Story by Tom Livingston, Co-Founder of Destination Duluth
Video by Joe Fairbanks
A few years back I had the pleasure of meeting Glen Nelson, co-founder and sign maker of the Piedmont Trail system. I was moved by his passion and commitment to our Community, so Destination Duluth produced a short film and blog called “Spring Skiing With Glen”.
Periodically running into Glen on the trails is always a joyful reunion. But this year tragedy struck. Vandals stole 15 of Glen’s iconic signs that make the Piedmont Trail experience unique and heartwarming. I called Glen to ask how I could help. He said he was heartbroken and just didn’t think he could continue with his tradition of replacing a stolen sign here and there or add a new one along the way.
I headed to the trailhead the next day to survey the damage. Halfway into my bike ride, I met Glen. He exclaimed with tearful joy, “Tom, you won’t believe what happened!” He went on to share how Flint Group, a Duluth based marketing firm, decided to take on replacing the signs as a community benevolent project!
A team of Flint employees decided not only to replace the stolen signs, but make an annual commitment to remove all 50+ signs each spring, store them, and put them back up in the fall before skiing season begins. Included in their team was Creative Director and professional wood sign maker Ken Zakovich. Kudos to Flint Group for their magnanimous hearts and contribution!
Click on the video to enjoy the wonderful craft of young filmmaker Josef Fairbanks, who is working as a commissioned storyteller for Destination Duluth.
We at Destination Duluth hope to create a series of these stories shining a light on true community-building efforts. If you have such a story idea, please share it in the comments below.
At Duluth’s Lake Superior Zoo, every day is a thrilling adventure. For instance, at any given moment, the eerily human-sounding voice of Korbel - a 47-year-old double yellow headed Amazon parrot – loudly makes her presence known. Guests can also experience the hilarious antics of primates, the wild roars of bears and big cats, and the adorable curiosity of a two-toed sloth.
Here at the Zoo, the care and well-being of the animals is a top priority, along with educating the public about conservation efforts. Its youthful CEO, Haley Cope, at just 30 years old, contributes a fresh infusion of innovative ideas that have helped revitalize this well-loved Duluth landmark.
“I want the Zoo to be a space of education and awareness, where individuals and families can learn more about animals, endangered species, and how they can be good stewards of the environment and nature in general,” Cope explained of the Zoo’s mission.
“Zoos are so different than they were even 30 years ago,” she added. “Back then, they were more for entertainment. The focus today is on conservation and ensuring that endangered animals have a fighting chance.”
This includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, along with the traveling “Zoomobile,” which brings the Lake Superior Zoo’s educational offerings and message of conservation to group homes, schools, and long-term care facilities across the region.
There’s no doubt about it: Today’s Lake Superior Zoo is a landmark Duluthians can be proud of. “Duluth is very lucky to have the Lake Superior Zoo,” Cope said. “Here, you can see animals from both Minnesota and around the world.”
While today, it educates thousands of visitors a year and features a plethora of animals from around the globe, the Zoo had very modest beginnings. It was founded in 1923 as a way for local resident Bert Onsgard to safely house a fawn named Billie, and share her with the community. Today, the Zoo is home to 350 animals, across 140 species.
One fact that many people don’t know is that none of the animals at the Lake Superior Zoo were removed from their native habitats. “All of our animals were either born in protective care or are rescues,” Cope shared. “And, some of our parrots used to be pets. Some animals were orphans, and some faced euthanasia.”
This includes fan favorites Tundra and Banks – brown bears who were orphaned when their mother was hit by a car in Alaska. Additionally, the Zoo’s resident cougars, Olympia and Tacoma, were also orphaned when their mother was illegally shot and killed.
Cope began working at the Zoo as Director of Marketing three years ago. Since her promotion to CEO, the Zoo has fought back against many challenges – both logistical and financial - posed by COVID-19.
And, local residents will no doubt remember the flood of 2012 and how it devastated the Zoo. It has taken many years to bounce back from that tragic event, where several animals sadly perished, and many exhibits were destroyed, at Mother Nature’s hand.
Cope has responded to these challenges in several ways: by revisiting the Zoo’s mission; by applying significant resources towards the infrastructure of exhibits and animal safety; and by offering fresh content and experiences for visitors.
For instance, a brand-new $4M “Bear Country” exhibit will be completed soon, which will house a variety of species of bears. A new, licensed childcare facility, the Lake Superior Zoo School, is a new, on-site preschool for children aged three to five. “Its mission is to provide close-up experiences with animals that create connections with wildlife and inspire actions to conservation, both here and around the world,” Cope said.
Additionally, Cope has big plans to revitalize the Zoo’s main building. “We are ready to renovate and start fresh,” she said. Cope has dreams of incorporating indoor, parallel play – where kids could safely play amongst the animal exhibits. More summer camps will be added in the future, as well.
And, while families with children are the Zoo’s biggest demographic, Cope hopes to attract individuals and couples without children, too. Future plans include the addition of after-hours events, which could be a fun option for date night, or a solo adult adventure.
“Our biggest demographic is always going to be families,” she noted, “But as we look towards the future, we want to be a place for all – all ages and everyone in our community. We want everyone to feel welcome.”
Cope certainly can’t complete all of these ambitious projects alone. In addition to the Zoo’s 20-25 full-time, year-round staff, whom she described as “so dedicated to our mission, and compassionate to the animals,” she implored the Duluth community to continue supporting their Zoo. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways.
“People can support us through membership (which comes with plenty of local, and even nation-wide perks!); by sharing our story on social media; by making donations (either financial or by shopping for our ‘wish list’); volunteering; or even giving us kind words of encouragement,” Cope said. “There is no gift that’s too small. Every gift is meaningful.”
Above all, Cope firmly believes that when we all work together, anything is possible at the Zoo. “We know we can accomplish anything we set out to do with the support of the community, our members, and the region.”
Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of relocating to Duluth, or even a bit further up Highway 61, on Minnesota’s majestic North Shore. While your vision may be vivid and true, the logistics can seem overwhelming.
Questions like, ‘Where will I live?’ And, ‘Where will I work?’ are likely swimming through your head. These are certainly valid concerns that must be addressed. But they aren’t insurmountable.
And, we can help! In fact, we at Destination Duluth have one of the “big two” covered for you: employment.
Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts, in Tofte, Minnesota, is hiring. A premiere Lake Superior resort, Bluefin Bay exudes the very best of what Minnesota’s North Shore has to offer. This includes great benefits and front-row access to “everything nature;” all situated in a cozy, yet highly diverse community. For more information and an application, click here.
Bluefin Bay provides access to the year-round playground that is the Lutsen-Tofte region, and is nestled against the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and surrounded by the Superior National Forest. And, then there’s the Lake. Swoon. Bluefin Bay is perched directly on the shores of Lake Superior, offering breathtaking views from virtually every angle.
The business offers job-seekers positions in hospitality, culinary arts, management, and more. Additionally, Bluefin Bay offers a comprehensive benefits package, with plenty of special perks, including resort discounts.
Take it from Them
Today, we’ll introduce you to four current Bluefin Bay employees:
Ross Sherman – Director of Lodging;
Jessica Huppler – Grille & Event Manager;
Peter Hastings – Recreation & Activities Coordinator; and
Mario Cruz – Manager on Duty - Bluefin Grille
This cheerful crew happily shared their favorite parts of living on Minnesota’s North Shore, and what they love most about working at Bluefin.
“I love living up here on the North Shore,” Sherman said. “I’m originally from the Twin Cities. I vacationed up here until 20 years ago, and camped in the Boundary Waters with my family. It was always such an amazing experience. My family moved here, and I followed.”
“I love Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters, and the Superior National Forest,” he added. “Living and working on the Shore, there are tons of opportunities anywhere you go. My perfect North Shore day would be a hike in the Superior National Forest, and a paddle on Sawbill Lake. It’s peaceful and relaxing.”
“I love living on the North Shore because of the quietness, the peacefulness, and all of the nature that’s around you every single day,” Huppler added. “My perfect day would be waking up and spending time with nature, usually with a cup of tea, and listening to the water wash against the rocks.”
“Being on the North Shore, I can work and play at the same time,” Hastings noted. “On an average work day, I do guided trips, I talk to people, and I have fun. The North Shore has everything you could ever want if you’re into outdoor recreation: mountain biking, paddling, hiking, backpacking, or climbing. My perfect North Shore day would include grabbing coffee by the Lake, watching the sun rise, going for a hike, and ending the day with a nice fire in the woods.”
“I enjoy the people, the scenery, and the beautiful fall colors,” Cruz said. “It’s nice and quiet.”
And, Cruz’ perfect North Shore day, while modest, is no less enjoyable than the others. “I would stay at home,” he stated simply. “I have a beautiful view through my living room window.”
Many are surprised to learn of how much human diversity can be found at Bluefin Bay, and in Tofte and the surrounding communities, as well. “Life on the North Shore is very diverse,” Huppler said. “I’ve met more people from international backgrounds here than anywhere else in the state. At the same time, you get such a small-town, close-knit community feel. It really makes you feel at home.”
“A lot of our staff (at Bluefin) are international,” Cruz added. “I enjoy meeting all the different people, from places like Russia, the Philippines, the UK, Peru, Paraguay, and Puerto Rico. They all come together and immediately bond. Seeing that happen is pretty amazing.”
For employees of Bluefin Bay, prospects for advancement abound. “There is a ton of opportunity for growth,” said Sherman, who started his Bluefin Bay career delivering supplies, and today holds a management role.
“There is a lot of opportunity for growth and development,” echoed Huppler, adding, “Working at Bluefin Bay has been amazing because of the supportive community, and just the overall family atmosphere amongst staff and management.”
Make it Happen
So, what are you waiting for? If Minnesota is your dream, go grab it. “Anyone can make it happen,” said Sherman, the Tofte transplant.
And, if the logistics make you waver ever so slightly, just remember the amazing Lake Superior views that await you.
“Not many people get the opportunity to live on the North Shore of Lake Superior or be in one of the most scenic areas, I think, in the whole country,” Hastings said.
“The best part of this job is the office view,” Huppler added. “Being able to come to work and see Lake Superior every morning is just incredible.”
Ah, work. Whether you love it or loathe it, earning money is just one of those things you gotta do. While many of us dread the daily grind, work becomes much more bearable when you’re doing something you’re good at, or, dare I say, actually enjoy.
Today, we’ll introduce you to NORTHFORCE – a regional workforce development organization helping people become happily employed in the Northland. Whether you’re relocating to Duluth, or are a long-time resident looking for a new gig, NORTHFORCE can help match you with your perfect career.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Developed and managed by APEX and Northspan economic development groups, NORTHFORCE is a regional workforce development initiative that officially launched in February 2014. Ian Vincent - Marketing Coordinator for NORTHFORCE, shares, “With our aging population and growing economy, it was apparent that our communities needed help filling the 25,000 new jobs that will exist here over the next decade.”
NORTHFORCE tracks and posts career and internship opportunities in the region, including the North Shore of Minnesota, the Iron Range, the Twin Ports, and Northwestern Wisconsin. Along with hosting these career opportunities, they also match candidates in their database with these jobs.
Since its inception, NORTHFORCE has attracted 4,200 users, and celebrated 120 successful job placements. Individuals interested in being matched or kept up-to-date with opportunities in their desired field can create free profiles and upload resumes at northforce.org.
Help for Duluth Transplants
NORTHFORCE offers a wide range of services for anyone looking to live and work in Duluth and the surrounding region. Communication Specialist Josie Strom shares, “Some people hop on our website to create a profile, upload their resume, and find the perfect job for them based on factors such as their areas of interest or how far they want to commute each day.”
“Others,” she continues, “Would like a second set of eyes to glance over their resume, or are new to the area and need an introduction to a specific Duluth company. No matter what a job seeker’s needs are, we can help them - or at least point them in the right direction.”
Partnerships with Local Colleges
NORTH FORCE is also dedicated to recent graduates and young professional placement and retention. While maintaining close relationships with regional college and university career service counselors, the team has played a key role in the Lake Superior College Strategic Planning sessions, regularly presented to college classes, and continued to advocate for internship opportunities for regional students and grads.
NORTHFORCE’s latest endeavor, Mentor Connection, has been among its most successful. A partnership with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica, the program is flourishing. With over 55 industry-specific pairs of college students matched with local professionals, these mentees and mentors participate in events dedicated to building the mentees’ professional networking skills and personal connections to the community. Mentors also gain coaching and leadership skills along the way.
