“Mr. Engstrom, you can’t sell Mossy Point State Park!” Betty Hanson slid to the edge of her chair and stared straight into the pale blue eyes of the head of the General Land Office in the recently formed State of Superior. She’d sought this meeting with him at his office in Superior Bay, the new state capital, to warn him of the devastating effect a park closing would have on the Village of Mossy Point. But convincing him wouldn’t be easy. His gaze never seemed to meet hers for more than a nanosecond.“Is that what you came here to tell me? You said you had some urgent information on a serious threat to state land. I assumed it concerned illegal activity, but selling a park? Come, now.”
“Selling the park is a serious threat.”
“Why not sell it? That park’s a real money pit.” As Mr. Engstrom leaned his bulky torso back in his creaky leather chair, Betty envisioned a button popping off his too-tight shirt and splashing in the coffee mug on the edge of his desk. Her lips twitched into a smile that she instantly suppressed. Now was no time for humor. She narrowed her brows and followed his wandering gaze like a guided missile locked on a target.
“Think of the consequences, Mr. Engstrom! Without the park, the village where I have lived for the last forty of my sixty-five years, will fold up! We’ve already got half-a-dozen ghost towns in this county. I understand you were originally from Mossy Point. You don’t want to add your own hometown to the list, do you?”
He took a deep breath, exhaling the stench of stale ci- gar smoke. “Now I doubt Mossy Point will turn into a ghost town anytime soon.” His dismissive attitude fueled her sense of urgency.
“Seventy-thousand people come through there every year for one reason, and one reason only—to get to the park. Without it, every business in the village will close, and then the Post Office and the school.”
Mr. Engstrom put his palm out. “That park loses money. When we were the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Lansing funneled off income from the parks farther south to keep Mossy Point open.”
“And now that we’ve become the State of Superior?” “If parks don’t support themselves, they’re done.” He propped his feet on his desk as if the case were closed.
A yellow sticky note had taken up residence on the bottom of his shoe. She casually leaned forward and pointed to a figurine on a bookcase a few feet to his left. “Mr. Engstrom, what’s that thing next to the ream of paper on your bookcase?”
When he craned his neck to look, she snatched the note and tucked it into her pocket.
“A snapping turtle. If anyone gets in the way, snap ’em where it hurts the most.”
“Sounds like the campaign you ran in Lansing to pass the resolution for us to separate from Michigan.”
“By the way, I never quite understood why you moved back up here after that. I assumed you’d stay be- low the bridge and take advantage of the economic improvements.”
He cocked his brow. “Opportunity.”
“You were promised this job if the resolution passed?”
“Your words, not mine.”
“But if you snap at Mossy Point by selling off the park, this state will lose even more revenue. Once busi- nesses close, folks will move to Michigan or Wisconsin. Tax dollars will disappear right across the state line!”
“The legislature doesn’t see it that way.” He checked his watch, swung his feet to the floor, and pressed against the arms of his chair with a grunt, eventually reaching a vertical position. “Now, you’ve had your say, Mrs. Hanson, and I have another meeting to attend.”
Betty slung her bag over her shoulder, took one step toward the door, and turned to face him. “Just promise me one thing, Mr. Engstrom. Promise me you’ll keep the park open if it’s self-supporting this year.”
He shrugged. “I’m only one voice among many when it comes to these things.”
“Don’t be so modest. Everybody who knows the first thing about politics in the State of Superior knows you have influence over the legislature and the governor when it comes to land.”
He shook his head. “You flatter me, Mrs. Hanson. As for promises, I usually avoid them, but I suppose there’s no harm this time. You know why?”
She drew a breath to say, “Because it’s the right thing to do,” but he went on before she could get the words out.
“Because Mossy Point State Park has never paid its own way, not since it opened back in 1959. That park has the same chance of running in the black as a turtle has of flying.” He winked.
Betty thrust her hand out. “It’s a deal, Mr. Engstrom. The park’s going to make money, stay open, and a turtle will fly.”
He pumped her hand once and ushered her through the office door, past his secretary, and into the historic oak-paneled hallway that led to the lobby of the former Superior Bay Hotel. “So how are you going to do it, Mrs. Hanson? How are you going to get that park to make money?”
She shrugged. “I’ll think of something. Then I’ll be back here at the end of the season to show you a flying turtle.”
“Looking forward to it, Mrs. Hanson, but not holding my breath. Good luck!” When they reached the lobby, he passed the security guard with a nod, burst out the front door of the state office building, and disappeared down the street quicker than any three-hundred-pounder had a right to.
