New Gunflint Ranger settling into his duties

Brian Larsen

Michael Crotteau Michael Crotteau It’s been about four months since Michael Crotteau stepped in to permanently fill the position as the District Ranger for the Gunflint Ranger District. Before he came, there were a couple of temporary bosses that bridged the gap between he and former Gunflint Ranger Nancy Larson who retired last year.

Born in Shoreview, Minnesota, Michael has been coming to the North Shore since he was three months old. “My family vacationed, camped and stayed at places anywhere from Gooseberry Fall to Kekabecca Falls in Ontario. By the time I was in my junior year of high school I was taking canoe trips with my friends into the Boundary Waters. I love the Northshore and couldn’t be happier to be here.”

After high school, Michael attended Montana State where he majored in hydrology and chemistry. He also ran track in college, hitting bests of 1:54 in the 800 meters and 4:17 in the mile.

Before coming to Grand Marais, Michael worked as a hydrologist for the Forest Service in Lakeview, Oregon. He also spent six years before that working in hydrology for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids. Sandwiched in-between was a 12-year stint in Alaska where he worked for both the state and the Forest Service, taking three years off to run a non-profit organization that featured pack-rafting and white-water rafting trips. “We did trips in many places throughout South central Alaska, including in Wrangell St Elias NP and near Denali NP,” he said.

What is pack rafting? “A pack raft weighs four pounds and fits in a backpack and is practically indestructible. It’s made of the same material NASA uses to make space suits. You blow them up and put your pack on the front of them to gain ballast” he said, “adding that he and his family will pursue some pack-rafting trips in the county when the snow and ice leave and the water warms up in the rivers.

With the Forest Service recreation budget down about 25 percent over the last couple of years, and the aquatics budget down, Crotteau said not as many seasonal workers will be hired this summer. Usually, the staff reaches about 50 workers in the warmer months, but this year Michael said staffing would be 8-10 people short.

“Congress sets the budgets for us. But with the inability to hire people, we can’t get all of the work done that we would like to get done. By cutting spending, it not only affects the services we normally provide, but it also affects the local economy because fewer people are here earning money and spending it at local businesses.”

As far as cutting wood on the forest, Michael said the Forest Service is administering timber harvest contracts in the Barker Project Area, and will soon be offering contracts in the SkokoShoe Project area, and is currently doing environmental analysis in the Kimball Lake to Devil Track Lake area.

“I have to get used to using cords here. Out west wood was sold by the foot,” he said.

In his role as District Ranger, Michael collaborates with his colleague, Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak who is the ranger at the Tofte District, the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and private landowners on how best to manage the county’s forests. Managing the land for the good of wildlife, plants, trees, birds, and people can be complicated, but Michael said he has an excellent staff of hard-working professionals to guide him.

As far as hobbies, Michael and his wife and two children like to hike, canoe, pack-raft, and play in the great out of doors. “After college, I used to run marathons, but my body doesn’t like me to do that anymore,” he said with a smile.

Michael and his wife Traci have two children, Hattie, a girl, in 5th grade and Aricin, a boy who is in first grade, both of whom attend Sawtooth Elementary. The couple has also recently purchased a home and is busy moving in and doing some renovating in their spare time. As far as longterm, Michael said he and his family are glad to be here and have no plans to leave any time soon, if at all.

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