Tips for Landing Your Perfect Job
“When we hear about success stories,” Strom says, “A common thread seems to be that the person landed the job because they really researched the place where they wanted to work before they applied. Make it clear during the interview why you ARE (not would be, not might be) a great fit for that specific organization. If you’re enthusiastic and can really visualize yourself in a specific role, your interviewer will have a hard time giving the job to anyone else.”
“And, when it comes to landing that interview in the first place, be sure your resume is tailored and flawless (especially spelling and grammar) before you apply. A simple oversight can cost you the job, even if you’re completely qualified.”
Whether your perfect job is a 9-5 with full bennies, or a freelance gig with funky perks, consider checking out NORTHFORCE - Duluth’s matchmaker for jobs!
To learn more, create a free profile, or upload your resume, please visit northforce.org.
Many folks, “weekend warriors” if you will, travel to our fine city to escape long commutes, rush hour traffic, and suburban sprawl. They arrive as tourists, spending a weekend or two hiking our magnificent trails, catching a live musical performance, or sipping one of Duluth’s locally crafted beers or spirits.
Perhaps over the course of a single weekend they intuit what we locals have always known --- that Duluth is a treasure, a sparkling jewel in the crown of Minnesota’s Great Northwoods. From the deep azure mystery and inherent adventure found in Lake Superior to our world class arts and cultural scene, Duluth simply has it all.
Fully rested and rejuvenated, many visitors discover that their hearts belong in Duluth, and never want to leave this magical place. Have you had this feeling? Have you felt drawn to our city? Have you considered making Duluth your home?
Our goal is to help you do that.
Enter Destination Duluth
Co-founded in 2013 by resident Duluthians Branden Robinson, Christopher Swanson, and Tom Livingston, “Destination Duluth was created to fill the need of educating the public about the qualities of Duluth as a ‘destination for life,’” Livingston shares.
Robinson echoes this intent, adding, “We believe Duluth to be a world-class community, thanks to its natural, social and economic assets.”
Simply put, Destination Duluth is here to showcase all of the amazing things that make Duluth … well, Duluth. It's a phenomenal place to live, and we want to share it with the world. Through a wealth of stories written by local residents and accompanied by amazing photography, we hope to inspire you to become a Duluthian yourself.
How Destination Duluth Can Help You Come Home
With an abundance of great jobs, a healthy work-life balance, and natural beauty to spare, we are ready to achieve our mission of recruiting the next generation of Duluthians --- which could include you. Here are three ways we can help as you contemplate following your heart home to Duluth.
Step 1 Spend some time perusing this website and our Facebook page. Destination Duluth is chock full of stories such as “Why We Live Here,” along with insider information about Duluth’s parks and recreational opportunities, thriving arts scene, burgeoning reputation as a craft beer mecca, and more. Here, you’ll find many reasons why we love living here, and think you will, too.
We’ll also share event details, tips for navigating the city, and secrets only a local could tell you. And, there are photos, loads of spectacular photos, highlighting Duluth in all its glory.
Step 2 Wondering if a life-changing move is really viable? We share success stories, proving that it is definitely possible to take the plunge and relocate. We hope to inspire you through features like “Coming Home,” which highlight stories of people who have already taken the leap and relocated to Duluth, and are living a life they love.
Step 3 And when you are ready to make your move, you’ll find here at Destination Duluth great local resources. This is where you’ll find guidance on the nitty-gritty details of moving here, including job-hunting, home-buying, outdoor adventures, activities for kids, and plenty more.
Duluth’s Future and You
We at Destination Duluth truly believe that Duluth’s best and brightest days are ahead. And we want you to join us here while the rest of the world catches up.
“Duluth has a wonderful history which must be remembered and celebrated,” Robinson shares. “But there is a new chapter unfolding before us, one that celebrates the past, yet embraces opportunities for the future. The first step is welcoming and encouraging people to plant their roots right here in the Zenith City.”
Duluth can definitely be a destination for life --- YOUR destination for life.
“Duluth, MN -- America's Best Outdoor City in 2014” was the headline I read in an issue of Outside magazine. Usually, people read these articles and just think, "Oh, that’s nice. There is a city in Minnesota that is number 1. I should think about making a trip up there to visit." You never really think about moving to a new city because of an article you read in a magazine.
Yet the notion of “America’s Best Outdoor City” left an impression on me, as I love spending time outdoors. It is my passion. It is what I love to do.
My name is Kevin Wood, and until September 2015 my wife, Katie, and I were living in Winona, MN. We were both teaching there. I taught career exploration along with health classes at a public high school, and Katie taught 1st grade.
You Want to Do What?!?!
Life threw a curve ball at us when I decided I wanted to leave the security of a full-time job as an educator in a school that I enjoyed in order to pursue a career in financial advising. Crazy!!!! I know.
But, I missed the business world. I used to own an exterior painting business in college and I missed the excitement of growing a business and meeting new people. It is a thrilling experience to be a part of a service that can benefit a community.
Choosing a Community
All of a sudden we were faced with an imminent decision: where do we want to make our home?
We thought critically about this question. What city would be most attractive to live in, to start a family, to find a church and eventually establish us as part of the community? The story from Outside magazine reappeared in my mind. Although I wasn’t completely convinced this was our journey's end just yet. I felt as though I had to do some research to solidify my thoughts.
So, I did what any good millennial would do and ran a full-fledged Google search on Duluth, MN. I read about the remarkable goal to build 100 miles of continuous trail within city limits known as the Duluth Traverse. I researched the Duluth school district and learned it ranked higher than most other Minnesota schools. Last but not least, I learned that Duluth has more green space within city limits than any other city. All three were huge draws to come and live in the Zenith City, and thus finally after much deliberation, we made the decision --- Duluth is the place to be!
Did We Make the Right Decision?
Ever since moving in September 2015 we have only questioned our decision one time, and that was when a city squirrel ate the potted avocado tree off the front porch of our central hillside apartment. Inconsiderate city squirrels aside, Duluth has been an amazing city to live in these past few years. We have met incredible people and have participated in various community events such as the Northland Trail Series, Duluth Farmers Market, and the Christmas City of the North Parade.
