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Superior National Forest Update



Contributor(s): 
USDA Forest Service

The Superior National Forest Update helps you keep up to date with Forest activities that you might encounter while driving, boating, or hiking in the Superior National Forest’s Tofte and Gunflint Ranger Districts.  It includes road and fire conditions, logging and other truck activities, as well as naturalist programs and special events.  

The USDA Forest Service has more information on the Superior National Forest website.


What's On:

Superior National Forest Update: May 19

Hi. I’m Steve Robertsen, interpretation and education specialist on the Superior National Forest, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the week of May 19, here’s what’s going on out there.

The wave of spring green is slowly pushing northwards. There is quite a difference in the amount of green in different areas right now, and it is sort of like traveling in time driving on 61 between our offices in Grand Marais and Duluth. As green leaves appear, the moisture content of the woods increases, and fire danger lessens. Our recent rainy spell has really helped with fire danger as well, but spring is still a season to be extra careful with fire, especially if you are in an area which is still dominated by last year’s brown leaves and not this year’s green ones.

That line of green creeping north has brought with it another pulse of migrating birds. This past week saw the return of many warblers to the woods, as well as the return of our hummingbirds. Orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks are back, adding some larger splashes of color to the mix. It’s a good time of year to feed birds, but with the rain, make sure to check that your feeders stay clean and the seed doesn’t start to mildew.

Despite the rain, some road weight restrictions have been lifted allowing for more truck traffic in the woods. You may encounter logging traffic near the Trapper’s Lake Road near Isabella, and in other areas as weight restrictions continue to be lifted. If you’d like to check on current restrictions, there is a link under the Current Conditions section of our website to the county and state DOT websites.

All our campgrounds on Tofte and Gunflint are now fully open with water and garbage pick-up, and are collecting fees. As a reminder, dumpsters in campgrounds are for use only by campers. Make sure all your garbage is in the dumpster, not piled alongside, and then make sure that the dumpster lid is fully secured with bars or chains to keep the bears from getting in. Most of our bear problems at campgrounds start with bears and unsecured garbage, so keep a clean camp and put all your garbage and food into secure areas such as the trunk of a car or the closed dumpster. If you drive an SUV or other vehicle with no trunk, use a blanket or luggage cover to hide your coolers. Some bears actually look in vehicles for food, and will try to break in if they see coolers or obvious food. Never store food or garbage in your tent, and don’t assume the screen door on an RV is secure against a hungry bruin. If you do have a bear encounter at a campground, please let us know at one of the district offices as well as telling the campground host
and concessionaire.

If your plans are to camp in the Boundary Waters, make sure to keep things bear safe there as well. Our website shows several methods of hanging food safely, or you can use a bear resistant food container…but, the popular blue plastic barrels are not bear resistant, so don’t count on those to really even slow down a bear. Our seasonal wilderness ranger staff has begun patrols, so if you see them, be sure to say hi. The rangers report that mosquitoes are still rare, so it’s a great time to get out. Black flies are starting to get annoying though, and there’s been plenty of ticks, so watch it.

Have a wonderful spring weekend, and enjoy the currently bug free forest. Until next week, this has been Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: May 12

Hi. I’m Paulette Anholm, with this week’s edition of the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the week of May 12, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

We’ve turned on the water systems in all the campgrounds on our two districts. We’re waiting for the water samples to be checked to make sure things are okay, but unless there are unforeseen problems, all our fee campgrounds should have water and garbage pick-up this weekend, and also begin charging fees for camping. It promises to be a great weekend, so we’re hoping you get a chance to go camping and maybe drop a line in the water for the walleye opener this Saturday.

Speaking of fishing, and who isn’t, we’d like to remind everyone about aquatic invasive species. Don’t move invasives around! Make sure to drain all water from live wells and bait containers, thoroughly wash your boat and trailer, and dry it before you change your fishing spot. Dispose of bait in a way that will insure that it won’t survive. While it is the law, and you could be fined for transporting exotic species, the more important reason to do this is that it will help preserve our lakes and our native fish. It can be a pain to completely wash off a trailer, but you really owe it to everyone else fishing, and to the next generation of people fishing, to do your part to help keep exotic invasives under control.

Out of the water, the land is getting drier. Fire danger might actually be in the high range this weekend because as yet we have little green-up happening, and an escaped fire could grow quickly in dried grasses and leaf litter. If you are cooking your fish on shore, use only designated campfire rings, and fuel your fire with small wood, only as big as your wrist. This will make it easier to extinguish the fire later. Before you leave, double-check that your fire is cold to the touch.

