A new 22-acre campground complex with 49 new campsites for recreational vehicles and tent campers will open in May at Birch Lake Recreation Area in Babbitt. The Recreation Area has a popular developed swimming beach, picnic area, beach house, concrete public boat landing ramp, two docks, boat cleaning area, rain garden for storm water runoff and a parking area with handicapped parking.
Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided Development and Community Infrastructure grants totaling $750,000 that helped pay for design, engineering, water and sewer lines and extensions related to the campground. A portion of the grants helped offset expenses related to unforeseen geological conditions which resulted in utility rerouting. Total project investment was approximately $5.9 million.
Babbitt is a small community of 1,500 residents located at the eastern end of the Mesabi Iron Mining Range near Birch Lake which is 7,600 acres and 21 miles long with 80 miles of shoreline and several islands. Birch Lake is one of the most heavily fished lakes in northeastern Minnesota and attracts outdoor recreation tourists and anglers from Minnesota, the United States and Canada. The lake is 75% undeveloped, has 14 backcountry campsites and is located two portages away from the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness.
The new campground is expected to increase tourist traffic even further because it will be connected to the new Prospector Loop ATV trail system and eventually to the paved Mesabi Bike Trail. The increase in tourism can have positive economic impacts for the community of Babbitt and its businesses.
According to Explore Minnesota, tourism generated $11.7 billion in gross sales in 2020. Upon its opening this May, Birch Lake campground will become part of Minnesota’s economic engine.
Babbitt has prepared throughout the past several years for the anticipated opening of the campground and visitor increase. Babbitt added a community entrance welcome sign, installed campground entry and way finding signage, and beautified Taconite Rock Park located in its downtown area. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided $25,472 in Culture & Tourism and Downtown Streetscapes grants to support the signage and park improvements. Total project investment was $53,625.
The city hired Dave and Carol Schinker to manage the campground. Originally from Nebraska and Iowa, the Schinkers retired in 2017, sold their house and bought an RV to travel the country. They have visited 30 states and spent summers in northern Minnesota working as camp hosts near Ely and Kabetogama.