Creating a New Life
on the Gunflint Trail

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It’s hard to drive down the Gunflint Trail and not feel like maybe, you should pack everything up and move here. A number of people have acted on this dream, and in the past few years, a new generation of people have moved north and now call the Gunflint Trail their home. Historic lodges and outfitters such as Tuscarora, Poplar Haus, Rockwood and Gunflint have new owners who bring new life to a tradition of outfitting and hospitality.

Everyone who choses to call the Gunflint home has a unique story and different reasons for why they made the move. A few months ago, we ran across a blog by a young woman living in a 200-square foot cabin at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Her story is, to say the least, inspiring.  

At 26, Ashley Bredemus was on the path to a successful career. Having graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Mathematics, this native of Grand Rapids, Minnesota was living in Florida, a few hundred feet from the ocean, and working for an engineering firm that specializes in automation.

One day, her father called. He was living on his own at the end of the Gunflint Trail, at the summer camp that had been in their family since the 1960s. He was getting older. With high blood pressure, and having recently been cleared from a cancer diagnosis, he was not in the best health.

Ashley had lost her mother to cancer when she was 21. Naturally, Ashley was worried about her dad. Her concern was coupled with the undeniable lure of home, family and the camp that occupied such a large place in her heart. She started to feel homesick.

Then things started to fall into place. Ashley received a note from the owners of the condo she rented. They were going to sell the unit. She had 30 days to vacate the property.

Ashley knew exactly where she wanted to go. With a plan to spend a month with her father at camp then return to her life in Florida, she convinced the company she worked for to let her work remotely for 30 days, packed up her car and drove north.

Near the end of the Gunflint Trail, Ashley arrived at Camp Birchwood for Boys, which had been founded by her grandparents, Jim and Nancy Bredemus, in 1968. Here, her father, Dan Bredemus, a retired school teacher, was living in the “Big House” cabin a few dozen yards away from a 200-square-foot cabin where Ashley would stay for a few weeks.

Ashley fully intended to return to Florida, and she did. But in a different way than she originally expected. Ultimately, family, the magic of the Northwoods and the undeniable magic of the Gunflint Trail was too much. Back in Florida, she packed up her things, gave notice to her employer and returned north to move into that 200-square-foot cabin next to Entry Point Number 55 on the Seagull River.

***

After the last of the campers left, Ashley and her father, whose health had dramatically improved, prepared for the temperatures to fall well below zero. Up until last winter, no one had lived year-round at Camp Birchwood. Winters on the Gunflint Trail are as harsh as they are glorious. The isolation, the extreme cold, the long nights are not the kind of thing many embrace. And if you recall, the winter of 2018/2019 was particularly severe.

Though this father and daughter team were prepared, there is no better teacher than experience, and they had to learn many things on the fly. For instance, Ashley and her father tried to pump water from the river, which quickly led to a frozen and cracked pipe. And, despite stocking up on what they thought was more than enough firewood, they underestimated just how much wood they would burn in a season.

For the most part, Ashley thoroughly enjoyed herself, something she attributes to her introverted nature and a voracious appetite for books. She discovered a great community of people wintering over on the Gunflint, including her neighbor, Dewy, as well as Matt and Cassidy at Voyageurs Outfitter. Nonetheless, the 40-meter walk to the outhouse in 40-below weather got a little old, and, by the end of the four-week stretch where temperatures never rose above 20-below, Ashley did start to get a little antsy.

Just like she thought she would originally return to Florida after a few weeks, Ashely thought she might move to the Twin Cities or Duluth, and resume her career after the winter. As the ice on the lakes melted, Ashley realized that living up here was not just an experiment for a month, or even a season. Living in a cabin in the woods was a lifestyle she permanently wanted.

“You probably know what a soulmate is, right?” Ashley says. “Well, I believe that every person has a soul place—one place in this world that evokes a deep sense of belonging. When I moved to the end of the Gunflint Trail, I never intended to stay longer than one winter. But I was mesmerized, hooked, in love. There’s no place in the world I’d rather be.”

***

Last summer, Ashely’s uncle, who owned and ran Camp Birchwood, sold the business to Ashley and her father. Still family-owned, Ashely has major plans for the camp, while still maintaining the same children’s program her family has built over the years. She has refurbished the cabins, upgraded the website and is currently working on plans to expand the camp’s offering to include longer youth trips into the Boundary Waters. She also wants to charter programs for women’s groups, specifically geared towards the college-aged crowd, as well as corporate retreats.

Five years ago, Ashley never would have pictured herself spending a second winter in her small cabin, reimagining and reinventing the camp her grandparents found.

“I’m working to keep my grandparents legacy alive because I think we need the wilderness experiences of their era now more than ever,” Ashley says.

As many along the Gunflint Trail will tell you, for those with an open mind, a dream and an adventurous spirit, the Northland presents an abundance of opportunities.

To follow Ashley, check out her blog:

The Cabin Season

and learn more about her camp, Camp Birchwood for Boys:

https://birchwoodwildernesscamp.com

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