Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
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When Assistant Secretary of the Interior Crain told Judge Hella that he shouldn't expect much movement on the Voyageurs proposal until after the elections, he was probably thinking about the outcome of Congressional races, which could have fiscal and policy implications for the department, its bureaus and agencies, and by extension, the NPS. What he couldn't know at the time was that the fall elections at the state level in 1966 would produce a new governor in Minnesota and that the change in administrations would bring new life to the proposal for Voyageurs.

The new governor was Harold Levander, a political novice who won a close contest over the incumbent Democrat, Karl Rolvaag. Levander left a successful law practice of twenty-eight years in the city of South St. Paul to run for governor. His only previous experience as a public official was as Assistant District Attorney for Dakota County, Minnesota. Given his professional experience and interests, there was little indication that a Levander administration would bring new energy and enthusiasm to the languishing campaign for Voyageurs. His campaign for governor emphasized such matters as tax policy and a more businesslike approach to the administration of state affairs. But soon after taking office, he surprised and pleased park supporters when he made the proposal a high priority on his activity agenda.

Even though Levander had not made Voyageurs a top campaign issue, he did voice support for greater attention to conservation matters in keeping with the growing national concern for environmental quality. The Rolvaag administration on the other hand, had endorsed Voyageurs on the Kabetogama Peninsula shortly after it was proposed. Commissioner of Conservation Wayne Olson was always openly supportive of the national park proposal and worked closely with NPS officials and planners during his tenure as the state's chief conservation officer. It was Olson, who in July 1965 wrote to Senator Mondale stating that the agitation for an alternative site at Lac La Croix was actually a diversionary effort by park opponents, and in the same letter he referred to a nationwide campaign, "by timber interests designed to prevent further federal land acquisitions for recreational purposes." [172] Olson also attended the planning session in April of 1965 that led to the formation of the VNPA. Unfortunately for the park cause Olson resigned his position as commissioner in early summer 1966 to run for Minnesota's Attorney General, a contest he subsequently lost in the November elections. When Olson left the Conservation Department, the leadership and energy for the Voyageurs cause with the Rolvaag administration went with him. It would be left for the new Levander administration to pick up the issue, give it further study, and provide a forum for information and discussion at the state level.

The new governor had expressed his support for a national park in Minnesota before he took office, but he was careful not to endorse the Kabetogama site primarily because Republican leaders in the Eighth District of northeastern Minnesota were not interested in any national park proposal and certainly not one in that location. Archie Chelseth, who would become Governor Levander's staff person in charge of coordinating the park effort, said later that, "National Park advocacy by Republican candidates in northeastern Minnesota was not viewed as politically advantageous at that time." [173] The governor himself was never particularly excited about the park project—he was more comfortable working on other matters of state business. However, he did listen to his staff and he sought to understand the positions of organizations and individuals who held strong opinions on both sides of the park issue. [174]

In keeping with that philosophy during his first six weeks in office, Levander met with groups holding opposing views. Former governor Elmer L. Andersen and other board members of the VNPA met with Levander and his conservation commissioner, Jarle Leirfallom, in mid-February 1967. During the meeting they urged the governor to endorse the Kabetogama site for Voyageurs National Park.

A few weeks later Levander met with timber representatives and others who were just as firm in their opposition to that site. Included in this group were several members of the Minnesota Senate Public Domain Committee and planning consultant Charles Aguar. Aguar had been retained by the St. Louis and Koochiching County Boards to develop an alternative plan that would continue the multiple-use practices of the past while allowing for expanded recreational use of the peninsula. Aguar had already presented his clients with a preliminary report on a multiple-use plan in February 1965, but no formal action was ever taken to carry it forward. He later revised the 1965 report and submitted it again to the county boards in January 1967. The revised document reaffirmed the preference for multiple use and the role of the private sector in developing and expanding recreational facilities in the Kabetogama area. But this time it included a recommendation that, "Full consideration be given to designating the Kabetogama Peninsula a national recreation area rather than a Natural Area as proposed in the 1964 National Park Service report." [175]

Aguar saw a national recreation area as a suitable compromise for Kabetogama after observing how firmly committed and fixed to their positions the opposing groups had become. He envisioned a stalemate that could go on for years. Aguar modeled his plan for Kabetogama after one developed for the proposed Apostle Islands National Lakeshore located along the south shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. Aguar's plan reserved the shoreland and islands of Rainy and Kabetogama Lakes for the national recreation area, "leaving the interior of the peninsula for timber harvesting, hunting and other multiple uses." [176]

Aguar's national recreation area plan went nowhere. Wayne Judy, leading park supporter in International Falls, said is was just a diversionary tactic to further confuse the issue. [177] Boise Cascade wasn't interested since the most valuable part of their peninsula holdings was the shoreline that Aguar was proposing to protect from development, and although it wasn't public knowledge, they had second-home development plans in mind for this zone.

The Northland Multiple Use Association, following Boise's lead, also announced its opposition to the Aguar proposal and then restated its position that any plans the NPS had for a new national park should be confined to land already under federal control. And, the VNPA wanted nothing to do with a national recreation area either.

In late March 1967, when park planner John Kawamoto met with one of Aguar's clients, the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners, he expressed surprise that people were even thinking about a national recreation area. "You can have a national park—why would you want to settle for anything less? Parks are the crown jewels of the American landscape." [178]

What is most amazing in the lengthy campaign for Voyageurs is that in spite of the early opposition and public indifference to the national recreation area concept, it would surface repeatedly during the next three years and was always offered by some as an appropriate compromise alternative to a national park. This in spite of the fact that the principal players on both sides of the park issue never came close to accepting the national recreation area as an acceptable compromise.