Betty returned her visitor I.D. to the security guard and stepped outside. She slipped her hand into her pock- et and retrieved the yellow sticky note she’d pulled off Mr. Engstrom’s shoe. “ExlandGroup, 11:30 Monday.” Evidently that was the meeting he was headed for. But what or who was Exland Group? She’d look them up later.
Tucking the note back into her pocket, she drew in a deep breath of the late April breeze blowing in off semi- frozen Lake Superior, a block away. Azure ripples be- tween ice floes sparkled with sunlit diamonds, beckoning her. She headed down Hill Street and across Lakeshore Drive to Superior Bay City Park on the shoreline. A pang of nostalgia pricked her heart. She’d met Harry here in April forty-seven years ago when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore at Superior Bay Community College. How she missed him. Would she ever get used to widowhood? After five years, probably not.
She sat on a bench facing the water. Icy reality washed over her. How was she going to save Mossy Point? She lifted her gaze heavenward. “Well, Lord, what have I gotten myself into this time? In sixty-five years of living, you’d think I’d have learned by now that I can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the world, or my world, anyway.” She paused, her mind in a spin. “I haven’t the slightest idea how Mossy Point State Park can make enough money to stay open. If it’s going to hap- pen, you’ll have to show me the way.”
She slumped down until she could rest her neck against the top of the park bench. The sun warmed her cheeks, tempered by gentle gusts off Lake Superior. She closed her eyes. The cry of gulls made melody against the dull roar of Lakeshore Drive traffic. Just as she start- ed to drift to sleep, a thought bolted her awake.
Start a folk school.
Her eyes sprang open and she sat upright, her mind racing. Could it work? She and Harry and Angie had loved their classes at North Country Folk School. Probably the best family vacation ever. Of course, Petite Baie, Minnesota, with its artsy, upscale atmosphere, had a lot more going for it than Mossy Point. But it could work. The up-north location on one of the most picturesque stretches of the Lake Superior shoreline ought to be a draw.
But what building could she use for classes . . . ? There was the old Lahti cabin at the park, a board-and- batten place about twenty feet by sixty feet, probably full of junk. It needed work. Paint for the wood siding, a new coat of paint on the metal roof, and who-knows-what on the inside. Big job.
Who could she get to help? Lee Nylund for sure, maybe Wayne and Doris Reed. Some others came to mind.
She’d need teachers. Steve Taylor. He was an ace with that photography club at school. If he could get two-dozen high school kids to shoot artistic photos with digital pocket cameras, he could get adults to do it, too. Lee could teach fly-tying. Maybe Wayne Reed would teach decoy carving. He’d created some really amazing ducks since retiring from his plumbing job.
Her stomach grumbled. She checked her watch. Time for lunch; then she had to get back to Mossy Point and talk to Thad. She recalled her phone conversation with the park supervisor that morning before she had headed to Superior Bay. She’d speed-dialed his landline and caught him before he’d left his office for the morning rounds.
“Thad, did you see the article in yesterday’s paper about the possibility of selling the park? I just got around to reading it a minute ago.”
“I saw it. Not much I can do if the State decides to close us up and sell.”
“I’m going to see Mr. Engstrom. Tell him he can’t sell our park.”
“Good luck. And Betty? You’d better pray for me that I can get a transfer. It’ll be tough finding another job in the State of Superior that will support a wife and two kids.”
“This park won’t close, not if I can help it. But you can count on the prayers, buddy. Talk to you later.”
That promise had been made three hours ago; now she had to make good on it. Rising from the bench, she set a brisk pace for her truck. A roast beef sandwich at the Beef Palace would quiet her stomach, then off to meet with Thad.
Half an hour later, Betty hit the road to Mossy Point. There was hardly a car to be seen in either direction, and nothing but woods and an occasional cabin on either side for twenty-five miles. The hardwoods hadn’t quite leafed out yet, but soon their canopy would dapple the sun, turning the road into a storybook lane.
She eased down on the accelerator, eager to get to the park, talk to Thad. While trees sped past, she organized her thoughts. Half-an-hour later, she pulled into the parking lot marked “Employees Only” behind the administration building.
Thad’s truck was there. Good. She wouldn’t have to hunt him down. Moments later, she headed through the workshop and down the hall. Thad’s office door was open and he was sitting behind his computer, staring at the monitor and running a hand through his wavy chest- nut hair.
He looked up with an unconvincing smile. “Betty, how’d it go?”
“Great!” She helped herself to the chair beside his desk.
“You convinced Ray Engstrom not to sell this park?” “Not exactly. But he did promise to keep it if the park runs in the black this year.”
His shoulders slumped. “Fat chance. I’d better update my resume.”
“Not so fast! I’ve got an idea. You know the old Lahti cabin?”
Thad’s brow wrinkled. “What about it?” “A folk school, that’s what!”
