Voyageurs National Park Offers Birch Bark Weaving Class

Canoes used by fur trappers in the 1800s were not always small, two-man crafts. This painting, done in 1869 by Anne Hopkins, captures the romance of that era. It resides at the National Archives of Canada.

Birch bark was a key building material for Native Americans and the fur trappers who traveled across Canada and the northern United States. It was used for baskets as well as canoes. If you've got time, you can learn how to weave your own creations with birch bark at Voyageuers National Park.

On April 4 retired silviculturist John Zasada will oversee a class on bark weaving from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the park's Rainy Lake Visitor Center. He plans to lead the class through the steps of weaving with bark, and will talk about how to properly debark a tree.

Class size is limited, and there is a $30 instructor fee charged to attend. To register, call 218-286-5258.

Now, if you're more interested in birch-bark canoes than birch-bark baskets, head to Voyageuers National Park in the summer and you can see the park pretty much from the same perspective as the voyageurs did more 200 years ago as the park offers guided trips aboard a 26-foot North Canoe.

From a reasonable distance these canoes look like they're made out of birch bark, but for structural purposes they're fiberglass that looks like birch bark. These tours head out from each of the park's three visitor centers. Cost is $4 for adults, and $2 for kids, age 5 and up. There is an age limit -- 5 -- because everyone is given a paddle to participate. For information on these trips, call 888-381-2873.

Traveler tip: For an excellent book on making birch bark canoes, and canoeing in them, pick up a copy of John McPhee's The Survival of the Bark Canoe. You won't be disappointed.