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The Tale of Five Mile Rock

East of Grand Marais is a landmark island off Lake Superior’s shore called Five Mile Rock. Once you pass it going west, you can be in line at World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais in less than ten minutes. Eastbound travelers will be at the Kadunce River mouth (or Kodonce, as the State of Minnesota spells it both ways) in five.

Five Mile Rock is so rugged even vacation townhouse developers aren’t able to build on it. It sits less than a mile offshore, five miles from Grand Marais.

Five Mile Rock signage showing locals and tourists alike just where to find it. (photo credit: John and Laurie Nolan)

It is a tourist attraction in its own right, though. So, an enterprising resident of Colvill thought he’d lend some assistance, and he prepared a tri-fold brochure in 2016 that presented a history of the island to help tourists understand how it came to be there. He printed a number of the flyers and handed them out during the annual Fishermen’s Picnic in Grand Marais that summer. A creative sort, this man, who wished to remain anonymous so we will call him Anonymous, took some liberties with the facts.

But the story went viral, a little bit, at least. John and Laurie Nolan, full-time RV-ers, liked it so much that they put the story on their blog at https://travel.cajunville.com/?p=4763.

It also has its own website, https://fivemi-lerock.wordpress.com/, created by a gaggle of some Texans, acquaintances of Anonymous. They’ve added a few other stories about the Rock in addition to its history. All of them are entertaining. In a failed attempt, the Texans tried to create “The Five Mile Rock Preservation Society” and join the Adopt a Highway Program for that stretch of Highway 61.

According to Anonymous’s brochure, the rock was once a center of native culture on the shore. It sat just off the mouth of Devil Track River. Its legend grew when three men who went on to industrial and political renown in decades to come were stranded on the rock in the summer of 1891. Called Snag Island by the locals back then, the three survived off the fish they caught and the birds nesting in the crevices of the Island. Supposedly, when rescued, the men only complained that they had run out of beer.

In 1914, Life Magazine mentioned the incident in a feature story about one of the survivors. It then became one of the original tourist attractions on the shore.

Anonymous writes that the Island was moved to its current location in 1934 with a herculean effort overseen by the Coast Guard and Civilian Conservation Corps.

From the brochure, “In its permanent location, exactly five miles from Grand Marais, it was used by the Coast Guard to check visibility in foggy conditions. When they could not see the rock from their position on Coast Guard Point, they would sound the foghorn signaling that visibility was less than five miles.”

Of course, there isn’t a shred of truth in this tale, but we wanted to bring it to you to-day and help celebrate Friday the 13th with a smile. Check out those websites or Google “Five Mile Rock Lake Superior.” Have a great weekend.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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