Sigurd F. Olsen

Sigurd Olsen. (Image: Public Domain)

Arguably Ely’s most famous resident, naturalist and writer Sigurd F. Olson (along with his wife, Elizabeth) often retreated to Listening Point, his shoreline property on Burntside Lake. Although Olson had been visiting the area since 1921, he first moved to Ely in 1923 to teach science at Ely Junior College (now Vermilion Community College; in 1936 he would become the college’s dean). He spent his summers working as a guide in the region that would become the B.W.C.A.W. after passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which Olson had helped to write. Over the years he served as a wilderness ecologist for the Izaak Walton League of America, as vice-president and then president of the National Parks Association, as vice-president and then president of the Wilderness Society, and as an advisor to the National Park Service. His books and essays on natural history and ecology won him the 1974 John Burroughs Medal, nature writing’s highest honor. Olsen died in 1982 of a heart attack suffered while snowshoeing; he was eighty-two years old. In 1988 the Listening Point Foundation was established, dedicated to furthering Sigurd Olson’s legacy of wilderness education and preserving Listening Point.