What’s in a Name? The Story of Wolf and Raven Lakes

Posted By Wolf Ridge Naturalist
March 7, 2014

Does the name “Johnson Lake” carry the same magic for you as “Wolf Lake?”  Me either!


“Wolf Lake” brings to mind cliffs lifting high into the hills and views down the valley onto Lake Superior beyond. Maybe there’s a voyageur canoe gliding through the narrows in the summer or snowshoers trekking across the white looking for tracks in winter. I hear the name “Raven Lake” and can close my eyes to imagine it’s serene mood, cattails of a beaver meadow nearby and evergreens across the shore.

Mention Wolf or Raven lakes a generation or so ago and no one would have know what you were talking about. The lakes themselves were here of course, but their names were “Johnson Lake” and “Kennedy Lake.”  What happened?


In 1988 big changes were a-foot for  the place we now know as Wolf Ridge. What had started out being called the Environmental Learning Center, or “ELC,” completed the move from Isabella to the current site in Finland. At that time the two beautiful lakes on the 2,000 acre wooded campus were known as “Johnson” and “Kennedy.”   Johnson Lake was named after an early owner of the land from Two Harbors, and Kennedy was named for for the landing on Lake Superior located just downstream from the small lake. They were just as beautiful then as now, but the names themselves reminded most people of presidents, not the natural world.

With the move, there was great opportunity to make the site truly our own, including naming special places on the new campus. Jim Brandenburg, a board member at the time, suggested that we re-name the lakes “Wolf Lake” and “Raven Lake.”  Chosen for their iconic natural history status, those names have resonated with the thousands of people who have attended Wolf Ridge’s programs since we arrived here in 1988.


At the same time, the board was considering whether to change the name “Environmental Learning Center ” to something new. But to what? While we were searching for a new name, a relatively new organization, the International Wolf Center was looking for a place to build.  One option they were considering was adjacent to our new land in Finland. Emeritus Board member Dick Gray of the Freshwater Society, suggested that including “Wolf” in our name might sway them to chose to build on land near us.

The International Wolf Center ultimately  chose Ely as their home, but the idea using “Wolf” in the ELC’s new name stuck.  “Wolf Lake ELC” was bandied about for a while but never officially adopted.  While meeting at our new land high on the hills above Lake Superior, the board unanimously chose “Wolf Ridge ELC” as our new name.

So what’s in a name? It’s all in the memories of the sights, smells, sounds each of us imagines when we re-connect with these special places.

– Betsey Mead, School Programs Coordinator

2 Responses to What’s in a Name? The Story of Wolf and Raven Lakes

  1. Carol Tveekrem says:

    Hi Betsey, I really enjoyed this story of how Wolf and Raven Lakes got their names. Jim remembered that one of them was originally called Johnson Lake, probably still on some old maps we have hiding somewhere in the paper cascade in this house.

    Spring is coming! Just saw a raven fly past our house while carrying a mouthful of nesting material. We have had 4 or 5 juncos hanging about all this winter, and now they are coming to the feeders in pairs. There are still 4 different individuals, maybe some more showing up soon. Some days 30 to 40 goldfinches here, and now getting some bright gold in their plumage. Lots of eagles, a glimpse of a peregrine falcon zipping past, nuthatches and chickadees pairing up a bit, and fierce battles between female downy woodpeckers. Still 30 inches of snow on the ground, though.

  2. Mark Ingraham says:

    Great story.