I’m down to my last couple days working here in Grand Marais and on the Gunflint Ranger District………it has been quite a ride here. For those of you who are wondering, I started in Grand Marais in August of 2001 and I’ll be leaving here in a couple days so that makes it pretty much eleven years on the nose that I’ve been here……and my time here has been pretty much spectacular.
The thing about that is, I can’t take a lot of credit, there have been so many people working with me that have really done the work. We have some outstanding employees here in our office and they keep charging forward to help us meet our budget commitments. And then they do more to help us within the community.
Much of our forest is about 100 years old and you’ve noticed the older trees are dying. The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway committee, the biologists from the State and the Tribes, the County Biomass Committee, the timber industry and several local landowners have worked with us to find ways to restore our forests to a healthier state. One of the facts I learned last Friday is that on the Gunflint District during my time here, we have planted 2.1 million trees, a combination of white, red and jack pine, white spruce, cedar and tamarack will be the next forest we all enjoy.
Speaking of new forests, we have had around 800 volunteers planting and caring for trees during Gunflint Greenup. We have had our challenges, but this community doesn’t say quit. After Ham Lake Fire, there were plenty of reasons for despair, we all could have slumped back to drown our sorrows but another choice was made, a choice to clean up and create a new forest. The Scenic Byway Committee wrote and received a $250,000 grant for the purposes of forest restoration. With that we cleaned up some of the dead trees along the Gunflint, prepared some areas for planting, planted seedlings and seeded jack pine. As you drive up the Gunflint, you can start to see the next generation of forest and it will have a healthy component of pine trees.
Of course Ham Lake was only one of five major fires we had during my time here…..or should I say five major wildfires. If you look back at the blowdown of 1999, no small event, there have been a number of opportunities for us to get together and find reasons to succeed. For several years we got together and worked on prescribed fire, I think totaling about 40,000 acres worth. I’m sure that for many of you it may have seemed like we were coming in heavy handed to get these things done. However from my point of view we worked with a lot of businesses up the Trail and I got to work with a lot of great people. Without you, our work would have been a real challenge, but with you, we accomplished quite a bit.
Then the real fires started. Alpine Lake, Cavity Lake, Redeye Lake, Famine Lake………and then Ham Lake, the most destructive fire in our forest’s history. There were homes, businesses, garages and out building lost, 148 between the US and Canada, but “WE” survived……and through working together have grown stronger because of it. I mentioned Gunflint Greenup, but there is also the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center, and our venture with Becoming a Boundary Waters Family. Three great partnerships working together for the good of our forest.
Then there was that peculiar change of events. Toward the end of 2007, we were “as dry as we have seen it up here”…..until September when the rain started. I remember someone telling me their lake went up 14 inches with one storm. Who would have thought that next we would have eight inches in two hours on June 6, 2008? I’m not sure how wide spread that rain was, but it sure was on the slopes above Grand Marais………..and water still flows downhill…….and that much water REALLY flows downhill……really fast….and will move heaven and earth………or at least a lot of earth.
But again, we found a way to work together and I could even find one bright spot in all that. Some of you know that I bike to work, at least on the nicer days. Well for much of the rest of the summer, I had a lane on the hill going down the Gunflint pretty much to myself…….or at least that part of the lane that didn’t wash away. Once it was fixed, I again was sharing the road and waving to friends as they passed me.
Friends……..I’d somehow like to acknowledge all the friends I’ve made up here and all I’ve worked with…….. or maybe I should say all of you who put up with me……….but I know if I tried, I’d forget someone and all of you are important. So I’ll generalize a bit and hope you all know how special you’ve made my time here. Before I arrived, I met and was working with Sheriff Dave Wirt and that only got better after I settled in. When he retired in early 2005 and Sheriff Mark Falk took over, we continued that great working relationship. I wondered a few times if Sheriff Dave knew what 2005 would bring with Alpine Lake fire and the beginning of our large fires? Talk about a new Sheriff being baptized by fire……..and the start of a great working relationship!!! Then there are the rest of the office, the deputies and dispatch people I got to know……it has been great!!
