Amidst the pandemic, Friends of the Lake Vermilion Trail has been quite busy. First, they formalized from a work group to a nonprofit organization in August of 2020. Then, they immediately hit the ground running to raise money—one of the main reasons for formalizing the friends group. They have cast a wide net, applying for grants, selling t-shirts, setting up a Give to the Max Day page, and asking for donations from local clubs. They partnered with the Natural Harvest Food Coop for their monthly round-up program. In August, customers could choose to round-up their purchase to the next dollar as a donation to the friends group. At the end of the month, the total donation was more than $2,000.
That $2,000 made up a portion of match funds required for a grant from the Northern St. Louis County Trails Task Force for environmental analysis on a 4.5 mile section of trail, from Tower to the Y-Store intersection. That project is now underway as the contractor looks at wetlands alignment, archeological review, and natural resource and plant reviews. This will help to lay the foundation as the trail looks to future design and construction funding opportunities through regional park and trail Legacy funds and other sources.
This environmental analysis project is just one aspect of the work ahead of them. Steven Lotz, secretary for the friends group, says, “Building this trail is like doing a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the picture is or if you even have all of the pieces.” To put that jigsaw puzzle together, the friends group works hand-in-hand with the Joint Powers Board—a coalition of 5 townships, 2 cities, and a tribal government charged with building and managing the trail.
While most of what the group has been doing during COVID has been virtual, the friend group was able to set up a booth at Cook’s annual summer festival Timber Days in June of 2021. There, they had a chance to connect with the community, share information about the trail, and even raise a few donations. Additionally, the friends group sponsored a scavenger hunt with P&TC at nearby Lake Vermilion/Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
Looking ahead, the friends group will continue fundraising and applying for grants, start discussions about trail easements, and spread the word to garner support for the trail, so that some day there will be a trail that connects Cook to Tower.