Family fought to keep rustic wilderness

Bill Muir
Bill Muir died in 1985. His children have kept the cabin rustic. They've added a sleeping room, but there's still no running water. They did install a solar panel last year, which now feeds power to one outlet and three bulbs.
Courtesy of Muir family

"If a blind man can split wood, build a house in the wilderness and canoe the Boundary Waters, why can't he stop a bulldozer?"

That's the opening line in a 1982 Jim Klobuchar column in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune about Carleton College botany professor Bill Muir.

And as it turned out, a blind man can stop a bulldozer (with the help of his kids).

Muir bought 40 acres of northern Minnesota wilderness on Highland Lake north of Grand Rapids in 1968. He added another 40 a few years later. And he was adamant about keeping it primitive. No running water. Wood heat. And absolutely no electricity.

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He even called it "Phoenix Lake" when he was interviewed, because he was afraid people would discover the unspoiled lake.

Muir recounted to Klobuchar how the local electric cooperative wanted to run a power line through his property in the early 1970s, the year his family spent a winter there during a sabbatical.

"We wanted them to join us in making an issue of it," he said, "because where power goes, development always follows. [P]eople who live there are going to want power. People just get hooked on power. You've got to plug something in, turn on the electricity," Muir told Klobuchar.

"We built our place on muscle power," he continued. "No electricity, no drills, nothing."

When bulldozers arrived to clear a path, Muir, who was blind from diabetes, told two of his kids to stand in front of them.

"They'll wave some official looking papers at you," he said in Klobuchar's column. "But don't let them snow you. A little later [his daughter] came back and said they did wave some official papers in her face, and how did I know they would do that?"

The bulldozers left.

"No power company manager wants to look at the newspaper the next day and see a headline reading, 'Power line co-ops run over blind man and family.'" Muir concluded.

Muir died in 1985. His children have kept the cabin rustic. They've added a sleeping room, but there's still no running water. They did install a solar panel last year, which now feeds power to one outlet and three bulbs.

Muir's grandson, Bill Marshall, 29, doesn't think he would have minded the solar panel. But Marshall suspects Muir would disapprove of using it to charge a cell phone he brought to the cabin.

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