We couldn’t be happier about making the move to Duluth. It is a new life adventure that only seems to get better and better as times goes on.
Scriven, a self-professed “history geek,” considers his new job as site manager to be a dream job. It blends his love of history with his other passion – the enjoyment and appreciation of nature.
“My family loves kayaking, canoeing, fishing and hunting, and now we live in a place where we can do that all the time,” Scriven said. “Tie that in with the history aspect, and add the aura and status of Split Rock, and it’s the perfect dream location.”
In an interesting “full circle” turn of events, Split Rock is also the place where Scriven proposed to his wife, Jenny - years before they would make the site their home. Recently, Scriven moved his family, which now includes Jenny and their two children, Aneliese (12), and Devin (9), directly on-site.
The move has been a good one; highly enjoyable for the entire Scriven family, and a great fit for the management and care of Split Rock Lighthouse.
Prior to his new position, Scriven, who grew up in Nerstrand, Minnesota (just outside of Northfield), served as Executive Director for the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center (BVHC) in Superior. And before that, he was the executive director of the Northfield Historical Society, a job he began at just 22 years old.
But Minnesota’s North Shore has always beckoned. “My wife and I are big outdoor people,” he said. “We’d come up the Shore, and it always had a spot in our hearts.” And, when speaking about Lake Superior, he noted, “There’s this magic behind it. It has this pull you can’t get away from.”
Split Rock Lighthouse, perched on a ruggedly beautiful 160-foot cliff, is a huge tourist draw, bringing in a whopping 150,000 visitors in a typical year. In addition to the actual lighthouse, the property also includes Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, featuring a lakeshore picnic area, trail center, tent camping, and 14 miles of hiking, biking, snowshoe, and cross-country ski trails.
The history of the lighthouse itself is rich and intriguing, indeed. On November 28, 1905, a single storm-damaged 29 ships on Lake Superior. Soon after, a delegation descended upon Washington, D.C. to lobby for a lighthouse.
Originally known as Stony Point, the name Split Rock was first used by the lobbyists when describing the location, and, ultimately, the name stuck. In early 1907, Congress appropriated $75,000 for a lighthouse and fog signal at Split Rock. The U.S. Lighthouse Service completed the construction of the 7.6-acre facility in 1910.
The lighthouse remained operational for many years. But, as new navigational technology, including GPS, began to emerge, the use of the lighthouse as a navigational tool declined. Split Rock Light Station was closed in 1969.
The State of Minnesota obtained the site in 1971 and transferred administrative responsibility to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1976. The Historical Society continues to manage the site, and is also Scriven’s employer.
Similar to many destinations, Split Rock had to alter operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The site was completely shut down from March to July. Today, the site remains affected, as tours remain outdoor-only.
“We offer a fully outdoor experience,” Scriven said. “People can’t enter the tower or lighthouse quarters now, but they can speak to a guide and take in the view, along with a self-guided tour. We are hoping in the next year to get back to normal,” he noted.
Once things return to normal, Scriven has big plans for Split Rock. “Eventually, I want to offer more experiential programming, and giving tours in a different way, such as photographic tours, or a lore and legends tour,” he said. “We’d like people to be more connected with the site.”
The Scriven family loves their life at Split Rock, where they can experience wildlife, including eagles and bears, and outdoor activities, like kayaking and canoeing. For them, living on-site was the best choice.
“We had the option on whether or not to live on-site,” Scriven said. “I talked to the previous site manager, Lee Radzak, who raised his family here, and he said I’d never regret doing it. So, I talked to my wife about privacy, and the different type of life we’d have. We decided that if we wanted to do this job right, we needed to live on-site.”
“Our kids thought it was so cool,” Scriven added. “My son said, ‘Can we move there right now?’” Ultimately, the family moved in the day before young Devin’s ninth birthday, and the entire family got to celebrate with a beautiful new view.
An amazing journey
Not everyone gets to say that they have their dream job. Hayes Scriven is well aware of his good fortune and relishes every moment.
“Every day is so different,” Scriven said. “I get to meet so many different people, and the kids love the North Shore. Having that freedom and enjoying nature is so important. Every day is an amazing journey.”
“I feel so fortunate and humbled,” he added. “I’m awestruck all the time. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and not many people get to have this experience.”
Glensheen Mansion, located at 3300 London Road in Duluth, is truly a sight to behold. Constructed in the Jacobean revival architectural style - a type of English Tudor - the house was built over the span of three years: from 1905 – 1908. Upon its completion, Glensheen became home to one of Minnesota’s, and certainly Duluth’s, wealthiest men – attorney and capitalist, Chester Congdon.
Although today it is known as a “historic house museum,” Glensheen was the private home to Chester and Clara Congdon and their family for many years, until it was donated to the University of Minnesota in 1979. The home is available year-round to the public for tours and other events.
While Glensheen has been a tourist destination for many decades, a primary goal of current leadership is to continue drawing in local residents, too. To accomplish this goal, there are many fresh initiatives at Glensheen, including outdoor concerts, dining adventures, hiking, a new bar, botanical gardens, and more – all to help remind native Duluthians of this amazing gem, located right in our own backyard.
Not Just for Grandmas!
Glensheen features 27,000 square feet of living space, a gardener’s cottage, a boathouse, and many stunning gardens - all set on twelve gorgeous acres. “Glensheen is a 12-acre estate on the shore of Lake Superior. It’s the nicest piece of property on the Lake in Duluth,” said Dan Hartman, Glensheen’s Director.
It also contains many beautiful and interesting antiques, which were privately owned and used by the Congdons while they lived in the home. “We are fortunate that more than 95% of the collection is from the family and most is from when the house was built over a hundred years ago,” Hartman said.
With all of these amazing amenities to see and explore, Glensheen has never had trouble attracting tourists. But many Duluthians believe that if they’ve visited once, they’ve seen it all.
“There’s something built into the brand of House Museums that make them sound immediately - like something for your grandmother,” Hartman admitted. “But we are trying to fight back on that notion – this is an amazing place, and I’m excited for us at Glensheen to continue to find new ways to flip that idea on people.”
Food and Drink
To achieve this goal, Hartman and his crew have plenty of ideas. Primarily, they include leveraging Glensheen’s amazing grounds.
