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Superior National Forest Update

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.

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Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - September 20

Superior National Forest Update
September 20, 2019

Hi.  This is Renee Frahm, Visitor Information Specialist with the Superior National Forest with the National Forest Update.  It looks like maybe it won’t be raining this weekend, so it’ll be a good time to get outside.  When you do head out, here’s the update on all that’s out there.

We are hitting the peak of the fall color season, and that means that there will be some slow moving vehicles, parked vehicles, pedestrians, and photographers out on our Forest roads.  Patience and courtesy will see you through.  Allow cars to pass, and keep the roadway clear if you are driving slowly or stopping.  Please, shut your car doors when you stop so others can pass, and walk or stop to take photos on the side of the road, not the middle.  If you are on the passing end of things, wait for safe passing areas, as the road sides are a bit soft from all the rain. So just relax, and make sure to take the time to enjoy the fall.  The leaves are really spectacular right now, and well worth going out to see.

Driving around here means paying attention to wildlife as well.  Spring and fall around the equinoxes seem to be high points for deer/car collisions.  Animals are moving around a lot during those times of year, and their daily time of high activity coincides with the morning and evening commute for many people.  We’ve had a lot of fog as well, which decreases visibility.  Please slow down on foggy days, make sure your lights are on, and watch out for deer.

Hunters are watching for deer as well, but for a different reason.  The bow hunt is in full swing, and with grouse and small game seasons open as well, everyone out in the woods should be sporting some orange.  Hunters need to be aware that you are not allowed to discharge a firearm, or shoot an arrow, within 150 yards of roads, buildings, or developed recreation sites.  You also may not shoot across trails or roads, so hunters should always be very familiar with their hunting area so they can avoid doing that.  These are really basic common sense rules which safe hunters should follow even without regulations – so, stay safe, wear orange, and good luck!

This fall you make see smoke in the air.  The Forest Service is trying to accomplish pile burning around the Forest and mother-nature isn’t always cooperating.  These are hazardous fuels reduction projects.  If you have questions, call one of the Forest Service offices.

There is some logging activity and trail work being done out there.  On the Gunflint District, log hauling is taking place on the Lima Grade, South Brule Road, Cascade River Road, Pike Lake Road, Cook County 7, Cascade Bluffs Road, Greenwood Road, Blueberry Road, and the Hall Road in Lutsen.  On the Tofte District, look for truck traffic on  the Dumbell River Road, Trappers Lake Road, Caribou Trail, and the road on the east side of the Timber-Frear area.   At the end of the Onion River road out of Tofte there is a construction crew camped out that is building 17 miles of fat tire bike trails between Britton Peak and Lutsen Mountains, so if you go up that road know that there is a crew camped out up there for a little while longer until the trail work is complete.  In the near future, the mountain bikers will have more great trails to explore.

We have two more weekends that our Forest Service front offices will be open to the public before we go back to Monday through Friday hours of operation.  Also, we are advertising our summer seasonal positions on for next summer.  So if you know of anyone looking for summer work experience, send them to  We will be hiring front desk staff, timber, recreation and wildlife positions across the Forest.  Positions will be open for applying to until September 30 so spread the word.  (FYI:  Search for duty locations of Tofte, Grand Marais, Ely, Aurora, or Cook) 

Lastly, there are a lot of fall chores you probably want to get after… window washing, cleaning the car and garage out, winterizing all sorts of things, and seeing if the snow blower runs – but this may be the weekend to set them aside for a while and go out to the woods and enjoy a gorgeous ride or take a hike on a trail.  You might want to throw in some fishing too.   Enjoy the forest, enjoy the day, and until next week, this has been Renee Frahm with the National Forest Update.


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - September 13

National Forest Update – September 12, 2019

Hi.  This is Steve Robertsen, interpretation and education specialist with the Superior National Forest with the National Forest Update – information for people visiting the Forest, or just wondering what’s going on out there.

What’s going on is fall.  It varies a lot over the Forest.  While driving the 600 Road on Wednesday, I passed through areas where it was very close to peak colors, and areas where it still looked like July.  Climbing to a scenic viewpoint, I’d say that the Forest overall is around 25% of fall color, but you can see how there are bands of color here and there throughout the woods.  It’s a good time to go out and look because of the contrasts between areas, but then, I’m partial to fall and think it’s a good time to go out the entire season. 

I was headed out the road because I was going to visit the site of the town of Forest Center near Isabella Lake.  On September 11th and 12th in 2011, the Pagami Creek Fire tore through that area on its way toward a spectacular run resulting in over 90,000 acres burned.  Every year on the anniversary of that event, I’ve been taking photos of the regeneration at Forest Center.  It is always amazing to see how quickly the forest grows after a fire.  That area was a jack pine forest, a species of tree that is built to live with fire.  Jack pine cones are sealed shut and only open with heat.  They can survive intense heat – in lab settings, seeds still germinate after being roasted at 900 degrees.  Seeds can also mature after a fire has killed the parent tree, and can remain viable for 5 to 10 years after.  As a result, the area at Forest Center which was burned to the ground 8 years ago now looks like a Christmas tree forest.  It is covered with 6 to 8 foot tall jack pines and looks great.

