In the 1800s, logging was the main occupation for the settlers who located in the area of the forest. The Nemadji, Willow, and Tamarack rivers transported pine logs to sawmills as far away as Stillwater, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin. Later, the area in Minnesota between Nickerson and Holyoke was crisscrossed with temporary railroads to supply a large sawmill on Delong Lake, southeast of Nickerson. As the pine was depleted, smaller logging camps produced railroad ties, cedar shingles, barrel staves, pulpwood, and fuelwood. A few hardy settlers moved into the area to farm, and numerous large fires burned through the cutover lands.
The Forest's Name
The forest's name comes from the Nemadji River Watershed, in which it is located. American Indians called the river "Ne-madji-tri-guay-och," meaning left hand, which refers to its location on the left of Lake Superior's St. Louis Bay.
The Forest Preserve
Most of the land in the forest was forfeited early in the 1900s for nonpayment of taxes. Over the years, the Minnesota Legislature enlarged the original forest reserve to its present size of 96,270 acres. The DNR manages nearly 94 percent of the area, with the remaining 6 percent of the land within forest boundaries privately owned.