Lake Life

Growing up, my family and I made three nine hour trips each year to Perham, Minnesota. The first trip was always Memorial Weekend, followed by a week in June when Walleye fishing was good, then a two week family trip that included excursions to nearby attractions. I was the only one in my class that would vacation in the same place multiple times each year. Most of my friends when more normal vacation spots like visiting a grandparent in Texas or Mount Rushmore. 

View of Little Pine Lake while Kayaking

Now that I live in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and counting, I realize just how normal it is to have a cabin or if you don't have one to dream of someday owning one. About half of the people I work with have cabins further north and they visit them year round. Growing up at a cabin without heat or air conditioning that seemed strange to me at first because when the summer ended, so did the cabin use. Only a handful of the year round homes were equipped for year round use.

The New Cabin (center) with Two Lake Homes on Either Side

Something began to change about ten years ago though and now more than half of the new cabins are year round retreats. It has been interesting to watch the gradual shift as each spring we show up to find another new cabin that was built over the winter. The construction industry has the project timeline down to a science. The family clears out their processions at the end of the summer, demolition takes place soon after, and before November if they are on track the foundation is in. The crews work diligently to get the cabin framed in so when the harsh negative temperatures arrive, they can blast their heaters to keep warm while finishing the interior. By the time spring arrives and the first cabin goers return, the new cabin is finished, leaving no trace of the old once in its place. 

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A Rare Plot of Vacant Land (with a loon in the background swimming)

As a planner I find this change fascinating. Little Pine Lake was once home to 600 square feet, one-story cabins with a few like ours that had a separate guest cabin/boat house. The area was alive during the summers, but those that lived year round on the lake saw a stark drop off in activity in the late fall and winter months. This affected the economy and function of Perham, the closest town. Growing up the food options were Zorbas (incredible pizza joint on the lake that doesn't use the letter 's'), Pizza Ranch, the Lakes Cafe, and the Train Station restaurant. When opening up the cabin this spring Perham added two new restaurants, one focused on locally sourced foods and a brewery. The Train Station had closed a few years ago and is now used as a high end furniture store. A few years ago, the small gas station grocery store opened shop on the edge of town as a full service grocery. 

The New Brewery Patio 

It is interesting to think of the effect turning a summer cabin into a second home has on a city. One may not make a difference, but 7 or 8 will start to create a ripple. Planners no doubt thought of the potential effects this might have and remained cautious of the negative effects that increased development on the lake shore. In the end they welcomed the opportunity to populate their city beyond the last days of summer. In just the past five years I have watched at least seven cabins be replaced, including the one I spent my summers in since birth.

Downtown Perham, Minnesota

It is hard not to be a little nostalgic about the fate of these cabins. The preservationist in me wants to nominate them as a historic district for their contribution to the social history and development of Little Pine Lake. I know that would not work however, as these cabins were not built to last. Their original purpose was to provide a little shelter and a place to sleep after a long day of fishing. The sinking foundation in the old family cabin demonstrated this. It is time for them to come down and usher in a new wave of development, a little more permanent than the last.