Speaking of fire, we’d like to note the 10th anniversary of the Ham Lake Fire at the end of the Gunflint Trail. This very large fire was remembered at an event at the Gunflint Community Center last weekend in a celebration of community. While we wouldn’t like to see a fire like that again, it was wonderful to see all our friends and neighbors from the Gunflint Trail celebrating the spirit that really makes this a special place to live and work. At the event, the Forest Service unveiled a new interpretive sign which will be installed at the Gunflint Lake overlook. Next time you’re up the trail, check it out.

This drier weather does make it possible for us to continue to conduct our prescribed burns. Fire crews have done several burns recently to help maintain wildlife openings, and are now doing burns which will help prepare areas which have been logged for the planting of new trees. There are three of these scheduled for this weekend, so people may notice smoke, and may encounter fire crews on the ground during the prescribed burns. Information on the location of these fires will be posted on Boreal. If you see smoke, and are not sure if it is from a prescribed fire, go ahead and report it. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to fire.

While the Forest is drying out, the roads are still too wet for the spring weight limits to be removed. This means that there are no large logging trucks on the roads, but there are still soft spots and washouts to look out for.

That’s all for this week! Enjoy the weather, the forest, and with luck, the fish! Until next week, this has been Paulette Anholm with the National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: May 5

Hi. I’m Renee Frahm, visitor information specialist at Gunflint and Tofte, with the National Forest Update for May 5 - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the start of May, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

May Day marks the beginning of high season on the Superior. The students at Birch Grove Elementary helped to get us in the mood at Tofte by bringing everyone a May Day basket, complete with seeds to plant. Thanks, kids! We loved our May Day baskets! Our team of silviculturalists is taking planting one step further and getting ready to plant thousands of trees as soon as the soil dries out a little. Right now they are setting up fencing to protect trees from deer, so you may see some activity and piles of fencing in the areas where planting is planned.

Road conditions are still fairly poor on back roads due to the roadways being waterlogged. Keep an eye out for soft shoulders and washouts, and try to avoid creating ruts on wet muddy roads. Spring weight restrictions are still in force, so there won’t be large truck traffic in the Forest again this week.

With snow off the ground, burning permits are now required for anyone planning on doing some spring clean-up. Stop by an office for details on burning before you light a match.

It’s also the start of the quota permit season for the Boundary Waters. People entering the wilderness will need a permit from one of our offices or one of our cooperators. You can find a list of cooperators on our website. If you are looking to reserve an entry permit through the website www.recreation.gov, you should be aware that the reservation fee has increased this year from six dollars to ten. The permit itself has not changed in price. The permit fee goes directly into a fund used for the Boundary Waters, and helps us take care of the wilderness.

Campgrounds outside of the Boundary Waters are moving towards being fully opened. You can camp in any of our rustic or fee campgrounds now, but as of May 4, water systems at fee campgrounds are still shut off and there is no camping fee. That should be changing in the next week, and we anticipate that the campgrounds will be fully open by fishing opener.

Mother's Day is coming up too. It’s an appropriate time of year for that celebration as many birds and animals are starting to raise this year’s young. It’s also the time of the year that the hummingbirds usually return. Flowers are few and far between this time of year, so the hummers would appreciate you putting out that hummingbird feeder. Before you do, take the time to really clean it out. Moldy feeders can be very bad for hummingbirds, so make sure you are starting with a clean feeder. It is easy to make your own nectar with four parts water to one part white refined sugar. Avoid commercial nectars with dyes in them, the birds don’t need the extra chemicals, and there is no reason that the sugar solution has to be red. Honey and unrefined raw sugars are not recommended, they both contain amounts of iron that can be harmful to hummers. Sugar water can go bad in the sun, so it is best to not fill the feeder full, and refill more often. Extra nectar can be stored in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, and until next week, this has been Renee Frahm with the National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: April 28

Hi. I’m Joe Mundell, timber sale administrator, with the National Forest Update for April 28 - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the end of April, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

After some beautiful weekend weather, things seem to have taken a turn back toward winter. The recent rain, ice, and snow storm has left the roads in the forest in not the best of shape. Rain-soaked roadways are not stable, and in places on less traveled back roads, it is like driving in pudding. Please avoid these areas – you could easily get stuck, and you’ll also leave permanent ruts for the summer. If the road isn’t thawed into pudding, it is probably very icy. Until the sun thaws off the ice, you can expect hazardous driving. After the sun has been out, you’ll still have to drive cautiously because you’ll run into icy patches on the north slope of hills, or where the road is shaded by trees. The ice and snow have also caused some minor fallen branches, and the occasional major one. This weekend promises higher winds, so some bigger trees whose root system has been loosened by the rain may be falling as well. The roads are still under spring weight restrictions, so there should be limited truck traffic in the woods.

