Published November 18, 2010, 09:21 AM

A familiar change at Gooseberry

If you were among the 5,000-plus visitors to Gooseberry Falls State Park on any given day during the peak days of the fall color season, it’s likely you were greeted by a uniformed woman who helped you navigate the busy parking lots.

By: Christine Holm, News-Chronicle, Lake County News Chronicle

If you were among the 5,000-plus visitors to Gooseberry Falls State Park on any given day during the peak days of the fall color season, it’s likely you were greeted by a uniformed woman who helped you navigate the busy parking lots. You may not have realized it, but you were face-to-face with the new manager at Gooseberry, pitching in good-naturedly during those high-traffic days.

Audrey Butts accepted the position in October and has since been quietly continuing the work she’d been doing for some months. As interim manager, Butts had been holding the reins following Paul Sundberg’s retirement in August. Some might think it’s a sure thing that the assistant would step up to the manager’s position, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

“I feel very lucky to have this new opportunity at one of Minnesota’s finest state parks,” she said.

“She’s a good choice,” Sundberg said. “She’s dedicated and she loves the park.”

Butts and Sundberg worked together for seven years. “He made a lasting impression on this park, our visitors and on the people who worked with him,” Butts said. “I’m humbled as I step into this position, but I’m also very excited about the future.”

Sundberg laughed when told of the new manager’s duty in the parking lot. It’s an expected part of the job. “When you get to 5,000 people a day you end up directing traffic,” he said. It was an enjoyable part of the job even though connections with visitors only lasted “a minute or two.”

It’s the bustling nature of the job that makes it a challenge, Sundberg said. Gooseberry continues to be the top park in the state for visits, which can be a joy and a burden for staff.

Though Butts can’t predict what exactly is in the park’s future, it’s clear that the state’s busiest park is in capable hands. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Butts’ family enjoyed camping, which sparked her career choice. She holds a degree for park and recreation resources from Michigan State University.

She was hired as seasonal naturalist at Jay Cooke State Park in 1988 and later served as assistant manager at Camden State Park (1992-98), Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (1998-2003), and Gooseberry (2003 to 2010).

“One of the best things about stepping up” Butts said, “is that I get to keep working with a terrific bunch of people. The staff here work hard to make every visit an enjoyable experience.”

It’s clear she loves where she works. Her favorite place at Gooseberry is the “picnic flow,” the wide expanse of rock around the corner from the mouth of the river. “It’s a wonderful place to go in any season to experience the full effect of Lake Superior – a cool breeze and seagulls on a hot summer day, slabs of clear blue ice piled up in the later months of winter or the spray from huge waves breaking on the rocks during a fall storm. It’s never disappointing, always a spectacular vista.”

The new manager is quick to point out there are different favorites for visitors, considering there are about 600,000 people coming each year. “What I love is that so many people take the time to stop here and experience the beauty of the North Shore – that’s why we’re here.”

“She’ll definitely do a good job,” Sundberg said.

Sundberg, who lived at the park, has moved to property in Grand Marais where he built a home. He stays busy with photography work and upkeep at the new residence. “I do miss it,” he said of Gooseberry. “I always enjoyed the people, the expression on their faces at the falls.”

He still gets out among people in his nature photography work. Last month, his shots of the lighthouse in the harbor in Grand Marais – swallowed by massive waves during the “pressure drop” storm – was circulated around the world.

“There are a million things to photograph” on the North Shore, he said of a busy retirement. “It’s about searching for the right light.”

Gooseberry in its winter coat

Gooseberry Falls State Park never closes. That means you can enjoy its natural resources all winter. Take advantage of the park’s four miles of winter hiking opportunities, try some snowshoeing, winter camping, or enjoy the park’s cross-country skiing fun (it’s one of the top 12 state park ski destinations). As winter progresses, plan to take part in the candlelight skiing event slated for mid-February. You’ll also find snowmobile trails with plenty of parking for snowmobiles.

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