Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
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August 22, 1987 was a bright day at Voyageurs National Park. The sun was glancing off the ripples of Rainy Lake making it a sea of diamonds. A large crowd had gathered in a festive mood for the dedication of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, the first visitor center in Voyageurs National Park. Thus equipping it completely so that a family could come in without gear of any kind and have a Voyageurs Park experience. In addition to the visitor center, there was a dock and launches to take people out into the water for a cruise around the islands and get a real feeling for Voyageurs Park.

Fred Witzig has done a wonderful job in capturing the story that lies behind that accomplishment. It started in 1962 with a trip around the area with a few people, including National Park Service Director, Conrad Wirth, son of Theodore Wirth of Minneapolis park planning fame. It was decided that day that the area justified study for national park status. That was a wonderful result back in 1962 and it was twenty-six years later that the job was wholly complete. It took ten years of land exchange and state legislation and other preparation to convince Congress to establish the park. And then it took six more years to get the appropriation to outfit the park so it was ready to receive visitors and give them a real park experience.

Fred Witzig was in at the beginning and must have kept careful notes because he has rendered a splendid service in recording things as they happened, in the way they happened, and with the cast of characters that caused it to happen. As I read the manuscript of his fine book, I kept wondering if he had the material on this event or that event, and he always did; and I wondered if he would give adequate recognition to this person or that person, and he always did. I can certainly recommend this account as the way that it truly happened as one who was also in it from the beginning and through all the details up to twenty-six years later.

As I sat in the crowd during the dedication program, I could not help but think that two things seemed to be verified by the Voyageurs Park experience. One is that people never lose in pursing a worthy cause. There can be ups and downs, delays, frustrations, but persistence will eventually prevail in a worthy cause. The other thing that is emphasized is that substantial public improvements take time to accomplish. They don't happen overnight and they don't happen with one sudden burst of activity. They happen when interested people devote themselves for a long period of time in tireless effort to finally achieve a worthy goal.

A hundred years from now people will be thankful for the preservation aspect of national park status and in the meantime, millions of people will enjoy the outdoor experience in a primitive area basically carefully maintained to protect its inherent values while making its joys available to many.

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009