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Dorothy Molter celebrated at Winter Festival

Ely Echo - Staff Photo - Create Article

by Parker Loew

Last Saturday, the Dorothy Molter Museum teamed up with Vermilion Community College to teach festival goers about winter survival and to pay homage to Dorothy Molter.

The free event had six interpretive stations, all run by college or high school students.

The first station was the quinzhee station. A quinzhee is a snow shelter made from a large pile of loose snow that is shaped, then hollowed out. The gentlemen running the station had taken roughly half of the day before building a quinzhee as an example.

“We wanted to give an example of one way you can survive the winter around here,” they said. The group was unsure if Molter had ever used a shelter of this type but thought it likely as it is one of the most widely used winter shelters.

The group went as far as sleeping in the snow shelter the night before to demonstrate its effectiveness. “It was pretty toasty,” one of the boys said.

When asked whether they enjoyed working together on this project, they all unanimously agreed. “What other college do you get to build a snow shelter and spend the night and get credit for it?” one of the students said.

The next station was the fire station, where high schooler Kelly Thompson demonstrated how to build a log cabin, teepee, and star-style fires and when Molter likely used each style during the cold BWCA winters.

Thompson said the log cabin fire is the best for cooking larger meals and gives you a nice coal bed. The teepee style produces a little more heat and is better in survival situations. The last style is the star method, which looks like the teepee method just smashed down. The star method is used for cooking one-pot meals efficiently.

Next up was the birding station. This station was in front of a large bird feeder, and guests could watch the birds eat while college students talked about Molter’s love for birds.

The students explained how Molter would go through roughly 1,000 pounds of bird feed at Knife Lake every year.

Molter bought the bird seed in Ely and then portaged it through four lakes before arriving at her home on Knife Lake. She would transport hundreds of pounds of bird feed in her canoe at one time.

Snowshoeing was the topic of the next station. When snowmobiles were banned in the Boundary Waters in 1978, Molter turned to snowshoes as her main vehicle of transportation in the winter. The students running the station explained how this was the way Molter got around and did her daily chores.

The next station was the ice block station. The group of students running this station harvested a large, clear ice block from Fall Lake the previous day using an auger and saw. They transported the block from Fall Lake to the museum in the back of one student’s car.

Delaney McCabe, a freshman at Vermilion, explained how Molter would harvest the ice every year and make 200 blocks for summer. “She was very particular about her ice and needed it to be clear. It needed to be 36 X 36 inches.” McCabe said.

The last station was the root beer station run by Vermilion students Lauren Belland, Alex Draeger, and Bradley Limanen. The root beer the students made at this station was a variation of Molter’s famous root beer recipe.

“Dorothy Molter would use water straight from Knife Lake. She would also put yeast in it and cook it over a low-heat flame to create carbonation. We just used sparkling water,” said Draeger.

Draeger continued by saying, “The root beer was one of the main reasons Dorothy Molter was able to stay in the Boundary Waters once the wilderness act passed. The Forest Service received tens of thousands of letters not to kick her out all because of the notoriety she received from the root beer.”

Dorothy Molter is an integral piece of Boundary Waters history, and her legacy continues to be celebrated by those who spend time in the north woods.

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