Nestled between Tischer Creek, Bent Brook, and Lake Superior, Glensheen is an amazing place to simply hang out. Their Concerts on the Pier series, where visitors can chill on the Lake’s edge while enjoying a local beer and listening to live tunes, is a fun, newer initiative which is very popular.
Hartman also revealed plans to open a bar on-site, to be called Shark on the Lake. And, “Chef in the Garden,” an event where local chefs pluck and cook up fresh produce right from Glensheen’s grounds, is about as farm-to-table as it gets.
Flora and Fauna
If music and beer aren’t your speed, perhaps the flora and fauna will draw you in. Currently, the French and English-style gardens on Glensheen’s grounds feature a wide variety of plants, featuring many local varietals, but a bit of global-inspired greenery, too, such as Japanese and Chinese Lilac. But Hartman hopes to add even more.
“Chester Congdon gave land to the City to create Congdon Park,” Hartman said. “My vision is to someday bring back the old hiking trail that was on both sides of Tischer Creek and have it directly connect to Congdon Park. That way, the community of Duluth could go right into the park and be able to hike to the mouth of the Tischer Creek, right on the property of Glensheen.”
“The second phase would be to create a botanical garden,” he added. “So, when people walk that trail, there would be a wide variety of flora and fauna that we would maintain and plant. Maybe a stand of lady slippers, and some yellow orchids. Just a wide variety of northern climate flowers and plants that we would ID and tag – it would feel like a botanical space that is open to the public to enjoy and be educated by.”
Other initiatives, perhaps appealing more to Glensheen traditionalists (or your grandmother), will include a “New Spaces Tour”. This guided journey will offer access to previously-unseen nooks within Glensheen, such as Clara’s balcony, the carriage house attic, and the boathouse.
While Hartman gladly welcomes tourists, and is grateful for their continued patronage of Glensheen, he also has a direct message to share with his fellow Duluthians:
“This is your space – this is your community space,” he said. “It used to be owned by the wealthiest family in Duluth, if not Minnesota, and now it’s yours. Come and enjoy it.”
Please note: visiting hours and new initiatives are all dependent on the progression of COVID-19, so please be sure to call or check the Glensheen website prior to your visit.
At the tender age of 16, many of us are preoccupied with fun, but arguably frivolous pursuits, such as cars, sports and dating. Ashleigh Swanson, however, opened a business.
“I started a business before I had a driver’s license,” said Swanson, now 18 and the owner and general manager of Two Harbors-based business Lou’s Fish House. On the occasions when Swanson reveals that she is the owner of the business, customer reactions range from positive, to a little bit of disbelief.
“I’ve always been my own boss,” she said. “Starting with lemonade stands when I was 10. Entrepreneurship has been a large focus of the Swanson family for the last three generations.”
“Ashleigh was an amazing child,” her mother, Rebecca Swanson, said. “As soon as she was mobile, she was chasing and running. She started talking at just a year old.”
“Ashleigh cares about and understands people,” Rebecca added. “She has a big heart. She’s very self-motivated and very responsible.”
For the entire Swanson family, entrepreneurship is second nature. Swanson’s father, Chris Swanson, is the mayor of Two Harbors and a local business owner. And her mother, Rebecca, owns the building where Lou’s is housed, and is the owner-operator of the adjacent property, Vine and Branches Inn.
It started with the Inn
The Swanson family’s involvement with Lou’s all started when Rebecca Swanson wanted to open an Inn. “The Inn was the reason for buying the property,” Rebecca said of her business, located at 1319 Highway 61.
The retail space located next door had operated under the name Lou’s Fish House for generations but had been closed for four years. A family brainstorming session was in order, to decide the future of the space.
“Ashleigh suggested an ice cream shop, which evolved to the idea of a smoked fish and ice cream shop,” Rebecca said. It made sense; the existing infrastructure, including a cinder block smoke room, was already in place. And Lou’s reputation for quality smoked fish was already well-established.
After some renovations, Lou’s opened its doors under new ownership on June 26th, 2018. Ashleigh Swanson explained a bit about her business.
“We have four types of fish: Sockeye salmon, whitefish, herring, and Lake trout. We also have jumbo smoked shrimp.”
“Our whitefish, Lake trout and herring are all caught from Lake Superior, and we purchase it directly from local fishermen. And our spices come from a local spice shop in downtown Two Harbors – McQuade’s Herbs, Spices, and More.”
In addition to smoked fish, Lou’s sells artisanal cheeses, crackers, and twelve “crazy flavors” of hand-scooped ice cream. “Our one cardinal rule is that we will never serve plain vanilla,” Swanson said, perhaps exposing a hint of her youthfulness. “That’s boring.”
The most popular menu item at Lou’s is the smoked sugar salmon. “It’s a balance of salty and sweet,” Swanson said.
Most of Lou’s clientele are tourists and visitors from southern Minnesota, but Lou’s is also known to locals as a great place for delicious ice cream. Lou’s offers online and in-store purchasing, as well as delivery to neighboring business Castle Danger Brewery.
While Swanson is the owner and GM at Lou’s, unbelievably, every last one of its employees are also teens. This includes two of Ashleigh Swanson’s siblings, Natalie – 15, and Micah – 12, along with five employees who smoke the fish and two staff members working as cashiers.
The only person old enough to order a beer is Swanson’s Grandma Kay, who comes in to help on occasion.
Vine and Branches
Concurrent to getting Lou’s up and running, big things were also happening next door. Rebecca Swanson, along with her entire family, lovingly renovated Vine and Branches Inn to what it is today: a beautiful, comfortable place to stay in Two Harbors.
The Inn was already there, however, Swanson installed new flooring, windows, plumbing, electrical, a new roof and fresh paint. And with her keen eye for design, Swanson styled each room with tasteful décor and furnishings.
“I wanted to create a different style than perhaps what is considered normal on the North Shore,” she said. “I wanted a classy, boutique feel. Calm and simple, yet elegant. But also, very comfortable and functional.”
This mother-daughter duo has established themselves and their unique businesses as strong links in the chain of Two Harbors’ small business economy. Both women work incredibly hard at their craft, putting in long hours to get the job done.
One thing is for certain: in their two years of ownership, they have already established a strong reputation. Guests are quickly snapping up reservations at the Inn. In fact, Rebecca noted, they are already beginning to see repeat guests.
