The wild beast of North Long Lake has been tamed. Or, more accurately, dismembered.
The plucky residents of Crow Wing County have removed one section of a massive floating bog that has plagued them since last fall. The four-acre behemoth had broken free of the shore in October 2017 and bounced around the lake just north of Brainerd, Minnesota, crushing docks and boat lifts. Weeks later, it came to rest on the shores of Legionville, an American Legion summer camp, right in front of the swimming beach.
The bog was not welcome there. But how to make it go away? The clock was ticking: Campers were scheduled to arrive in mid-June. When we challenged Atlas Obscura readers to devise solutions, advice poured in. One reader suggested making “Rogue Bog” whiskey out of peat harvested from the bog. Another recommended deploying goats equipped with water wings to devour it.
In the end, more practical minds prevailed.
Three men spearheaded the battle of the bog: Kevin Martini of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Bill Schmidt of the North Long Lake Association, and Randy Tesdahl of the American Legion of Minnesota. “It’s been a three-legged stool from the beginning,” Tesdahl says. (Over the phone, I hear ice sloshing in a cooler. Tesdahl is gutting rock bass as we talk. The bog, for all its faults, is great fish cover.)
The trio decided to wait for the spring thaw and then move the bog back to where it came from, just 400 yards up the shoreline. They planned to pull it with a fleet of boats while tractors pushed from the shore. Then they hoped to pivot the bog to where it was initially anchored and secure it there with stakes and chains.
Dozens of volunteers gathered on a warm Wednesday in May. News helicopters and drones buzzed overhead. Periodically, Randy Tesdahl checked the local coverage on his phone. The aerial footage made the boats look laughably small next to the giant bog. The pressure was on.
The DNR, the sheriff’s office, the American Legion, the Lake Association, and the outboard motor company Evinrude all delivered safety briefings. The organizers distributed walkie-talkies. Volunteers tethered their boats to a ring of logs encircling the bog, meant to give them purchase on the slippery island.
Finally, the blow horn sounded. Engines revved, boats strained. And the bog… didn’t budge. Once more the motors revved, and, once more, defeat. After three attempts, the bog-wranglers gave up.
The only way forward, the team decided, was to cut the bog into pieces. They planned to lasso it, pull the noose tight, and cut the bog in two. To do so, they’d have to snake a tube all the way under the bog and then feed a cable through the tube. (A cable alone, they feared, would snag on tree roots.) “Imagine pushing 30 sections of 10-foot PVC pipe all glued together under a bog,” Tesdahl says. “It’s a lot like trying to push a string up a hill.” Miraculously, it worked. The cable sliced through the bog as if it were butter.
Once more the boats and heavy equipment lined up. Again the blow horn sounded. But even this new, smaller chunk of bog was too massive to move. The volunteers attempted a second cut to make the bog a more manageable size, but this time the PVC tube fell apart underwater. It was time to go home.
“It’s kicked our butt,” Martini told a local TV news crew. “Let’s just be honest here. We never thought we’d have this much trouble.”
Yet the next day, they MacGyvered a second cut. This time the men slung a big steel cable over the top and sunk one end in the lake with steel I-beams, ripping through the bog. By day’s end, everyone was covered in mud. “We took home at least a cubic foot of the bog every one of us, in our pants,” Tesdahl says.
The operation entered a lull. It was windy for a time, and volunteers had become harder to recruit. In early June, the board of Legionville announced they were cancelling camp for the summer—for the first time since World War II.
But the three-legged stool of Martini, Schmidt, and Tesdahl was undeterred.
“All along, each time we would fail, we would learn,” Schmidt says.
“Everyone was always so positive,” Martini says. At the next rendezvous, the crew cut the center third of the bog itself into thirds. (This time they used a 24-inch chainsaw, muck flying every which way.) In mid-June, the boats lined up to tow these baby bogs, each about the size of a hockey rink. Schmidt was in the lead boat. “I told everybody, ‘Don’t overpower it. Just hold steady.’ And all of a sudden I saw it move about an inch. And then another inch. And then there was continuous movement, real slow.”
Spectators cheered from the shoreline. Methodically, the crew moved all three sections of the center third of the bog off the swimming beach and staked them down. At last, there is a clear view to the lake, if only a partial one.
The operation has cost countless hours and around $10,000 so far, Tesdahl estimates. Two formidable bog sections remain. But victory feels within reach, and the community has united around this unusual challenge. Tesdahl held a celebratory dinner after volunteers conquered the center section. The Northern Cowboy Flame N’ Brew in Brainerd concocted a drink for the occasion.
The ingredients included a blue energy drink called Liquid Ice, green Jello made with vodka, and a sprig of tarragon for garnish.* I’ll bet you can guess what it was called.
*Correction: This post originally stated that The Bog cocktail was made with Blue Curacao and an unidentified leafy green sprig. It is made with Liquid Ice and tarragon.