WTIP Staff

Lake Superior Project

Lake Superior holds 10 percent of the world’s fresh water. It is an undeniably huge resource. The lake means different things to different people, whether it’s a source of inspiration or income, or a favorite place to recreate or fish. In WTIP’s ongoing coverage, we’re taking a look at the culture and history of the Lake Superior region and investigating issues like the impacts of climate change, invasive species, development, and industry, as well as exploring how people are coming together to protect and preserve the lake.

This project is funded in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It was also funded in part by the Coastal Zone Management Act, by NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in cooperation with Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program, and by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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June 13, 2024
Lake Superior Project – White Sky Rock

White Sky Geezhik. Photo courtesy of Alta McQuatters

White Sky Geezhik with Minnesota C.O. Valentine. Photo courtesy of Alta McQuatters.

The Lake Superior Project is an ongoing series focusing on the environmental news and human history of the Lake Superior region.
In this segment, North Shore resident Alta McQuatters shares the story of White Sky Rock, which overlooks Caribou Lake near Lutsen, Minnesota. Named after her grandfather White Sky Geezhik, the summit marks the place where White Sky once had a trapper shack.

May 28, 2024
Lake Superior Project – Reserve Mining and Silver Bay, Parts I & II

Beginning in 1956, the Reserve Mining Company dumped its waste rock, known as tailings, directly into Lake Superior. The newly-created town of Silver Bay was the site of its taconite processing plant, creating taconite pellets from low grade iron ore. But for every ton of pellets produced, two tons of tailings were funneled directly into Lake Superior at the rate of over 60,000 tons per day, or an estimated 45 tons per minute. By the 1960’s there were growing environmental concerns related to Lake Superior water quality.

In this two-part series, producer Martha Marnocha explores the history of Silver Bay and the events that led to a landmark environmental lawsuit related to Reserve Mining Company and Lake Superior water quality.

Read the full transcript here: LSP_Reserve Mining text

View of the Reserve Mining tailings ponds at Mile Post 7, three miles northwest of Silver Bay. Courtesy of Save our Sky Blue Waters.

Research Sources


Count the Pickets in the Fence: Carl D’Aquila

Iron and Water: Grant Merritt

The Reserve Mining Controversy: Robert V. Bartlett

“This Vast Pollution…”: Thomas F. Barstow

A Community of Character: George R. Slade


Reserve Mining Company’s Proposed On Land Tailings Disposal Plan Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Minnesota DNR (1975-76)

Mile Post 7 West Ridge Railroad Relocation, Dam Extension, and Stream Mitigation Project, Minnesota DNR (2024)

Proceedings from Conference: Pollution of Lake Superior and its Tributary Basin, Minnesota- Wisconsin-Michigan, U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Water Pollution Control Administration

March 15, 2024
Lake Superior Project – Fighting Extractivism at Home and Abroad

Ricky DeFoe and local resident Milan Pavlovic at the site of the proposed mine in the Jadar Valley, Serbia, 2024.

Gwiwiizens, or Ricky DeFoe, Fond du Lac Ojibwe elder, was part of a coalition of water protectors who traveled to Serbia in February of 2024, to attend the Green Horizons Academy International conference. The group attending from Minnesota was there to foster international collaboration and develop organizational strategies in response to the threat of lithium and nickel mining in Minnesota and abroad.

Talon Metals – Rio Tinto Tamarack Mine map, courtesy of Water Legacy

Gwiwiizens talks to fellow water protectors in Serbia.

Ricky connects the government’s push for “green energy” with the push for lithium and nickel mining in areas like the Jadar Valley in Serbia and in Tamarack, Minnesota. These are both places where the trans-national corporation Rio Tinto is paving the way for large-scale, extractive mining operations.

The mine at Tamarack would be owned by Talon Metals and Rio Tinto, and located in the St. Croix and Mississippi River watersheds. It would also be within a few miles of Mille Lacs Ojibwe communities at Round Lake and East Lake. The Mille Lacs Community has created the Water Over Nickel initiative, in response.




With thanks to Allen Richardson and Water Legacy for photos and images. The Lake Superior Project is also funded in part by the Blandin Foundation.

July 4, 2023
Lake Superior Project – Agatha Armstrong and Marie Spry – Sisters and Tribal Councilors

Agatha Armstrong (left) and Marie Spry (right) are sisters who serve together on the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwe Tribal Council (2023).

