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Chuck Slocum: Grateful for ‘cabin life’ memories; hoping cabin life will persist

4September 2020

I recently took a trip to inspect a part of my past.

The story begins in 1978 when I first met a very nice Texas couple, the Jadwins — two 80-something retired Minnesota school teachers— who had owned since the 1930s a most special place that overlooked a 50-acre lake with a cozy cabin and two other buildings on 3 acres of land.  There were also lovely flower beds and a robust garden that seemingly produced more raspberries than most people could ever harvest.

The place was on Rock Lake in rural farm country near the border of Crow Wing and Morrison counties just off County Road 8.  At the urging of family and friends, I bought the cabin and property from the Jadwins’ for their asking price of $30,000 — no dickering allowed.

In 1978, the average Minnesota lake cabin owner in Minnesota was 45 years old; I was 31 with a family of four, plus a dog and two cars, living in Minnetonka.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the state now has 11,842 lakes of 10 acres of more water, though our license plates continue to boast of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” (If we did as Wisconsin does and counted 2.2 acres as a lake, we would have many more than that!)

According to the Department of Revenue, there are now around 124,000 seasonal, recreational, residential properties in Minnesota.

Today, the average owner’s age is nearly 80. One wonders if the summer cabin experience era may be ending as Baby Boomers pass away. Interest in such a distinct Minnesota tradition may be waning as Generation X (born 1966-76), Millennials (born 1977-94) and Generation Z (born 1995-2012) move into the adult mainstream with diminished interest in cabin life. I, for one, hope not.

In the mid-1990s, I reluctantly sold our Rock Lake place to a Twin Cities couple and their young daughter so that my good wife and I could travel extensively around the globe, which we’ve done for 25 years. While doing so was painful at the time, I don’t regret the decision.

Mostly as a remedy for treating COVID home-bound anxiety, I recently revisited the cabin and lake for the first time since selling it, soaking in all the ambiance of the area, including the various places we frequented years ago. I found things surprisingly familiar.

When I arrived after a two hour drive, I was delighted to see that the complex I once owned, dating to a rustic resort built in the 1920s, is in tip top shape. The grounds are well cared for, the buildings are sound and nicely painted and two cabins have been added to the lake front.

During the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, I estimate that we hosted several hundred family and friends there. While surveying the place again the other day, I recalled having much fun, especially with youngsters who were so fascinated with the evening outdoor campfires, s’mores and scary stories.

We once hosted my sons’ Cub Scout den for a February winter hike on the ice as we bundled in the cabin for our meals and two overnights.

The net we hung on the spacious grounds was the site of spirited badminton and volleyball contests with prizes.

Cabin food always tasted just fine, especially when we ate together in the large screened-in porch we added.

Over one fall weekend, a group of good friends helped attach roofing that required some messy tar to properly seal.

Memories of hikes, target shooting and swimming safely across the 50 acre lake — rowboat included — rushed through my mind as I pondered the picturesque lake.

On my way back home, I dropped in on what was once Bob’s Chalet and is now for sale under ownership that calls the all-purpose grocery, supplies and hardware store “Bear Tracks.”

A few miles down the road I stopped at the town of Hillman, located on a half square mile of land with a population of 38. The town was known to me as a place where several hundred people gathered to enjoy July 4 celebrations with a parade, baseball tournament, and lots of ice cream readily available.

Someone once said that “life moves on but memories stay.”  I am grateful for that.

Chuck Slocum, founder and president of The Williston Group, can be reached at [email protected]

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