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On the border: Struggles, successes in northern Minnesota come to the forefront

The Herald's three-part "On the border" video documentary is online now.

Border flags.PNG
Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald
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During a digital interview this fall with the Herald, Paul Colson’s frustration was obvious.

Colson, owner of Jake’s Northwest Angle Resort in northernmost Minnesota, visited with us in October after we dispatched reporting teams to see exactly how the pandemic – and especially the resulting closure of the U.S.-Canada border – was affecting everyday life and business in that unique part of the country.

“It’s pretty tough. People are frustrated, they’re angry. I feel like this summer was stolen from us,” Colson told reporter Brad Dokken. “People talk about the economic impact of being locked down for six weeks, whatever it was, a month. We have been locked down since March and here we are coming into November. There is no place like this that has been hit this hard.”

Colson’s interview is one of many the Herald conducted this fall in Roseau, Warroad, Lancaster, the Northwest Angle and, to a lesser extent, Baudette. The work has been compiled into a reporting series that begins today (with three video segments) and Saturday (the first print story) in the Herald. Additional stories will publish in coming print editions and online.

The three-part video documentary can be viewed below. The documentary, titled “On the border,” is meant to be a companion to the print coverage, offering deep insight into how those communities are dealing with the pandemic and loss of travel between the U.S. and Canada. It’s the first time the Herald has dedicated so much time and effort into long-form video storytelling. It’s been a great learning process for everyone involved.

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On the Border: Business

On the Border: Life on the Lake

On the Border: Border Life

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In recent weeks, business downturns elsewhere – and not just along the northern border – have increased the adverse impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We’ve seen it throughout the region and especially in Minnesota, as Gov. Tim Walz has ordered lockdowns on businesses where people congregate, such as bars and restaurants. The rest of the state, it seems, is now catching up to some of the issues that first began affecting northern border communities early in the year.

Colson’s situation is extraordinary. His resort is on the Northwest Angle, a piece of the United States that juts northward from Minnesota and is surrounded on three sides by Canada and, for most people during the pandemic, accessible from the U.S. only by crossing some 40 miles of Lake of the Woods. When the border closed in March, it meant Americans who are not permanent residents or essential workers no longer could reach the place by road. That long boat ride across Lake of the Woods is an iffy proposition during bad weather.

In fact, the Herald’s attempts to interview Colson and others at the Northwest Angle in person became an accurate real-life example of the situation that has developed along the border during the pandemic. Canadian officials refused our attempt to enter the country as essential workers and make a short visit to the Angle. A few days later, guides who charter boats to cross the big lake told us they wouldn’t risk a crossing in October, first because of wind and then because of an early onset of wintry weather.

So Colson did the interview remotely, via cellphone. The nontraditional approach didn’t diminish his impassioned message, as viewers will see in Chapter 2 of the documentary (titled “Life on the lake”) or in the print story that will be published Saturday.

Some businesses in that region have fared moderately well during the pandemic. When we visited in October, Polaris in Roseau and Marvin in Warroad – two mass-production factories that are economic drivers in northwest Minnesota – reported strong business and were eager to hire more workers.

And fishing resorts along the south shore of Lake of the Woods did well during the summer, since many anglers who otherwise would have gone to Canada remained in the U.S. Many folks from cities wanted to go somewhere they could stretch out and avoid crowds. Lake of the Woods is a great place for that.

Importantly, our visit to that region was in October and November. A lot has changed since then throughout Minnesota and, presumably, along the border, too.

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Hopefully, the Herald’s coverage will, as we say in each chapter of our video documentary, show a snapshot of life on the border – a snapshot that hopefully will soon pass but one that should always be etched in history.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald since 2014.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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