‘Underground Optimist’ celebrates Ely

The first edition of Ely’s Underground Optimist hit stands last weekend.

Last weekend, a new magazine appeared in Ely, Minnesota. Titled “Underground Optimist,” the publication is the creation of three Ely residents who want people in the area to see what’s going well in far northern St. Louis County.

Kara Polyner, Greg Cramer and Rachel Colber all moved to Ely for love of a small community with a lot to offer. But they grew frustrated with a fixation on negative factors like the town’s political disagreements over mining and “the way things used to be.” So, they’re infusing positivity into the mix.

“The reason that we’re publishing this magazine is after many years of joining boards and trying to change the minds of some of the city leaders to be more positive about the clear growth we see everyday, we decided to re-invent the wheel,” said Colber.

The trio had each encountered frustration in working with some of the town’s leaders.

“We call our selves ‘underground optimists,'” said Colber. “Underground because it seems unpopular in Ely to be so positive, and optimist because there is nothing that can be done to the three of us that will quench our passion for this town. Negativity and old ways will collapse under the weight of our joy and unrelenting hopefulness for our home town.”

Colber said the three are real people living in a small town, accepting the challenges of small town life in exchange for the rewards.

“For Kara and Gregg, who are both parents, the safety trade off of living in a small town compared to a big one is immeasurable,” said Colber. “For me knowing almost everyone in my community, at least by face if not by name, is where I get my grounding. Even the police chief has brought my dog home and dropped him off in my yard instead of impounding him and fining me. Try getting that to happen in Minneapolis.”

“Underground Optimist” is an experiment. If the project shows any profits, the three say they’ll dedicate the proceeds to a public arts project in Ely. Right now, they’re thinking of turning their alley between Sheridan and Chapman streets into an art space with murals, pocket parks and safe walking space.

“[The magazine] is marketed toward the second or third time visitor to Ely,” said Colber. “Encouraging them to move here and start a business. With the magazine we hope to make that transition easier and we hope they will feel welcomed by the fact that there is a magazine here geared towards them and not jus the tourist.”

The “Underground Optimist” is free and supported by ad revenue.


  1. Ann Francis says

    I love it when “new” people move into a town to “make” it what they want it to be.
    Not because they like a town but because they want to make a town something other than what it is.

    • Every town on the Iron Range was influenced over decades of history by people who made the town what they wanted it to be. It’s the reason we don’t live in company houses and shop in company stores.

  2. Carol Krebs says

    Love this idea! Where can we get the magazine?

  3. Jane Koschak says

    Excellent first issue and the positivity is contagious. Let’s keep it going Ely as we have so much going for our quaint city at the edge of the wilderness.

  4. Jennifer Monson says

    I was born and raised in Ely and my family has lived there for generations. While I personally no longer live in Ely, my parents and many of my relatives do. I am THRILLED that you are doing this!!! I can’t wait to pick up a copy of Underground Optimist this weekend! As a City Planner I love the passion and innovative ideas coming out of my hometown. Keep up the great work!

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