Part I – The RTC is the governing body for the sovereign nation of Grand Portage. In this first segment Agatha and Marie explain the complexity of working with local, state and federal government agencies to accomplish the tribal nation’s goals and care for the membership, as the band recovers from an 85% loss in business due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Part II – The sisters talk about growing up with their great-aunt Philomene (Caribou) Evans who lived in Mineral Center and offer their advice for other women leaders in Anishinaabe country.

The Lake Superior Project is funded with additional help from the Blandin Foundation.

June 27, 2023
Lake Superior Project – Superior National Forest Health Part III

Producer Martha Marnocha has created a three-part feature on the health and importance of the Superior National Forest.
In this episode, we’ll hear from Superior National Forest silviculturalists Isaac, Pat and Myra about spring tree planting and the desired results and challenges of this ongoing part of forest management.

May 29, 2023
Lake Superior Project – Early Ojibwe Names on the David Dale Owen Expedition Map

“The Lake Superior Project” is an ongoing WTIP series–focusing on the Lake Superior region.

Section of David Dale Owen Map, Grand Marais (Bitobig) to Cascade River.

In this segment, naturalist Kurt Mead and Grand Portage Ojibwe language coordinator Erik Redix, work together to decipher early Ojibwe names for North Shore rivers and streams, which were transcribed during the David Dale Owen expedition of 1848. The map pre-dates other early surveys of the North Shore, and many of the Ojibwe names on the map inform the land and waterscapes today.

Thanks to Kurt Mead and Erik Redix for your contributions to this segment, with gratitude to the Blandin Foundation for supporting history and culture programming on WTIP.

May 22, 2023
Lake Superior Project – Health of the Superior National Forest

Spruce Bud Worm. Photo by Ryan Pennesi.

Red Turpinetine Beetle Research

WTIP’s “The Lake Superior Project” is a multi-part series focusing on the Lake Superior region. In this two-part story, producer Martha Marnocha investigates the current health and historical importance of the Superior National Forest.

Trees affected by draught on the Arrowhead Trail

In part one, we hear from two U.S. Forest Service silviculturists about current threats to the health of the boreal forest in our backyard including Spruce Bud Worm, climate change and the decline of Birch species across the forest.

Spruce Bud Worm Damage

In part two, we hear from two foresters–Kyle Stover and Myra Theimer, about their role in managing the forest and why we should value and protect our boreal ecosystem.

Thanks to Kyle Stover and Myra Theimer of the Superior National Forest for their contributions to this segment.

Photos courtesy of the Superior National Forest

July 28, 2022
Lake Superior Project – Pulling Nets at Kitchibitobig and the Legacy of the Jim Scott Fish House–with Cory Pederson

Cory Pederson was born and raised in Grand Marais, Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior. He comes from a deep tradition of fishing, including his ancestral connection to the Jim Scott Fish House, a historic building on the edge of the harbor where the early days of commercial fishing first took hold.

Photo of Mike Powell, courtesy of Cory Pederson

Photo of Catherine Boyer Scott, courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society

June 29, 2022
Lake Superior Project – Dragonflies with Kurt Mead

Known as “the toothed ones,” Dragonflies are a familiar sight in many backyards during the summer. In this feature by producer Martha Marnocha we hear from naturalist Kurt Mead. Kurt has written a dragonfly field guide and hosted hundreds of workshops on these beautiful and helpful creatures.

Photo of Calico Pennant, by Kurt Mead.

June 10, 2022
Lake Superior Project – John Lyght and the Lyght Family

For nearly 100 years the Lyght family lived and worked in Cook County. Hosey Lyght was a refugee from the deep south, who moved to Pennsylvania and worked in the mines. It was there that he met his wife Stella, before moving to the North Shore. Stella and Hosey raised 14 children in the Lutsen area and owned land on Caribou Lake. John served in the military, was first appointed part-time deputy of Cook County in 1968 and was elected Sheriff in 1972. Producer Martha Marnocha learns more about the significance of this remarkable family in this episode of The Lake Superior Project.

Top: Lutsen School, date unknown; Lower: John Lyght with Hamms Bear, on the Gunflint Trail, 1974 and with County Officials, 1982.

Photos courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society.

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LSProject: Did extensive logging impact Lake Superior fishing?

Northeast Minnesota experienced extensive “slash and burn” logging during the late 1800s and early 1900s. As a result, streams and rivers became highways for moving the logs, and the “slash” from logging covered the landscape resulting in soil erosion and forest fires. In this two-part series, producer Martha Marnocha talked with Dr. Michael Risku to learn about the impact of the logging industry on the North Shore’s whitefish and lake trout populations during the early 20th century.


