MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s a place in northern Minnesota where the mail is delivered by boat. It has to be: roads don’t actually reach many of the cabins on Lake Vermilion.

Larry Milbridge delivers mail six days a week weathering all kinds of conditions to make it happen.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, WCCO’s John Lauritsen went along for the ride on Lake Vermilion in St. Louis County, and got a history lesson on the family behind it all.

“The places I am going to are boat access only,” Larry said.

Six mornings a week at 9 o’clock sharp, Larry sets off on what has to be the most challenging mail route in Minnesota.

“A lot of places people don’t even know their mailman, they know me,” Larry said. “Some of these people on the island I am the only person they see all day. They don’t wanna let me go.”

He’s been doing this for six years after retiring as a conservation officer — and then answering a help wanted ad.

“I thought, you know what, three months out of the summer, perfect,” Larry said.

He’ll cover 65 zig zagging miles on a three hour tour in rain, sun, sleet — or on this day — wind and choppy waters. Sometimes, it takes teamwork to make a delivery happen.

“How are you doing guys? Heckuva time out here today. Here’s your mail my man,” Larry said, navigating the waters as he hands mail off to a cabin owner.

Here, you can get a morning newspaper in the middle of nowhere and read it with your morning coffee. And it’s been that way for nearly 100 years.

“It was my grandpa, uncle, mom and dad then us,” said Gretchen Niemiste.

Gretchen Niemiste’s family started the mailing service as the first Lake Vermilion cabins were getting built. She and her husband, John, also make sure their mail carriers double as tour guides.

“You don’t get to sit back and enjoy your boat ride very often,” Gretchen said.

“We always tell people on the mail boat tour, you see the lake differently than if you took out your own boat and took a tour,” said the couple, who also owns Aronson Boat Works in Tower.

It’s why Larry Milbridge is perfect for the job. He knows the people — as well as the pets.

“This is Max’s neighborhood. He runs this,” Larry said, greeting a dog that has run onto a dock to greet him.

Larry will be the first to admit that every once in a great while a piece of mail falls victim to Vermilion.

“There’s been mail dropped in the lake. I’m honest about it,” Larry said.

But even when that happens, his delivery with the people is never off. And that’s definitely something to write home about.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people on this lake over the years,” Larry said.

Larry said the only thing that holds him back is lightning. He’ll do deliveries from June 1 to Sept. 1. Click here for more.

John Lauritsen

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