And business at Lou’s is hotter than ever. “Our customers frequently mention that our smoked fish is the best on the North Shore,” Ashleigh said.
Perched at the very tip of Duluth’s Park Point, just a whisker’s width away from of the Aerial Lift Bridge and the majesty of Lake Superior, is South Pier Inn. This ultra-unique, 29-room hotel features Scandinavian architectural influences, and of course, incomparable views of the Big Lake.
But many others have also taken notice. South Pier Inn has been named the #1 traveler-ranked hotel in Duluth by travel website Trip Advisor for several years running; it was also named “property of the year” by the Minnesota Lodging Association in 2013. South Pier Inn has also garnered attention from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the New York Post.
The majority of South Pier Inn’s guests are repeat customers. The record-holder is a couple who live about two hours south of Duluth, who have stayed there over 200 times.
The owners of the Inn – married couple Dale and Betty Sola, along with Dale’s two adult sons, Rand and Steven – couldn’t be prouder. The family has taken the property from an overgrown, decrepit vacant lot whom nobody wanted, to the special and well-loved hotel it is today.
And, for the Sola family, Park Point isn’t just where they make their living, but it’s also the place they call home.
“Duluth, Park Point, and the harbor are all very unique,” Betty Sola said. “But Park Point is the most unique part of Duluth, in my opinion. It’s an island that is seven miles long, and about three or four blocks wide. There’s a small-town feel to it. And, you can hop across the road and be on the beach.”
The Sola family has lived on Duluth’s Park Point for many years. So, when a piece of land just a block away from their home sat vacant and for sale for over twenty years, it caught their eye.
“It looked terrible,” Betty said. “The property had been neglected. There were overgrown shrubs and trees, and there were an old house and garage on it.”
Although the family had no experience in the hospitality industry, the Solas purchased the land, tore down the house and garage, and decided to build an Inn. They knew without a doubt that the location was something special.
“South Pier Inn is at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge,” Betty said. “The mechanics of it are fascinating. There are 1,000-foot ships and other vessels that sail underneath the bridge, and people staying at our hotel are perched right there. It’s almost like our guests can reach out and touch the ships.”
In fact, one of South Pier Inn’s most beloved amenities is the “late night ship’s call” – where hotel staff place a call to a guest’s room - by request - at any hour of the day or night, to inform them that a ship is going by. “People just love it,” Betty said.
Another frequent guest comment is how clean the hotel is. “Lucas Trea, our head housekeeper, and his staff, are deep cleaning every day. A dust bunny doesn’t stand a chance at our hotel,” Betty noted with a chuckle.
Betty Sola also credits General Manager Branden Robinson, a graduate of the Cornell University School of Hospitality Management, with much of South Pier Inn’s success. “We have the most outstanding people on staff, most notably Branden, who has been with us for about a dozen years. We credit Branden and his team with helping make our hotel the best it can be.”
Dale Sola, who is also a contractor, was the designer of the South Pier Inn. And, the family hired Kraus-Anderson Construction, based in Duluth, to build the hotel and make Dale’s vision a reality.
“Dale is 100% Finnish,” said Betty. “And, you can really see the crisp, clean Scandinavian design. There are a lot of 45-degree angles, a peaked roof, and no poufy drapes. People really seem to relax here.”
The Solas broke ground on South Pier Inn in November 2001. The hotel opened for business in May 2002.
Small business partners
As the Solas are owners of a small business, they prefer to keep their investments local, and with other small businesses, whenever possible. And this extends to the offerings they provide for their guests.
“For our breakfasts, we offer pastries from Duluth’s Johnson’s Bakery; we serve coffee from Duluth Coffee Company; and we get our granola from Positively 3rd Street Bakery – it’s hand-tossed and delivered fresh,” Betty said. “It’s important for us to give back, and one way we do that is to do business with other small businesses.”
South Pier Inn also supports local non-profits through financial donations, including to Wildwoods and local veteran’s groups. Additionally, South Pier Inn provides funds for an annual scholarship, awarded to one student pursuing a career in hospitality, through the Minnesota Lodging Association.
Looking ahead, South Pier Inn plans to continue providing highly personalized service in a clean, comfortable setting. “In the eighteen years we’ve been open, the hospitality landscape has changed significantly in Duluth,” Robinson said. “But we continue to be very guest-focused, and work to deliver the best possible experience for our guests.”
The Solas look forward to hosting you as guests at their Inn. It gives them great joy to help their guests, some of whom are world travelers, relax and unwind.
“We really, truly enjoy the business that we’re in,” Betty said. “And, if you haven’t been to Duluth, you’re just going to love it. I look forward to welcoming you to South Pier Inn, and having you become part of our story.”
Duluth resident Rod Raymond is perhaps most well-known for his ambition and entrepreneurship. With a larger-than-life personality and energy to spare, Raymond is the owner of lively Duluth hotspots Fitger’s Brewhouse and Burrito Union restaurant. But he is quickly becoming equally well-known for his philanthropy.
In the time of COVID-19, Raymond, in conjunction with his staff, is handing out bagged lunches, free of charge, to children of the East Hillside neighborhood. Lunches are distributed out of his Burrito Union restaurant, at 1332 East 4th Street. With local schools cancelled for the foreseeable future, many children would be going hungry if not for Raymond’s efforts.
Raymond has retained a crew of about eight staff at the Union. These employees are enhanced by the generous volunteer efforts of Annetta Shaw, a retired nurse, and Matt Evans, a physics professor. The Burrito Union crew distributes between 100 – 150 bagged lunches per day to children (and occasionally, adults) in need.
“There are no questions asked,” Raymond stated firmly. “Anyone can grab a lunch.”
I came from that world
For Raymond, his efforts are deeply personal. “I used to go to the food shelf as a boy,” he said. “We were really poor. I grew up in a trailer and I got free and reduced lunches. So, I came from that world. I know what these kids are going through.”
Daily lunch options vary; sometimes the kids receive a beef burrito prepared fresh at the restaurant. Other days they may receive a ham sandwich, mac and cheese, or a corn dog. Lunches are accompanied by a piece of fruit and a cookie. “I am using up my inventory, and also using donated money to buy other items,” he explained.