With all our recent rain, fire isn’t much of problem right now.  In fact, fire crews would like a little drier weather so they can burn some piles created during thinning and fuel reduction operations.  If they do get a chance, be aware that there may be some smoke in the air from the pile burning.

Forest roads are in good shape.  Many of them have been recently graded, and the culvert work which had blocked the 600 Road is now complete.  I encountered some log trucks on my drive, and you may too.  Hauling on the Gunflint District is happening on the Lima Grade, South Brule Road, Cascade River Road, Pike Lake Road, Cook County 7, Greenwood Road, and the Hall Road in Lutsen.  In Tofte, trucks are on the Dumbbell River Road, the Trappers Lake Road, and the Caribou Trail. 

Of course the main thing you will encounter on the roads in the fall are people looking at fall.  We have signs out now marking some of the best fall color routes, so we encourage you to get out and enjoy the leaves.  As always, drive, park, and walk on roads putting safety first.  This is also the opening weekend for the fall bow deer hunt as well as the grouse, squirrel, and hare season.  Plus, there is bear hunting going on.  With all that going on, it means that hunters and non-hunters alike need to be wearing their orange.  We even have an orange vest for our dog.  Respect hunters and stay away from bear bait stations and tree stands.  We do have several sets of hunter walking trails in the Forest, and this time of year it is best to leave them to people who are hunting and find other trails if you are just interested in hiking.

Whether hunting, hiking, or just driving, I hope you take the time to get out in the Forest this week.  I’m reminded every time I go out in the fall that whether it is raining or not, fall is my favorite season, and it is always worth it to get out there. 

Until next week, this is Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - September 6

Superior National Forest Update
September 6, 2019
Steve Robertsen


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - August 23

National Forest Update – August 22, 2019

Hi.  I’m Renee Frahm, visitor information specialist with the Superior National Forest.  It is already August 23rd, and time for the National Forest Update with information for people traveling, hiking, camping, or otherwise visiting the Superior National Forest.
Summer is winding to a close and thoughts of mini donuts and Pronto Pups at the Minnesota State Fair are replacing those of s’mores and campfires.  There is actually a lot of good outdoor time though before the snow flies.  This is one of the best times of year to get out in the woods as the biting insect numbers are decreasing and the trees are full of southward migrating birds.  There are even a few berries left to pick out there.  You’ll also see a lot of mushrooms right now.  Our sporadic rain has made conditions great for mushrooms and there are lots of them popping up.  The mushroom you see is just the tip of the iceberg.  It is the fruiting body of a much larger organism consisting of thin fungal strands weaving their way through the soil or fallen tree.  If you are interesting in harvesting wild mushrooms to eat, don’t do it unless you are, or are with, an expert.  Our woods is home to several kinds of mushrooms that will make you very sick.  Don’t end the summer with the trip to the ER.

If you get out to pick anything, a few bears may be picking out there with you.  In the past few forest updates, we’ve talked about bears a lot, so this time we are just going have a gentle reminder:  bears like your food and garbage; please keep them locked up when you are camping.  It’s not hard to do, and if we all do it, we won’t have any bear problems.

Some of our crew out in the woods had an experience from which we can all learn.  Let’s just say – you should remember to check your spare tire before you head out into the less visited parts of the Forest.  Don’t just check to see if it is there, check that you have a jack and lug nut wrench and that you know how to use them.  On a pickup truck and some SUVs, make sure you can actually lower the spare down from its position under the vehicle.  The mechanism that lowers the spare is generally very prone to rusting up.  While you are checking things, it’s a good time of year too to check the tread on the rest of your tires.  It doesn’t pay to head into fall and winter with bad tires, plus bad tires are that much easier to puncture.  Some newer cars don’t even come with a spare anymore; they just have spray can of ‘stop leak’.  This may work for a nail or screw in your tire, but the hole left by the three inch sharp rock you ran over isn’t going to go away with a spray can.  It’s not a bad idea to get a spare to throw in the back if you are headed off on lesser used roads, especially if you travel gravel roads often.  You might wait awhile until help comes along.
Before you head out, you should also know that Forest Road 166, known as The 600 Road, will be closed to through traffic at Two Island River, just east of the intersection with the Two Island River Road.  The closure will start today, Friday August 23rd, and it will last for approximately one week during culvert replacement.

