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Friends & Neighbors - Ponsford resident receives 3M Community Volunteer Award

PONSFORD - In 1947, Ray Vlasak's family decided to take their first vacation at Veronen's Resort on Bad Medicine Lake.

A little less than 20 years later, in 1964, his parents bought a cabin on Bad Medicine, and nine years after that, purchased the property down the road from Veronen's that would become High Pines Resort.

"It's a small resort -- there are just three cabins -- and we only rent on a long-term basis," Vlasak noted. "The minimum length of stay is one month."

Though small, the Vlasaks' operation is enough for him to have a vested interest in the condition of the lake, and the recreational opportunities to be found nearby.

"When I retired from 3M (in 1999), in the 1990s, this area had some serious trouble with flooding," Vlasak recalled. "The water level had risen six feet in a 10-year time frame... since I first came here in the 1940s, it had risen 13-14 feet."

And because Bad Medicine is a closed basin lake, with no above ground outlet, the water literally had nowhere else to go.

"It seemed like half the people (i.e., lake residents) wanted to build an (artificial) outlet to the lake, and the other half wanted it to stay natural," Vlasak said. "The community was polarized."

In his work with the 3M Corporation -- where Vlasak was employed for 33 years in the research and development department as a chemical engineer -- he had gained a certain amount of skill in interpersonal relations and working with a team of people.

"It (the lake controversy) was a situation where some of my skills could be used to bring the two factions together," he said.

Through resolving that conflict, Vlasak gained enough respect from his neighbors that it led to him being elected to serve on the Bad Medicine Lake Association as well as the Forest Township Board of Supervisors.

"Then Carolyn Engebretson, who was our county commissioner at the time, asked me to serve on the county parks and recreation board," Vlasak said. "That's when I got as involved as I did."

The problem still exists, however. "We're still about four feet above the ordinary high water mark," Vlasak said.

"As a result of that, we've formed a foundation to try and purchase some of the flooded areas and preserve them," Vlasak said.

That foundation, the Bad Medicine Lake Area Foundation, is currently working to raise funds for a Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) grant to purchase about 1.6 miles of shoreline along Bad Medicine Lake.

"It's shoreline that shouldn't be developed," he said, noting that it serves as "excellent habitat for fish."

Vlasak also serves as president of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, which is seeking to extend the existing trail (which originates in New York state) into Becker, Hubbard and Clearwater counties.

Recently, he was selected to receive a 2007 Community Volunteer Award from the 3M Corporation. The award was presented recently in a ceremony at the 3M Center in St. Paul -- by Ray's son Paul, who is now employed as a research specialist in 3M's Corporate Research Analytical Laboratory.

"I've been a member of NCTA for about 20 years," Vlasak said, noting that it was his sons' involvement in Boy Scouts that spurred his initial interest in hiking trails. "We've spent a lot of time hiking and backpacking. But I wasn't actively involved (in the NCTA) until I retired."

Each Community Volunteer Award includes $1,000 from the 3M Foundation that goes to the nonprofit organization of the recipient's choice. Vlasak said that money will be used to match a $25,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant received by the Itasca Moraine and Laurentian Lakes chapters of NCTA, for trail construction in Hubbard, Clearwater and Becker counties.

The $25,000 grant will be used to hire Minnesota Conservation Corps crews to assist with the tread way construction. Initial route designation, flagging, clearing and maintenance are performed by local chapter volunteers.

The North Country National Scenic Trail is a premier hiking trail that stretches for about 4,600 miles linking communities, forests, and prairies across seven northern states. Already, more than 1,700 miles have been certified off-road. When completed it will be the longest off-road hiking trail in the United States.

Within Hubbard, Clearwater and Becker counties, the trail will eventually connect the Chippewa National Forest, Paul Bunyan State Forest, Itasca State Park, White Earth State Forest and Tamarac Wildlife Refuge.

"About 100 miles of the total length in Minnesota is completed and certified," Vlasak said. "The next phase to be developed goes from County Road 39 in Clearwater County to Tamarac Refuge. Construction will begin this summer in Becker County.

"It's going to take about three years to get all the way to Tamarac. We're only able to construct a few miles each year... it's all done by hand."

More information on the North Country National Scenic Trail can be found online at or by calling toll free, 866-445-3628.

People with questions or those interested in joining the NCTA should contact either Vlasak (Laurentian Lakes chapter president), Carter Hedeen, Itasca Moraine Chapter President, or Matthew Davis, NCTA's Regional Trail Coordinator for Minnesota and North Dakota.

Vlasak can be reached at 218-573-3243 or via e-mail at Carter can be reached at (218) 732-9226 or via e-mail at Matt can be reached by phone at (701) 388-1883 or via e-mail at

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454