HISTORY OF THE NLCB
In 1963 a woman by the name of Dorothy Harry, a Girl Scout troop leader from Hibbing, Minnesota, wanted to take her Girl Scouts on a canoe trip north of Ely. People told her it would not be possible to take a group of girls into the woods alone. Who would carry the heavy canoes and packs? Certainly their arms would tire of paddling. How would they ever get anywhere? What would the girls do if they encountered a bear?
Mrs. Harry knew what the girls were capable of and she knew that if everyone pulled together, they would ‘learn the ropes’ and what it took to enjoy wilderness travel. Mrs. Harry did take a group of girls into the northwoods. Not only did they survive and manage alone, the girls enjoyed themselves. Each summer more and more girls wanted to go. The trip grew into a council wide event. Mrs. Harry found herself in charge of a very popular Girl Scout program. She directed the canoeing program from 1963 to 1977. For fourteen years she volunteered her time and managed one of the only, one of the best, wilderness tripping programs for young women.
The first few summers Mrs. Harry outfitted the trips from the back of her pick-up truck. She would haul all of the trail gear and canoes up from Hibbing for each trip and park her truck in the parking lot at the Ely A& W Root Beer stand between trips. Eventually, a scouting family in Ely offered their yard as a base for the Girl Scouts. The home of Ralph and Jean Swanson became the Girl Scout ‘Base’ for many years. Guides and Guides-in-Training slept in tents between trips, used the family garage for organizing equipment and stored the canoes up in the field.
In 1985 the canoe trip program moved its base of operations from the Swanson house to a house leased from the Boy Scouts on Moose Lake. Northern Lakes could now ask the trip participants to arrive the day before the trip began for pre-trip training. The same house that was used for program space was also housing for Guides and GIT’s. Supper the night before the trip and showers after were done at the Boy Scout Base.
As the program expanded the need for a new base arose. In March of 1990 the Girl Scouts secured a lease with the US Forest Service for 28 acres of lake front property, at the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
We hope we’ll continue to grow and will eventually be able to purchase our own land, build our own lodge and continue to inspire young women across America to enjoy the thing that so many people thought they couldn’t do. Over thirty years of Girl Scouting history in the BWCAW has heard people say “girls can’t go on canoe trips, girls aren’t interested in canoeing, you’ll never find a property to have a base camp!”. Thanks to Mrs. Harry for taking a risk, bringing so many young women into the canoe country and teaching us to move forward with courage!
(Based on the recollections of Doris Kolodji, written in the Guide training manual)
Check out our short video briefly describing our program!