Old Tamarac: Check out our video!
Park rangers at Tamarac Refuge are unlocking the paddle locks and swinging open the gates to some of the area's most tangible pieces of history.
"People usually aren't allowed back here," said Tamarac's senior Park Manager Kelly Blackledge, as she literally walks down a path less traveled.
While only wildlife is allowed to actually live in the park today, Blackledge and other guides will be bringing people back into a section of the refuge where little clues to human settlement still stand.
It's part of the Tamarac History Tour, something park officials began doing once a month during the summer four years ago.
"We'll meet at the Visitor's Center at 10 a.m. and begin a caravan to at least three historical sites," said Blackledge.
One of those sites, which is only opened for tours like this, is a section of land that holds three log houses.
Built in the late 1800s, they were once scattered on the refuge, but transported to one site back in the 1960s.
"This is the Ole Dahl Cabin," Blackledge said, pointing to an old, rustic log cabin that looks like it jumped right out of an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
It was built in 1890.
"We'll be able to bring people in and show them the unique features of the cabin, like the logs -- it's not very often you see a cabin that's put together this tightly," said Blackledge, "It's amazing."
Neighboring the Dahl cabin is the 1874 John Nyland Cabin, which was moved from the Ponsford area.
A glance through an old, broken window shows an antique rocking chair still sitting in the middle of the small, family cabin.
"It's pretty typical of the size of cabin that settlers would have lived in," said Blackledge, "There might have been a whole big family living in here."
Further down the clearing sits a reminder of the land's Native American roots.
The 1910 Ogemashing Cabin was named after its Chippewa owner.
Tamarac officials say Ogemashing used the pine lumber that was produced by a government sawmill operating during that time for the benefit of relocated tribal members.
As rare and valuable as they are, wildlife, weather and vegetation continue to bury into the cabins, deteriorating them with time.
"The refuge really doesn't have funding to preserve these because it's not really supposed to be part of our mission to maintain historical buildings," said Blackledge, adding that the refuge is hoping somebody more capable of preservation will buy them soon.
The History Tour will also hit a few other homestead sites, and although there are only foundations left, Blackledge says there are still little, natural clues to the settlers' existence there.
"There are lilacs, irises and other kinds of vegetation that wouldn't normally be on a pristine, woodland site," said Blackledge, "Settlers would bring in root stock of plants that they enjoyed at their previous home, then trade and sell them."
Blackledge says Tamarac was a prime place for early settlers (mostly Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians) looking to start a new life.
"There was a lot of maple syrup, wild rice, and game -- they were able to get a lot of ducks, deer, grouse, rabbits and different types of game that was a good source of food for them."
There were also huge logging opportunities, which settlers took full advantage of from 1870 until 1919, when they exhausted the resources.
A fairly barren Tamarac began being replenished in 1932, with the establishment of Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp 4709 -- another stop on the tour.
"This is where the workers who basically helped build the refuge lived," said Blackledge, "They built bridges, established roadways and initiated re-forestation projects."
The groups of mostly men worked as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal program, which helped put people to work building and preserving natural parks like Tamarac.
The original stone pillars still mark the entrance to the camp, now called "The Chippewa Picnic Area."
A walk down a winding path lined by a variety of 70-year-old trees leads to a stone structure that marks what used to be the center of the camp.
"This used to be a big bulletin board, where people would get info about upcoming activities in town or things they could do on their free time," said Blackledge.
Where bunkhouses and a mess hall once stood, now only concrete foundations remain, overgrown by vegetation.
"There's so much rich history here," said Blackledge, "This tour is just a great opportunity for people and families to come out and explore it all -- and we're still trying to find people who know more about the land's history, too," said Blackledge, adding that they will travel to nursing homes or wherever they need to in order to find out more on Tamarac history.
The tour is free and open to the public.
For more information, call the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge at 218-847-2641.