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The mouth of the Beaver River as photographed from the Highway 61 bridge by Joi Electa, a plein air painter who says it’s her favorite scene to paint.
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Northern Lights Roadhouse has outside seating amid splendid gardens, as shown in Tom Porter’s photo.
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Camp 61 Bunkhouse & Restaurant owners Todd and Carol Krynski with daughter Leah and Carol’s father, Dave Mealey (far right).
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Sandy Long demonstrates some of her pirate gear at Shipwrecked Gift Shop
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Chuck Long sells Native American-style merchandise at his Wolf Tracks shop.
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Tom and Margy Porter offer “North Shore cuisine with Scandinavian influences” at their Northern Lights Roadhouse.
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At the Lemon Wolf Café, Susan Scheradella holds one of her handmade bears.
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One of the collectible bears at Cedar Chest Gift Shop in Fenstad’s Beaver Bay Mini Mall.
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At Beaver Bay Agate Shop & Museum, Keith Bartel sells custom-made jewelry, displays agates of all sizes and has a museum with different kinds of fossils.
When you come to the curve in the road on Highway 61 that is Beaver Bay, Minnesota, for your own sake – pull over.
If you don’t stop, you’ll be missing a friendly town with fine places to eat, fun gift shops to happily spend more time than you plan, and a history worth exploring.
Here you can sit down to a meal of fresh Lake Superior bluefin herring supplied by a local commercial fisherman. Or take those beach rocks that you think are agates and ask a local expert. If you like shopping, you can pick up a souvenir lighthouse, pirate gear for the kids or a more sophisticated regionally produced gift.
And these are just a few things to do or see in Beaver Bay, the oldest North Shore settlement (at least involving Europeans) and today a town of about 181 people. It’s just an hour from Duluth, and Highway 61 is its Main Street.
Beaver Bay was established in 1856, two years before Minnesota became a state and shortly after the La Pointe Treaty of 1854 in which the Ojibwe bands ceded the Minnesota shoreline of Lake Superior to the United States.
On June 24, 1856, the steamer Illinois delivered the Wieland brothers – Christian, Henry, August, Albert and Ernst and their families – to the mouth of the Beaver River and the new village of Beaver Bay. These German immigrants from Ohio would go on to build a sawmill, selling lumber in regional cities including Duluth and Superior, according to a local history display at the Beaver Bay Visitor Information Center. From this founding family, some of the Wielands served in local government in 1866, the same year that Beaver Bay was named the Lake County seat (a designation that lasted 20 years).
Just a couple of years after the town’s founding, one of its most famed residents – John Beargrease – was born. Mayor Mark Russell will tell you, in fact, that the town is well known as the home of John Beargrease, born in 1858, the Ojibwe mail carrier and fur trader for whom the annual sled dog race from Duluth to Gunflint Lake near the Canadian border is named.
At the visitor information center on the east end of town you can see one of John’s wooden dogsleds and displays about local history. He is buried in a tribal cemetery a short walk from the center.
John’s father, an Ojibwe chief, led a small group of Ojibwe people to settle in Beaver Bay and to work in the sawmill. He was also a sailor on the Wielands’ boat, Charley. As a teenager, John also would work on that schooner before he started delivering mail.
“There was lots of lumbering from the 1880s to 1910,” says Ed Maki Jr., president of the Bay Area Historical Society. Plus about 400 families were once engaged in commercial fishing. A descendant of one of those families, Clint Maxwell, continues providing fresh fish to the local restaurants.
Today tourism, retail sales, lodging and dining drive the town’s main economic engines.
“Beaver Bay is right on the highway, so it’s kind of a natural stop for anybody on Highway 61 needing supplies,” says Ed.
Near three of the eight state parks along the North Shore, Beaver Bay is the perfect launching point for recreational activity.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is just 4 miles away while Gooseberry Falls State Park is 12 miles from town. These are the two busiest parks on the Minnesota shore. Tettegouche State Park, with breathtaking Palisade Head and Shovel Point, is about 7 miles away.
In summer, activities range from hiking, biking and birding to kayaking, camping and shooting photos.
Trails are among the major attractions, including the Superior Hiking Trail and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail for bikes, both with local trailheads.
The Gitchi-Gami’s 14.6-mile segment between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Beaver Bay is “the longest and most scenic of the completed segments,” reports the Gitchi-Gami Trail Association. According to the Beaver Bay mayor, it’s spectacular.
“The bike trail is amazing,” says Mark Russell. He notes that people from all over the area roll along the paved path on bikes and inline skates.
