meeting—the first opportunity most had to read anything official about the proposal for Voyageurs. Kawamoto recalls the meeting as a "tough one." Looking back, he thinks the NPS should have had the report out earlier because many of the speakers were using faulty information generated by those in opposition. [126]

The Daily Journal was correct in its observation regarding the limitations of the 1964 report on Voyageurs. It was long on description of the proposed park's association with voyageur history and natural features but either short or lacking entirely on information relating to the fate of private holdings in the park, condemnation proceedings, loss of tax base when land is federalized, the economic impact on the area, proposed wildlife management policies, etc. A press release issued by NPS Director George Hartzog announcing the report didn't help matters either. He said it must be regarded as a preliminary report that hadn't been formally submitted to the Interior Department for formal approval. With such an introduction one could hardly blame those attending the hearings to wonder when they would get the real facts of the case. The NPS made few friends, if any, at the International Falls hearing.

Most left the International Falls hearing angry and confused. In Minneapolis, owners of summer homes on Kabetogama weren't very happy either. One resort owner said, "People go to Kabetogama to fish and loaf, they don't give a damn about the rocks." [127] At the hearing in Duluth the chamber of commerce representative repeated what his counterpart had said in the 1890s when the idea of a national park was first advanced. He said the chamber would oppose the park because it would remove land from the tax rolls and hurt the timber industry. [128] At the same meeting, NPS personnel were subjected to the sharp tongue and bad manners of Jeno Paulucci. Kawamoto later recalled Paulucci's behavior as aggressive and impolite as, "he raked us over the coals." Even Sigurd Olson's mild manner and his reasoned plea for preservation of valuable border resources was no antidote for the Paulucci tirade. [129]

Following the meeting, Paulucci sent a letter to Governor Rolvaag pleading with him to come out against a national park. "Talk about white heat opposition in northeastern Minnesota Karl, this property that the NPS wants to spend 7 million dollars on so that people can use a tent and canoe is too valuable to our economic behavior and growth to allow it to be taken. It just isn't right for the government to come up here and take this land away from us and turn it into a park for the benefit of the rest of the U.S. as they put it." [130] Two days later, in a more conciliatory letter to Rolvaag, Paulucci suggested a state park for the Kabetogama Peninsula.

The state park alternative would surface periodically for the next six years, but it never had any significant support in state government. For his part, Governor Rolvaag remained supportive of the national park proposal relying on his conservation commissioner, Wayne Olson, to define and defend his administration's position on Voyageurs. For example, many letters came to the governor claiming a national park would restrict use and enjoyment of the Kabetogama Peninsula. In response, the governor's office would explain that "a national park does not restrict enjoyment of an area, but does restrict destructive uses and makes possible a greater enjoyment of an area." [131]

In spite of the positive, although cautious responses by Blatnik and Rolvaag, the September public hearings and the period immediately after can only be described as the lowest point in the eight-year effort to gain congressional approval for Voyageurs. The Daily Journal led off the attack on the proposal with an editorial as soon as the three hearings were completed. "The Park Service should be convinced that its proposal to establish Voyageurs National Park was not welcomed by a majority of northeastern Minnesota citizens and that if the Park Service drops its plans it should be replaced with a plan with 'something of value.'" The editorial then said that at least part of the Kabetogama Peninsula should be designated a state park and "instead of remaining a roadless area, the peninsula could be developed tremendously by the addition of an access road." [132]

The NPS plan stressed preservation while the Daily Journal, ever mindful of the changing attitudes of the M&O and feeling confident that it represented majority thinking among its readers, advocated development on the peninsula. Echoing the sentiments of the Daily Journal, although not endorsing a state park, the Duluth News-Tribune followed a day later with its editorial opposing a national park on Kabetogama. [133]

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009