July 17, 2009

Canoe The Heart

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 11:22 am

On Monday of this week I participated in a celebration called “Canoe the Heart”.  To back up a bit, about three years ago, the agencies along the border started thinking about a collaborative relationship.  At the start there were Voyageurs National Park, Quetico Provinical Park and the Superior National Forest.  Now there are about 25 entities that are members of the group that call themselves “Heart of the Continent“.  They do not talk policy but rather they are a partnership  of  Canadian/American land managers and local stakeholders working together on cross-border projects that promote the economic, cultural and natural health of the lakes, forests and communities on the Ontario/Minnesota border.

This year is our Centennial celebration and it is also the centennial celebration for Quetico Provincial Park. So the folks at Heart of the Continent decided to do a canoe trip from Atikokin Ontario, over to International Falls and back to Saganaga Lake.  From there they would move to Grand Marais and canoe to Grand Portage then onto Thunderbay.  All was done in a nine person “Voyageur” style canoe.  Stops were made along the way in various small towns to celebrate the centennial for both the park and the national forest. The celebration for Cook County took place at Chik Wauk, in the Grand Marais Recreational Park, and at the National Monument in Grand Portage.

All rather fitting I would say.  As I think about the eons of time, the one connection we all have is water.  Humans have traveled the oceans for centuries.  The Great Lakes and the Sweetwater Trail provided a link first for Native Americans, later for Voyageurs, settlers and present day shipping between Minnesota and the eastern part of our continent.  And then there are the lakes of the Boundary Waters that provided a canoe highway for early Natives, Voyageurs and today’s recreationists.

Voyagers Arrival

Voyagers Arrival

The waters that provided life and mobility to early Americans still provide a connection for the people of the United States and Canada.  And what better places to celebrate that connection than Grand Portage, Grand Marais and Chik Wauk?  All places on the water established so many years ago and remain to serve people of today.  I thought it particularly relevant to celebrate at Chik Wauk, a place built to serve people who came to use the land and waters.  Through the efforts of the community of the Gunflint Trail, it will continue to serve to tell the story of the connection of the people to the lands and waters of northeastern Minnesota and Canada.

Staff from the Wilderness Canoe Base and Gunflint Wilderness Camp provided voyager canoes  to ferry  visitors from the County parking lot on the Sag Trail to Chik Wauk.  And then those same voyageur canoes paddled up the Sag Corridor to escort the expedition canoe back to Chik Wauk. 

There were about 150 people in attendance on a bright sunny day.  Included were a  few activities for the kids and then a great meal provided by Gunflint Lodge.  After lunch there were short presentations by Quetico’s Dave Maynard and Superior National Forest’s Lee Johnson on the history of each.  The celebration was capped by a special recognition of Janice Matichuk, who has staffed Quetico’s  Cache Bay Ranger Station for the past 25 years.

Check out the photos on the side bar of this post.

July 8, 2009

Boundary Waters Families

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 8:54 am

I was fortunate that I got to participate in one of the “Becoming a Boundary Waters Family” seminars that the Gunflint Trail Outfitters are putting on this summer.  By now I’m hoping most people have heard of the activities that are offered free of charge at various locations up the Trail. We have partnered with the Outfitters to see if we can reach our urban populations that may have never had the chance to visit the north woods or the Boundary Waters for a wilderness trip.  I am using this post to also spread the word that those opportunties are available to all.  There is a list of events and a schedule on http://kite.boreal.org/gunflint-trailCF/becomingaboundarywatersfamily/ so please visit and tell your friends about the good times that can be had here in Cook County.

The seminar that I participated in is called paddle and lunch, where the folks at Norwester and Rockwood teach you to paddle a canoe, set up a camp and fix a lunch over a campfire.  I didn’t count but I’m thinking we had 20 or so people along of which we had three generations in one family.  Of course that group would be too big to go into the BWCAW together but since we were on Poplar Lake in a seminar together on an island, the group size was just fine.  And what a great way for grand parents with their kids and grandkids to share a day and get the grandkids started on a life of camping memories.    Check out the photos on the side bar.  Thank you Gunflint Trail Outfitters!!