A spur trail connects to Split Rock Lighthouse, and there are plans to soon complete the 2.3-mile section between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay.
The mayor also highly recommends checking out the Beaver River where it flows into Lake Superior. Mark says sightseers can pull off the highway and park (look for the lot before the bridge) and find trails that lead down to the river and the lakeshore. This is on the eastern edge of town, near where Beaver Bay ends and East Beaver Bay, an unincorporated community, begins.
Recreation is not the only draw, of course. The fine dining options might surprise most first-time visitors to the town.
Crave Scandinavian fare? Stop at Northern Lights Roadhouse on the west end of town to meet owners Tom and Margy Porter, both “100 percent Norwegian,” Tom points out. On the menu you’ll find gravlox – cold-cured Norwegian salmon – as well as lefse and Swedish meatballs.
“This is our 20th year. We do what we call North Shore cuisine with Scandinavian influences,” says Tom. Specialties include the North Shore Sampler: a cup of wild rice soup, pan-fried walleye and North Country Brunch Quiche. There’s also a tasty roast beef pot pie filled with beef, mushrooms, onions, carrots, peppers and a rich sauce flanked by Irish baked mashed potatoes and covered with a flaky crust that melts in your mouth.
And there’s fish. “We buy a lot of fresh fish locally,” Tom says, for dishes like the Captains Table Fish Cakes made with bluefin herring. The Porters, like others in town, buy their fish from Walter Sve – who is third generation in commercial fishing and was featured in the October/November 2007 issue of Lake Superior Magazine – or Clint Maxwell, Margy Porter’s cousin.
If you like lutefisk, it’s served here from November through January. “We cook it differently,” Tom says. “We bake it; we just don’t boil it.” In spring, the café has a popular smelt fry.
The dining area’s décor features fishing and North Shore-themed artifacts, including a 1940s canoe that hangs from the ceiling. The walls are adorned with Tom’s photographs and display his skill for night shooting.
The restaurant has expanded over the years, adding a rear deck and outdoor seating overlooking the Lake. Inside is a gift shop where you can find Howard Sivertson’s story-art books as well as children’s books.
Another Sivertson, Howard’s daughter Liz, created the distinctive logo for the Lemon Wolf Café, where you can expect a memorable gourmet meal from chef and owner Rick Scheradella.
Rick and his wife, Susan, celebrated 12 years of operating the restaurant in May. In this café, if kids howl like a wolf, they get a treat rather than a fast-track back to the car. Kids who were there to howl in the early years of the restaurant are not embarrassed to have some fun with it even years later, Rick and Susan say.
Rick, who has worked at many North Shore restaurants, makes each dish at the Lemon Wolf himself. Selections include a wonderful pecan chicken – broiled chicken breast on long-grained wild rice, pecans, sweet red peppers, mushrooms and onions and sauteed in wine and seasonings. You might try the pan-grilled Canadian walleye or the scallops, wild rice and linguine.
“We don’t deep fry anything,” Susan says. “Everything is grilled or baked.”
Susan makes the desserts, including Rocky Wolf Trail Pie (a sinfully delectable chocolate-lover’s dream), Grammy’s Coconut Cream Pie and lemon pie.
The Lemon Wolf has 11 tables in what seems to be a fairly small space, but the arrangement does not feel crowded.
Like most other businesses in town, this is a family operation. Susan and Rick’s son, Joshua, a College of St. Scholastica computer science grad, also helps out.
While you’re there, check out Susan’s one-of-a-kind Lemon Wolf Bears, which are handmade using mohair from Germany. She makes two or three a month and sells them on eBay.
Another dining option is Camp 61 Bunkhouse & Restaurant, which has the look of an old lodge even though it was recently remodeled. The original portion of the complex dates from 1936 and was operated under different names.
In late 2010, Todd and Carol Krynski bought the former Inn at Beaver Bay and in remodeling used reclaimed wood to blend with the original pine to create a rustic atmosphere.
They redid the lobby, including native rock on the fireplace. Daughter Leah, a carpenter, built the wall behind the front desk using some of the original building materials. She also built the bar in the restaurant.
The front desk happens to be an old clerk’s desk that Carol found “in her endless quest for a historic feel” at Camp 61.
This, too, is a family operation. “Pretty much everyone who works here is related to somebody else that works here,” Todd notes.
With the revisions finished, Camp 61 officially opened July 4, 2011. This will be the first full summer.