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LSProject: John Linklater – Superior National Forest woodsman and game warden

Northern Minnesota has had its share of skilled woodsmen and canoeists, including John Linklater. Linklater was of Anishinaabeg, Cree and Scottish ancestry and was a mentor to several important Minnesota conservationists, including Sigurd Olson.

Linklater and his wife, Tchi-Ki-Wis, owned a fishery on Isle Royale during the late 1920s. He also worked as a Superior National Forest game warden until his death in 1933 on Basswood Lake near Ely, Minnesota.

Producer Martha Marnocha learns more about this iconic northwoods figure from former national park service employee, Tim Cochrane, who is writing a book about Linklater.

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LSProject: Northeast Minnesota – A history of fire, ice and inland seas

Northeast Minnesota has undergone many geologic events to produce the landscape we know today. Most of us know that glaciers left a large imprint on northeast Minnesota, but in Part 1 of a two-part series, Producer Martha Marnocha explores our geologic history before the glaciers – a period of time that lasted over three billion years and known as Minnesota’s bedrock history. Part 2 features more recent geologic history, describing the effect of glaciation. See slideshow for examples of rocks and formations.

Thanks to naturalist Margie Menzies for her contribution to Parts 1 and 2.

In Part 3, amateur geologist and Gunflint Trail resident Doug Turner talks about his developing interest in a “very rocky area” – the upper Gunflint Trail. Turner also shares his experience with a group of geologists who looked for – and found – evidence of an ancient fiery meteorite impact. See slideshow for photos of Doug’s dog, RockC, and examples of the Sudbury meteorite impact. 



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LSProject: “Grand Marais feared lost” – the 1908 forest fire

Northeast Minnesota has had its share of destructive forest fires. But in the early 1900s, after an unusually hot, dry summer, a large fire threatened much of northeast Minnesota and parts of northern Wisconsin, impacting small settlements that dotted the North Shore, as well as inland residents. In this edition of the Lake Superior Project, producer Martha Marnocha weaves newspaper accounts and personal narratives to tell the story of the 1908 forest fire.

For more photos related to the forest fire, please view slideshow.

Newspaper articles, photos and narrative accounts are courtesy of Cook County Historical Society archives. Special thanks to Roger Barton and Dennis Kaleta for their contributions.



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LSProject: Who was Espagnol?

Grand Portage and Grand Marais were once fur trade posts, and the journals of several fur trade clerks mention an Anishinaabe tribal leader named Espagnol. In this edition of WTIP’s ongoing series, The Lake Superior Project, author Tim Cochrane talks with producer Martha Marnocha about what is known about Espagnol.

More information about Espagnol and the fur trade history of our area can be found in Tim Cochrane’s book Gichi Bitobig, Grand Marais – Early Accounts of the Anishinaabeg and the North Shore Fur Trade, published by the University of Minnesota Press.

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LSProject: The Missing Hiker

No one heads out into the woods expecting to get lost – and the remote and heavily forested landscape along the North Shore poses unique challenges for search and rescue teams.

In the fall of 2001, medical student Jason Rasmussen became lost while hiking the Powwow Trail in Lake County. Shortly after losing the main trail, Jason became separated from his tent and gear, finding himself without shelter and facing deteriorating conditions with deep snow, high winds and very cold temperatures.

Producer Martha Marnocha has created a 3-part feature on one of the longest and most compelling search and rescue stories in northeast Minnesota called “The Missing Hiker.”

Thanks to Peter Smerud, executive director at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, and BJ Kohlstedt, director of Lake County Emergency Management, for their contributions to this feature. Peter and BJ were both part of the Lake County Search and Rescue team participating in the search for Jason Rasmussen.

For photos of the search and rescue of Jason Rasmussen, please view the slideshow.

More information on the search for Jason Rasmussen can be found in Cary Griffith’s book, Lost in the Wild, published in 2006.

Scroll down to listen to the audio for all three parts.



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LSProject: WTIP news director ‘skunked’ on Fishing Opener

It was a busy weekend for many anglers across the state, as May 11 launched the start of the 2019 fishing season in Minnesota.

WTIP News Director Joe Friedrichs took to the waters of several Cook County lakes during opening weekend. After many hours of fishing, Friedrichs caught absolutely nothing.

The audio below is Joe’s recap of opening weekend.

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LSProject: Building canoes for the community

North House Folk School in Grand Marais is all about showcasing life near Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters.

