A birthday comes around but once a year. I wanted mine to be memorable. What would make it so? I pondered ever-so-briefly... and knew. It must be outdoors. Hiking. Biking. It should include a food co-op and a farmers market. And a few unexpected twists and turns to make a perfectly orchestrated adventure.
We began a 3-day camping adventure by biking a 7.5 mile stretch of the Paul Bunyan Trail from Backus to Hackensack and back again where we passed an abandoned farmstead happily basking in the cool sunshine of the final days of September... as were two bikers. Happily basking. The next day, we biked the 18-mile Mi-Gi-Zi Trail which circles Pike Bay in the Chippewa National Forest near Cass Lake. The autumn season's gentle solitude was in sharp contrast to the bustle that is characteristic of this area in the summer months.
After sharing a large bowl of borscht (soup made of beets, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, olive oil, bay leaf and tumeric) and buying some locally grown purple carrots and energy snacks for hiking from the Harmony Natural Foods Co-op in Bemidji, we headed northeast on Hwy 71 to the town of Blackduck, then six miles south on County Road 39. Our destination was Camp Rabideau, which is one of three Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps remaining in America.
I have a close connection to CCC camps because my father was enrolled in this program at a camp in Ely, Minnesota. Established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, it is considered "the single most productive conservation program in the history of the U.S." Its purpose was to revitalize the economy and end the depression by putting unemployed, unmarried, 17 to 25 year-olds from families on relief to work in camps run by the Army. Most CCC camps were dismantled when the program ended in 1942, but Camp Rabideau was leased by the University of Illinois in 1945 for their forestry and engineering students. Their lease agreement required that the students install sewer and water and update wiring and heating. The college's 27 year occupancy ended when their lease expired in 1973. In June 1976, Camp Rabideau was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in February 2006, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Restoration of the 15 original buildings that still remain is ongoing.