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Ellsworth Rock Gardens

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

U.S. National Park Service

Imagine terraced flower beds and stone statuary in the midst of the wilderness. Jack Ellsworth spent summers in Northern Minnesota on Kabetogama Lake from 1944 to 1965, creating rock gardens and scupltured works of stone on the 60 foot granite outcrop. At the peak of his rock garden, Ellsworth had created 62 raised flower beds filled with 13,000 blooming lilies.

Known as the “Showplace of Lake Kabetogama” since the 1940s, visitors to the rock garden today will see the stone sculptures, raised planting beds and some original lilies Mr. Ellsworth planted.

The gardens are carved out of the forest. The boundary of the gardens at the forest is one of the primary character defining features.

Pine trees left within the garden are vertical focal points seen on the approach to the site from the lake. and contrast with the series of natural terraces that rise from the lake up the granite outcrop to the crowning summit carved into the forest.

Ellsworth constructed dry stacked stone walls spanning crevices within the granite outcrop and filled them with orange Asian lilies.

He constructed a couple hundred imaginative sculptures from rock fragments and placed them along the pathways that lead up and across the summit.

The summit was the gathering point of the garden with vistas of Lake Kabetogama, ponds, tee-pee structures, fire pit, dry stone walls, stone gateways, stone spires, numerous stone sculptures, stone tables, and a large focal point of vertical stone painted pink with applied small stones in the shape of an arrowhead.

The General Management Plan for Voyageurs National Park written in 2002 included the development of 15-20 visitor destinations. These destinations can be reached only by boat and provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about this national park and its significance.

David Driapsa master planned boat docks, accessible trails, picnic facilities and interpretive wayfinding exhibits for these destinations that include historic structures and cultural landscapes being preserved by the National Park Service.

This project meets the provisions of Sections 106 and 110b of the National Historic Preservation Act, requiring federal agencies to produce documentation to HALS standards on sites that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places to mitigate the adverse effects of federal actions such as demolition or substantial alteration.

David served as project director for Voyageurs National Park Division of Resources Management preparing master plans for numerous historic sites in the park, including Ellsworth Rock Gardens. Facilities include ADA accessible boat docks, paths, comfort station, picnic tables, wayfinding and interpretative signage. David compiled archival information and site reconnaissance documenting the existing historic landscape, architectural and archeological resources and developed the master plan document. The site is accessible by water.

The master plan assesses existing natural and cultural resources and recommends site organization to enhance visitor experience, interpretation, and programming. Management of resources and ADA accessibility are critical issues that are addressed, presenting present short- and long-term goals by which the Park Service can meet both goals of
accessibility and preservation.