Within the Cook County Board of Commissioners there have been a few changes since I arrived. I believe Jan Hall is the only commissioner who has been on the board throughout my tenure here. I have gotten to work with nearly all the commissioners on one project or another and I truly appreciate all that we have done together.
Though maybe not as visible, I have had the pleasure of working with Grand Portage on several issues. Norman DesChampe has been the Chairman throughout my tenure and with his staff we have struck an outstanding working relationship. Norman is one of the great leaders within the Minnesota Chippewa Tribes and I can only think how lucky I’ve been to know and work with him.
I’ve mentioned the support and help we’ve gotten from businesses in the County and that has been nothing short of amazing. There is just no way we could achieve what we do without the support and help from all of you. As strange as it might seem, much of our wildlife habitat management and our fuels reduction goals are accomplished through the timber industry and logging. Most everyone knows Hedstroms and we are very lucky to have them in our back yard, but there are also so many others working in the woods to help us do what we think is right for our forests. As I think about it, the eagle and wolf populations have been successfully restored, and we’re working on the lynx. Our next challenge is likely moose and we’ll keep working with the tribes and DNR to do what we can for that species.
A special relationship we have is with the outfitters, guides and hospitality businesses who help us manage the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as well as our campgrounds. Special because we need those people to help us succeed, but sometimes the policies that come from our upper levels can …………well……..add a little stress. And I am humbled by how patient my business friends can be to find a way to keep going………I think it’s patience…….? But I do know how much I appreciate what they do for us.
Since the volunteer fire departments are………well………volunteer, I’m pretty much talking about many of the same people who work in businesses or other agencies. But the relationship is different when you’re working side by side. Now we meet, train and work together to help all of our friends in Cook County…….as it should be.
The other agencies are many, from the City of Grand Marais to the County, the State, Grand Portage and even Canada. I’ve said this in different meetings, but the way you have all come together during our natural disasters is a model for the nation. Several of the people who have come here to help with those disasters have commented on how they are used to having to bring communities together when they come to help. But in our community ………….well the leaders here pretty much had their acts together and the incoming teams were in awe of what they saw….doesn’t get much better than that!!
There have been a few other adventures that we have worked on together, a snowmobile trail connection with Grand Portage, some other trail reroutes, a county wide ATV plan (which after all the debate, we’ve finally implemented), some work in our campgrounds, a few miles of hiking trail work, biking trails, a few hundred acres of fuels reduction along with a variety of small projects, too many to name, where I’ve had the chance to work with so many citizens of Cook County where I owe you all so much and thank you so much for your help.
The one disappointment I have is that I have to this point been unable to bring a solution for access to South Fowl Lake. As I leave I know I have some co-workers back here who’ll help see that through the final steps. My disappointment extends to the fact that though this really is a fairly small project, I was unable to bring people together for a resolution. We are cleaning up a few details that will support my decision and the final proposal before it is submitted it to the Court.
So as I prepare my next adventure, I leave here grateful for all those who’ve chosen to work with me, grateful to be a part of a resilient community, grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. But mostly grateful for the friends that have welcomed my family and me to be a part of Cook County!
The loon parents are very proud and fairly loud about their new babies. They’ve been feeding and bragging in the bay over the last few days. The chicks are pretty big already and can dive on their own so this is not a fresh hatch.
The photo is not very sharp but you get the idea. We have a pro photographer with a super lens staying here right now so I imagine we’ll get some better shots quickly.
It’s windy and dry but fairly close to another perfect day in a long string of perfect days this summer.
Just had some folks arrive from the Twin Cities. They said they actually made it through Duluth without much difficulty, though on surface streets up the hill a ways. Hwy 35 is still a mess.
They said the rivers along the shore were spectacular. That was what slowed them down.
You can get here.
We’ve had a bunch of rain and so has all of northern Minnesota. Our gauge on HJ lake shows about 4 inches. Notable but not biblical. Duluth was particularly hard hit as was the road system in Duluth. So driving through Duluth is not recommended right now though changing rapidly. There are roads around Duluth via Cloquet and once past Two harbors Hwy 61 is passable. We just got a phone call from a friend driving on 61 just north of Two Harbors and he said things were good.
