MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota isn’t just known for its lakes, but its forests too, especially in the northern part of the state.

In fact, logging hasn’t just helped build homes here, it’s helped build them across the country. In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen traveled to the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, where he learned that hard work from the past is now fueling the future.

It’s a part of Minnesota history you can read about, but at the logging camp you can actually relive it.

“The logging camp we are sitting in now is a re-creation of a logging camp that would have existed in the winter of 1900-1901,” Jeff Johns, site manager for the camp, said.

It was a banner year. White pine was white gold. Farmers came from the south and joined horses from the north. They harvested 2.3 billion board feet of pine that winter, at times working in brutal cold to earn a hot dollar.

“This winter we pegged minus-42 in this camp, and men operated in those conditions back in that day. It was spit-freezing cold,” Johns said. “Two horses could pull 50,000 pounds on a sleigh with no problem, on the ice.”

That pine was used to build homes all over the country. Eighty men and 24 horses worked at the camp. Today about 13 history center employees and two horses help it come alive.

Asked whether he enjoys getting into character and donning the costumes for reenactments, John Beltman answered he enjoys it “quite a bit. Painting the picture is what I describe it as.”

And they’re painting the picture for the next generation, using lumberjack lingo while teaching kids what it was like to cross-cut saw, or to run on horsepower by pulling logs with teachers on them. That’s why the job of a blacksmith was so vital to the camp.

“I want to be a blacksmith when I grow up,” 8-year-old Michael Carlson said.

“We actually got to saw off a piece of wood and we learned to yell timber,” 8-year-old Ava Venema said.

During field trip season, thousands of students will visit. It’s the job of educators and actors to give them a living history experience.

“What really makes it the best is when they get done with their experience and they ask if we really do live here,” camp cook Rebbeca Affield said. “It’s rewarding. Every single tour is different. Every group is different.”

What took dozens of men and two dozen horses four months to do in the winter of 1900 can now be done by two men in about two weeks with modern equipment, but the goal is for the next generation to develop an appreciation for both history and forestry.

“A better understanding of what forests are good for and how important they are in our lives. And that they require care and maintenance and that we should all think of them as valuable resources. And try and maintain them for the future and posterity,” Johns said.

The logging camp gets about 40,000 visitors each year. Click here for more information on how to visit.

John Lauritsen

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