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New Boat Tour Shows Voyageurs Visitors Life on the Lake

Baihly Warfield
Updated: August 18, 2019 11:32 PM

There are some national parks you can drive right through. But as rangers and visitors know, Voyageurs National Park is best experienced by water. According to the park's website, over 40 percent of it is water. 

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Raj Parekh, a visitor from California, has been to a few national parks. 

"This is actually the 49th one out of 61 for me, so I'm almost there, but some of the ones like this one are tougher to get to, so you have to plan a little bit more," Parekh said. 

He spent a few days at Voyageurs and made sure to book a few boat trips, including the brand new Life on the Lake tour. 

"To see it for what it is, you need to be on the water," Parekh said. 

Voyageurs already offered a Grand Tour by boat, but the Life on the Lake tour is a new one for guide Adam Mathews. He said it gives visitors a good idea of how people made a living on Rainy Lake over the past two centuries. 

"Just this Wild West northern frontier area," Mathews described a period in the late 1800s when people came looking for gold. 

There was a mine dug horizontally into an island called Bushy Head Island. 

"It's apparently named after the owner, Charles 'Bushy Head' Johnson," Mathews told the group. "This gold was embedded in the quartz rock, and it was very difficult to extract it."

Mathews said it took about a ton of rock to mine $20 worth of gold. He said Bushy Head Island was actively mined until 1901. In the winter, when the lake is frozen over, you can still walk into it. 

"I've heard from a previous boat captain that is one of the only spots in Minnesota where you can find mosquitoes in the middle of winter is back in that mine," Mathews joked. 

On Rainy Lake, work and wildlife intermingled. 

"We just improved the sites of Harry Oveson's fish camp," Mathews said. "We put in a new dock that people can access more rather than his dock, which wasn't always the best to tie up to."

The Life on the Lake tour stops there so people can get off the boat and walk around Oveson's camp.

Oveson made his living as a commercial fisherman there, settling on an island in Rainy Lake in 1959. But after striking a deal with the state, he left in 1985. And the buildings left behind are now more about education than enterprise. 

"For the people that they want to experience the park but don't have the means of boat, canoe, kayak, that's why we offer the tour so you can get a really good sense of what the park is, what's it's all about," Mathews said. 

For full-time RVers Kathy and Tim McPherson, it was well worth the road trip from San Antonio. 

"We've been to all four visitor centers and we've done some hiking, so it's good to be on the lake," Kathy said. "It's been on our bucket list for a long time." 

They had friends from Minnesota who recommended a trip to Voyageurs. 

"People are great, sights are awesome," Tim said. 

Life on Rainy Lake nowadays is more about recreation than revenue. But just like they did for the voyageurs, these waters draw people in. 

"It's a beautiful area. The people we've met have been beautiful," Kathy McPherson said. 

"When I think about Minnesota northwoods, this is exactly what I think about," Parekh said. 

The Life on the Lake tour is $25 for adults and $15 for kids. Toddlers 2 and under cost $3. It takes two hours, starting at 11 a.m., and runs Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 31. 

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Baihly Warfield

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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