Hi. This is Chris Beal, wildlife biologist on the Gunflint District, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the beginning of March, here’s what’s happening on the Forest.
The main story on the forest this week is the end of winter and the beginning of the mud season. Winter recreation is coming to an end as snow melts and ground is exposed, and yet it still isn’t warm enough for most of our summer fun to begin. It is a good time of year though to go on a wander through the woods looking for signs of spring. The chickadees are singing spring songs, there’s a smell of moist earth in the air, and on a sunny day, you can tell that summer is just around the corner. Beware though, winter is still here on this side of the corner. It is actually easy to become hypothermic this time of year. People dress optimistically for the warmth of the middle of the day, but the temperature can drop quickly. Damp air and rain can cool a person much faster than dry winter air and snow, so your body may actually lose heat faster than in midwinter. Be aware that it ain’t summer yet, and dress according to what the weather is, not what you are hoping it will be.
Lakes are very slushy, and even if fish houses do not have to come off the lakes yet, it is a good idea to get them off early. The DNR has set a date of March 21st for most of the Forest, and March 31st for the Canadian border waters, but given the slushy conditions, it may be hard to haul houses off the lake by those dates. Be sure to check ice thickness before you venture onto the ice, particularly if you are using any equipment to move your fish house.
If lakes are slushy, roads are icy. Compacted snow on roads has changed to ice in many areas, and the clear portions of roads are very soft and muddy. Cook County has imposed seasonal weight restrictions due to the soft roadways, and shoulders of roads are becoming particularly untrustworthy. Some of our field going personnel have reported that there are many stretches of roadway where they’ve been forced to travel at 20 miles per hour or below due to the combination of ice and soft roadways. The weight restrictions do mean that there won’t be any timber hauling going on, so you shouldn’t have to worry about logging traffic.
If you are trying to squeeze a little more winter in, and decide to go skiing or snowmobiling, be prepared for the conditions. 4 inches of snow cover are required to legally run a snow machine cross country, and we are running out of snow fast. On trails, remember that it is easy to damage soft trails in the spring, and if you want nice trails next winter, you should treat them carefully now. It is harder for a skier to damage a trail, but skiers need to watch out for the trail damaging the skier. Trails in spring can be icy and fast, and when you are coming down a hill at top speed and hit a patch of bare ground at the bottom, you come to an abrupt stop. Through the years, several people have discovered that this is an easy time of year to break your leg.
If mud season is starting to sound pretty dangerous and gloomy, don’t forget that it is also the time of returning life to the forest. Eagles are on eggs, ravens are flying around with sticks in their beaks, and birds are starting to sing. It is great time to be outside, just be careful how you get there!
Until next time, this has been Chris Beal with the National Forest Update.