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Group teams with Forest Service to save threatened historic station

The Northern Research Station is now working with the Northern Bedrock Conservation Corps and the State Historic Preservation Office to develop a use of the Kawishiwi Field Laboratory site in Lake County off Highway 1 east of Ely. The Northern Bedrock Conservation Corps expects to complete a proposal and a feasibility study in 2012.

With help from a National Trust for Historic Preservation grant, the Northern Research Station has submitted a nomination of the Kawishiwi Field Lab to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is expected to make a decision later this year. Designation as a historic site may help generate interest in re-use of the buildings and funding for restoration.

Because the buildings are not safe for occupation, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have relocated wolf researchers from the Kawishiwi Field Lab to space in the Superior National Forest district office in Ely. The Northern Research Station is doing routine maintenance and preparing the buildings to be closed during the winter months. Work includes treating for a beetle infestation, removing sagging power lines that pose a fire hazard, and winterizing water lines.

Station staff will continue to work with partners to identify a compatible use for the historic structures and a partner who can adapt the buildings.

The Kawishiwi Field Lab has 11 structures, nine that are eligible for inclusion as a Historic District on the National Register. The historical significance of the buildings relates to the quality and workmanship of their construction, and the representation of various styles of log and framed construction characteristic of a historical era.

Seven of the historic structures are rustic/Adirondack-style log cabins built in 1934 and 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Field Lab also includes a stand-alone underground concrete cellar poured by the CCC at the site, and a balloon framed residence built in 1931 with funds from Herbert Hoover's Public Works Administration.

The Forest Service said last year it would cost more than $1 million to renovate the research station, so it planned to demolish the buildings. The buildings are in various stages of disrepair, many from the insect infestations eating at the log structures. It said it would like to destroy the buildings "due to their high maintenance costs and poor fit with the Northern Research Station's mission."

With that news last summer, some said the area was simply being cleared to make way for mineral mining. Part of the research land sits next to areas proposed for the Duluth metals and Franconia projects. The Forest Service says the land would remain under Superior National Forest control.

In 2010 the Northern Research Station released an environmental assessment that evaluated several alternatives for the site's future, ranging from restoration to demolition after complete historic documentation of the site. Public comment on the environmental assessment was strongly in favor of preserving the structures, and the Northern Research Station is pursuing finding a use for the structures.