As the new governor was hearing from opposing groups on the Voyageurs issue, a dispute arose between the State of Minnesota and the St. Louis County Board over the county's preparation for the sale of tax-forfeited lands in northern St. Louis County, including some lands located in the proposed park. It was a dispute that proved to have a significant, positive impact on the VNPA's efforts to build public support for the park cause. Thousands of acres of land in northern Minnesota became tax delinquent during the 1920s and 1930s as the logging boom came to a close. Seeking to get some of this land on the tax roll again, it was the practice of the county auditor's office to offer tax-forfeited lands for sale at the request of interested parties. On March 14, 1967, the county was preparing to conduct an auction sale of 5,000 acres of tax-forfeited land in northern St. Louis County. Included in the offering were 274 acres of shoreland parcels on the Kabetogama Peninsula that had been appraised at an average price of fifty-two dollars per acre. Boise Cascade, principal private landowner on the peninsula, was interested in seventy-four acres of the land proposed for auction.

Judge Edwin Chapman, president of the VNPA, learned of the sale one week before the scheduled sale day and immediately requested that the county auditor, "Defer the sale for a reasonable time to enable us to learn the facts concerning these lands." [179] Chapman noted that delaying the sale would provide interested persons, agencies, and institutions an opportunity to bid on those lands within the proposed park and then donate the lands to the NPS if and when the park was authorized. Chapman was also concerned about the short notice of the sale and the lack of authority from the conservation commissioner to proceed with the sale on the appointed date. Typically, when the county completed its appraisal of all parcels proposed for sale, it would request a waiver of the required thirty-day waiting period before making public notice of the sale. The waiver would arrive and the county would proceed with its sale. However, in this instance, the Department of Conservation had not granted the waiver request, because of questions regarding several appraisals submitted by the county that happened to be located outside the Kabetogama Peninsula area. The county was thus technically not in compliance with the requirements, and the conservation commissioner asked that the sale be delayed until the appraisal matter was resolved. However, the county board challenged the ruling of Commissioner Leirfallom and voted four to three to proceed with the sale as scheduled, insisting that they had acted legally in preparing the parcels for sale. [180]

The sale of tax-forfeited land was held on March 14 as scheduled, over the objection of the state conservation commissioner. About 2,800 acres of land, including the 240 acres in the proposed park, was sold. Two days after the sale, Commissioner Leirfallom asked the St. Louis County Board to nullify the sale. If they didn't comply with his request, he said the state tax commissioner, "May well ask for an Attorney General's opinion on whether the state should give title to the 2,794 acres purchased in the sale." [181] Placing the blame for the confusion on Leirfallom's office, the board decided not to act on his request. During the discussion, one member stated that the board must stand pat on the sale and that the "next move is up to the state." [182] They didn't have to wait long because the state taxation commissioner quickly requested an opinion from Attorney General Douglas Head. Head's ruling came on March 28 when he voided the land sale and declared that no state deeds would be issued to the purchasers of land sold at that sale. [183] He also noted that had VNPA President Chapman not called attention to the fact that the county proceeded with the sale without following proper procedures, the sale would have gone through. [184]

The county board met on the day following Head's ruling and voted to refund purchasers of land sold at what was now regarded as an illegal sale. The board, clearly not too pleased at having one of its actions overruled by a state official, was still trying a month later, to have the sale approved retroactively. [185] But the ruling stood and the county began preparations to offer the parcels at a second sale later in the summer.

The rescheduled sale was held on September 12 and this time there was spirited competitive bidding for the Kabetogama shoreland parcels. Representatives from the VNPA and Izaak Walton League Endowment Fund were on hand to offer bids on the lakeshore plots and, if successful, the property was to be donated to the NPS when Voyageurs was authorized by Congress. Bidding against the two conservation organizations were Boise Cascade and a northern Minnesota realty firm, both opposed to the park. Because of the competitive bidding, called "spite bidding" by one county official, the Kabetogama lakeshore lots sold for $28,000—double the appraised value. [186]

The land sale controversy was almost always presented in the press for what it really was—a national park issue—even though the attorney general's ruling was based on a procedural technicality. For VNPA President Chapman, that was a surface issue. He was convinced that the real issue was the county board's determination to move quickly on the sale, making it difficult for interested parties to learn details about the parcels designated for sale. Chapman's concern was that some of these parcels were shoreland properties and thus of more than local interest. He felt that the county board's actions were more likely motivated by its previously expressed unfavorable attitude to the national park proposal rather than simply to get more land back on the tax roles.

Two days after the sale, Chapman sent a letter to VNPA members describing the sale and declaring the importance of the Kabetogama land acquisition. He said that the VNPA had more offers of financial support for bidding than anyone dreamed possible. "Some important tracts of great beauty were saved from land speculation." [187] Chapman's letter also attacked Boise for not revealing what he said were its real reasons for opposing the park. He said they were more interested in the scenic lakeshore than the pulp supply. But an earlier study had already revealed that less than one percent of their pulp actually came from the Kabetogama Peninsula (Sielaff study, 1964). A while later their position was that a national park was okay, but it should be located on federal lands in the BWCA at Lac La Croix. Their current position, said Chapman, was that Minnesota would gain more if land were developed on a private basis. He concluded by noting that, "The real reason for opposing the park is finally coming to the surface. There is no question but what a great deal of money can be made through private development of the area for use as homesites for those who can afford a second home." [188]

Chapman's emphasis on Boise Cascade's interest in lakeshore property as its real motive for park opposition had been rumored for some time. For example, in February 1967, the dean of the University of Minnesota School of Forestry said that Boise was not concerned about pulp timber, but rather with their 200 miles of highly valuable lakefront. [189] Conclusive evidence that Boise was indeed moving into the land development business came in mid-summer when the company took steps to acquire U.S. Land, Inc., a company specializing in lakeshore resort and residential development. With the acquisition of U.S. Land, "Boise Cascade became the nation's most thoroughly integrated company in the housing field." [190] Shortly after the formal announcement of the merger with Boise, U.S. Land's executive vice president said he saw possible development on Kabetogama either on a conventional subdivision basis or as, "Sort of a club program where homeowners would share resort facilities." [191]

This observation by a high official at U.S. Land confirmed what VNPA officers and other park proponents had suspected all along—that Boise Cascade was serious about exploring the development potential on the Kabetogama Peninsula and that private lakeshore development, financed by one of the largest resort land development companies in the nation, could well doom the movement for a national park. Chapman, Andersen, and other park leaders realized time was not on their side and that they would have to mount an attack against Boise for defying the public interest in the matter of Voyageurs National Park.

