As a lover of wild and natural places, I’ve always been entranced by the wild shore land and islands of the St. Louis River estuary on the Wisconsin side. One can easily view this from the top of Thompson Hill when driving into Duluth by auto, or, in a more leisurely and expansive view, when biking on the Munger Trail into or out of Duluth.
So I was pleased to see that Conservation Minnesota’s neighbor in their office building, The Nature Conservancy, recently bought the largest island in the river estuary and turned it over to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Clough Island, a 358-acre gem, once had a resort and supported small farming on it. This use stopped in the early 1950s and the island reverted to its present natural state. It’s an important sanctuary for bird life, which has 230 species identified there. The Common Tern, endangered in Wisconsin and threatened in Minnesota, is one of the 115 species known to breed on the island. The shallow waters around Clough Island are vital spawning waters for fish migrating up from Lake Superior, including the prehistoric-appearing lake sturgeon.
A Minnesota developer had a recent proposal to build a luxury hotel, condos, and golf course on Clough Island but ran into financial roadblocks. I well remember canoeing the lower St. Louis River, on one of the late state representative Willard Munger’s river outings, and stopping near Clough Island wondering what was on the shore. Will Munger, Jr., was one of the local environmentalists who led the effort to fight the proposed hotel development.
The canoe trips on the St. Louis always ended at Willard’s home, near Indian Point campground on the estuary. Willard’s daughter, Pat, now lives in the hillside home overlooking the river. Only a new public trail is contemplated by the Wisconsin DNR to retain the naturalness of Clough Island.
I can only think how happy and proud Willard would be knowing his children played a part in saving a natural treasure in his own watershed for generations to come.