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!