Illustrating this, North House instructors Tom Healy, Jeanne Bourquin and Josh Tolkan, one of the new resident artisans at North House, are helping others build three wood canvas canoes.

Of the three canoes coming to life in mid-April at North House, one of them comes with a specific destination. One of the wood canvas canoes will be the prize for a local raffle taking place this summer and into the fall to support the 2020 Great Place Project, which provides small grants to businesses, community groups and individuals to create great small places around Cook County.

A canoe raffle has been used in years past to help fund the Great Place Project, but this is the first year the canoe has been built at North House.

The collaboration this year between North House and the Great Place Project only showcases the unique opportunities that exist on Lake Superior’s North Shore, Tolkan says.

In this installment of the Lake Superior Project, WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs visits North House Folk School to learn more about the canoe-building process and this local collaborative effort.

Support for this series comes from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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LSProject: Researchers to compare Isle Royale, Grand Portage Moose populations

The University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have partnered to conduct an interesting study of the moose populations in our region.

The purpose of the study is to compare mainland and island moose populations—the moose here on the North Shore of Minnesota and on Isle Royale, about 15 miles away on Lake Superior.

Following the reintroduction of several collared wolves from Grand Portage to Isle Royale National Park last fall, and an additional six from Canada in the last month, a team of researchers have collared a number of moose on the island.

Click below to find interviews with two of the scientists involved in this study, Dr. Tiffany Wolf of the University’s Veterinary Medicine College and Dr. Seth Moore, Director of Biology and Environment for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Join Rhonda Silence as she learns more.

Support for this series comes from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.



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LSProject: Climate change likely to impact trout lakes near Lake Superior

A changing climate continues to impact a variety of fish and wildlife management strategies in northern Minnesota. Trout species in particular are impacted by a warming climate and changes to water temperature, something fisheries biologists keep in mind while making long-term plans. Some Cook County lakes that were previously stocked with trout might not be in future, according to local and regional fisheries biologists.

A lake located within the Grand Portage Reservation is one such example of this, as WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs finds out in this interview with Dr. Seth Moore, the director of wildlife and biology for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Support for this series comes from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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LSProject: Beavers and their relationship with the Lake Superior region

Though loved by some in the Lake Superior region, beavers have been chewing their way into trouble in recent years near downtown Grand Marais and the town harbor. Indeed, Grand Marais Recreation Park Manager Dave  Teersteeg says beavers are becoming problematic for some residents and park operations in Grand Marais.

Beavers are the largest rodent living in North America. The easiest way to describe them is this: a swimming rat with buck teeth and a large tail. However, these rodents, while sometimes labeled as pests, can be extremely valuable for forests, wetlands and nearly everywhere they reside along the North Shore… so long as they have enough food to eat.

In this installment of the Lake Superior Project, WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs find out the value of, and occasional troubles caused by beavers.

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SProject: From Puerto Rico to Lake Superior

Luis Cortes is used to big water. Now in his 40s, the new executive chef at Bluefin Bay Resort spent most of his adult life working at restaurants in Puerto Rico. There, salty waters washed ashore every morning and island life was everything most people only dream of. And then the storm hit.

After Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in fall 2017, Cortes was looking for steady work on the mainland. He found it more than 2,000 miles away in Minnesota and on the shores of Lake Superior.

As WTIP has reported in numerous interviews in 2018, including with the directors of the local chamber of commerce and economic development authority, staffing issues remain a persistent issue for many Cook County employers. To address the issue, an effort was made similar to ones taking place in communities such as Branson, Missouri, which is to essentially recruit workers from Puerto Rico. The process has been mostly slow going, with Bluefin Bay Resorts on the shores of Lake Superior leading the way and finding a good success rate amongst those who travel from the island to Tofte to work and live.

In this installment of the Lake Superior Project, we find out what it’s like from moving from Puerto Rico to the shores of Lake Superior.

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LSProject: Quetico ranger station wraps up another season

Quetico Provincial Park is situated just across the border from Minnesota in the dense forests of Ontario. During the peak paddling months, canoeists may only enter Quetico via six ranger stations which serve 21 specific entry points. Among these locations is the Cache Bay Ranger Station on ​Saganaga Lake, a post that Interior Ranger Janice Matichuk has maintained for the past 34 years.

The Cache Bay Ranger Station officially closed for the year Sept. 9, though canoeists can still fill out a form on the island and enter the park without the tips and safety reminders Matichuk is well known for providing.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs visited the Cache Bay Ranger Station at the end of the 2018 season and shares this report.