“A folk school?”
“A place where folks of all ages come to learn arts, crafts, recreational skills, all kinds of things. Harry and Angie and I went to a folk school over in Minnesota on our vacation one year and it was fabulous! Angie learned jewelry making, Harry learned birch bark canoe construction, and I sewed a pair of Chippewa-style moccasins. I figure we can start small here at Mossy Point with the old Lahti cabin, fix it up for classes, put the word out, and cha-ching! Money will flow in faster than you can count it!”
“Absolutely! Folks coming for classes will stay at the campground, fill up those empty sites you’re always complaining about, buy your firewood for campfires at night, and tell all their friends to get up here and join the fun.”
“You make it sound easy.”
“Hard work, more like. Come on. Let’s go take a look at that cabin, see what has to be done.”
He put his palm out. “Not so fast. I’ll have to clear it with the higher-ups.”
“I’m sure you can convince them, or let me. What’s your boss’s number? I’ll talk to him.” She reached for his portable phone.
He grabbed it first. “Her. Eva Underwood. And I’ll do the talking.”
“Maybe we should call her later, after we’ve inspected the building and know how much work has to be done.”
“Good idea. You can ride with me. First, I have to find the key to that building.” He searched his desk drawer, pulled out two keys on a tag, dropped them into his shirt pocket, and escorted her to his truck.
They proceeded down the gravel road into the campground where a familiar young woman was cleaning a fire ring at one of the campsites.
“I see you’ve got Janna Jarvis on the job again this year. Seems awfully early for her to be out of school.”
“Her term at Superior Bay Community College ended last week.”
“I’d forgotten how early they go on summer break.” One more person who would lose a job if the park closed. Betty couldn’t let that happen to a nice kid like Janna who needed the money to stay in school.
As they approached the far northwest end of the park, Thad turned to her. “Have you got any idea where the start-up money is going to come from for your folk school? We’ve got a moratorium on spending in Parks and Recreation right now.”
“I’ve got some ideas. I’ll hit up the home improvement place in Superior Bay for a few gallons of paint.”
“Stain, Betty. Board-and-batten needs stain, not paint.”
“Stain, then. Maybe they’ll throw in a few sticks of wood for any broken boards or battens that need replacing.”
As Thad drove along the road through the deserted campground and out the other side, his questions continued. “Who’s going to do all this work? My staff is already cut to the bone. It’s all we can do to get the campground ready to open in the next two weeks.”
“I can get volunteers.”
He rounded a curve and pulled to a stop in front of the building. Betty’s heart sank at her first glimpse of the place in—she couldn’t remember when. The last time she’d seen it, years ago, she’d thought of it as quaint. Now that she needed to make it usable, it looked more like a neglected shack surrounded by juniper and weeds. Boards covered the windows; streaks, stains, and moss obscured the old metal roof; a metal bar and padlock secured the double front door.
She turned to Thad. “A good pressure washing and new paint on the roof ought to freshen the place up for starters, don’t you think?”
“Roof coating, you mean. Metal roofs need a special coating, and it’s not cheap. You’ll have to hire a contractor that’s licensed and insured to apply it. Volunteers aren’t allowed to use ladders or stepstools.”
“You’re kidding! Not even if we have our own insurance?”
“Not even. You’ll have to get each volunteer to sign a waiver, too, to hold the state harmless in case of an accident or injury.”
“Not a problem. You give me the forms and I’ll get them signed.” She pushed through the juniper and stepped around a wooden box-like protrusion to reach the other side of the building, the side that faced Lake Superior. The view gave her pause. Nothing but cool blue waves lapping a rocky, sandstone shoreline as far as the eye could see in either direction. Beautiful. Remote. Inspiring. The perfect place for a folk school.
Then she turned to look at the building. Not so perfect. Wind off the lake had torn at the siding. Some pieces of batten were missing. Others had buckled. She’d need a good carpenter to make it right. The door, barred and padlocked like the double door on the road side, appeared ready to rust off its hinges. At least the foundation seemed solid. They continued around the building, making a path through the brambles back to the roadside door.
Thad pointed to an overgrown juniper bush. “You can have your volunteers trim back the foliage near the building. It should have been done years ago.”
“Check.” Betty added the chore to her mental list of jobs.
After some wrangling with the rusty padlock, Thad managed to force it open. The wooden door, evidently swollen from spring rains, didn’t want to budge. Thad yanked on it once, twice. The third time, the door popped open so fast he nearly fell to the floor.
Betty covered her mouth to stifle a laugh and stepped inside. A strong, musty odor emanated from the dark interior, so black because of the boarded-up windows that she could make out nothing of the contents. She heard Thad click a light switch, but the building remained dark.