Bagley Then and Now

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Bagley Nature Area = Outdoor Fun, from 1951 until the present


UMD Bagley Nature Center ski hill
The tow rope brought skiers to the top of Bagley's Rock Hill in the 1950s and 1960s. The Bagley Nature Area fills the northwest corner of UMD campus just behind Oakland Apartments and it features recreation trails, Rock Hill, Rock Pond, and Tischer Creek.

The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) is one of the few universities in the country to enjoy 55 acres of hardwood forest, land, and ponds right on campus. This property, Bagley Nature Area, has a rich history both leading up to its establishment in 1951 and afterward.

The First Plat Books
In 1856, Bagley was just an empty space on the first Duluth plat books. In the late 1800s and early 1900s a neighborhood of farms and houses surrounded the current campus. At least one home was built inside the Bagley property but no records about the owners exist. In 1890, 12 years after Duluth was incorporated as a city. a single track streetcar was built for the farm families and for Duluth workers who desired to live further from downtown.

Although the land was purchased, Bagley remained an empty space on the plat books as the country faced upheaval with WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII. It wasn't until WWII ended, when thousands of GIs returned to Minnesota, that the need for higher education opportunites led to a purpose for the Bagley property.

Many returning military personnel enrolled in Duluth Teachers College but many more wanted to go into fields outside of teaching. The need was so great, the Regents of the University of Minnesota took action. They created the University of Minnesota Duluth Branch, with full university status. That was 1947.

UMD building plans were already in the air. Richard Griggs, a local businessman, and others, wanted to expand the campus. They believed in the future of UMD so strongly, they bought 160 acres of hayfield and donated it to UMD for its new campus. Construction on first building on the upper campus, the "Science Building" (now the Chemistry Building), began in 1948 and joined the five building complex on the lower campus on Fourth Street and 20th Avenue East. The very next addition to UMD was the Bagley Nature Center.

Bagley’s Early History
In 1951 the land which was to become the Bagley Nature Area was owned by the City of Duluth. After analyzing the resources and potential of the area, the Duluth City Council agreed to transfer the 12.8 acre parcel of land, including Rock Hill, to the University.  Soon after, Dr. and Mrs. William Richardson Bagley bought an additional adjacent 17 acres of land and also donated it to the University. Dr. Bagley was a respected Duluth doctor who had a specific interest in wildlife conservation. The property was named after the Bagley family as a reminder of their generosity.

Then. . .
The students embraced the property. New winter activities came rushing in with a motorized tow rope and ski lessons on Rock Hill.  In 1968, a power house was built to improve the ski tow facility.  Skiing continued for several years, but by 1975 the popularity of the newly opened Spirit Mountain led to the end of Rock Hill skiing. 

The warmer months brought academics and hiking. Rock Pond was used by biology classes for research and the trails on the property were well used. Areas of Bagley were left untouched in order to preserve the natural habitat for the trees, flowers, and animals. Many of those areas are still untouched today.

UMD Bagley Nature Center Rock Pond  
Biology classes began conducting research in Rock Pond and still brings classes to the property. Of particular interest is the wide variety of forests including old growth oak, maple, and white pine stands as well as areas of balsam fir-spruce and birch forests.  
UMD Bagley Nature Center Overlook 1968  
This overlook pictured in 1968 allowed views of the campus and Lake Superior. A UMD planning document describes Bagley as containing a bog, upland, and woodland areas, a flowing stream, a spring, rock out croppings, and topographical features with elevations varying from 535-684 feet above the level of Lake Superior.  
1856 The U.S. Government surveys land.
1860 Howel Satterwhite purchases a large land parcel including Bagley.
1887 A housing development is planned but never materializes.
1890 The streetcar line travels from downtown Duluth up Woodland Avenue.
1902 The plat map shows a blank area, ownership changes hands several times.
1930s The plat map shows a blank area, City of Duluth takes ownership.
1951 City of Duluth transfers 12.8 acres including Rock Hill to UMD.
1951 Dr. and Mrs. William R. Bagley buy the adjacent 17 acres and donate land to UMD.
1951 and on... Students ski on Rock Hill. Lessons are offered, tow rope is installed.
1951 and on... Department of Biology uses Rock Pond for research.
1951 and on... UMD adds additional acreage to property.
1968 Power house for tow rope improves ski slope.
1975 Spirit Mountain opens and Rock Hill loses popularity.
1996 Remains of a home can still be seen (apple tree, rhubarb, steps).

2009 Bagley Classroom, an energy efficient building, is constructed.
Present: Each year, thousands use the area to ski, snowshoe, hike, research, canoe, and explore.


Now. . .
The UMD Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (RSOP) now provides classes and equipment so students and community members can make the most of Bagley.  More than 3 km of trails loop up Rock Hill and around Rock Pond, allowng hundreds of people each year to cross country ski. Hiking and snowshoeing are popular trail activities and Bagley also often hosts running events.

One of Bagley’s newest additions is an outdoor and energy efficient classroom that was built in 2009.

Future. . .
RSOP is moving forward to develop a walk in tent campground on the site of a recent house removal within Bagley Nature Area. The area will be used by classes and groups during the school year and the general public during the summer. As the Superior Hiking Trail passes through Bagley Nature Area, through hikers will find an inviting space to camp.

From 1951 to the present, Bagley has been hailed as a UMD treasure, providing students and the public with a beautiful area to ski, snowshoe, hike, research, canoe, and explore.

Thanks to Virginia Temple for her 1996 research on the early Bagley years. The Hidden History of Bagley Nature Area


Historic articles about Bagley   Historic Photos

UMD Biology Department and Bagley

Winter Ski Trails  Recreation Sports Outdoor Program

Written by Courtney Salmela and Cheryl Reitan. December, 2014.

UMD News Articles | News Releases
Cheryl Reitan,

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