LAKE VERMILION— The sound of a native drum punctuated the celebration of the opening of the Vermilion Ridge campground at the new Lake Vermilion Soudan Underground Mine State Park here on Thursday, …
LAKE VERMILION— The sound of a native drum punctuated the celebration of the opening of the Vermilion Ridge campground at the new Lake Vermilion Soudan Underground Mine State Park here on Thursday, harkening back to the centuries of connection that the Bois Forte people have had with the big lake and its surrounding forests.
It’s a link that Minnesota State Parks Director Erika Rivers said the DNR hopes to instill in future generations of Minnesotans. “That’s what this is really all about— it’s about connections. And we saw that with the Bois Forte band this morning, you could almost feel that drumbeat under your feet, being that connection to generations past and generations that will enjoy this park into the future.”
For those who have supported the park, the ribbon-cutting for the new campground was a chance to celebrate the progress toward that goal, and to outline the plans for the future as the park continues to develop into Minnesota’s newest and most modern state park. As many as 150 people turned out for the event, held under blue skies and mild temperatures.
Sen. Tom Bakk, who spoke at the event, said it’s been a bigger commitment than he had imagined more than a decade ago, when former DNR Commissioner Mark Holstein first broached the idea of the park to him. “We’re north of $50 million already and we’re not even close to done,” he said. “We’ll need at least another $50 million to finish the job.”
But Bakk said he doesn’t regret his support or the investment in the park, which the DNR is billing as “a place at the lake” for all Minnesotans. Bakk spoke personally about what growing up on the lake meant to him and how he wanted to be sure that it wasn’t just a playground for the wealthy in the future. And he committed to seeing the park’s development through to the end. “For all my Republican friends, if someone wants to pass this along: Tom Bakk is not leaving the Senate until this park is built.”
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said the new campground is highlighting a number of firsts, including being the first state park campground with full wi-fi as well as the first to operate a graywater recycling system. “We’re trying to make this as energy efficient as possible,” Landwehr added. Even so, Landwehr noted that a state park is a lot more than the technology and the plumbing. “It is this,” he said, motioning to the surrounding forest as ovenbirds and chestnut-sided warblers sang nearby. “This phenomenal nature… the beautiful forest, the outstanding rock outcrops, and the lake, one of the premier lakes in Minnesota. It’s an amazing place to spend time and create memories for your family.”
Minnesotans apparently agree, as park officials have noted that the campground is nearly full all summer. “This is going to be one of those places where you have to get on a wait list to get in, but many of you who have spent time here know it is worth the wait.”
The new campground provides 33 individual campsite, most all of which can host either RV or tent campers. The DNR held the ribbon-cutting at the Ojiig Group Camp, one of two large group camps at Vermilion Ridge, each of which can accommodate up to 60 people. Each group camp has its own bathroom and shower facilities and a large screened-in picnic shelter.
The completion of the new campground was a milestone, but just one of many in store at the park. “This is a great start, but there’s more coming,” said Rivers. Work will get underway later this summer on eight camper cabins, located not far from Vermilion Ridge. The cabins will be open year-round and each one will accommodate up to six people.
Other projects currently underway or starting this year at the park include:
• A hiking trail from the campground to Onumuni Overlook on Cable Bay.
• A picnic shelter designed for large groups near the historic mine.
• Accessibility updates to a boat-in cabin on Blue Heron Island in Mattson Bay.
Future construction at the park will include a planned lake lodge, which will serve as a visitors’ center, along with a trail-oriented campground, south of Hwy. 169, that will connect to the Mesabi Trail, the Prospector’s Loop ATV trail and the Taconite Trail.
Other park recently completed amenities at the park include hiking trails, a public water access in Cable Bay, and a new segment of the paved Mesabi Trail that connects the park to Tower. Another highlight of the park is the Armstrong Bay Day-Use Area, completed in 2013, which includes boat dockage, a fishing pier and a picnic area.
Daily tours of the historic Soudan Underground Mine are also available everyday, now through September.