Center for Water Studies Coming to St. Croix River Region

Century-old retreat on Lake Namakagon finds new life as research and education institute.




2 minute read

A historic lodge on the shores of Lake Namakagon, which feeds the St. Croix River’s biggest tributary, will soon be home to a new institute studying issues concerning water.

Northland College recently announced it had hired a well-known journalist and an academic to co-direct its new “Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation.” Peter Annin and Dr. Randy Lehr will develop programs to educate and study emerging issues and solutions regarding freshwater resources.

Hub of activity

“The Center’s activities — both at the College and Forest Lodge — will focus on water and environmental science, communication and education, and leader summits and symposia to advance policy and behavior change,” said Northland College President Michael A. Miller.

The center’s leaders will organize events, conferences and other programs, as well as teaching, writing and speaking. Annin is the author of The Great Lakes Water Wars, a 2006 book about the controversy over proposals to export water from the Great Lakes. Dr. Lehr is currently studying climate change adaptation in Chequamegon Bay in Lake Superior. He will teach, as well as develop science and research efforts.

“The work of the center will evolve over time in response to emerging issues,” Lehr said. “But the long-term vision is to integrate research and education, such that we train future leaders, shape policy and inspire action toward the protection and restoration of freshwater resources throughout the world.”

Old buildings, new century

The facility will be funded by a $10 million gift from the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation in St. Paul, the philanthropic heir to the original owners of the site.

Built in the early 20th century by a wealthy businessman from St. Paul, Forest Lodge served as a family retreat for decades. Walking around the expansive property with its 15 outbuildings, old-growth hemlock, and a croquet court, one can easily imagine the Jazz Age summer parties that once took place there.

Mary Griggs Burke inherited the property in 1943 and owned it until 1995, when she donated it to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Since 1999, the Forest Service has been seeking a way to preserve the property and fulfill Griggs Burke’s vision of an environmental education center. Her intention was to open her family’s cherished land up to the American people.

“We can take a bell jar approach and maintain the property with no use,” Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest supervisor Paul Strong said in a 2011 article in the Sawyer County Record. “We don’t want to do that. With an adaptive re-use plan, people can benefit from this and connect to the land and resources so their lives can be enhanced by it. And the Forest Service can’t take on all of this alone.”

Maintenance and upkeep of the facility have been a significant concern. Last August, a team of military veterans working with the nonprofit HistoriCorps spent three weeks repairing the “Cow Palace,” a dairy barn on the property.


You may republish this article online or in print under our Creative Commons license. You may not edit or shorten the text, you must attribute the article to St. Croix 360 and you must include the author’s name in your republication.

If you have any questions, please email


Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlikeCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike
Center for Water Studies Coming to St. Croix River Region