We’re sending people out and we just had a group come in who said the rain was actually kind of fun.
This too shall pass.
The MN Department of Transportation website has already shown a lag between reality and what they have posted.
Bottom line is you can get here and have fun.
Boating season is upon us on the Gunflint Trail, although boat traffic on Gunflint Trail lakes won’t pick up in earnest until the season fishing opener on Saturday, May 12. (Despite some rumblings in the Minnesota legislature earlier this spring about possibly bumping up the opener by a week, the fishing opener will remain on May 12 this year.) Before you take that first spin in the boat this spring, here are a few things to remember:
Beware of aquatic invasive species
Minnesota continues to work to educate the public about how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels and spiny water fleas.
The MN DNR asks boaters to remember to stop aquatic hitchhikers by inspecting their boat whenever they take the boat out of the water and removing any vegetation or invasive species clinging to the boat,;draining the water from the boat before leaving the water access; and throwing unused bait in the trash. Before a boater moves their boat to another lake, the DNR asks boaters to either rinse their boat and equipment with at least 120 degree water, pressure wash the boat, or let the boat dry for at least five days.
Boaters are now required to display an aquatic invasive species decal on their watercraft. A penalty for not having the decal will begin to be enforced on August 1, 2014. The decals can be picked up for free at DNR offices or wherever you register your watercraft.
Register your watercraft
The state of Minnesota requires all watercraft to be registered. If you are not a Minnesota resident, you may register your watercraft in your home state. Minnesota honors all state registrations.
Life jacket use
And remember, while the ice may have gone off the lakes a month ago, we’ve been experiencing normal spring temperatures and water temperatures remain very chilly. While it’s always important to have a personal floatation device nearby whenever you’re out on the water — and children under the age of 10 must always wear a life jacket — it’s an especially good idea to actually wear your life jacket during these cool spring days.
Wondering what this Gunflint Green Up thing is all about? Here are answers to some of your questions about the event.
When did it begin?
The Gunflint Green Up event began in the spring of 2008, when volunteers and officials from the U.S. Forest Service gathered to replant the area on the upper Gunflint Trail burned by the Ham Lake Wildfire of 2007 with pine seedlings. The event has been held on the first weekend of May ever since. Over the years, the event has evolved to not only planting tree seedlings, but also cutting away undergrowth away from trees planted in previous years (known as “releasing”) to let the sunshine in and allow the trees to grow tall.
Who’s organizing this year’s event?
Gunflint Lodge is the primary sponsor of this year’s Green Up event and registration is done either online or by calling them at 1-800-328-3325.
Do I have to stay at Gunflint Lodge to participate?
What does my registration include?
Saturday lunch, Friday and Saturday dinners, planting equipment from the USFS, trees and group leaders. Registration is $48.00 per person.; taxes are additional.
What is I just want to volunteer?
If you just want to volunteer, but don’t want any of the meals that come with registration, arrive at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center at 10 a.m. on Saturday May 5 to be assigned a task.
What should I bring?
Sturdy footwear, appropriate clothing for working outside in early May (aka, layers and possibly raingear), and a pair of nippers, if you have them.
What will we be doing?
This year’s Green Up will focus on clearing the Gneiss Lake Trail, which is adjacent the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center grounds. Volunteers will plant trees and release previously planted trees along the overgrown Gneiss Lake Trail. Volunteers will also work to open up the Gneiss Lake Trail up to the Blueberry Hill overlook.
The Gunflint Trail loons have returned. With such an early ice out this year, it’s been easy to wonder if seasons on the Gunflint Trail are inside out, but the return of the loons are sure sign that spring is upon us. Loons have been spied fishing in many bays of Gunflint Trail lakes and the wailing call of the loon now frequently punctuates the night as the loons communicate during the midnight hours.
If you yourself happen to be up at the midnight hours, it’s worth looking to the northern horizon to see if you can spy the warm green glow of the Northern Lights. The Aurora were visible on Friday night and according to the website Space Weather: “For the third day in a row, a high-speed solar wind stream is buffeting Earth’s magnetic field. NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% to 15% chance of more geomagnetic activity during the next 24 hours as the solar wind continues to blow.”
