Stone steps in place on BWCA’s Stairway Portage as rebuild wraps up in July
The Stairway Portage near the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has a new set of stairs.
And they are made of stone. (Note: The wood steps in this photo have since been removed.)
The iconic portage between Duncan Lake and Rose Lake in the BWCA has a new look after two sets of wooden staircases were replaced this summer with stone steps. Stone used in the project came from the land located between the lakes in the federally-designated wilderness area. Hand tools and other non-motorized instruments were used to shape the new look of the portage.
The 80-rod portage between Duncan and Rose is among the most highly-trafficked areas on the eastern side of the BWCA. As it was prior to the project, two sets of stairs, with more than 90 steps each, made up most of the portage between the two lakes. The portage largely parallels a set of falls dropping from Duncan down to Rose near the Canadian border in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area.
Due to the harsh environment in the BWCA, wooden steps or set logs do not hold up well as weather and humans wear on them, according to Willie Bittner, the owner of Wisconsin based Great Lakes Trailbuilders. Bittner and his company spearheaded the project in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and the Conservation Corps of Minnesota. Funding for the project comes under the umbrella of the Great American Outdoors Act.
WTIP’s Boundary Waters Podcast Host Matthew Baxley met up with Bittner this month to talk about the completion of the Stairway Portage rebuild. Audio below.