Officials say historic land conveyance complete as MnDOT returns Lake Superior parcel to Grand Portage Ojibwe
WTIP file photo

Officials say historic land conveyance complete as MnDOT returns Lake Superior parcel to Grand Portage Ojibwe

Tribal leaders say a public beach near Grand Marais will be “returning to the original occupants” following an expected land conveyance to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

In 2021, the Grand Portage Band submitted an official request to the Minnesota Department of Transportation to obtain land just east of Grand Marais in an area commonly known as ‘Passion Pit.’

According to an Aug. 26 email from Grand Portage Tribal Chair Bobby Deschampe, “the conveyance for the property has been signed” by MnDOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger. The email from Deschampe was also sent to WTIP.

According to MnDOT officials, this will be the first time in state history that MnDOT will transfer publicly-held land to a tribal nation off of reservation lands in Minnesota. Duane Hill is the district engineer for MnDOT’s District One, which includes Cook County. He told WTIP Aug. 30 that Daubenberger “has agreed to move forward with the process. We are working on scheduling a date for the transfer event.  The paperwork should be ready around the end of September.”

During an April 2021 meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Deschampe said it was important that the Old Shore Road be returned to the Grand Portage Band.

“Once it will be in Grand Portage Trust it will be there forever for the Grand Portage people and whoever else,” Deschampe said during the 2021 commissioner meeting.

The Passion Pit area located off Old Shore Road has been used by local residents and tourists as an access to a small beach on Lake Superior. Though it has been used for decades by local residents, its popularity increased during the 2020 pandemic summer as more visitors arrived to the North Shore, including an abundance of people aiming to recreate outdoors. Following the uptick in activity, nearby property owners and others complained the site became impacted by garbage, late-night debauchery, illegal parking and trespassing issues.

A committee formed later that year in an attempt to address some of the issues. The committee has since finalized its work, which included drafting a formal letter of support regarding the acquisition of the MnDOT property into the Grand Portage Tribal Trust lands.

When the land in question potentially went up for sale, there was some interest expressed in maintaining the property in public ownership due to its historic connection with the old Chippewa City area and heritage, and as a local access to the beach, according to Cook County Administrator James Joerke.

Though largely supported by the Cook County community and state officials, what remained unknown is if the Grand Portage Band needed to purchase the property from MnDOT or if it would simply be given to the trust lands to be managed and owned by the band. Details on the land conveyance are expected at a public event this fall, Deschampe said in the Aug. 26 email.