Goodbye to Gunflint's Justine Kerfoot
Local author and renowned outdoorswoman, Justine Kerfoot, died on Wednesday, May 30, 2001. The Gunflint Trail community not only lost a dear friend, but a piece of its history with her passing. However, all who knew her - or felt they knew her through her writing - agree she will live on, in the woods and waters she loved and the hearts of those she touched.
Kerfoot moved readers with her matter-of-fact telling of life on the Gunflint Trail in her books,
Woman of the Boundary Waters and Gunflint: Reflections on the Trail and the latest in 1996, Life in Two Worlds co-authored with friend, Betty Powell Skoog. Her books brought the Trail to life for those that could not visit and served as travel guides for those that could. She may have best known for sharing Gunflint news and her travel adventures in a weekly column for the Cook County News-Herald for 45 years.
However, she was much more than a role model to canoeists and fledging authors, she was a vital part of the community. As owner of
Gunflint Lodge for over 50 years, she served as a mentor to other businesses on the Trail. She and her husband, Bill, along with other resort owners founded the Gunflint Trail Association in the 50's. Kerfoot fought for uniform signage along the Gunflint, leading to the trademark brown and yellow ladder signs that still direct visitors today. Signs lead to other issues, and Kerfoot remained an active part of the Association for more than a decade, playing a role in creating the current successful marketing entity.
Kerfoot worked tirelessly to bring telephone and electric service to the Gunflint Trail. In 1950, she was a founding member of Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, helping to draft the cooperative bylaws and working with "REA" the Rural Electrification Administration, to bring power to the end of the Gunflint Trail. She continued to represent the Trail on the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative board of directors for many years.
She made a foray into politics, as a Cook County Commissioner from 1965 to 1968, serving as Chair in 1968. The creation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) put Kerfoot in the national political arena when she represented the Concerned Citizens of Cook County on the BWCA Advisory Task Force from 1979 to 1983.
In her book, Woman of the Boundary
Waters, she expressed concern over the mistrust that developed between resort operators and some conservationists. She was saddened to see "friendships of long-standing torn asunder."
Friendship was important to Kerfoot, both to people and the animals of the Gunflint. Her stories include memorable encounters with everything from squirrels and skunks to bear and moose. She is also credited with keeping the traditional Christmas Bird Count going for over twenty years, giving up her oversight of the yearly event in 1981, at the tender age of 75.
In her retirement Kerfoot traveled the world, but always returned to the Trail and Gunflint Lodge. It was there, on the shore of her beloved Gunflint Lake, that a Memorial Service celebrating her life was held on June 5.
The diverse gathering of friends and family was a fitting final chapter to the story of Justine Kerfoot's life on the Gunflint Trail. A story that began in 1927 and was recorded by Justine herself..."An infinitesimal speck in the cosmos, I stood on the shore of Gunflint Lake beneath a great white pine - matriarch of a fast-vanishing tribe. And I knew I was home."