The northland jewel that is Vermilion Ridge – the state’s newest state park campground nestled on the shores of Lake Vermilion – just got a little shinier.

Work is finally complete on eight new camper cabins in the park, which sit on a ridge between Armstrong and Cable Bays, and those interested in doing a little winter camping this year can begin making reservations at 8 a.m. Monday.

Stays in four of the cabins will begin on Dec. 31, while stays in the remaining four will begin Jan. 13. To ensure COVID-19 cleaning protocols and that cabins have an unoccupied day between guest stays, reservations will be accepted by telephone only. Camper cabins reservations can be made by calling 1-866-857-2757.

Vermilion Ridge, a $7 million spread that features state-of-the-art camping, began operations in 2017 after many years of planning. The park features 33 campsites and is part of the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park – which was created in 2010 after the state of Minnesota paid U.S. Steel $18 million to buy about 3,000 acres of land in and around the mine and near the lake.

That deal, pushed by then Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFL Sen. Tom Bakk, gave the state ownership of 10 miles of undeveloped shoreline on Vermilion.

More than $45 million in state money has since been used to develop the park.

According to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the eight new cabins, which will be open year-round, reflect the latest in green-building practices.

The cabins feature rustic tamarack interiors and are equipped with heat, electricity and Wi-Fi, and an outdoor food prep counter, fire ring, and table.

Outfitted with either three full-size bunks, or two full-size and two twin-size bunks, each cabin can accommodate up to six people. A new shower and restroom building, as well as an adjacent vault toilet, serve the cabins.

“These are year-round cabins that offer an opportunity for visitors to experience the area without having an RV or camping in a tent. All these are very popular in Minnesota State Parks and these will likely be the same,” Park Manager Jim Essig said by email this week, adding that construction of the cabins, which sleep six people, took about a year and a half. “The project included building a road, parking areas, septic system, utilities and WIFI brought into the area as well as building (the) energy efficient cabins and a year-round shower/restroom facility.”

In honor of the history and culture of the area’s Indigenous people, the cabins are named with the Ojibwe words for the four seasons and four cardinal directions.

Campers will have access to area snowmobile trails in the winter, as well as the Mesabi Bike Trail and lake access in the summer.

The camper cabin development was primarily funded by capital bonding funds provided by 2014 and 2017 Legislature.

Vermilion Ridge, while the newest on the list, isn’t the only Park and Itasca State Park, as well as Scenic State, Fort Ridgely, Savanna Portage, St. Croix, Tettegouche and Wild River State Parks.

The Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park received its official name in 2014 when the two properties, which include the Underground Mine, merged as Minnesota’s newest state park in 30 years.

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Ice Fishing tips

With the kickoff of the ice fishing season, the Minnesota DNR reminds new and veteran anglers alike of their responsibility to keep themselves safe and to be a considerate member of the ice angling community.

Some of Minnesota’s most popular winter fisheries, such as Upper Red Lake, have drawn remarkably high numbers of anglers already this season, while in other places people are patiently waiting for a cold snap to make the ice thick enough to walk on.

“Conservation officers have seen higher-than-usual numbers of people on the ice where it’s thick enough, and we expect that to continue,” said Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “We just want to make sure everyone has a safe season.”

The recommended minimum thickness for walking on new, clear ice is 4 inches. Wait for 5 to 7 inches before heading out on an ATV or snowmobile and keep cars off until there’s 8 to 12 inches. Anyone planning to drive out in a truck, should wait until there’s at least 12 to 15 inches of ice. Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.

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Aquatic Invasive Committee

The DNR is seeking applications from Minnesota residents interested in serving on the statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Committee. Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22.

Aquatic invasive species are one of the state’s most pressing natural resource issues. Preventing the spread of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, invasive carp, starry stonewort and other invasive plants and animals is of critical environmental, recreational and economic importance.

The DNR established the advisory committee in 2013 to help guide the agency’s AIS prevention and management activities. Members provide advice and diverse perspectives to the DNR invasive species program.

Committee members consider programmatic direction, emerging research needs, communications and funding strategies. The committee meets eight times a year either online or in a central Minnesota location. Due to COVID-19, meetings are currently being held using an online format.

The AIS Advisory Committee is a core element of the DNR’s partnership approach to addressing aquatic invasive species. The committee comprises 15 members. The DNR is seeking three new members to join the committee, with term lengths of three years.

The DNR desires a diverse and well-rounded advisory committee, reflecting a diversity of ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, orientations, recreational interests, education, and geographies.

Current members have a range of personal and professional experience with AIS issues, including prevention, decontamination, public awareness and control activities. The committee also reflects the range of private, nonprofit and public sector organizations that are actively engaged in AIS issues.

Appointees may request mileage reimbursement for in-person meetings, when those resume; but members are not paid or eligible for per diem. They must abide by requirements pertaining to potential conflicts of interest. Advisory committee members can expect to spend between 6-16 hours per-month preparing for and attending meetings during their three-year terms.

The DNR is accepting applications online at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/aisadvisory. Advisory committee data are classified as private under state law, except for what is specifically listed in statute as public.

For more information, contact Heidi Wolf by email at Heidi.wolf@state.mn.us or by phone at 651-259-5152.

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