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Deep Portage Conservation Reserve celebrates 40 years

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Deep Portage Reserve, Minnesota’s northwoods wilderness education center, hosted a public celebration of its 40th year on July 5, bringing people together to reminsice, take tours, have a meal, hear the history of the reserve and enjoy a concert by Minnesota Music Hall of Fame inductee Dick Kimmel.

Deep Portage, located east of Hackensack on Big Deep Lake, is a center dedicated to wilderness research and education. The reserve consists of woodland spanning more than 6,000 acres, which was once almost entirely logged off in Minnesota’s early logging years.

Without logs, these 6,000 acres were little more than deposits of sandy glacial soils that weren’t marketable for agriculture. As a result, those who owned the property were unable to earn money off of it once it was logged, and they refused to pay taxes on it. The tax delinquent property was forfeited to the state, which attempted to sell the property for a profit.

Those who purchased the property found it covered with immature stands of trees that were often logged off yet again, and again forfeited to the state for delinquent taxes. Forester Fay L. Harrington and surveyors discovered something special in the land that would become Deep Portage, and set out to end the cycle of unsustainable logging and tax forfeiture. He did this at a time when commercial snowmobile producers were considering turning it into a testing site for their products.

With help from the Izaak Walton League and many local supporters like Walt and Jeannette Silbaugh, in 1973 Harrington was able to raise the money and the support needed to preserve the property as a center for wilderness research and education.

In celebration of the success of Harrington’s image, visitors were treated to a tour of the facilities on July 5. Today, the facilities include housing for workers, a rock climbing wall, a 50-foot observation tower, and a carbon neutral campus run on renewable and sustainable energy.

After the tour, visitors were treated to a meal including fried walleye fillets and wild rice followed by a presentation on the history of the reserve and a bluegrass concert by Kimmel, Jerilyn Kjellberg and Ian Kimmel.

Visitors also received commemorative coasters and the opportunity to purchase Deep Portage merchandice, which included a book on Deep Portage history compiled by Harrington.