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The Arrowhead Region is located in the northeastern part of the U.S. state of Minnesota, so called because of its pointed shape. The predominantly rural region encompasses 10,635.26 square miles (27,545.2 km2) of land area and comprises Carlton, Cook, Lake and Saint Louis Counties. Its population at the 2000 census was 248,425 residents. Aitkin, Itasca, and Koochiching Counties are also sometimes considered as part of the region. This would increase the land area to 18,221.97 square miles (47,194.7 km2) and the population to 322,073 residents.
The Arrowhead Region is quite rugged and dotted with thousands of lakes surrounded by mixed forest, and is home to Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the Superior Hiking Trail, which lie amidst the Superior National Forest. Also located in the Arrowhead is Minnesota's only mountain range, the Sawtooth Mountains. For these reasons, a large portion of the economy depends on tourism; it is a common vacation destination for residents of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan region.
The other primary portion of the Arrowhead economy is the iron mining industry. Taconite is mined on the Mesabi Range, shipped by train to Duluth, Silver Bay, and Two Harbors, and shipped by freighter from these ports to major metropolitan areas farther down the Great Lakes such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. In the first half of the 20th century, iron was also mined on the Vermilion Range.
The Arrowhead Region contains three watersheds, the Lake Superior Basin, the Mississippi River Basin, and the Hudson Bay (Rainy River) Basin. A unique geological feature is a point north of Hibbing, Minn. from where water has the potential to flow any one of three ways. The only other location that this phenomenon occurs within North America is at Glacier National Park in Montana.
Waterways have played an important role in the history of the Arrowhead Region, to include the delineation of the United States and Canadian Borders using the Pigeon and Rainy Rivers and numerous other connected waterways as the boundary. This same route has been used for centuries by fur traders for the transportation of furs, trade goods, communication, and ideas. Another significant water trade route to the interior is the St. Louis River. This route could be followed to the present day Mesabi Iron Range or could be transferred to the Mississippi River using the historic Savannah Portage. These two waterways made up the main routes from Lake Superior to the "interior," or lands west of the Great Lakes.
Historical references to the Arrowhead Region name and geographic area:
A 1925 map of Northeastern Minnesota, created by A & E Supply Co., Duluth, Minn. mentions the Arrowhead Region.
The term "The Arrowhead Country", in reference to Northeastern Minnesota, was in use by at least 1927. At this time it appeared on an American Legion medal for the 9th Annual Convention, Dept. of Minnesota, August 8-10, 1927 in Hibbing. The reverse reads "The Arrowhead Country". The medal, made of a cupreous metal, is in the shape of Minnesota with a Native American style projectile point or 'Arrowhead' covering the northeastern portion of the state.
Another use of the term is a 1929 map titled 'The Arrowhead of Minnesota.' This map is a very stylized representation of important aspects in Northeastern Minnesota history, from geological history to iron mining. It was published by the American Association of University Women, Hibbing, Minn. Branch. Participants included Mrs. C. H. Stewart, Pres., Research Committee of Dorothy Hurlbert and Irma Walker, Map by Irene Anderson and Block and Border by Kathryn Arnquist. A thumbnail version can be found at the Minnesota Discovery Center's Map Archive webpage at http://mndiscoverycenter.com/research-center/archive/map.