When tips come in, whether specifically allocated to help this lunch initiative, or through take-out or curbside orders, Raymond shares every dollar. “I didn’t do this promotion to try to help my business, it was to help the kids,” he said. “But people have been really good about giving nice tips, which we share with our staff. Larger tips go directly to buying more food.”
Bouncing back by giving back
At this time, the Brewhouse is breaking even, financially, while Burrito Union has lost a little bit of revenue. But Raymond believes his businesses will bounce back in the end. “You give, and it comes back to you three-fold. This has been quite the spiritual experience for me. It’s very meaningful.”
Raymond plans to continue to give out free lunches as long as school is out of session. He has started a GoFundMe account to raise money to keep the initiative going. So far, a little over $7,000 has been raised towards a goal of $15,000.
Additionally, Burrito Union has partnered up with CHUM, an entity which operates Duluth's largest food shelf and provides emergency shelter and supportive services for homeless individuals and families, to provide burrito lunches to health care workers. The plan is to distribute 50 lunches two times a week.
While Rod Raymond is considered by many to be a business leader in our community, he firmly believes anyone can step up and help. “You don’t have to be a mayor to lead an initiative,” he noted.
Looking for some big Duluth fun this winter? Take it from a resident, and consider Skyline Parkway!
A gorgeous route starting from West Duluth’s Magney-Snively Natural Area and winding 25 miles east to Brighton Beach, Skyline Parkway is a phenomenal place to kick off your winter adventures. Offering gorgeous opportunities for Nordic skiing along with unparalleled scenic overlooks great for checking out Lake Superior sea smoke, Skyline has it all.
Today, we’ll speak to a local resident, Laurie Mattson, who grew up on the western end of Skyline. She shares some great spots along the Parkway for cross-country skiing and phenomenal views.
First, let's explore the official word on the street with some history and highlights of Skyline, taken from the City of Duluth’s webpage.
A Bit of History
Construction began on Duluth’s Skyline Parkway back in 1889. Ten years later, Duluth mayor Samuel F. Snively began construction of an extension to the Parkway, in what is known today as Seven Bridges Road. Many extensions and connections were added along the way, culminating in Skyline’s designation as a State Scenic Byway in 2001.
From west to east, there are several popular highlights along Skyline, including:
Magney-Snively Natural Area - Encompasses an 1800-acre old-growth forest popular for hiking, cross-country skiing, and fall colors.
Bardon's Peak - Named after James Bardon of Superior, Wisconsin, this spot offers views of Duluth and the St. Louis River.
The scenic Stewart Creek Bridge was built around 1925. It is listed on the National Register, but its talented engineer remains unknown. It is well-known for its “jagged teeth.”
Spirit Mountain offers year-round recreation, including downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, an alpine coaster, mini golf, a zip line, and tubing.
Thompson Hill provides spectacular views of Lake Superior and Duluth. This is a great place to watch the sea smoke rise off the lake, or catch a sunrise or sunset.
Enger Park showcases Enger Tower, a five-story blue stone observation tower, providing panoramic views of the Twin Ports. The park includes a Japanese temple bell, gardens, and picnic areas.
Twin Ponds, part of Buckingham Creek, has long been a popular fishing and swimming destination.
Chester Park follows Chester Creek on both sides of the Parkway and includes hiking and skiing trails, a ski hill and a playground.
Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve is a favorite spot for bird watchers and hikers during raptor migration, from August through November.
Seven Bridges Road runs from Hawk Ridge to London Road along Amity Creek. Yes, this scenic road really features seven bridges.
Kitchi Gammi Park (Brighton Beach) - This rocky, rugged beach at Skyline's eastern end lets you experience the lake up close; a great option for watching the sun rise over Lake Superior.
Tips from a Local
Duluth’s Laurie Mattson was born and raised on 100th Avenue West, along a lovely section of Skyline Parkway. She offers advice on some must-see spots along the route.
“The Magney-Snively Ski Trail starts at a parking lot going west past 99th and 100th Avenues West, past the Stewart Creek Bridge and the Mayor Snively memorial,” Mattson shares. “The lot is on the left side of Skyline, not far from the bridge. It is stunning, and I would say it is a good choice for intermediate skiers. Of course, Spirit Mountain is a big draw along west Skyline Parkway, and there are cross-country ski trails which begin in the campground area.”
She continues, “Going east along Skyline Parkway when you leave Spirit Mountain, you cross over I-35 on an overpass, and that leads to Thompson Hill, where the view is spectacular. You can see St. Louis Bay, and the Spirit, Clough and Whiteside Islands.”
On the eastern side of town, Skyline offers great cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails at both Chester Park and Lester Park; just look for the signs!
Check it Out!
If you’re looking for a great place to enjoy the winter trails or catch a magnificent view of the Lake, consider Skyline Parkway. An absolute jewel in Duluth’s crown, Skyline offers year-round views and plenty of opportunity for big adventure.
Duluth is rapidly becoming known for its trails. In fact, Duluth's trail infrastructure was a significant factor in being voted Outside Magazine’s Best Town Ever for 2014, a contest that takes outdoor activities heavily into consideration for bestowing its title. In winter time, that means cross-country ski trails, and Duluth boasts 75 kilometers (46 miles) of such skiing pleasure.
It takes a great deal of care, maintenance and dedication to keep the trails in good shape and well groomed for skiers. In fact, it is a year-round job. But it’s one that the City embraces, and strives for continual improvement in its trail system. Summer and fall find city crews working on the trails to prepare them for winter months. Doing this work up front has become a major focus for the City.
“Our trail maintenance staff is under direction to ‘do things right,’ ” explains Dale Sellner, Building and Grounds Supervisor for the City. It’s not enough to fix a problem, issues need to be addressed for the long term. They know it will benefit them when the groomers hit the trails each year.
Regular maintenance takes the form of clearing the trails to remove young trees and brush that tend to encroach on the trail. It’s important to “brush” the trails to maintain enough width not only for skiing but to allow space for groomers to push snow to the side of the trails. Overhead branches are also trimmed, for the safety of skiers and groomers. Volunteers from the Duluth Cross-Country Ski Club (DXC) supplement these efforts, along with helpers from area college ski teams.