The VNPA believed that Boise Cascade, a large, diversified corporation, had to be concerned about the damage a protracted dispute with conservationists and public officials would do to its public image and business. [192] Although they could alert the public to Boise's supposed intentions through VNPA newsletters and press releases, what they really hoped for was a pronouncement by a highly placed official that Boise's intended plans were indeed not in the public interest. Up to this point no major officeholder in the state had pronounced, in forceful and unmistakable fashion, support for national park on Kabetogama. Senator Walter Mondale filled that void for park advocates in an address to the fifteenth annual assembly of the Minnesota Conservation Federation in Duluth on September 16, 1967.

Mondale's speech was devoted entirely to the Voyageurs issue and to the need for early positive action to establish a national park in Minnesota. At one point he expressed deep concern over the possibility of private lakeshore development on Kabetogama noting that, "Such development could jeopardize, if not destroy, the opportunity for a national park on the Kabetogama peninsula." [193]

Some observers felt at the time that Mondale crafted his speech to accomplish three objectives: one, to place himself in the front ranks of those supporting the Kabetogama site for Voyageurs, thereby lending encouragement to park advocates who were trying to move the debate beyond the bickering over alternative sites; two, to blunt Boise's apparent interest in private development of the proposed park's scenic shoreland; and three, to nudge Congressman Blatnik closer to introducing legislation authorizing the park. Newspaper accounts said that Mondale's delivery was "vigorous" and forceful and quite in contrast to Blatnik's measured remarks at the same event. [194] For his part, Blatnik said he was waiting for "consensus" on the park issue but he now realized that with the prospects for private land development on Kabetogama, time was running out.

The gentle "prodding" from Mondale was only one of several Blatnik had received during the summer of 1967. In mid-July, the Minneapolis Tribune conducted a statewide poll on the proposed park and found that almost two-thirds of those polled felt the state would benefit from establishment of a national park. [195] The same day the Tribune, in its lead editorial, urged Blatnik to adopt a clear position favoring the Kabetogama Peninsula as the site for Voyageurs. [196] A few days before the Tribune poll, Representative Don Fraser, a fellow Democrat from the Twin Cities area, said that the Minnesota congressional delegation should confer on the matter in order to push toward getting a bill in before the end of the year. [197] During the same week, Republican Representative Albert Quie wrote to NPS Director Hartzog requesting assistance in drafting legislation to establish a park on Kabetogama. [198]

This was the kind of pressure Blatnik did not like. He was particularly angry over the prodding from members of the Minnesota congressional delegation. At a public gathering in Duluth in August he said local agreement and full bipartisan support in the Minnesota delegation was going to be needed before a park bill would be introduced with any hope of congressional approval. "No congressional committee chairman would spend five minutes trying to adjudicate park differences within the delegation." [199] This was a clear message to his colleagues and to the Twin Cities press that he would submit a bill when he was ready, and he had already said that would not occur until early in 1968. He simply wasn't going to let this kind of pressure interfere with his style of leadership in a district he knew so well. He was a consensus builder. He wanted to see a proposal that would satisfy national park standards, respond to the concerns of constituents living in the area closest to the proposed park, and still satisfy most of the park advocates. And he thought he just might have a way to meet these requirements, but he wouldn't go public with it until he did some checking with the NPS.

In early August Blatnik asked Regional Director Fagergren and several other NPS officials, including Kawamoto, to meet with him in his Washington office. He asked them to comment on the feasibility of a park incorporating the Namakan-Crane Lake area under USFS jurisdiction and just the east half of the Kabetogama Peninsula. Privately at least, he felt this plan would satisfy some critics who complained of the huge loss of private land under the proposed park plan, and the Crane Lake extension would add more federal land to the park, thus appeasing those who saw the NPS plan as just another private land grab by the federal government. Blatnik's scheme would also allow Boise to proceed with its plans for private recreation development on the west half of the peninsula. Kawamoto explained that the NPS could not study the Namakan-Crane Lake area without the approval of the agriculture secretary, and that the NPS viewed the Kabetogama Peninsula as a discrete "management unit," and that private ownership of the west half would make it impossible to properly manage the park as a natural area. [200]

Alarmed by such a proposal and anticipating more questions regarding schemes for a "split" peninsula, the NPS resource planning office was asked to develop a clear position statement declaring that such an arrangement was unacceptable to the NPS because the peninsula would then lose its unique character as a natural unit. [201] Blatnik quickly saw that his "compromise" proposal could not work, but he believed that including the Namakan-Crane Lake area would add much to the proposal since it would give the visitor a wider range of recreational opportunities. [202] So what was actually an in-house suggestion was never formalized nor publicly discussed and was dropped.

The proposal for a national recreation area instead of a national park, the flap over the botched county land sale, Mondale's speech urging authorization of a national park on Kabetogama, fellow Minnesota congressmen threatening to upstage Blatnik, and continued calls for alternative site studies kept the Voyageurs issue in the public press for the entire spring and summer of 1967. Congressman Blatnik's office was compelled to devote more time to the issue as the pressure mounted.

And pressure from both sides was also exerted on the governor's office to move more aggressively to help resolve the issue. Indeed, leading park supporters were urging Levander to move quickly and take a formal position supporting the NPS recommendation for a park on the Kabetogama Peninsula. They believed a declaration of support by the governor would cause Blatnik to move more quickly on the legislative front. The Levander administration picked up the park issue within weeks after inauguration and continued to study and monitor public discussion and opinion on the issue during the spring and early summer. By late July, aides had convinced Levander that the public interest, as well as his own political position, would be best served if his office could develop a coordinated plan of study, research and public discussion that would focus on all pertinent issues linked with the Voyageurs proposal. To this Levander agreed and work to carry out the objectives of the plan was well underway by early August.

