Saving Minnesota: Kawishiwi Lab

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By Alice Yonke

Kawishiwi Lab (or K-Lab), a historic district 11 miles outside of Ely, houses # of Civilian Conservation Corps erected in the 1930’s as well as a rich history of wolf and wildlife research.  Thanks to quality craft, the CCC built structures continue to stand strong along the Kawishiwi River.  However, these building have sat vacant for several years are in danger of being demolished.

After visiting K-Lab last summer, I chose to make K-Lab the focus of my seven-week workshop at the University of Minnesota – School of Architecture.  The workshop, “Saving Minnesota 10 Buildings at a Time,” held last fall by Michael Bjornberg, introduced me and fourteen other students to the field of historic preservation and its significance.  Each student chose a site to study and come up with a reuse design.  The sites ranged from round barns to light bulb factories to the Roseville DQ, each presenting their own challenges and creative solutions.

While doing my research, I had the opportunity to work with Brooke Tapp and Rolf Hagberg, who have put great effort into an incredible reuse option for the Kawishiwi Lab historic district.  Brooke and Rolf have run conservation corps in Minnesota for many years and see the potential for K-Lab to serve as a conservation corps base camp.  The existing bunkhouses, cabins, and garages could easily provide the housing, storage, and workshop space needed to run a conservation corps.  Although alterations would be required in some of the newer buildings to provide a commercial kitchen, showers, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible bathrooms, the CCC and pre 1970’s buildings would serve close to their original purpose and require little, if any, alterations.  I chose to focus my work on assisting this proposal through a site master plan including designs for the above-mentioned alterations.

 Brooke and Rolf, in conjunction with many other volunteers, are working to form a new conservation corps that would house the K-Lab, should it be saved.  Along with typical conservation corps projects such as invasive species removal, trail work, Northern Bedrock Conservation Corps (NBCC) would potentially focus on historical preservation and restoration projects around the state.  Similar programs, such as Historicorps, exist and are having great success in other parts of the country and are being used as a model for NBCC.   Minnesota has immense amounts of preservation work and as a volunteer based non-profit, conservation corps offer affordable labor to work on these projects.  Even though there is much work to be done to realize this dream, the recent submission of a feasibility study for this reuse plan stands as proof of the great progress already being made. 

Please email me if you have any questions about K-Lab or the Saving Minnesota Class please email me at yonke.alice@gmail.com

For more information on the project visit Northern Bedrock Conservation Corps’ website or the Kawishiwi Field Laboratory Facebook page!

Photos by Rolf Hagberg Photography

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