Crane Lake Stories: Amongst the Best Snowmobile Trails in Minnesota and More!

Published On: March 2, 202112.5 min read
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Episode 1 – A Late Winter Chat with Mike Cherrywell

In this inaugural episode of Crane Lake Stories, host Matt Addington interviews Crane Lake resident and hospitality expert Mike Cherrywell regarding the broad appeal of the small community as a top outdoor destination year-round. The pair discuss Crane Lake’s position near several amazing parks, its bountiful snowmobile trails, and more.

You can check out the video version of these great stories below, as well as the audio version and the full text version of the episode.

What You’ll Learn In This Episode

  • In winter Crane Lake offers over 90 miles of groomed and maintained snowmobile trails!
  • Crane Lake is situated perfectly near parks perfect for kayaking and canoeing.
  • This is an excellent place to meet like-minded outdoor enthusiasts!
  • Crane Lake is the Gateway to Adventure!

Episode Transcript;

Matt Addington: So, welcome everyone to be inaugural episode of Crane Lake Stories. My name is Matt Addington. I’m part of the storytelling team here at Crane Lake for the Visitor and Tourism Bureau. We just love this place and we trust that many of you that are watching and listening also have an affinity with this place. And if you don’t, hopefully you’ll continue to tune in to what we’ve got to offer here every couple of weeks, because we’ve got so many people with so many great stories about what is truly just a hidden gem in the Minnesota Northwoods, and really the gateway to much adventure beyond Crane Lake. So, today I’m super excited to have a long Mike Cherrywell, who is a resident of Crane Lake, works at Voyagaire Lodge and has been in the Crane Lake area for 20 some years. So we appreciate you having on today, Mike.

Mike Cherrywell: Hey, no problem, man. Thanks for having me.

Matt Addington: So tell us a little bit about your story with, you’re not a native to Crane Lake, but like I said, you’ve been there 20 plus years. What was your journey like to get there? And what kind of things do you do for a living in the Crane Lake area?

Mike Cherrywell: Well I actually came to Crane Lake starting around ’96 or 7. I met Bill Condon out in Fort Peck, Montana, where I was running in a historic hotel bar restaurant. I stopped in one day and we started chit-chatting. And I decided one winter when the hotel was closed down to come to Crane Lake and see what he was all about, actually. And came up and started snowmobiling with Bill and a group of guys, folks around town that were off at that point in time. And three years later, he and I had decided to maybe join forces and try to buy this resort down on Lake Winnie. That deal kind of fell through on the sign in table, and so Bill and Dean offered me a job at the lodge and I’ve been there ever since. It’s now on the third ownership.

Matt Addington: That’s awesome. And what was it about Crane? I mean, it’s an obvious answer to those of us who have been there and been captured by it, but what were your impressions the first time you came, and what was it about the place that was magical that made you ultimately want to put roots down there?

Mike Cherrywell: Well, like I said, I’ve been in the hotel business, so kind of people oriented. And so when I came, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. So I did a couple of things early on. I cooked a little bit in the kitchen a few days a week, worked on the docks crew in the summertime, kind of got a feel for things. And then when it was sold, it was natural that I just stayed on to help out the new owners, which entailed and helped myself out. And gravitated from doing a couple of things to taking care of the houseboats mostly in the summertime.

Matt Addington: Nice. Excellent.

Mike Cherrywell: And I later on got elected as the president of the local snowmobile club, the Crane Lake Voyagaire’s Snowmobile Club.

Matt Addington: That’s awesome. So, we’re going to talk more about snowmobiling, and I’ll even backtrack to your and I’s conversation earlier this week. I initially had reached out to you, thinking about talking trail report and something that we want to have as part of each episode during the winter, have some snowmobile trail reports, and summer we’ll talk ATVs because that is such a huge draw to the area. People come from all over the place to ride. And you and I initially talked about that, and boy, we got to talking, and like most things, there’s lots of good stories to tell, and we just decided, let’s make this into one whole episode. So besides the snowmobiling thing, tell me some of the other things that you and your family, I know your wife teaches in the area up there, some of the other things that have kind of captured your family’s interest and things that you love about, besides being employed and living there, the things that you love to do there.

Mike Cherrywell: Well, we’re very much outdoors folks ourselves. We do hunt and fish quite a bit as we can. And we snowmobile quite a bit. We just really now getting into the ATV stuff. We both are one the ATV club board, as she just bought her first ATV here this past fall. So we’re getting into that a little bit more. But no, we try to get out and do … We hike a little bit and stuff. But mostly fishermen and others.

Matt Addington: Sure. You talked about the ATV club and the snowmobile club being involved with those. You’ve got some other roles in the community and things that you’re involved in from leadership and have a vested interest in.

Mike Cherrywell: I’m president of the local chamber of commerce, which actually starts in ore, it’s an encompassed area. And so I work with that quite a bit off and on now. And then I sit on a couple of local snowmobile clubs, so to speak. One’s kind of a fundraiser kind of club. The other one is the Voyagaire Trail Society. They have a grooming operation also up Ash River area.

Matt Addington: This kind of a little bit off topic, I was telling you about my childhood and growing up up there, and told you about friends on Namakan that we have, and you immediately perked up and knew of the folks. Talk just a little bit about the sense of being on the edge of the wilderness and having all of these lakes connected. Talk about the sense of community though, that you feel just in the area, not just on the gold coast there in Crane Lake, but as you get out into the whole area, talk about the community feel.