Governor Levander's staff included several key individuals who not only possessed the necessary organizational skills to carry the Voyageurs project forward, but they were already friendly to the concept of a national park for northern Minnesota. This was no small matter due to the fact that two of them had held important positions in the corporate offices of Elmer L. Andersen's H.B. Fuller Company. One was David Durenberger, an attorney who later became a U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Durenberger had been a law partner in Levander's firm and came with the governor to serve as his executive secretary/chief of staff. Archie Chelseth, also a former Andersen employee, was a research specialist in Levander's office and was closely associated with many of the Levander administration's efforts related to Voyageurs from 1967-1969. (Chelseth said he was viewed suspiciously by some staff people as an "Andersen person" in the Levander administration.) [203] Robert Herbst, who would become assistant interior secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in the Carter administration's Interior Department, was Levander's deputy commissioner of conservation.

As part of the effort on the Voyageurs project, Levander was particularly concerned that an independent report on the national park proposal be prepared for his use and as a public document for those seeking information about the proposal. He wanted an objective report containing no recommendations. The task of producing this report was given to his commissioner of conservation, Jarle Leirfallom. Leirfallom, a long-time personal friend of the governor, was appointed to head the Department of Conservation even though he had little prior experience in dealing with the broad responsibilities and the controversial philosophical issues that come with that office in a state like Minnesota.

Some park supporters, knowing of Leirfallom's opposition to the growth of federal land holdings in the border lakes region as well as his preference for resource and recreational activities that would not be permitted in a national park, had misgivings about the objectivity of the report coming out of the commissioner's office. Perhaps to allay such fears, Leirfallom asked Deputy Commissioner Herbst to make the appointments to the team that would do the research for the project. He chose Roger Williams from the Bureau of Engineering and William West from the Division of Lands and Forestry.

Shortly after the research began, Leirfallom, realizing that there was still concern among park advocates about the credibility of a report produced in his department, wrote to Judge Chapman stating that he wished to dispel the impression that he was opposed to a national park. He said he wanted an arrangement where all the facts could be placed on the table. "I'm in favor of any park that will be good for Minnesota." [204] But, the concern over objectivity of the final report continued both within the Levander administration and among those outside who knew that such a report was being prepared.

On August 17, at the request of Director of State Parks Hella, Kawamoto came to St. Paul to brief Williams and West on the history of the Voyageurs project. Kawamoto said that Hella, a longtime supporter of Voyageurs, was concerned because, "Mr. Leirfallom appears to oppose the proposed Voyageurs National Park (principally because of his feeling that there should be less land in public ownership, not because he opposes the park per se)." [205] Judge Hella also told Kawamoto that he and Leirfallom had mutually agreed to remain neutral, i.e. to not interfere with the preparation or final content of the report. Kawamoto met with Williams and West a month later just as they were nearing completion of their report. They told Kawamoto that they feared that Commissioner Leirfallom might make changes in the report before it went to the governor, and they were relying on Deputy Commissioner Herbst to convince the commissioner to preserve the objectivity of their report. [206] On October 4, 1967, Leirfallom sent the report on to the governor with a short cover memo devoid of any personal bias concerning the report's content. [207]

The Williams-West report on Voyageurs, modestly identified as an "administrative report," was in fact a balanced, factual source book that presented the history of the park proposal as well as background information on some of the more controversial questions which had emerged since the NPS released its first report in 1963. Arguments for and against the park on the Kabetogama Peninsula were presented in the report. The document also included several proposals for alternative sites for a national park as well as proposals for management of the Kabetogama Peninsula under multiple-use plans administered by local units of government.

Boise Cascade's company policy favoring an alternative site in the Lac La Croix area and its new (1967) plan for expanded recreational use of its Kabetogama lands, was appended to the report as was the USFS argument against shifting the park site to the Lac La Croix area because it would remove that area from the BWCA. Excerpts from the Aguar (1966) plan advocating multiple-use management for the peninsula with a designation as a national recreation area were also included. This plan was rejected by Aguar's clients, the planning commissions of St. Louis and Koochiching counties, in the spring of 1967. The Williams-West report contained two other alternatives to national park status for the Kabetogama Peninsula. One, dated April 1967, recommended revision of county zoning ordinances in order to recognize the scenic and historic values of the Kabetogama area and still preserve the existing multiple-use management practices. Finally, the report included a bi-county management scheme that would be administered by a board called the Joint Commission for the Management of the Kabetogama Peninsula. The plan was offered by a St. Louis County commissioner at a county-sponsored land symposium on September 8, 1967.

A featured speaker at the forum was the chairman of the Maine Park and Recreation Commission who described the management program for the recently established (1966) Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The inspiration for the commissioner's proposal came from the example of the Maine state plan for the Allagash which was chosen by that state as an alternative to a proposal for a national park in that area. [208]

In the summary of their report, Williams and West reminded readers that states do not determine the location of national parks. The NPS does that after determining the suitability of a site in accordance with a comprehensive set of criteria. Their report concluded with the observation that the NPS chose the Kabetogama Peninsula and so the state must consider two questions: "(1) Do we want a national park in Minnesota and, if so, (2) How might the problems regarding establishment and management of a park on the Kabetogama peninsula best be solved?" [209]

Shortly after the Conservation Department's report was released, the NPS learned from Representative Blatnik's administrative assistant, Jim Oberstar, that the congressman had finally agreed to the Kabetogama site and that he also wanted to see the Namakan-Crane Lake area added to the park proposal. Adding this segment was an idea Blatnik had expressed in early August when he met with park officials in his Washington office. In fact, Oberstar said Blatnik had already discussed the matter with Interior Secretary Udall telling him that he wanted to get the Namakan-Crane Lake area added to the proposed park (not simply move the park eastward—he would leave the entire Kabetogama Peninsula in the park). Blatnik also knew of the prior agreement that prohibited the Agriculture and Interior Departments from initiating unilaterally new proposals to change the status of lands under the jurisdiction of the other department. He therefore saw the need to get the two secretaries together to discuss the issue. Oberstar also said that a meeting was being arranged for early November between Blatnik and Governor Levander to discuss the park issue. Blatnik hoped to get Levander's commitment to the Kabetogama site and also to extending the eastern boundaries to include the Namakan-Crane Lake segment. [210]

