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The historic community of Crow Wing City (Old Crow Wing) formed on the east bank of the Mississippi river opposite the confluence of the Crow Wing River, about 10 miles southwest of the current city of Brainerd, beginning in the 1820s. Crow Wing became an important link in the fur trade between Saint Paul and the Canadian Red River Colony and attracted a mixed population of European, white American, Ojibwa, and Metis settlers. Clement Beaulieu, a fur trader of French-Canadian and Ojibwa descent, built a prominent house at Crow Wing about 1849. Between 1870 and 1880 Crow Wing was abandoned in favor of Brainerd when the Northern Pacific Railroad routed through the latter community. Beaulieu’s house was relocated south, to the vicinity of Fort Ripley in 1880.

Birk’s involvement with the Beaulieu House began in 1985 when the property owners offered the structure as a tax-deductible donation to any interested cultural agency or nonprofit. A coalition including the IMA, the state Department of Natural Resources, the state Historic Preservation Office, the Crow Wing County Historical Society, and interested citizens organized as the Friends of Old Crow Wing formulated a plan to relocate the Beaulieu House back to its original location in what was now Crow Wing State Park. Birk conducted in-depth research on the house, its occupants, and the community of Crow Wing, and helped lead the relocation effort on behalf of the IMA. In 1988 the house was moved to a temporary storage area in the park. In 1990 Birk and IMA colleagues conducted a brief excavation of the original house site in preparation for the permanent relocation of the house, which was accomplished in 1993.

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Birk's boyhood home of Pine River was surrounded by remnants of the "golden era" of Minnesota's logging industry from the turn of the twentieth century. As a teenager Birk spent much of his free time speaking to elders in his community and tracing the routes of abandoned industrial railroads through nearby forests. This project continued as a semi-hobby throughout his career. In 2009 Birk began collaborating with colleague Jeremy Jackson on a two-volume book series that would publicize the results of his decades of research, a project left unfinished at the time of Birk's death.

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Birk was approached by the Wadena County Historical Society in 1990 to conduct archaeological surveys of several historic properties within the Old Wadena County Park north of Staples, Minnesota. Birk, who had briefly surveyed the area in 1972, returned to the area with IMA colleagues in 1992 and conducted excavations at the site of the Little Round Hill trading post. From 1995 to 2002 Birk conducted further surveys and excavations at the Cadotte trading post and the elusive "Aspinwall site." Birk also assisted the Historical Society and the separately organized Wadena Historic and Environmental Learning Project (WHELP) to design interpretive material for the site including signage and a proposed visitor center.

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Chengwatana was a historical community near the present town of Pine City occupied from 1848 to the early 1870s. Chengwatana was the original Seat of Pine County and served as a military post in the 1860s. Railroad construction in the 1870s bypassed Chengwatana in favor of Pine City, and the former town disappeared as a result.

Birk conducted a brief, walkover survey of the Chengwatana site in 1988 for the Cross Lake Association (CLA) of Pine City in 1988. Later that year Birk agreed to include Chengwatana as a subject of a series of edited historical manuscript publications for the CLA, to also include John Sayer’s Diary and the records of the Pokegama Mission. Birk identified the correspondence of Judge Charles Daly, held by the New York Public Library, as the main source for his proposed “Chengwatana Papers.” This project ran into trouble when the CLA dropped their participation in 1990, leaving Birk to renegotiate the conditions of the grant funded by the MHS. As a compromise, Birk agreed to focus on the Pokegama Mission papers only (Purveyors of Salvation) and dropped work on the Chengwatana publication.

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Birk led IMA excavations of Lieutenant Zebulon Pike's 1805 wintering fort site south of Little Falls in 1984 and 1985. These projects were made possible by scheduled maintenance on the Blanchard Dam, which dropped the Mississippi's water level and briefly exposed the normally underwater site. This was Birk's closest associated with a nationally-known historical figure, and he capitalized on the resulting publicity to promote the IMA and nearby LEHP. The end of the 1985 excavation was marked by a formal celebration of “Pike’s Fort Day” on September 26, an event proclaimed by Governor Rudy Perpich and featuring an address by Lieutenant Governor Marlene Johnson at the site.

No further site work was done, but Birk and the IMA kept up the production of Pike-related research and interpretation for the next decade. Immediately after the excavation the IMA began working on a travelling exhibit showcasing the history and archaeology of the site, a project that was finished in 1989 and renewed in 1995. In 1988 the fort site was entered on the NRHP. Finally, from 1990 to 1992 the IMA prepared a short documentary on the fort site and Pike’s travel route titled “Archaeology Beyond the Walls: Tracing Zebulon Pike’s Travels in the Mississippi Headwaters.”