The weather has moved back to wintry, and some of our migrating birds have reversed course as well. Migration is stalled out right now, and there are some indications that there is reverse migration happening as birds temporarily move southwards to where there are more insects to eat. It’s only temporary though. We expect that with the next southerly flow of air, birds will be riding the wave of warmth, headed north once again.

Human visitors to our Forest will also be headed north soon. They will find that our campgrounds are coming back on line, one by one. Rustic campgrounds are open for use, and the fee campgrounds are becoming fully open as we are able to open water systems. Once fully open with water and garbage services, the fee campgrounds will start collecting fees, prior to that you may camp without a fee. Usually all the fee campgrounds are fully open and in fee status by around May 15.

Monday, May 1, is the beginning of the quota season for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. You need a permit for the Boundary Waters all year, but during the winter you can use a self-issued permit available at entry point kiosks. During the quota season you can still use those self-issued permits for day use, but starting on May 1, overnight users must use a permit issued at a ranger district office or at one of our cooperators, and pay the associated fee. The fees help us maintain portages and campsites and the permits help to maintain the wilderness character of the land by distributing visitors more evenly in time and space. More information about Boundary Waters permitting, including information on motor permits and exempt permits, can be found on our website or at our offices. Also starting May 1, our offices will be open seven days a week, but with the same hours of 8 to 4:30. The Isabella work station will remain closed this year.

Last, but not least, starting next week, this Update will be aired every week instead of every other week. Take advantage of this short time between using the snowblower and the lawnmower to go for a hike this weekend, or just enjoy the new birds of the season at the feeder. Until next time, this has been Joe Mundell with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: April 14

Hi. I’m Tom McCann, resource information specialist, with the National Forest Update for April 14th - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the middle of April, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

Every week brings more and more ‘firsts’ of the year. The first geese, the first loons, the first mergansers, the first juncoes, the first truck stuck in the mud. Spring is an exciting time in the north as things reappear from the winter. Not only are birds back, but butterflies and other insects have begun to be seen as well. Our rivers have shaken off the ice, and if you haven’t gone to visit any of the waterfalls along the shore, you really need to take the time to do that.

But, along with the good comes the bad. If you haven’t yet, it is a good time to start treating your dog with a tick repellent and tucking in your own socks as well. Bird feeders which are hung where they can be bear attractants need to be taken in at night, and garbage cans need to be stored in closed garages.

Our Forest roads are very mushy right now. There is a four ton weight limit which minimizes truck traffic, but you don’t have to weigh four tons to get into trouble. One of the hidden dangers is undermining, where moving water can wash away the base of the roadway, leaving a thin layer of apparently safe road at the surface. Avoid the edges of the roads, and beware of dips where small drainages could have undermined the roadway. If possible, avoid traveling at all on the smaller roads where you can leave ruts behind that will be with us for the entire summer.

While not as bad as last year’s ‘snowdown’ event, the winter did topple a few trees across the roads, and the soft soil in spring will drop a few more. Watch for fallen timber, and also be very careful if you attempt to clear any material off the road. When you cut a deadfall and change the balance, parts may fly into the air, or fall onto the ground. It can be very dangerous, and it is better to report fallen trees to have them professionally removed.

This is also the beginning of the fire season. With less than normal snow cover, and early melting, we have areas which have dried out before the spring green-up has begun. This is particularly true in forest openings where last year’s grass has become this year’s fuel supply. Inland, shaded areas and deeper snow minimize the fire danger, but along the shore and at the southern edge of the Superior National Forest, some areas are starting to see some higher fire potentials. Please check on fire conditions and possible restrictions before you begin any burning. These conditions have made it possible for us to begin our prescribed burning season. We maintain several openings in the Forest for wildlife use, and these smaller “less-than-20-acre” burns are best done in the spring before the grass gets green and less flammable. We post notice of prescribed fires on our website, so you can check there to see if any will affect your plans, or to check on possible causes for smoke you see or smell. If there is any question of a suspected fire, let us know. It never hurts for us to check it out.

