ORR- If a visitor takes a stroll on the Mickey Elverum Bog Walk in Orr this week, two things will become readily apparent within the first 50 yards.One is that bug spray is a must – the …
ORR- If a visitor takes a stroll on the Mickey Elverum Bog Walk in Orr this week, two things will become readily apparent within the first 50 yards.
One is that bug spray is a must – the mosquito season is in full bloom in the bog.
The other is that the 28-year-old structure has seen better days and is in serious need of repair.
While city officials can’t do anything about bug spray, the news last week that the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board approved a $196,350 matching grant gives them the means to give the popular attraction a much-needed extreme makeover that will serve for years to come.
The city had already ponied up $10,000 to cover preliminary design, engineering and permitting costs but didn’t have the means locally to come up with the total price tag of $392,700 needed to rebuild the aging structure.
A Department of Natural Resources Outdoor Recreation grant of $186,350 got the city halfway there, but it required a 1-to-1 match from other sources. IRRR stepped up with the other half to turn the dream into reality.
“This is really great news!” city clerk Cheri Carter said. “The Bog Walk is very popular, and it’s been such a shame up until the last couple weeks that we didn’t have the funds to repair it. Everyone is very excited to see this finally be a reality, and not just the people in the Orr area.”
The walk was the vision of Michael “Mickey” Elverum, a popular and highly-regarded science teacher in Orr. He died in January 1993, never getting to see the walk that bears his name grow to attract an estimated 24,000 visitors annually.
“That’s wonderful – it’s so exciting,” said Mickey’s wife, Darlene Elverum, when she learned of the news.
Mickey was known for using the outdoors as a classroom, and the bog was rich with possibilities.
“He loved bogs because he knew how important those areas are, and people didn’t really understand that,” she said. “It was his plan to build it. I think it was the first actual bog walk in Minnesota.”
Part of Mickey’s vision was to bring underprivileged kids up from the cities during the summer, Darlene said, so they, too, could benefit from learning about bogs and experiencing the outdoors.
But others had to pick up the ball when Mickey was diagnosed with cancer in 1992.
“He just loved working with kids,” Darlene said. “He was really sad because he thought the whole idea would die with him.”
But it didn’t. Current Timberjay publisher and avid naturalist Marshall Helmberger designed the route for the walk and created the interpretive signage. Tony Vukelich spearheaded the actual construction.
“The bog walk has long been a distinctive feature of a visit to Orr,” Helmberger said. “I’m glad that people continue to visit it and will be able to do that for many years to come.”
While some peg the opening of the Bog Walk to 1993, an article in the June 8, 1992 Orr Timberjay proclaimed, “Orr’s ‘bog walk’ open for visitors,” and showed a picture of senior citizens enjoying a stroll on the section along the Pelican River near the inlet to Orr Bay. It was noted that a few minor items remained to be completed, but the walk itself was operational.
Today, the “smooth and level surface” touted in the article is no more. Large sections of the boardwalk sag in spots, and slope and curve in others. The waterfront section is in the poorest condition, listing to the point that water and flora slip onto the path at several points. In several places sections have started to separate, creating minor but still passable obstacles for those using wheelchairs or other forms of walking assistance.
Time and nature have taken their toll on the interpretive signs and kiosks as well. Some portions of signage are completely obscured by green and brown growth under what were intended to be protective covers.
“I went on it last fall and I noticed a lot of things that need fixing, even the signs,” Darlene said.
Visitors have noticed, too, and in the digital age, their posted critiques are in plain view of other potential visitors. While the reactions to the bog walk overall are very positive, beginning in 2016 comments on Trip Advisor started noting the deteriorating conditions:
• It is a bit “springy” in spots, but keeps your feet dry. It looks like it could use a bit of care.
• Be careful when the boardwalk is wet. It’s very slippery and the boardwalk itself could use some shoring up in places.
• The dock was a little rocky in some places.
The project isn’t merely a facelift, it’s a total rebuild, as its nearly $400,000 price suggests. It will follow the same 2,500-foot route as the existing structure. The city’s engineering firm, Benchmark Engineering, is involved in both design and permitting.
Now that funding has been secured, obtaining the necessary environmental permits is the next step, which could take until September. It is anticipated that using the same footprint for the new walk will ease the process.
Simultaneously, final designs will be developed, with a tentative deadline of October for completion. If all goes according to plan, construction bids would be let in October or November, with the project scheduled for completion in June 2021, just in time for an influx of new visitors from afar and summer enjoyment by local bog walk lovers.