Blazing Trails and Building Friendships in Voyageurs National Park

Spring 2006 crew on the Kab-Ash Trail. Photos courtesy of Peggy Franchot.

By Kelly Fuller, Voyageurs National Park Association

Maintaining visitor services and the full range of recreational opportunities at Voyageurs National Park can be a challenge in this time of federal budget shortfalls. In 2006, two great events in the park showed that this challenge can be addressed with creative partnerships, and that meeting it can be a lot of fun.

The events were created by Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA) in partnership with the park, the Kabetogama Tourism Bureau, and Friends of Voyageurs National Park. Financial support came from the Quetico Superior Foundation, and discounted lodgings were provided by the Arrowhead Lodge and Northern Lights Resort, both in Kabetogama.

On two weekends in May and September, nearly 30 volunteers from all over Minnesota worked together with the park’s staff and local communities to clear 11 miles of the Kab-Ash and Blind Ash Bay Trails. These hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing trails, represent nearly 20% of the park’s foot-trail system. Volunteers were needed because tight budgets left the managers of Voyageurs National Park unable to maintain the park’s 55 miles of trails to high National Park Service standards. Sections of the Kab-Ash Trail were hidden by tall grass and brush, prompting park employees in the summer of 2005 to advise visitors against hiking the west section of the Kab-Ash Trail, which links up with the nearby community of Kabetogama, Minnesota. Having safe, accessible trails is important not only for park visitors, but also for local communities. Business owners in Kabetogama were concerned about the potential impact of overgrown trails. The town’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and the Kab-Ash Trail is one of the few recreational opportunities in the park that does not require a boat for access.

“The volunteer program at the Park has really expanded. We really appreciate all the different kinds of people who are contributing their talents,” said Teri Tucker, the park’s Volunteer Program Coordinator. “The trail project was another step in the direction of managing the park through partnerships.” Participating in the events helped volunteers better understand the challenges faced by the park’s managers. Doug Franchot, Chair of Voyageurs National Park Association, said, “You have a whole different perspective after spending two days working with other people and the Park Service. You’re not truly inside, as if you had the uniform, but after two days working with the Park Service you see what it’s like.”

The partnership approach is drawing positive reviews. Jim Hudson, a volunteer with VNPA, noted, “It was good to see the National Park Service letting people do maintenance. Years ago, the idea of the Park Service letting people go out with a pair of shears was unheard of.” Hudson said that volunteering also helped to strengthen relationships between local communities and park visitors. “One of the best parts was the sense of building stronger ties with the local community, doing something that wasn’t controversial and benefited resort owners and non-motorized users of the park,” he added.

With continued support from the Quetico Superior Foundation, the bridge-building between park users and local communities will continue. This year’s Volunteer Trail Rendezvous will be arranged by a Trails Partnership of citizen groups and local business owners working with the park. Voyageurs National Park Association, Friends of Voyageurs National Park, and the Kabetogama Tourism Bureau are all Trail Partners for 2007.


This article appeared in Wilderness News Spring 2007

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