July 7, 2009

Summer and Wildfires

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 3:25 pm

seagull_buiThought I’d write a quick note to remind folks that we’re into summer now and we all need to think about wildfire potential.   Last Saturday we had our fourth human caused fire of the season, this one out on Northern Light Lake.  I realize this year has had its share of rain, cool and cloudy days that make having a campfire a great thing.  However practicing good camping habits now will pay dividends for those times when conditions are a little more serious.  

Speaking of fire conditions, the following graph displays one of the indices that we watch  when determining how serious the fire danger is.   The blue line shows where we are presently and you can see that we’re pretty much running along the average line.  You can also see that our average for this time of year is an upward trend indicating that the fire danger overall is increasing.   When we start getting above that “90%” line, then conditions are such that larger fires can occur,,,,,, if they get started!

That is where we all come in.  This is a great place to live, work and play.  Let’s enjoy that, hike, boat, fish and have our campfires.  But then let’s put the campfires completely out.


July 2, 2009

10 Years Later

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 4:15 pm

Just thinking over the last 10 years and how they have flown by. About this time in 1999 I was working on the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan. I was managing several programs for a District that was about 400,000 acres in size, and I had a bit of experience in incident management. Who knew that one storm brought to us on July 4, would create such a difference in all our lives?

The first time I heard about it was when a request came through our dispatch that there was a need for crews to come and help clean up this massive blowdown that occurred on the Superior National Forest. My role in addressing the request was to help package teams and get them on the road to Minnesota. Three weeks later our crews started filtering back and talking about the total impact of this storm. No, they said it wasn’t just a minor thing, it was really widespread and a total blowdown.

Then in August I got a different type of phone request, one that asked if I could go for four months to the Superior National Forest to help direct the recovery effort for the storm. I remember thinking that I really didn’t want to be away from home for that many months. However I had been looking for something different, so why not?

That short term detail turned into two years of working for this Forest in Duluth on the recovery effort. Roads, rights of way, homes, trails, portages, campgrounds, campsites, the clean up seemed at times endless. Then there was the potential for large scale fire and the planning and preparations that needed to be done to reduce the potential fire starts, reduce the fuels from the blowdown and to increase our abilities to fight “the big one”.

Now this weekend will be the 10th anniversary of that storm. I reflect on that and all that the citizens of this county have been through in this past decade. Rebuilding lives, homes, properties and businesses after the blowdown. Transporting literally tons of slash and debris to disposal sites. Preparing defensible space around homes and putting in sprinkler systems. Surviving each fall as the Forest Service trekked up the Gunflint to conduct prescribed burns. And then the wildfires came, first Alpine Lake in 2005, Cavity Lake, Redeye, Famine Lakes in 2006 and the largest most destructive fire in our Forest’s history, Ham Lake Fire in 2007.

So, what is there to say now that we’re in 2009? For me, it is that the citizens and communities of Cook County are stronger than ever. In the face of conflict, we have strengthened relationships and built partnerships. We have partnered with the Gunflint Trail Association to enhance the Gunflint Trail as a scenic byway. We have partnered with Cook County to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan from which Tait Lake Home Owners Association, and the residents of the Midtrail area have received financial assistance for fuels reduction and the Maple Hill Fire Department has received funds for equipment.

We have partnered with the Gunflint Trail Association to reforest the Ham Lake burn area through Gunflint Greenup, to educate families on becoming a “Boundary Waters Family” and to tell the history of the Boundary Waters and Gunflint Trail through the Chik Wauk Historical Museum and Nature Center.

If it sounds for a moment that I am focusing on the Gunflint Trail area, that would be because that is where the blowdown and fires occurred. We have many great things happening across the County but on this 10th anniversary of the blowdown, I want to say thanks and my hat is off to the residents and businesses for 10 years of working together through some pretty trying times!