There is a lot more to trail maintenance, however. Larger projects are aimed at establishing firm and sustainable trail beds. “Ideally, we want the trails to be like roads and shed water so that it doesn’t pool on the surface,” according to Doug Rosas, Maintenance Operations Lead Worker.
In recent years, the trails have been enhanced by adding new culverts to alleviate drainage problems. In thesummer of 2014, the City used an excavator to work on the Piedmont, Hartley and Lester trails. Pulling out large rocks and filling in the holes and other low areas smoothed out the trail. The benefit of this is being able to groom the trails when there is less snow without damaging the grooming equipment.
At Chester Bowl and Lester-Amity, city crews worked on rerouting portions of the trails. The goal is to make grooming more efficient by reducing the number of times the groomer has to back up or retrace its path to cover all the trail loops. Those efforts pay off in the winter when skiers are anxious to see their favorite trails groomed. Being able to complete grooming a trail in less time means they can groom more kilometers in a day. Ultimately, that can equate to more frequent grooming.
New Grooming Equipment
Speaking of grooming, the City has also invested in a brand new, state of the art PistenBully groomer – the cadillac of grooming equipment. The improved reliability and quality of this new equipment will benefit the entire range of the City’s trail system. It also boasts new features such as hydraulically adjustable track setters and side wings to groom a wider swath, which contribute to faster and safer grooming. This machine is supplemented by a snowmobile with grooming attachments that can be dispatched at the same time. In addition, DXC partners with the City of Duluth, and has assumed grooming responsibilities for portions of the Spirit Mountain ski trails. They too have purchased new grooming equipment, further expanding the resources for keeping the trails in good form throughout the winter.
It’s all going according to plan. The Master Plan, that is. The City engaged expert cross-country ski resources to develop a Master Plan for the city’s trails. The completed plan includes recommendations for trail improvements across the city’s trails. Some features under consideration are extending the areas of lighted skiing and adding snowmaking on limited sections of trail. DXC is working closely with the city on prioritizing the recommendations and identifying what it will take to implement them. The two groups will collaborate on fundraising and bringing elements of the plan to fruition over the years.
Having attained its Best Outdoors Town status, the City isn’t about to let its efforts slip. It just keeps getting better. And cross-country skiers will reap the benefits.
Since 1974, Spirit Mountain has helped Duluth grow its reputation as a hub for skiing – including downhill, cross-country and snowboarding. As a result, Spirit Mountain recently proclaimed Duluth "Minnesota’s Best Ski Town!" We at Destination Duluth couldn’t agree more!
But, while there’s no doubt the skiing is amazing, Spirit Mountain offers so much more. With activities ranging from mini-golf and fat-tire biking to an alpine coaster and zip line, Spirit Mountain is Duluth’s year-round recreation destination.
A Positive Impact on DLH’s Economy
Perched atop a glorious hill overlooking the city of Duluth, the St. Louis River, and Lake Superior, Spirit Mountain was founded in 1974 by the Minnesota Legislature. With a mission of providing recreational activities to promote tourism and preserve the environment, Spirit Mountain is now a top destination for both winter and summer recreation.
46 years later, the “ski economy” now makes up a good chunk of Duluth’s economy. Duluth has several unique stores that specialize in selling and repairing ski and snowboard gear. Even our thrift shops are full of ski equipment.
So, even if your budget is a little tight, you can still hit the slopes!
Endless Winter Fun
Brandy Ream, Spirit Mountain's Executive Director shared, “If you are lucky enough to call yourself a local or are aspiring to be a ‘weekend local,’ you have come to the right place. Spirit Mountain offers the 2nd highest vertical in the state. With over 700 acres of skiable terrain, Spirit Mountain has been voted the Midwest’s Best Terrain Park two years running. We also feature 22 km of Nordic trails, and are a trail head for the Superior Hiking Trail.”
Whether Mother Nature is being stingy with the snow, or a tiny young skier is just getting started, Spirit Mountain can meet any challenge. “We feature a variety of terrain, 100% snowmaking (referring to the skiable area able to have artificial snow applied), two chalets, and extensive learning programs,” Ream said. “We are the perfect place for every skier: beginner to expert.”
Beyond the skiing and snowboarding, winter is also a great option for tubing and fat-tire biking. “Winter also ushers in our snow tubing experience that we kick up a notch on the weekends with our glow tubing,” Ream said. And, Spirit Mountain even offers downhill, lift-served fat biking during the winter months.
Duluth’s splendid summers signify the kickoff to Spirit Mountain’s Adventure Park. Featuring an alpine coaster, zip-line, mini-golf, jumping pillow and scenic chairlift rides, there are plenty of activities to get your adrenaline pumping.
And, there are tons of mountain biking opportunities. “Our downhill mountain bike trails are nationally recognized, and offer trails rated from beginner to expert, plus a skills park and pump track,” Ream said.
And It's an Easy Drive Home
Ream shared, “From enjoying the ski hill after work to shredding the mountain bike trails on the weekends, Spirit Mountain allows one to stay active, focus on time with friends and family, and yet still be able to drive home every night. We truly are your destination for incredible experiences.”
A winter on the North Shore is not for the faint of heart, as the temperature often drops below 0 degrees and stepping foot outside can be a chore. If you can deal with your car not starting 100% of the time, or not feeling your toes when you take your dog for a walk, the shore boasts some unbelievable phenomena’s. One of them being Sea Smoke. If the air is still and cold enough, wisps of “smoke” will appear, which is actually water vapor that forms when really cold air moves over relatively warmer water. The “warmer” water below generally sits at a frigid 33-35 degrees. When the water vapor rises, the cold air above can only hold so much moisture which forces the water to condense into a fog. The fog then rises like smoke from the lake’s surface. The term fog is somewhat ironic when describing the “Sea Smoke” as fog occurs when warm air moves over cold water. On some days, when the smoke is paired with a heavy dose of cold wind from the north, “Steam Devils” may form, which are tornado-esk looking rising clouds.
The smoke draws in hundreds of visitors, and many of them have a camera in their hand, all in search of the perfect photo. The cliffs along the shore of Superior offer a perfect spot for viewing the smoke if you are willing to endure the sub-zero temps. We recommend finding a spot about 700 feet above Lake Superior, which will give you the best angle to capture the smoke rolling over the water. And if you are lucky, you might even be able to capture a ship looming in the background.