The Conservation Department's summary report on the Voyageurs proposal was exactly what the governor had requested—an objective formal presentation of the opposing positions that could be useful in future public discussion of the park proposal. It was also accepted by both sides of the controversy as a very useful, impartial presentation of the facts. After its release the governor's staff acted quickly to move the debate to another level, an open public forum hosted by the governor. They chose November 28 at Virginia, Minnesota as the date and place for the meeting. They devised a format where all sides of the issue could be heard and their positions placed on the record. The Williams-West report would provide detailed background information on the issue and the forum would afford the opportunity for opposing views to be heard in an orderly, constructive manner. The governor would address the conference but would withhold announcement of his position on the park at Kabetogama until after the conference.

The five weeks preceding the forum were used by the press, federal agencies, and interested organizations to get their messages before the public. The NPS was busy answering twenty-two questions submitted by Congressman Blatnik and the Northland Multiple Use Association regarding the proposed park and its impact. A local Duluth radio and television station announced results of a poll showing that a majority of residents in northeastern Minnesota favored a national park on Kabetogama. The media carried stories and editorials stressing the Kabetogama Peninsula as the logical site for a national park. Wallace Dayton, president of the Dayton Hudson Corporation in Minneapolis and former board member of the M&O, showed his disapproval of Boise's opposition to the park by giving his 200 shares of Boise stock to the VNPA. [211]

In St. Paul, Governor Levander was trying to sort out mixed messages on the park issue that he was receiving from staff members in his own administration. Several staff people working closely with the Voyageurs project were urging him to publicly support the park. But several weeks before the Virginia conference, Conservation Commissioner Leirfallom sent several memos to the governor reiterating his earlier concerns that establishment of the park would simply place more land in federal ownership. In one memo he said, "One of the acute problems in the border counties today is an excess of publicly owned lands, and to put more land into public ownership does not make sense." [212]

Commissioner Leirfallom's position opposing increased federalization of the border lakes region was shared by many residents in northeastern Minnesota. Their point of view was forcefully presented at the governor's Virginia conference by R.J. Higgins, a state senator from the Duluth area. In Higgins' remarks to the several hundred participants he vigorously defended the principle of states rights in such matters and proceeded to attack conservation organizations who he said rode roughshod over those who attempted to oppose their ideas. "These well-heeled preservation groups have managed to sway public opinion by pouring out a veritable flood of carefully conceived, misleading and contrived propaganda which has already severely damaged Minnesota and Minnesotans before the eyes of the nation." [213]

Senator Higgins continued to vigorously oppose the Voyageurs proposal in the state senate and at public meetings until his defeat for reelection in 1970. He was especially aggressive in his opposition at public hearings where NPS personnel were asked to testify. John Kawamoto reported that at one public hearing conducted by the Senate Public Domain Committee, of which Higgins was a member, he and a colleague stood for almost two hours responding to questions—many of them repetitious. He became convinced that the real purpose of the meeting was to, "Attack the National Park Service and including the integrity of the National Park Service representatives." [214]

Senator Higgins was just one of about a dozen presenters participating at the governor's workshop on Voyageurs. In his invitation to the speakers the governor noted that it was not a public hearing. It was an opportunity to take testimony from a select group of participants who had the necessary expertise on the relevant issues surrounding the park proposal and who could provide answers to the many unresolved questions. One individual in that select group was NPS Director George Hartzog. [215] He pointed out the economic benefits they could expect from establishment of the park and then made two points which he hoped would clarify the NPS position on Voyageurs. One, the Kabetogama Peninsula qualified on all counts for national park status. Two, because of the overwhelming support in Minnesota for a national park, the decision on Voyageurs should not be delayed. [216] Senator Mondale echoed Hartzog's admonition for speedy action in a wire sent to the conference through Judge Edwin Chapman. Mondale said, "We are not operating in a seller's market and if we don't believe this we should just look at the list of bills before Congress today for projects such as this." [217]

Shortly after the Virginia workshop, Governor Levander, perhaps as a concession to his conservation commissioner, said he would not commit himself on the Kabetogama Peninsula as the site for a national park until after the Virginia conference. He hoped the information coming out of that meeting would prove helpful to him in making his final decision on the matter. In his remarks to the gathering, Levander expressed concern that a national park on the peninsula would add more federal land in the border lakes region. He also raised questions concerning land acquisition procedures, hunting policies, and the impact on timber supply for local wood products industries.

NPS Director Hartzog supplied answers to most of the governor's questions. But to the surprise of many, particularly to park advocates, the governor introduced another issue that opened up once again the interagency dispute over jurisdiction of the Namakan-Crane Lakes area. In his discussion on park boundaries, the governor suggested serious consideration be given to revision of the official NPS proposal to include this segment. He cited several reasons for this suggestion, which are summarized here.

  • The Crane Lake addition would enhance the western entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area while also serving as an entrance point on the southeast for Voyageurs National Park.

  • A Crane Lake entrance would permit Ely to benefit economically from the new park.

  • The smaller lakes (Crane and Sand Point) would add greater variety to the water-based park and would be a safe alternative to the larger lakes in bad weather.

  • The addition would make a "better park" from the state's standpoint and would serve the private tourist industry. [218]

The governor did mention the fact that the NPS had studied the Namakan-Crane Lake area in 1962-1963 and concluded that, in union with the Kabetogama area, it qualified for designation as a national park and therefore included it in their early draft proposals for a national park. Whenever the governor or members of his staff questioned the NPS regarding the inclusion of this segment in a revised proposal, they were told about the early studies that emphasized the historical significance of the voyageurs route from Crane Lake to Rainy Lake and the physical unity of this segment of the border lakes region. For those reasons, the NPS had included the Namakan-Crane Lake area in their earliest draft proposals for Voyageurs.

