Paul Schurke: Arctic Explorer and Boundary Waters Activist

Note: This is the first of three posts to focus on community and environmental activists in the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota. I introduced the subject here:



Paul Schurke, above, with his wife Jane, who runs Susan Schurke’s Northwoods Apparel (I visited its beautiful storefront on Ely’s main drag).

BTW: Susan’s business originated when, as a seamstress, she designed and sewed arctic-worthy clothing for Paul’s trip to the arctic with another Ely local, Will Steger!


Amazon: A first-person account of the 1986 dogsled expedition to the North Pole, the first to reach the North Pole without resupply since Robert E. Peary in 1909.

About a dozen of us Great Old Broads decided, as one of our daily adventures, to go with naturalist Chris Williams —

IMG_2378 on a bog-slogging adventure —

Black spruce blog . . .

Black spruce blog . . .

not all that wet right now, since it hasn’t rained recently. However, we did run across a tiny, pure white plant, an “Indian pipe flower,” which is “saprophytic,” i.e., it lives off something else, so there’s no green.


BTW: not only Chris, but there were two other Broads along who also happen to be naturalists and/or botanists. Watching them trying to recall the names of the various plants led to hilarity, since we crones all have trouble pulling up names . . . As I recall, “Indian Pipe Stem” came easily to all three!

After our trek we stopped at Paul Scherke’s Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, where we got an earful of his 70 dogs, all clamoring for attention. That’s Paul at the end of the center aisle.


IMG_2398Paul’s dogs are all of the “Canadian Inuit” breed, which, he informed us, is the closest of 480 dog breeds to the original wolf.

If you recall the wolf print? — well, on our trek with Chris we came across old wolf scat, right on the trail, with tufts of whitish hair, probably deer.


Chris said it was probably from the lone wolf that hangs out near their house. That wolf is one of 2500 in Minnesota, the largest population of wild wolves in the U.S.

Chris and her family live near the Shurcke’s lodge, which is how we got to see the dogs, and then Paul himself, with whom we spent probably an hour peppering him with questions.

Paul happens to be on the Wilderness Inquiry staff. WI is the outfit that the Broads told me to contact for the the five day canoe journey prior to the Broads gathering. Here’s his bio on WI website:

Paul co-founded WI with Greg Lais while they were in college at St. John’s University. His other accomplishments include 5 trips to the North Pole (including the Steger International Expedition), an expedition sledding across Siberia and Alaska, the successful Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, and a collection of wild and crazy stories that just won’t quit.

What especially interests me is that he told us the reason WI was founded and why it works so often with handicapped, developmentally disabled, and other disadvantaged people on canoeing expeditions — hmmmm . . . I guess that includes the four old Broads on our trip! It’s because during some official hearing regarding whether or not to turn the Boundary Waters area into an national wilderness, one politician said they shouldn’t get rid of motorized boats because otherwise no handicapped, old, “or female”(!) people could go into the Boundary Waters area!

So, Paul said, he and his partner started Wilderness Inquiry as a direct response to that challenge.

He went on to talk about the International Wolf Center, the North American Bear Center, the Save the Boundary Waters campaign (he had returned from one of their board meetings just in time to meet with us), and Ely’s newest venture in localizing a sustainable circular economy, launched just this summer, the Ely Folk School, which features local teachers of various crafts. I notice that Paul is also a board member there.

Paul himself, despite his significant ongoing accomplishments, is a very unassuming and modest person. When it came time for us to go, he consented to this photo, looking out over the lake fronting his property.



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