Voyageurs National Park releases environmental analysis of Kettle Falls redevelopment proposal

Kettle Falls Hotel (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

The National Park Service is seeking to enhance visitor experiences, improve employee housing, and protect resources at the popular and remote Kettle Falls area of the park. The site includes the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, which is operated by private owners in partnership with the park, as well as boat marinas, picnicking areas, hiking trails, and more.

The agency is accepting comments until July 10 on its environmental review of the project.

The location is historic, there are multiple archaeological sites in the area, including evidence of people more than 2,000 years ago. From the late 1600s to the mid-1800s, there was an important portage on a major fur trade route at the Falls. There is evidence that large Ojibwe groups lived and traded at the falls as early as 1819. In the late 19th century, the falls became a stop for steamboat travel between Namakan Lake and Rainy Lake and a market for commercial fishermen.

Map of Voyageurs National Park and the Kettle Fall Historic District location. (Courtesy National Park Service)
The Kettle Falls Hotel in 1918. NPS.gov
The Kettle Falls Hotel in 1918. (Photo Koochiching County Historical Society, via NPS.gov)

“Some structures or facilities within the project area are aging and in need of repair or replacement,” the National Park Services writes. “Some of the existing site amenities, including the historic hotel, dam overlook, and some trails, do not meet universal accessibility standards. Likewise, trails and roads are showing signs of overuse.”

The hotel was built in the 1910s while the nearby Kettle Falls Dam was being constructed. It has since served lumberjacks, trappers and tourists. Today the hotel operator also provides food, gas, and portage services. The hotel and the area around it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The park’s contract with the hotel operator expires at the end of this year, and the redevelopment proposal is part of that process, seeking to “improve the viability of a successful concession operation.” The operating season is a mere six months, during open water season, with most bookings coming in just July and August. Meanwhile, overnight stays per year have been gradually declining over the past decade.

Specific proposals include moving hotel employee housing to a separate building, which would allow for more rental income at the hotel, creating new overnight lodging options, reconfiguring docks used by visitors, improvements for accessibility, landscaping, and day use areas rehabilitation. The area was last improved in the late 1980s.

The preferred preliminary alternative includes a new primitive campground with five tent sites, four camper cabins, and new employee housing for hotel workers.

Landscaping and other outdoor improvements would also be conducted around the hotel. A fire ring would be added, a lawn for games like bocce ball could be offered, trails would be improved and better defined, and a large social area that could be used for events like weddings.

Kettle Falls Project Area (map courtesy National Park Service)

The Park Service estimates the whole redevelopment could cost $10.6 million. The work could be spread over many years, and the agency admits that some parts of it may never be funded and completed.

The environmental analysis can be downloaded and comments submitted via the National Park Service website. The deadline is July 10.

Specific areas of focus for comments are the accuracy and adequacy of the information and analysis, and the historic resources and potential project impacts.

More Information:

Kettle Falls on NPS.gov

Kettle Falls Site Development Plans

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