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Notable Campground Dilemma

Each month in our newsletter we identify a “Notable” campground. In some ways, it’s the easiest part of writing the Newsletter. In other ways, it can be the most challenging. What makes one campground “notable” over others? This designation has lead to some heated debates between Fred and I. Here is one debate over Superior National Forest’s campgrounds to illustrate my point:

Fall Lake campground was full almost every night we camped there. The weather was cool and wet, very wet. Not particularly great camping weather but people were everywhere! Everyone I talked to loved this campground and planned on returning, if not this year, for sure next year. Okay, the campground is next to Fall Lake, which permits boats with 25 hp motors, has direct access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), flush toilets, hot showers, and electric hook-ups. There is a three-mile hiking trail leading away from the lake to a bird observation deck. The interior road is paved but parking aprons are gravel. There is good privacy between most sites but the forest is on the young side so shade (or protection from rain) is limited. Sounds good and for most people Fall Lake campground would be “Notable” but Fred and I do not consider it to be one.

Fred considers South Kawishiwi River campground to be a “Notable” campground. Located on the wide and winding Kawishiwi River that is great for canoeing, this campground is less developed and more rustic than Fall Lake. However, the character and personality of this campground drew him in. First, it is a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built camping area and it has retained a lot of that CCC’s influence. A crowning jewel of the campground is a magnificent log cabin with a full, finished basement and comes complete with CCC made furniture. Originally built to be used for special events, such as weddings and meetings, it is still used for this purpose. (Available only through reservations.) The campground, itself, is a single loop meandering through a stand of older trees. The mixed woods provides ample shade and good privacy. The CCC influence can be seen in the terraced campsites and the way giant boulders are incorporated into the campground’s design. On the downside, it has some old vaults (tend to be smelly) and only one water spigot. This is were camping gets back to basics but Fred found something special about it.

I consider Sawbill Lake campground to be the notable of all “Notable” campgrounds. The campground is located on the very edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and, to me, Sawbill Lake is everything the BWCA is all about without having to deal with the challenges of getting into a wilderness area. No motors, canoes welcomed, great scenery, wildlife viewing, and few people. I don’t go camping to be “cheek-to-jowl” with other campers. At Sawbill Lake I feel like I’m the only camper around. Only the occasional scent of a campfire reminds me there are others nearby. Okay, this is a rustic campground with no hook-ups but an on-site dump station means a concern about holding tanks is eliminated. Having Sawbill Canoe Outfitters within walking distance, with its delightful friendly and super helpful staff, a nicely stocked store, and delicious hot showers, doesn’t hurt one bit.

However, Fred and I both agreed Lake Jeanette campground is worthy of a “Notable” designation but it was a challenge to identify why. It’s an old campground and campsites are showing their age. Little has been done to improve it over the years from its original CCC design and construction. But it is a beautiful location and most of the campsites have fabulous views of the lake and surrounding area. Lake Jeanette is an outstanding tent or car camper’s campground. For someone with recreational vehicle, Lake Jeanette is less welcoming. But the image of Lake Jeanette campground has stayed with us for years.

So what does a campground need for us to classify it as “Notable”? First, the campground has to “talk” to us. Remember, Fred is a RV campers at heart while I am a tent camper so we each connect to a campground for different reasons. See a problem here? Next, there should be something “special”, as in something others don’t have, about the campground. Or, something unique about the campground?

Put into a nut shell, IMHO, Fall Lake campground is “Notable” for its modern conveniences, South Kaswishiwi River campground for its preservation of history, Sawbill Lake campground for retaining the BWCA feel, and Lake Jeanette campground for the intangible beauty that illustrates the richness of the Superior National Forest.

Notice how subjective our selection criteria is? I see our “notable” classification as only a possible suggestion when picking a campground. A “notable” campground is only a starting point. And like those campers who adore Fall Lake campground, your notable may very well be different from mine but no less outstanding. One feature of our national forests is that each has at least one campground that is “Notable” to somebody.

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Fred and Suzi Dow