Old granary gets new life as hunting cabin in northwest Minnesota
NEAR KARLSTAD, Minn. -- Like hunting camps throughout the Northland, Aspen Acres is a gathering place for friends and family that’s steeped in tradition.
That’s never more true than during deer season, which continues through Sunday, Nov. 11, in this part of northwest Minnesota.
“The get-together is about 75 percent of the hunt,” said Terry Sollund of Karlstad, an owner of the camp with brother Charles Sollund of Karlstad and brothers Greg Dahlin of Karlstad and Blaine Dahlin of Thief River Falls. “You go out and shoot a deer, big deal, but it’s fun to have everybody together.”
These days, the centerpiece of Aspen Acres is a 20- by 40-foot cabin they converted from an old granary that previously stood on the farm of Greg Dahlin’s brother-in-law north of Lake Bronson, Minn.
With two bedrooms on the main floor, a spacious living room and a loft with additional beds upstairs, the cabin today is a far cry from the dusty granary the partners had moved to the site two years ago in March.
“It just sat empty on the farm up there,” Greg Dahlin said. “We were after it for a little while, and they wouldn’t part with it. Then his kid needed a car. I happened to have one my daughter had grown out of, so I said I’d swap the car for the granary.”
The granary was structurally sound, he said.
“The way old-timers built those granaries, everything was 2x6,” Greg Dahlin said of the framing. “We just gutted it out. It was three separate bins in there. We took the walls down and used that material for the loft and just kind of went from there. We’ve got some small stuff to do yet.”DIY lumber
Using a portable sawmill he bought as a retirement hobby, Terry Sollund milled all of the oak that covers the cabin walls and the pine that adorns the ceiling.
The oak came from trees on the property, he says, and he got the pine from a friend in Thief River Falls who had access to trees that had blown down.
“That’s the enjoyment of the whole thing,” says Terry Sollund, who worked at Arctic Cat for 41 years before retiring about two years ago. “The year before I retired, I bought the sawmill. I had this planned. We were going to build the cabin, so I started sawing the oak.”
Last Saturday, on the opening day of Minnesota’s firearms deer season, the Aspen Acres crew was back at camp for a midday break. Besides the four owners, there was Travis Dahlin -- Greg Dahlin’s son -- of East Grand Forks and his son, Hudson, 8; Terry Sollund’s daughter, Trish Van Eps, her husband Reed and daughter Josie, 7, and son Ryker, 4, of East Grand Forks; Blaine’s son Cameron Dahlin of Thief River Falls; and the Sollunds’ brother-in-law, Neil Moss of Karlstad.
The crew had seen a few deer opening morning but nothing they wanted to shoot. Unlike some hunting camps, the Aspen Acres crew doesn’t have any hard-and-fast rules about the deer they shoot.
“Greg, he’s a big buck hunter,” Terry Sollund said. “He’ll go two or three years and not shoot a deer. And some of us like to make jerky and like venison steak and venison hamburger and stuff.
“And the young kids, when they first start out hunting, they can shoot whatever they want.”Big improvement
The granary-turned-lodge is a big improvement from the 16- by 24-foot cabin previously on the site, the owners said. The need for a larger cabin was inevitable as the crew gained members.
“It got to be too many people,” Terry Sollund said. “Everybody that comes in and visits now, they walk in the door and look and go ‘wow.’ ”
Looking around the cabin, it’s easy to see why. Besides the rustic look of the lumber Terry Sollund milled, an antler chandelier that’s several feet long hangs from the high ceiling. Signs with sayings such as “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder” cover the walls, along with the usual assortment of deer heads, antlers, pelts and hunting photos.
A massive table, presented as a housewarming gift by the mover who hauled the granary, stands along a far wall next to the stone propane fireplace that heats the cabin throughout the winter.
Made from California redwood and covered by thick glass, the table is supported by metal legs with cutouts in the shape of whitetail bucks.
Two 40-inch flat screen TVs hang from opposite corners at one end of the cabin.
“The way we got the furniture set, we can sit here at night, and you don’t have to turn your head” to see a TV screen, Terry Sollund said.
They hired a contractor to install a metal roof, but Travis Dahlin and Reed Van Eps did the wiring, which passed the electrical inspection, and plans are in the works to put vinyl siding on the building and sand the cabin floor and coat it with polyurethane.
“It’s the original granary floor,” Greg Dahlin said. “Every board is nailed.”Work in progress
As with most hunting camps, Aspen Acres is a work in progress.
“It was kind of fun,” Terry Sollund said of refurbishing the granary. “I’ve been retired, and during the summertime when Greg isn’t up fishing, he’d come and we’d put boards on the wall. My brother-in-law helped out a lot, and it went pretty good.”
Aspen Acres has about 5 miles of trails and a dozen enclosed, heated deer stands on the property. Getting kids such as Hudson, Josie and Ryker involved in the whole camp experience, in many ways, is an investment in the future, a way to ensure the camp thrives for generations to come.
“Land is getting so expensive, we’re just going to pass it on to the kids, just so they have someplace to go,” Terry Sollund said.
Travis Dahlin remembers the excitement of hunting camp as a child, a tradition he now can share with his son, Hudson.
Asked to rank his favorite outdoor activity, Hudson puts deer hunting at the top of the list, followed by fishing, his dad said.
“He’s doing the same thing I was doing when I was his age up here,” Travis Dahlin said. “Obviously, it’s changed a little bit. We didn’t have DirecTV.”