National Park Service personnel who did the initial studies on Voyageurs and those familiar with the study reports always insisted it would be a better park if this section were included in the final legislation. Of course, they then had to point out that they were prohibited by the "treaty" with the USFS, who managed the area, from unilaterally doing any further study. For that reason the eastern boundary of the park in the official proposal ended at the east end of the Kabetogama Peninsula. Although he made no mention of it in his remarks to the workshop participants, Governor Levander might have mentioned the physical unity of the entire border lakes region and the NPS position that there were advantages to a single-agency management for the segment extending from Crane Lake to Rainy Lake.

It remained for John Borchert, professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, to explain the importance of recognizing the cultural and scenic values of the entire Minnesota border lakes region. Borchert saw this area as one scenic corridor, one package—a scenic and historic museum that he implied would require careful planning and management if the values of the proposed park were to be protected. [219]

NPS Director Hartzog accompanied the governor on the return flight to Minneapolis, which gave them an opportunity to freely discuss the Voyageurs proposal in light of the information presented at the workshop. From that conversation, Hartzog learned that Levander truly wanted a national park for Minnesota and that he was now committed to supporting a park on the Kabetogama Peninsula. However, as he had stated in his address to participants, he believed that the proposed park boundaries should be extended eastward to include the Namakan-Crane Lake area. But, somewhere in their conversation, Hartzog got the impression that the governor wanted to see a park proposal that left a portion of the western part of the peninsula in private hands. Upon his return to Washington, Hartzog shared this information in a memorandum to a staff associate noting that Levander didn't say so, but from his conversation, "I just infer this." [220] Hartzog realized that without the entire peninsula there could be no park no matter what was done to extend the boundaries on the east.

Congressman Blatnik a month earlier, had already dropped any reduction in Kabetogama lands as a condition for his support, but it was still alive in the mind of the governor and was apparently put there by his conservation commissioner. Leirfallom had consistently held that too much private land would be required to meet the conditions of the NPS proposal. He and others apparently felt that one way to remedy this situation would be to add more federal land by including the Namakan-Crane Lake area under USFS jurisdiction and removing some unspecified private acreage on the west half of the Kabetogama Peninsula. In this way, the ratio of federal land to private land would be increased, thus blunting the criticism of those who saw the whole project as yet another federal land grab.

Any fears Director Hartzog may have had that Levander would actually pursue removal of west Kabetogama lands were quickly set aside when, on November 30, just two days after the workshop, the governor called a news conference and announced his support for the park as proposed by the NPS. As he did at the Virginia conference, he recommended that the proposed park boundaries be extended southeasterly to include the "Crane Lake Recreation Area" managed by the USFS, and that authorizing legislation reflect this addition.

On the day Levander made his announcement, a Minneapolis Star reporter quoted Elmer L. Andersen as saying he was, "Convinced that Governor Levander's decision today to give Voyageurs National Park his unqualified endorsement clinched the park for Minnesota. With bipartisan support assured there should be little doubt of early Congressional action." [221] The former governor was correct in his assessment of the bipartisan support for the park, but if he meant early congressional approval of the park when he referred to early congressional action, he was overly optimistic. Congressional authorization was still three years away on that November day in 1967. To get to that point he would have to rely even more on his organizational and motivational skills and on some good friends for greater support.

With the governor's public announcement favoring the park on Kabetogama and preceded by a very successful conference in Virginia, the campaign for Voyageurs took a significant turn. Park advocates had good reason to claim a giant step forward while opponents remained skeptical that this was the best management policy for the Kabetogama lands. Opposition leaders, as well as most Voyageurs supporters, were probably unaware of Blatnik's tentative and, at that date, private commitment to the Kabetogama site and his questions to the NPS in August about extending the proposed park boundary on the southeast to include the Crane Lake Recreation Area. With the governor's position now clear and public, both political leaders were supportive of the official park proposal, and both saw advantages in the inclusion of the Crane Lake area.

The governor's press conference also included a statement that he would be going to Washington, D.C. on December 6-7 to meet with the Minnesota delegation on the park issue. Press accounts termed the governor's statement as a giant step toward the kind of consensus Congressman Blatnik always said was required before he would introduce legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Washington, Blatnik praised Levanander's stand on the park proposal and said he looked forward to the governor's visit. Publicly, Blatnik's position was for endorsement of a national park in principle, but he was reluctant to publicly reveal his position on the precise location. [222]

Two Democrats, U.S. Senator Mondale and U.S. Congressman Don Fraser from the Twin Cities, also congratulated Levander for backing the Kabetogama site. But the greatest display of political support for the governor's pronouncement came from leaders of his own party. Republican congressmen and the state party chairman saw the issue as now in Blatnik's hands and they urged him to keep the ball rolling by introducing legislation. [223] This bit of partisan prodding was clear evidence that the Republican Party wanted to make it clear that they were out ahead in supporting one of the most important natural resource opportunities in recent state history

It must be emphasized here that the Voyageurs project always enjoyed strong bipartisan support during the entire campaign for authorization and establishment. At the state level, the project began with Republican Governor Elmer L. Andersen's administration in 1962 and continued under Governor Rolvaag, a Democrat, who relied primarily upon his conservation commissioners to work with park advocates.

Republican Governor Levander took up the cause in 1967 and saw it through the legislative stage to congressional approval in December, 1970. Governor Wendell Anderson, a Democrat, succeeded Levander and supported state legislation donating the required state lands for final establishment of the park in 1975. While all administrations endorsed and publicly promoted the cause, it was the Levander administration that provided the greatest energy and leadership toward moving the park question into the final legislative phase.

