Monday, January 11, 2016

Trails unveil Gooseberry Falls area history

Among the historic sights to see at Minnesota's
Gooseberry Falls State Park are handcrafted stone
buildings, including the Lakeview Shelter. Photo
courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
Most people visit Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park for its fantastic set of waterfalls. But a number of trails also explore the park’s intriguing history.

Native Americans, including the Cree, Dakotah and Ojibwe, have long resided in what is now the state park. Gooseberry River naturally attracted a variety of game and offered a good spot to fish, making it an excellent source of food.

French explorers Médard Chouart des Groseilliers (The anglization of his name, “Mr. Gooseberry,” appears in English texts of the time.) and Pierre-Esprit Radisson were the first European to pass the area in the mid 1600s. They clained the region for France, which lost it to the British in 1763. The burgeoning United States won the territory in 1783.

More than another century would pass, though, before American pioneers began to harness the North Shore’s great resources. Most notably for what is now Gooseberry Falls State Park, in 1900 the Nestor Logging Co. set up its headquarters at the mouth of the Gooseberry River and built a railroad – the Nestor Grade – to remove the vast white pine forest stretching across the Arrowhead. Most of the logs were rafted over Lake Superior to sawmills in Wisconsin and Michigan. By the 1920s, though, the white pine forests were gone. Signs of that logging era can be found on the River View Trail.

Despite the now barren landscape, North Shore residents hoped tourism would make up for the collapsed logging industry. Their efforts paid off, and by 1933 the state voted to preserve the area making up the state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, trails, a campground, a picnic area, and a visitor center; the structures are notable for their use of red, blue, brown and black basalt in the construction. In 1937, the state park was established. Many of the beautiful, handcrafted stone buildings erected by the CCC can be seen on the CCC Buildings Trail.

The park was named for the river, but the origin of the waterway’s name remains somewhat unclear. Some say the riverway was named for des Groseilliers while others believe it’s a translation of the Ojibwe word Shab-on-im-i-kan-i-sibi, the gooseberry plant that grows along the riverbanks. Those berry bushes can be seen on the Gooseberry River Trail.

Today, the park stands at 1,682 acres in size. In addition to the waterfalls, Lake Superior scenery, and CCC buildings, the Joseph N. Alexander Visitor Center, erected in 1996, also is a draw; among its most popular interpretive displays is that of the dire wolf, a freakishly large stuffed male wolf that died in the area during 1991.

Learn about more day hiking trails at and near Gooseberry Falls State Park in my Day Hiking Trails of Gooseberry Falls State Park guidebook.