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Guest Commentary: Knife River's plans for Crusader II off to fast start

Shown is the Crusader II christening day in Knife River in the spring 1939. From left, Hans Ojard Sr., Crown Prince Olav, traveling reporters and Paul Nordley and grandson “Skip” Bissell of Knife River attended the christening event. (Photo courtesy of Carol Ojard Carlson)

On Wednesday, Dec. 21, Knife River received a Christmas gift from the Lake County Historical Society which was the return of the 35 foot fish tug Crusader II from Two Harbors to Knife River.

Randy Ellestad of Knife River handled all the arrangements and coordination with the historical society, the Knife River Marina provided the trailer, city of Two Harbors the loader that precisely positioned the trailer under the boat, Ostman Trucking with driver Earl Kendall who towed the trailer to Knife River, and finally the Two Harbors Police Department that escorted the caravan through Two Harbors.

All labor and equipment was donated and to all involved a most sincere "thank you."

By way of background, members of the boat-building Hill family of Larsmont built Crusader II in 1939 for Carl Erickson of Knife River. By good fortune, Crown Prince Olav of Norway was visiting Minnesota and the North Shore that spring and agreed to christen the boat.

Carl fished the boat until he died in the 1950's and over time the boat fell into neglect and in 1983 was given to the Two Harbors Area Development Council, which then gave it to the Lake County Historical Society. The society hoped to build a shelter over the boat, and an informational and educational kiosk, but had difficulty in applying for grants because the society did not own the property upon which the boat sat. The city of Two Harbors owned it.

Despite generous gifts of time and materials to maintain the boat without a shelter, its future was becoming precarious and this past October the society made it available to Knife River, which had expressed an interest in it.

Knife River's plans for Crusader II

Plans to restore and display Crusader II in Knife River are in the formative stages, but the direction we are headed is along these lines:

1) Return the boat to Knife River — accomplished. 

2) Survey the boat to arrive at a plan of restoration and cost.

3) Pursue funding either through grants, private donations or a combination of both including "soft money" (skilled and unskilled volunteer time). The Knife River Recreation Council, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has passed a resolution to pursue returning Crusader II to Knife River and authorized a committee of six Knife River residents to make recommendations and suggest options that address all aspects of the project. The six individuals either have family ties to the boat or are boat builders/restorers.

A key member of the committee is Larry Ronning, one of the few remaining boatwrights on the North Shore and descendent of commercial fishermen. Larry was the lead person in restoring the Viking ship Leif Erikson in 1993 and replacing all the exterior woodwork on the Edna G. in 1983. He also surveyed Crusader II in 1983 when it was given to the Two Harbors Area Development Corporation and pronounced it fit for travel.

Sourcing for funding restoration and display of the boat are already under way. Most logical source is the Minnesota State Historical Society. In initial conversations with the society, we know the boat is "grant eligible," can be funded 100 percent by society funds and without a local match. But the competition for 100 percent funding is very competitive, and so we will also rely on private donations (we have already received some) and "soft money."

4) While investigating funding sources, we will determine site options for restoring the boat and for eventual display. Restoration will require a temporary shelter. Display location will be within sight of Scenic Highway 61. A nonprofit, or possibly the county, will own the land. The informational kiosk will focus on the significance of commercial fishing along the North Shore, the courage and resourcefulness of commercial fishing families, and honor Larsmont boat builders who made more than 200 stout commercial fishing boats and provided the skilled workers who helped build wood boats in Duluth during the war that exceeded 100 feet.

Timeline to achieve all the above is hard to estimate, but it is hoped it can be accomplished in two to three years. Once complete, the exhibit will be testimony to Knife River's colorful commercial fishing heritage, recognize the contribution of Larsmont boat boatbuilding to Lake Superior commercial fishing, and be yet another attention compelling and interesting North Shore visitor attraction.

Paul von Goertz is a committee member for the Crusader II Project and a member of the Knife River Recreation Council.