By the time Levander took office in 1967, a number of conservation and civic organizations, led by the VNPA, had publicly endorsed the park and public opinion polls showed a majority in favor of a park for Minnesota. It had become a popular issue and was embraced by major Republican Party officials across the state except for the Eighth Congressional District of northeastern Minnesota. In spite of growing popularity of the park proposal, much needed to be accomplished. The procedures for establishing a park were not well understood by the general public and even public officials, who would eventually play a role in the process, were not well informed on the mechanics and sequence of actions required to get park legislation through the legislative process. There also seemed to be a lack of knowledge about national park management policies and the historical traditions and experiences that caused some of these policies to become absolute requirements for national park designation. Matters relating to land tenure and public access to land and water areas in the proposed park were not clear. And of course there was formidable opposition to even the mention of a national park anywhere in the region, but particularly in the northeastern part of the state where the park would be located. For some in this part of the state a national park was unthinkable.

The Levander administration realized that "gray" areas had to be removed before some could endorse the park and before the larger public could have confidence that a national park was not only in the national interest but in the state's interest as well. Levander wisely determined that the Voyageurs project was so important that it should be managed by staff people in his own office. It should be recalled that his predecessor, Karl Rolvaag, assigned responsibility for the Voyageurs project to Conservation Commissioner Wayne Olson, who resigned in the middle of 1966. After his resignation, the project received only minimal attention. But early in his administration, Levander moved swiftly to revive the issue. He moved it to "center stage" to help close the information gap regarding the proposal and its economic and political impact, and to seek answers to the many questions—some very complex—that were being raised by opponents and proponents alike. After the governor's commitment to the park on Kabetogama, it was time to work with pro-park organizations and individuals to help build support for the issue, thus forcing the hand of Congressman Blatnik who would have to introduce the authorizing legislation in the U.S. House.

The responsibility for organizing the effort on Voyageurs and developing an effective strategy for achieving the project's goals fell to the governor's director of research, Archie Chelseth. Between 1967 and 1969, Chelseth helped keep the Voyageurs proposal high on the administration's action agenda. It was Chelseth who took the lead in structuring the successful Virginia workshop that placed the Levander administration in a leadership position on Voyageurs. It was Chelseth who defined the national issue for the governor, emphasizing the significance of the proposal to the state and the upper Midwest. It was Chelseth who emphasized the political advantage in being out front on what was becoming a popular issue in the state and what he personally felt was one of the most significant natural resource issues in state history.

Within a few days of Levander's press conference announcing his endorsement of the park, Chelseth sent the governor several memoranda. In one he congratulated Levander for his action and then made suggestions as to how he could maintain momentum on the issue. In his congratulatory memo he said, "With your announcement Voyageurs has truly come of age." He said he was, "Convinced that, as our pre-eminent national resource project, the eventual establishment of the Voyageurs National Park will be a lasting tribute to the wise leadership of your administration. I will do what I can to underscore the wisdom of your decision." [224] In another memo he recommended that Voyageurs be placed at the top of Minnesota's list for recognition and support by the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission, which was to meet in January 1968. Chelseth reminded the governor that he had publicly endorsed Michigan Governor Romney's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore proposal and Wisconsin Governor Knowles' proposal for an Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and he could now call upon the two governors to, "Endorse the Voyageurs National Park as an integral part of the three-state upper Great Lakes effort." [225]

Another Chelseth memorandum contained a suggested list of points that the governor should use in his December 7-8 meeting with the Minnesota congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. [226] Anticipating a Blatnik park bill early in 1968, Levander sought to influence the content of the legislation so that the interests of residents and businesses near the park would be protected. Chelseth's suggestions served the governor well. They identified the concerns of those living and doing business closest to the proposed park and those who used the area for seasonal recreational pursuits. The correspondence urged extension of the park to the southeast to include the top half of the Crane Lake area, adjustment of the proposed boundaries of the park so that resorts on Kabetogama Lake's southwest shore would be excluded, no major increase in federal land ownership, and a year round national park that guaranteed snowmobiling.

Chelseth also suggested exploring the possibility of direct access to the Kabetogama Peninsula by road and three additional points which, if included in the legislation, would blunt the source of a lot of local opposition. One, request that the NPS explore the adoption of selective timber cutting for management purposes (not commercial harvesting). Two, relaxation of hunting restrictions, at least for a few years, to reduce the size of the deer herd. Three, retain state sovereignty over fish management. It is significant that all of these points, except the direct road access to the peninsula, would surface repeatedly during the debate over Voyageurs between 1968 and 1970.

In a third memo to Levander written shortly after the governor's pledge of support for Voyageurs, Chelseth recommended and the governor approved the creation of an "administrative mechanism for coordinating policy-making and administrative activities within the administration." [227 This was a five-member interdepartmental committee on Voyageurs comprised of Chelseth (the governor's director of research), J. Kimball Whitney (commissioner of economic development), Jarle Leirfallom (conservation commissioner), and a representative from the State Planning Agency and one from the attorney general's office. Chelseth recommended and the governor appointed Whitney chairman of the committee. To facilitate the work of the committee and maintain the focus on the Voyageurs project, the governor, at the suggestion of the committee and several close staff members, appointed Roger Williams to serve under the title of coordinator of the Governor's Interdepartmental Committee on Voyageurs National Park. [228] Levander's advisers closest to the Voyageurs project believed that Williams, co-author of the Conservation Department's comprehensive report on Voyageurs, was the most knowledgeable person in the administration about the park and possessed the communication skills, training, and personality best-suited for the assignment.

With the interdepartmental committee and its coordinator in place, the state administration believed it was in excellent position to respond quickly and effectively to matters relating to the Voyageurs project. In one year, the Voyageurs issue had moved to center stage among other natural resource issues in the state and the Levander administration was poised to see the project through to final passage in Congress. The success of the Virginia conference, Levander's announcement of support for the Kabetogama site in early December, and the successful Washington, D.C. meeting with the Minnesota congressional delegation put Representative Blatnik on the defensive. His "go slow" approach had given the Republican administration in St. Paul the opportunity to be viewed as the leading advocate for a very popular statewide cause. Taking advantage of this opportunity and moving the Voyageurs issue to the fore came about, in no small measure, because of Elmer L. Andersen's strong push for the park in public debate and his indefatigable devotion to the cause for a national park in Minnesota. And it didn't hurt that some of his former associates and staff people held key positions inside the Levander administration.