Keep an eye out for more signs of spring, and watch out for those muddy roads! Until next time, this has been Tom McCann with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: March 31

Hi. I’m Sarah Poznanovic, natural resource specialist with the National Forest Update for March 31 - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the beginning of April, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

Spring is here for sure. Our snow cover is rapidly vanishing, and the ice is weakening on area lakes, though it remains pretty thick for now. All this melt water is, as usual, making clear why the nickname given to spring around here is ‘the mud season.' You may notice it in the amount of dirt appearing in your front hallway, but on the Forest, it is evident in the condition of our roads. What were firmly frozen, almost paved, roads in the winter are turning into road Jello in some places. The county has enacted spring road restrictions, creating a maximum 4 ton axle weight, and minimizing the logging truck traffic on the Forest. Your pick-up may be a lot less than 4 tons, but that restriction should remind you that roads in the spring can be treacherous, and it is easy to get mired down in low spots. While we have no reports at this time of washouts, they will be happening as well, so keep your eyes open when you enter low lying areas, and don’t be afraid to stop your vehicle in a safe location to get out and check the roadway. Should you get stuck, the best idea is to call for assistance. Pulling a vehicle out of the mud with inadequate equipment can be extremely dangerous when overstressed chains, straps, or ropes snap. It is a good idea to also think of the damage you can cause to the road if you drive in very muddy conditions. The ruts you create now may be haunting you all summer long when you try to get your boat trailer up to the lake.

Of course, spring isn’t all mud and drizzle. It also means the return of migrating birds and animals, and the beginnings of new life for many of them. Returning juncoes, the cries of gulls near Lake Superior, and robins hopping in the newly exposed grass all tell us spring is here. Our resident birds, including owls, eagles, crows, and ravens, are all setting up housekeeping. Owls and eagles started this quite a while ago and are already well into incubation, or even taking care of hatchlings. Ravens and crows aren’t quite that far along, but almost every one that you see flying seems to have a stick in its beak for nest building. While not as visible as the birds, things are stirring in the mammal world as well. Sometime in the near future, wolf pups will be born, along with many other animals such as foxes, lynx, and marten. Bears had their cubs back in January, but may now be starting to think about getting out of the den and looking for food, like backyard bird feeders.

While spring is a time for beginnings, there are also a couple of good-byes on the Forest. Unless it turns out to be an April Fool’s joke, Gunflint District Ranger Nancy Larson is retiring at the beginning of April, along with Mary Ann Atwood who has worked a variety of positions including at the front desk. We wish them both the best in this next phase of their lives!

Keep an eye out for signs of spring, and watch out for those muddy roads! Until next time, this has been Sarah Poznanovic with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: March 17

Hi. This is Renee Frahm, administrative assistant, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For March 17, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

It’s a holiday weekend! While most of the country is excited about St Patrick’s Day, around here we are also celebrating St Urho’s Day. March 16th celebrates the day St Urho chased the grasshoppers out of Finland and saved the wine crop. There will be a parade on Saturday, March 18, which will shut down Hwy. 1 in the town of Finland at noon. Even when the parade is not happening, expect people to be on the road in that area as well as vehicles parked on both sides of the street.

Joining the people on the road are lots of deer. With the shift to daylight savings time, your morning or evening commute may have shifted into prime deer time. Traveling at 55 miles per hour from Grand Marais to Silver Bay is only 5 minutes longer than traveling at 60 miles per hour, and it will reduce your chances of hitting a deer considerably. It will also reduce your chances of hitting an owl, and increase your chances of seeing one. There have been several great gray owls along the roadways. They like hunting along roads where there is a nice open area to swoop down onto mice. Unfortunately, part of the open area is the road itself, which puts the bird in danger of being hit by cars. Driving slower means you can avoid hitting these birds, and give yourself a chance to take a picture instead.

You’ll see a lot of other bird activity as well, particularly in the ravens and crows. They are fixing up nests and establishing pair bonds, so you will see them flying around right now with large sticks and doing displays for both their potential mates and their rivals.

Off the highway, on the Forest roads, you’re going to also want to slow up. The freezing and thawing that has been happening have left some roads literal ice rinks. Signs have been posted in some places, but there are plenty of icy spots which are unmarked. The Greenwood Road on the Gunflint is particularly glacial. If you must travel in these ice covered areas, use extreme care. We recommend using alternate routes if possible.

Greenwood has the added hazard of truck traffic. On the Gunflint District, trucks are on the Greenwood, Shoebox Roads, and Gunflint Trail. On the Tofte District, trucks are on The Grade, Cook County 3, the Sawbill Trail, Trappers Lake Road, and Lake County 7. The logging operation is finished on the Honeymoon Trail, so that is now free of most truck traffic.

