Although not originally from the Rainy Lake area, Ernest Oberholtzer was one of its fiercest advocates. A nationally-known conversationalist, Oberholtzer was named by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as one of the 100 Most Influential Minnesotans of the 20th century. Today, his legacy lives on through the Oberholtzer was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1884. In 1909, he made a trip to the Minnesota-Ontario border lakes and took his first extended canoe trip through the border lakes and the Rainy Lake watershed in 1909. These voyages made such an impression on Oberholtzer, he would dedicate his life to protecting the area and the traditions of its native people.
In 1913, Oberholtzer (known by many as “Ober”) moved to Rainy Lake, and in 1922, purchased Mallard Island, which would be his home for more than 50 years. His environmental achievements include:
Oberholtzer was also an author and spoke fluent Ojibwe.
“These trails of the north are a sermon in harmonious living. They tell not only of a race in conflict with [Western] civilization but of their whole philosophy and outlook on life. We have so much to learn from Indians and no better place to learn it today than portages worn smooth by our Indian predecessors.” Ernest Oberholtzer
Today, Oberholtzer is considered a leading advocate for the preservation of the Quetico-Superior lake area and an advocate of the Native American culture in that region. Before his death in 1977, a large plaque was installed in rock at the highest point of Mallard Island. The memorial reads, "This island was for fifty years the home of Ernest Oberholtzer, pioneer in the effort to save the wilderness, devoted Atisokan to the Indians and cherished friend and companion. 1973"
After his death, several of Oberholtzer’s friends established the Oberholtzer Foundation, which continues his legacy of conservation and wilderness protection.