Northern Tier is the BSA’s oldest National High Adventure program, outfitting Scout groups for canoe trips since the summer of 1923. Although, it never had a set location until the Charles L. Sommers Base was dedicated on May 17, 1942. The Lodge was built for the inaugural year from timber harvested by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) from blowdown on the Echo Trail. Other buildings were completed in the following year, but the Lodge remains in the same location and roughly the same shape as it did when it was built. Today, it houses the Interpretive Center that covers some of the history of the base.
As the participation at Northern Tier increased, so did the facilities. Eventually, two satellite locations in Canada opened up. Bissett, Manitoba and Atikokan, Ontario began seeing crews in 1972. Land was leased and purchased from the province in 1990 by the BSA in Bissett and the first building was constructed in 1979. Bissett was utilizing floatplanes even during these early years. Nowadays, Bissett is exclusively fly-in trips to begin and end their adventure. Atikokan (Ojibwe for “caribou bones”) leased land from the province near Eye Lake in 1977, but permanent buildings were not allowed to be constructed at this location. Donald Rogert eventually donated land at the current location.
Okpik is the premier Cold Weather Camping Program of the Boy Scouts of America. For over forty years the Okpik program of Northern Tier National High Adventure Programs has provided safe, exhilarating and challenging adventures for thousands of youth and adult participants. The name, Okpik, comes from the Inuit word for the Arctic or Snowy Owl which has been used as the symbol for the Okpik program since it began in the early 1970’s. Participants learn how to cross-country ski, snowshoe, dogsled, ice fish, build snow shelters and enjoy life in extreme weather conditions and temperatures. A satellite pilot program in Michigan began in winter 2018-2019. While both bases offer different program, the training and logistics coordination is the same quality.
The equipment has even changed throughout the years. For instance, the first canoes were purchased in 1928. They were made of wood and canvas. After 30 years, Joe Seliga began selling wooden canoes to base. The first aluminum canoes were added to the fleet marking the beginning of the end of wooden canoes. The last one was purchased in 1972. The shift has begun to lightweight canoes as the demand for them has risen in the last decade.
North America’s Canoe Country, a vast series of navigable lakes and rivers spanning thousands of square miles, is one of the last great wildernesses on the continent. This boreal forest of waterfalls and bogs, bears and wolves, granite crags and waist-deep mud remains nearly as much of a wilderness as it was for the first fur traders who explored the area in the 1600s. Two centuries after the fur trade’s peak in the early 1800s, our participants still follow in the footsteps of the French-Canadian voyageurs, paddling the same waters and straining over the same portage trails.
Northern Tier has a rich history that is further detailed in A Diamond in the North. Please contact the Northern Tier Store to purchase a copy (218-365-4811).