Enjoy your holidays! Even if you are not Irish or Finnish, it is great time to celebrate the winding down of winter and the beginning of spring in the Northland! This has been Renee Frahm with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: March 3

Hi. This is Mary Ann Atwood, administrative support assistant, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For March 3, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

Wilderness crews recently reported a lack of snow on the upper Gunflint Trail lakes. Puddles on the lakes last week, have probably refrozen but you may find slush in certain areas. Seagull and Clearwater lakes have ice depths ranging from 18 – 24 inches.

Snow conditions vary greatly in the woods. Timber crews report little to no snow under conifer stands, yet up to 3 feet of snow under hardwoods and in open areas. Their adjective describing the snow, was “crunchy.”

Trails for snowmobiles and cross country skiing have been deteriorating. Using trails when conditions are too warm can damage the compacted snow which creates the base of the trail. Once this base is gouged or damaged, it takes a good deal of fresh snow to return the trail to usable conditions.

Along with the trails, gravel roads have deteriorated. Ruts created now may refreeze causing problems in the weeks to come. Watch out for soft shoulders and slippery conditions caused by melting and refreezing.

Warmer weather affects wildlife as well. Timber crews report a multitude of moose tracks in the woods. Deer are moving along forest service roads, as well as on Highway 61. Several wolf sightings have also been reported. It’s a good time to keep your pets under control in the forest. Don’t want Fido encountering his wilder cousins.

Timber hauling continues in some areas of both ranger districts. Be aware that the DNR also uses the Trails for their logging activities.

On the Gunflint District, hauling can be expected on the Firebox Road from the Gunflint Trail to the Grand Portage Snowmobile Trail, Greenwood Road, and Forest Road 1385 (AKA the Swamper Snowmobile Trail).

On the Tofte District, trucks are on The Grade, Cook County 3, the Sawbill Trail, Trappers Lake Road, Lake County 7, the Honeymoon Trail, and the Caribou Trail.

You may know that March is Women’s History Month, but did you know that the Forest Service played an important role in that history? The first women in the postwar period known to have been paid for fire suppression work were wildland firefighting crews working for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. All-women Forest Service and BLM crews worked on fires in Alaska and Montana during the summers of 1971 and '72. Now, more than 6,500 women hold career firefighting and fire officer’s positions in the United States.

Until next time, this has been Mary Ann Atwood with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: February 17

Hi. This is Patrick Krage, Engine Module Leader, Engine 621, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For February 17th, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

With temperatures in the forties and rain forecast for this weekend, skiing and snowmobiling don’t sound very appealing. But, there is one activity this weekend which you can participate in from the comfort of a chair by the window with a cup of coffee in your hand. This weekend is the annual “Great Backyard Bird Count.” This is a national citizen science effort to track on winter bird populations, and the Forest Service uses the data for monitoring our local birds. The Audubon Society is the organizer of the event, and it is easy to record what you see at your feeders on line, as well as see who else is reporting on birds in your area. Just search for Great Backyard Bird Count on the web to get started, or look for the link on the Superior’s Facebook page and our website.

Our changing winter weather has also seen an increase in a newer form of recreation: Fat tire biking. Fat tire biking can be a great way to get out in the winter, but we are becoming aware of a growing number of bikers and cross country skiers who have been using area snowmobile trails. These trails are not designed for use by skiers or cyclists, and the mix of snowmobiles, skiers, and cyclists on the same trail presents a safety hazard for everyone. Contact a Forest Service office for information on locations where winter biking is appropriate, and for locations of our cross country ski trails.

The alternating warm and cold spells have been hard on our forest roads. During the warm times, watch for soft shoulders and even soft spots in the roadway itself. In the cold, ice has been an issue as snow melts or packs down into some really slippery areas. All this means that regardless of the weather, slow down going around corners because you don’t know what the road conditions will be like up ahead. As always with driving, be defensive and prepare for the worst.

There is some winter timber harvesting going on as well. On the Tofte District, watch for logging traffic on the Trappers Lake Road, Cook County 3, the Sawbill Trail, the Honeymoon Trail, and the Grade. On the Gunflint, expect traffic on the Firebox Road and Greenwood Road.

If you do stop in at the Tofte Ranger Station, you’ll see a new face as district ranger. Lenore Lamb will be filling in behind Kurt Steele for a few months. Stop by and say hi, but she’s coming to us from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, so watch what you say about the Packers. Also, if you are planning on visiting any of our ranger stations, remember that this Monday is President's Day and federal offices will be closed.

Enjoy the woods, or enjoy sitting counting birds from the comfort of your home. Either way, have a great week. This has been Patrick Krage with the Superior National Forest Update.

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