Although we’ve been getting a bit of rain and/or snow each week since ice out, fire danger is always a concern on the Gunflint Trail before the spring green up. The MN DNR issued this notice about fire danger last week which contained this important reminder: “While campfires are allowed, please use caution so they do not escape. Clear an area around the campfire, attend it at all times and make sure it is cold to the touch before leaving it. Also, use caution when operating equipment or recreational vehicles to prevent sparks from igniting dry vegetation.”
For the time being though, Gunflint Trail residents are more concerned about the current winter weather advisory. Although April snow is always a little shocking, the snow (or rain) will happily raise lake levels and increase moisture levels in the woods.
Permit season for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness begins on May 1. Do you have your spring canoe trip planned?
Minnesota’s fishing opener remains May 12. We’ll let you know as soon as we can if it gets bumped up a week, as is currently being debated in the Minnesota Houses.
The moose have been moving about recently. This lady was spotted camouflaged in the undergrowth near Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center.
What better way to soak up the spring sunshine than with a picnic in the great outdoors with family and friends at a favorite Gunflint Trail location? If your picnic basket is all packed, but you’re not sure where to go, consider these suggestions:
If you’re looking to roast some marshmallows and weenies, you can’t do better than popping into one of sites at of the several Federal campgrounds along the Trail. You’ll find a picnic table, fire grate and a nearby latrine at whichever site you choose, not to mention a nearby lake or river:
East Bearskin (25 miles up the Trail)
Flour Lake (26 miles up the Trail)
Iron Lake (38 miles up the Trail)
Trail’s End (56 miles up the Trail)
If you don’t need a fire grate, but would prefer a picnic table to spread your vittles out on, there are plenty of picnic benches scattered along the Trail. If you’re looking for a view and a spot to get a bite to eat you can pull off at:
- Swamper Lake (23 miles up the Trail, picnic area on the left-hand side if you’re driving up the Trail)
- Little Iron Lake (38 miles up the Trail, past the Old Gunflint Trail road, on the right hand side if driving up the Trail. Follow trail over bridge to picnic table.)
- Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center (55 miles up the Trail, at 28 Moose Pond Drive. Several picnic tables at various locations on grounds.)
If you pack a bag lunch, you can take your picnic just about anywhere. Check out the Gunflint Trail hiking trail brochure for some ideas, or consider some of these breathtaking places to pause, soak in the view, and have a snack (or more).
- Blueberry Hill/Northern Light Lake overlook (13 miles up the Trail)
- Honeymoon Bluff (26 miles up the Trail, on the Clearwater Road )
- Lima Mountain Trail (21 miles up the Trail, accessed off the Lima Grade)
- Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes overlook (45 miles up the Trail)
Where’s your favorite spot to picnic on the Gunflint Trail?
July and August tend to be our most busy months when nightly appearances of the NO VACANCY sign become the norm and the summer sun converts the Boreal forest into a thick greenery that might be mistaken for a rain forest if you did not know any better.
It is a great time to view wildflowers in abundance and also a time when we visit our favorite (secret) berry picking spots. The Strawberries have already come and gone and we enjoyed many of the tasty thimble size morsels. Anyday now, we will start seeing raspberries and blueberries in abundance. This year I think we will try the gunflint trail as I understand the blueberries have been really doing well since the Ham Lake fire.
Hiking, golfing, fishing and simply skipping rocks off the flat surface of Lake Superior are also activities our guests and ourselves enjoy immensely. The other night I walked down to the Lake with Sam and hiked over to the Cascade River where we observed a person casting for Steelhead right off the mouth of the river. The scene was one right out of “A river runs through it” and while we did not see him hook any, he did seem to be enjoying himself in the late afternoon sunshine.
Hopefully, the scorching heat that is crippling the midwest will not hit up here. The Lake tends to be our air conditioning and in the 7+ years we have been here, I can only recall 4-5 nights that were somewhat uncomfortable. The Lake does an excellent job of providing perfect sleeping weather with the added bonus of nature’s sounds over the hum of some air conditioner. Hope to see many more guests this summer as it really does go by quickly!