Mike Cherrywell: It does. Everybody knows everybody and or recognizes faces if they don’t know them as personal. And some learned a few of the Canadian folks who were on the Canadian side of the world there. So just meeting folks, being able getting out and either meeting them in a bar restaurant, or now on the docks. And it’s a big area, small community, a fairly tight knit community in the fact that everybody kind of watches out for each other.

Matt Addington: For sure. Yep. It’s a special group. I mean, like I said, I’m kind of in this second time through in my lifetime of coming there, and it’s yeah, the folks that you get to know, I mean, it’s salt of the earth people that you don’t get the influx of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of visitors every summer, but the ones that do come definitely feel an affinity and just an attraction to the area, and I think ultimately what keeps them coming back. And hopefully it turns into a generational thing if it’s not already.

Mike Cherrywell: Right. I think half the beauty of that is the fact that when you leave Crane Lake, you’re into one of the newest national parks in the United States in the Voyagaire’s National Park. There’s a lot of water out there that you can travel and see. And we’ve got people that come up on our houseboats, and some folks have never been further than they want to go. They haven’t traveled the whole park. They have their favorite spot that they like to go and they find it hard to leave that spot to go find something different, which sometimes wish people would because it’s a lot out there to see.

Matt Addington: Yeah. I mean, you truly are, like the sign says it Voyagaire, I mean, it’s the end of the road. It’s the beginning of the adventure, really. I mean, between Voyagaire’s National Park, and the boundary waters, and the road comes to an end and the adventure begins, which is really an awesome thing.

Mike Cherrywell: Yeah. And it’s a water only park in the Voyagaire’s National Park. To be WCA, that’s a canoe or kayak in this area. You’ve got to be stout person to deal with some of that stuff going through portaging and somewhat off the land, because taking a lot of rations in that way is, it’s a little bit tighter.

Matt Addington: For sure. For sure. So you come to the end of the road there and you’ve obviously got one direction to go out onto the water, which especially in the spring, summer and fall is a huge draw. We’re kind of getting to the tail end of the snowmobile season. But tell me about the trail system, about the snowmobile club. What offerings are there through that whole kind of untapped winter season that you guys have to offer?

Mike Cherrywell: Well it’s pretty huge. The trail systems that start I’d say in Crane Lake kind of spearhead right off of Voyagaire. There’s three different ways that you can travel. You can travel to land trails, you can go lake, riding through the park that way. Our particular club, we maintain somewhere around 93 miles of trail and lake system. So that’s detailed process there. You clear stuff in the fall to get ready for winter and you pack trails. When we get enough snow, we start to pack and groom that way. So we groom from Voyagaire Lodge all the way to Ash River by land. We groom from Voyagaire Lodge all the way down to Arrowhead, which is the state trail. And then we groom when we can through the park on the ice. As a club, we maintain two groomers now. And we help out the community, we help them plow the ice back and stuff like that. So as a club, we are fairly busy. We try to stay within the community, help out as we can.

Matt Addington: Sure. How big is the club? And I’m assuming you’ve got members that are not local to Crane Lake.

Mike Cherrywell: I have more non-local members, I think than I have local members being that the town is so small. We’re actually a fairly small club under 100 members.

Matt Addington: Okay, great. If someone were to kind of look at the end of this season now that we’re into March and they were still thinking about trying to get away, what could they expect if they were coming up here in the last few weeks of snow conditions? I know it’s probably not peak, but still some opportunities, I would imagine.

Mike Cherrywell: Through this next week, the temperatures are rising pretty much. But I would think that there’d still be some lake riding available. If they wanted a ride, they could always bring up some ice fishing gear and go ice fishing. There was a lot of folks ice fishing over the weekend, Crane Lake all the way through Sandpoint, Namakan, Kabetogama. I rode yesterday with some folks, some friends of ours from New Prairie, and we put about 90 miles on. Not a ton, but rideable. The trail system, we’re losing snow as the sun comes out, of course, and beats on the rocks and stuff like that. But it’s not the best, it’s not the worst.

Matt Addington: Sure. You’ve got some events that you do each year. COVID has had its impact on some, like it has on so many things. But you’ve got the Crane Lake event coming up here Saturday, March 6th, I believe. Can you tell us about that?

Mike Cherrywell: We do. We have the Crane Lake Challenge coming this Saturday. The event starts off about 10 in the morning. Speed races. They have NSSR and ISR style classes, which don’t really mean a whole lot to me. But they have 57 classes all total, trophies and cash prizes. And we put bell on the ice if people are hungry that are on the racing style. And so we try to accommodate folks on the outside so that the restaurants in town won’t get over full

Matt Addington: Sure, sure. Great. Well, I really appreciate you coming on for, like I said, what turned out to be our kind of our inaugural kickoff episode. I really hope that Mike’s face and voice is one that, as we get into the end of 2021 and the snow starts coming around again, that Mike will be one that you as a viewer or listener will recognize as somebody that can give you an of what’s happening on the trails. I think probably fair to say that everybody’s willing to wait to hear next year’s trail report. Mike, let’s get through an ice melt and have a great summer of adventure going out of the Crane Lake area. But we’ll certainly circle back to hopefully visit with you every couple of weeks going into next winter. But appreciate having you on today and sharing a little bit about your Crane Lake story with us.

Mike Cherrywell: Hey, no problem, man. I appreciate your time and hopefully this turns out really well, and people tune in and listen to us.

Matt Addington: So that’s it for our first episode. Thanks a lot for joining us here for Crane Lake Stories. Again, my name’s Matt Addington. You can plan on joining us here on YouTube, Facebook, download your favorite podcast and listen on the road every couple of weeks. So, till next time, good day.

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