Andersen, a founding member of the VNPA, encourage a number of his friends, many of them influential business and professional people, to join the VNPA and work with him to help bring a national park to Minnesota. A fair number of these individuals had considerable experience in the Minnesota state park movement over many years and were no strangers to dealing with challenging conservation issues. Notable among these were Martin Kellogg, a Twin Cities corporate executive, St. Paul attorney Sam Morgan, St. Paul executive Tom Savage, Hennepin County Judge Edwin Chapman, who was the former chairman of the State Parks Council and first president of the VNPA, Fergus Falls physician Dr. Norman Baker and U.W. Hella, director of Minnesota State Parks.

With full knowledge of John Blatnik's deliberate style, as exemplified by his determination for consensus on Voyageurs, Governor Andersen moved to build that consensus as quickly as possible by employing the process that had proved amazingly successful in his battle for the taconite amendment in 1964.

On November 9, 1967, he announced the formation of a Citizens Committee for Voyageurs National Park whose purpose would be to mobilize grass roots support for the park. [229] Operating as an extension of the VNPA, leaders of the association said that the citizens committee would seek to, "Identify all elements of support for the Voyageurs proposal and to provide a unified voice for individuals and organizations to express their support." [230] As he did with the taconite amendment campaign, Andersen chose leaders across the socioeconomic spectrum who were highly respected within their communities and, in many instances, across the state.

Dr. Charles W. Mayo agreed to serve as honorary chairman just as he did for the taconite project, and serving as co-chairman were Duluth attorney Arthur Roberts and Dr. Norman Baker of Fergus Falls. Dr. Baker was a longtime leader in the Minnesota State Parks Council and was familiar with a whole range of park and recreation issues in the state. Rita Shemish, who served so effectively in the effort for the taconite amendment, was named executive secretary of the citizens committee. Due principally to the organizational skill and energy of Shemish, this organization was operational by mid-January of 1968. By June 1970, just two and one-half years later, over 1,400 organizations—civic, political, service, religious, and social—had passed resolutions endorsing Voyageurs National Park on the Kabetogama Peninsula. [231] Most were located in Minnesota, but many were regional and national as well. And most passed their resolutions in response to information and encouragement received from individual members and subcommittees of the Citizens Committee for Voyageurs National Park.

As the debate over Voyageurs moved to a new and more intense phase, it was clear that growing public support for the park movement notwithstanding, sentiment against the park was still strong in northeastern Minnesota as evidenced by the following:

  • An editorial in the Duluth News-Tribune in mid-October praised the advantages of the multiple-use philosophy and advocated its continuance on the Kabetogama Peninsula. It further noted the large amount of land already under federal ownership and then said, "Surely these areas present possibilities for one or more national parks to fill in the pattern and give Minnesota its share in the system." [232] Whether intended or not, this kind of editorial from the largest newspaper in northeastern Minnesota could only add to the confusion over the park proposal. It would lead the reader to conclude that national parks are available to states as a rightful "share" in the park system, and that in Minnesota's case, one could be designated most anywhere in the federal forest and lake lands of northern Minnesota.

  • In what must have been a bitter disappointment to Governor Levander, the Eighth District Republican Party reaffirmed its opposition to a park on the Kabetogama Peninsula in the fall of 1968. The seven officers of the Koochiching County Republican Committee submitted their resignations (not accepted by the full committee) as their way of protesting the governor's endorsement of the Kabetogama site.

  • Former speaker of the Minnesota House, Ed Chilgren, who came from Littlefork (southwest of International Falls), saw the Virginia conference as an exercise in futility and "just window dressing" for the governor.

  • An editorial in the Iron Range newspaper, the Mesabi Daily News, written just before the Virginia workshop, raised the issue of conflicting values between metropolitan (Twin Cities) areas and rural Minnesota. "So it is not strange that metropolitan citizenry—incited by a type of leadership little concerned about little people in the state's forest areas—should, under the guise of conservation and recreation, plump for a national park in the Kabetogama sector, a goal which, if successful, will limit jobs and opportunities in the communities served by the wood product industries." The editorial concluded by stating that, "outland Minnesota should be more than a playground and prey for the metropolitan complex." [233] The sentiments expressed in this editorial mirror those made at public forums in Duluth in the 1890s when proposals were made for national parks in the forest and lake country of northern Minnesota.

  • In sharp disagreement with the governor's endorsement of Voyageurs and doubtful of his assurances that he would seek to protect the interests of nearby residents in authorizing legislation, the International Falls City Council passed a resolution on December 11, 1967 opposed to the proposed park on Kabetogama, "Until and unless private, individual, business and local governmental interests are adequately protected." [234] This was a reversal of its earlier position supporting the park.

  • The Boise Cascade Corporation said that because of Governor Levander's endorsement of the park, "It has been forced to re-examine its entire position with regard to the maintenance or possible expansion of our Minnesota operations." [235]

  • Four weeks after Governor Levander called for a national park that included the Crane Lake Recreation Area, Supervisor John Wernham of the Superior National Forest, restated an opinion first expressed at the Virginia conference that the proposed park should not "invade" the Superior by annexing the Crane Lake area. This time his position came in a formal press release that identified twelve reasons why this would not be in the public interest and especially not in the interests of those living adjacent to the proposed park. Wernham emphasized the advantages of multiple use and sustained-yield management of these lands as a way of continuing what had been a very successful policy for many years and one very well understood and generally supported by the residents of northeastern Minnesota.

The passage of the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 formally recognized recreation and fish and wildlife along with the traditional concerns of timber, water, and grazing to be included in the management responsibilities of the USFS. The Crane Lake Recreation Area was in harmony with the new management philosophy as expressed in this act and therefore provided the staff of Superior National Forest with what they felt was a very strong defense of their position on the Crane Lake issue. [236]

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009