Resilience: Rockwood Lodge and Resort During the Austin Era

Resilience Rockwood Lodge postcard 1970s

In a previous post, we looked at the last 20 years of the 20th century when Rockwood Lodge operated a fine dining restaurant in our historic log lodge. That lodge is now almost a century old at the mid-point of the Gunflint Trail and is the resort’s hub, although it’s been many years since the restaurant was operating. 

That post featured the resilience of the Austin family, who were stewards of Rockwood from 1979 to 1999 and ran the popular restaurant that attracted diners from as far away as Thunder Bay, ON, CAN, and points far southwest of Grand Marais. 

Resilience Rockwood Lodge in 1939

Here, we’ll examine the resort and outfitting operations during the Austin years.

The Austin years

Dana and Tim Austin purchased Rockwood Lodge and Resort in 1979 from Don Lobdell and Rick Whitney. After taking the reins, Dana and Tim brought their son, Rick Austin, into the ownership ranks.

When Rick was young, the Austin family enjoyed the outdoors, camping, and visiting the Gunflint Trail. “We had no resort or restaurant experience, though,” Rick said. “We’d never even been overnight guests in a resort.”

The late 70s and early 80s were a time of turmoil on the Gunflint Trail. Federal action to convert the Boundary Waters into a protected national wilderness led to declining visitors to the Gunflint area. Many resented the new regulations restricting power boats and access and stopped coming.

The Austins were undaunted and saw opportunities in Rockwood.

Wilderness outfitting was not a part of the business when they took over. Rick reports that the resort had just four canoes on hand. Initially, they spent time remodeling and maintaining the cabins and lodge and had little time for other businesses. 

But Rick, barely 20 years old then, put his entrepreneurial hat on and suggested that his parents take advantage of the changes coming to the BWCAW and build an outfitting business on-site. 


Rick got a loan against his new pickup truck and bought a dozen used canoes.

“The first weekend, we rented out all 16 canoes,” Rick said. 

With the collaboration of other outfitters on the Trail, people like Justine Kerfoot at Gunflint Lodge, Rick built the outfitting service, and in the first four years, the stable of canoes grew to more than 100. 

“After the BWCAW regulations took effect, more people discovered different routes and access points, and our outfitting took off,” Rick said.

Rick is a licensed realtor, building contractor, and outstanding amateur guitarist today; he plays in a local band called 8 months winter . He prefers construction projects that restore older buildings, preserving the original character even as he builds additions. 

Rick’s construction bona fide resulted from his work on the resort. 

“We were only open in the summer, so winter was a time to remodel cabins or tear them down and rebuild,” Rick says.

One year, they built two new cabins for resort guests on the offshore island. “We did it in the middle of winter one year,” Rick said. 

With temperatures in the double digits below zero, Rick offered the construction crew days off during the cold snap. To the credit of his work team, they declined the offer and worked to make sure the cabins were finished in time for the upcoming season.

The project included ensuring electricity, propane, septic tanks, and water for the island cabins, an engineering marvel.

“For our guests, each cabin rental on the island included a boat and a canoe,” Rick said. On arrival, the Austins used a pontoon boat to ferry guests and their belongings to the island.

Cabin 6

At some point in the early 90s, a late snowstorm dumped 10 inches of snow on the resort on the tenth of May. Rick and Tim surveyed a cabin that both men thought was in a sorry state of repair, and they didn’t like the idea of renting it to guests.

With all the snow they had, they felt comfortable burning that cabin to the ground one day, and they started immediately replacing it with an all-new cabin (now loved by many as Cabin 6). In just six weeks, they finished and furnished the cabin, and it was ready for the first guests of the new season.

Cabin 6 Rockwood Lodge

The Austins sold Rockwood Lodge to Gail and Vail Roloff in 1999 following the Boundary Waters Blowdown, also known as the Boundary Waters–Canadian Derecho, on July 4–5, 1999. That summer, the blowdown flattened more than a half million acres of the Superior National Forest.

Although Tim Austin is no longer with us, his wife Dana and son Rick are still our neighbors on the Gunflint Trail. 

We thank Rick for sharing some of the history of his family’s ownership of the place we call home.