“We’re just trying to bring that old world feel back in. … It’s like walking down memory lane. People come in and you get that older resort feeling,” says Todd, who was general manager at Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay for 16 years and worked at Bluefin Bay in Tofte for eight years.
Camp 61 has lodging – eight rooms in the main motel, including split-level units created from the former Blue Heron bar’s catwalk. In a separate building, there’s some bunk-room style lodging with just the basics for $30 a night. “It was full last summer. The construction workers love them,” Carol says.
Camp 61’s menu specialty is barbecued beef, but there’s also pulled pork and ribs. “We do a lot of fresh fish in the summer,” Todd says, meaning lake trout and herring from local fishermen.
When visiting the dining room, be sure to see the vintage photo of lumberjacks circa 1907. The youngest boy is Carol’s grandfather, William Mealey, who is sitting on the lap of David Mealey, her great-grandfather. Lumbering is in her family heritage.
Another lodging spot is Cove Point Lodge, off of Highway 61, offering lodge rooms and deluxe cottage rentals with expansive lake views. Cove Point has fine dining in its lakeside Cove Point Dining Room with north woods specialties. Its other option is Cove Point Crossings Sports Bar & Grill, serving sandwiches, salads and pizza.
A vacation, of course, is not all eating and hanging out by the Lake. There’s shopping, too, and Beaver Bay offers loads of it.
Gift hunters can find nautical nuggets at the 20-year-old Shipwrecked Gift Shop. Sandy Long stocks the maritime-themed store with a variety of collectibles, such as lighthouses, sailors and frogs. Stop and chat with Sandy, who also sells jewelry (including beaded items that she makes), books and greeting cards. The pirate section, with eye patches and swords, is a hit with kids.
Sandy and her husband, Chuck, bought the adjacent building 11 years ago and opened Wolf Tracks, a shop with a north woods theme. Chuck manages that one, stocking Native American-style merchandise that he says travelers don’t normally see in gift shops. A pipe, for example, is made with turtle shell and deer antler, he says. A birch-bark basket is used to winnow wild rice. The shop also has wood carvings, knives, handmade walking sticks and birdhouses, to name a few items.
Across Main Street is Fenstad’s Beaver Bay Mini Mall, owned by Michelle and Wayne Fenstad. It contains three shops: the Cedar Chest Gift Shop and Christmas Up North, two shops in a combined space offering Minnesota gifts, a variety of collectibles and figurines, regional books, educational toys, souvenirs and clothing, including Minnetonka Moccasins and Dale of Norway sweaters. Next door is the Big Dipper Sweets and Ice Cream, with Bridgeman’s Ice Cream, as well as fudge, chocolates and espresso. Finally the Quilt Corner features outdoor, nature and wildlife fabric.
“We are very, very busy in the summer because there’s a real variety here,” says Michelle.
Another stop you shouldn’t miss is Beaver Bay Agate Shop & Museum on the east end of town. It specializes in Lake Superior agate, Thomsonite and Isle Royale greenstones. Owners Keith and Teresa Bartel sell beautiful custom-made jewelry, including rings and necklaces that Keith makes, but also beads, carvings and fossils. It’s a good spot to look for gifts.
The store also features a museum. It displays interesting artifacts like a calcified dragonfly, a priscacara fossil fish (prehistoric fish from Wyoming), a sample of dinosaur dung called coprolite and a tortoise fossil that Keith says is 28 to 30 million years old.
In the display cases, you can view agates of all sizes in their natural state as well as polished.
“We get repeat customers just because of the museum,” Keith says. There is no charge to walk through it.
During the busy tourism season, the shop might see 200 to 500 people a day. Most just want Keith to identify their rocks.
“We get people in almost every day, bringing in their rocks and minerals, who want to know what they have,” Keith says. Do they have an agate? Some are looking to sell.
But Keith’s message to these folks is: Don’t go rock hunting for the money. Do it because you enjoy it. That’s why Keith and his family are avid rock hunters.
“It’s the hunt – the hunt and the memories. There’s a whole story behind every one of them,” Keith says of each special discovery.
On a practical note, Beaver Bay has two gas stations, a post office and the Beaver Bay Sport Shop on Highway 61, which sells and services recreational equipment such as ATVs, boats and outboard motors and snowmobiles, as well as clothing and fishing and camping gear.
On the way out of town, you might want to stop at the Green Door Liquor Store, the municipal liquor store and tavern in a former schoolhouse. Just look for the sign in the shape of a beer keg.
Whatever you do, don’t miss this curve in the road by not pulling over and checking out what Beaver Bay can offer.