Relaxing at Old Northwoods Lodge

Cook County Star, 3/18/02

With a lot of work and help from their friends, Gale and Yelena Quistad have transformed a nearly abandoned fishing camp to a comfortable Northwoods retreat. The Old Northwoods Lodge and its "Steak and Pancake House" is now open. 

The restaurant opened in December 2000 and is quick becoming a local favorite. The Lodge's menu includes breakfasts hearty enough for a lumberjack; deli sandwiches; homemade pizza and dinner specials such as Sautéed Walleye and Russian Tenderloin Beef Stroganoff. But the menu is only part of the reason to stop and see the new Old Northwoods Lodge. 

Visiting the Lodge is a treat. It is nestled among a few pines that survived the July 1999 windstorm and overlooks Poplar Lake. The solid front door swings open into a bright and cheerful space. Guests are greeted by a cozy seating area with comfortable leather couches facing the first stone fireplace. 

Just off the sitting area is the sunny "Trading Post" with the requisite Gunflint Trail postcards and souvenirs. There is also space to display artist Yelena's oil impressionist paintings. Paintings of the surrounding forest and cabins and a fishing scene or two. 

A second fireplace is in the dining room, larger than the first, but just as inviting. Gale Quistad credits John Patten for the fireplaces. "He designed - and we were the labor," he said.

 Old Northwoods Lodge fireplace stones, photo by Erik W. L. Anderson

Part of the labor included hauling the huge rocks at the base of the fireplace through the building with a Bobcat. The labor was well worth it, because visitors are compelled to sit on the boulders to warm their feet. 

The fireplaces are as unique as they are beautiful. The design is the 1790's "Rumford" style, with shallow and steep openings. They reflect heat out into the room and Gale explained, "It gives the feeling of sitting around a bonfire."

Old Northwoods Lodge being constructed in the old Fench-Canadian design, photo by Erik W. L. Anderson

The building itself has an outdoor feel, with its rough-hewn white cedar beams. The Lodge was constructed in the French-Canadian piece-on-piece design, similar to the stockade at Grand Portage. Similar, but with special enhancements the Voyageurs would never have tinkered with. 

Quistad wanted the guest loft overlooking the dining room to have a gentle curved look, so he meticulously cut the floor joists to different lengths and soaked the edge pieces in Poplar Lake to make them pliable enough to fit. The ground floor, with in-floor radiant heat, was carefully crafted to look like tile and then acid stained to give it an "old" lodge feel. The three guestrooms have special designer touches painted by Yelena--detailed chipmunks, cedar boughs and loons adorn tabletops and nightstands. Bark-edged trim around doorframes is another distinctive touch that adds up to a one-of-a-kind building that is a joy to tour. 

There is still a bit of work to be done--the screen porch area is yet to be completed and some stain glass will eventually screen the kitchen from view. But overall, the Quistads have come a long, long way from operating out of a small office and living in one of the six rental cabins. 

A comfortable private cabin at Old Northwoods Lodge, photo by Erik W. L. Anderson

It was a long process. Gale first came to the Gunflint Trail while in college in the 70's and eventually leased a "fishing shack" on Gunflint Lake. In 1990, he bought the old resort, which he said looked like a ghost town. One by one, he remodeled the cabins, and the lodge reopened in 1992. Gale and Yelena were married in 1995 and they worked together to create the exquisite lodge they now call home. 

When Gale is asked if he could imagine the final results when he was sawing logs in his rustic sawmill, rigging winches and slides to hoist the massive beams and climbing scaffolding to trim logs with a chain saw, he chuckled and said, "I didn't really think about it. I knew what I wanted the final result to be, but I didn't have time to worry about whether we'd do it or not."

The story of the five-year building process, from start to finish, is documented in a scrapbook, which covers several years and many changes of season. Sitting on the comfy couch, next to the fire in this remarkable lodge, it is hard to imagine all the hard work involved. It's enough just to enjoy the Old Northwoods Lodge that Gale and Yelena--and friends built.

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