Other than that, roads on the Tofte District are in good shape.  We’re between logging sales right now, so there isn’t any anticipated log hauling on Tofte this week.  Gunflint, however, will have trucks on the Lima Grade, South Brule Road, Cascade River Road, Pike Lake Road, Cook County 7, Cook County 6, and Forest Road 1319.

Have some fun out there before Labor Day and the start of school!  Go fishing or boating, get in that last camping trip you have talked about all summer or take a hike and have a picnic.  This is it!  Older students are heading back to college next week and regular school starts soon, so get out there and do something fun with the family that you have been meaning to do all summer.  Until next week, this has been Renee Frahm with the National Forest Update.


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - August 9

National Forest Update – August 8, 2019

Hi.  I’m Steve Robertsen, interpretation and education specialist with the Superior National Forest.  This is the National Forest Update for the week of August 9, 2019.  It’s late summer:  fireweed and asters are blooming, blueberries are ripe, locusts are buzzing, and a few white crowned sparrows have begun singing as they work their way south.  It’s a wonderful time to get outside and go for a walk in the woods.

Our recent batch of cloudbursts has damped down the forest so that fire danger is low right now.  That’s giving our fire people a chance to do some fuel reduction work along the Gunflint Trail.  You may have noticed that there are piles along the Gunflint from the Brule River to the East Bearskin Road.  We are using contractors to clear out small diameter balsam fir in this area.  Small firs are what are called ladder fuels – trees that basically can carry a fire up to the tops of the big pines and start a crown fire.  We’re clearing them out along roadsides so that in the event of a fire, the road would remain usable for evacuation and fire fighting for a longer amount of time.  You can expect to see this activity along roads for the next three to five years.

Cloudbursts have also given us a chance to do some grading, so roads are mostly in good shape.  We aren’t aware of any washouts from the rain, but it wouldn’t be surprising if there are.  If you encounter any, please let us know so that we can get those areas repaired.  Culvert work is continuing on the Grade, but is currently not requiring long closures.  Expect only short delays if you are traveling in that area.  The wet weather has made working in the woods difficult, but logging operations are continuing in some areas.  Watch for logging traffic in Tofte on the Dumbell River Road, Wanless Road, Perent Lake Road, Lake County 705, the 4 Mile Grade, The Grade, Cook County 27, and Cook County 8.  In the Gunflint District, hauling is going on on the Lima Grade, the South Brule Road, the Cascade River Road, the Pike Lake Road, Cook County 7, Cook County 6, and on the Superior Hiking Trail southeast of Cook County 6.

We’ve been talking for a while now about Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday – and it has finally arrived!  On August 9th you can party with the bear, get a picture, and sign a birthday card.  Smokey’s look has changed through the years, but his message has remained the same… well, ok, it did change a little.  He used to say ‘Only you can prevent forest fires’ and now because we understand that some fire is necessary for good forest ecology, he says ‘Only you can prevent wild fires’.  Accidental human caused ignitions are not what we want on the forest, and Smokey has been right all these years… only you can prevent them by making sure your campfire is dead out, following regulations on burning brush, and teaching your children not to play with fire.  It’s sad to say, but in 2016, data showed that still 9 out of 10 wildfires were caused by humans, around 60,000 each year.  Only you can change those figures.

Smokey’s mischievous cousins are still misbehaving at some of our campgrounds.  Be sure to look for current bear alerts at the campground registration kiosks, or talk to the campground host about bear activity.  But, whether there is activity or not, keep a clean camp, store food in your vehicle, and dispose of garbage immediately in the proper container.  Bar dumpster lids after closing.  It is much easier to keep a bear from becoming a problem than to deal with a bear once it has become a problem. 
So, join us for Smokey’s birthday, or do what he probably would like to do and go for a hike in the beautiful summer weather, snacking on blueberries as you go. 

Until next week, this is Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - August 2

Superior National Forest Update - August 2, 2019

Renee Frahm is a Visitor Information Specialist with the USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest.  


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - July 19

Superior National Forest Update
Steve Robertsen
July 19, 2019

Midsummer.  Warm days, sun, mosquitoes, and thunderstorms.  It’s a time of year for all kinds of outdoor activities, and the busiest time out in the Forest.  People who have been out have been asking the Forest Service a lot about outbreaks of spruce budworm in several places around our side of the Superior National Forest.  This is a species of moth whose caterpillar specializes in eating the buds and needles of spruce, although in reality, it is more often found eating balsam fir instead of spruce.  It will first cause the ends of the branches to go brown, then strip the needles from the tree, then create large silk bags which shelter several of the insects while they pupate and change to the adult moth.  It is a native species, not an invader.  Like the eastern forest tent caterpillar, known locally as army worms, spruce budworm has outbreaks where a certain area on a certain year will host huge numbers of budworms.  Trees will recover if they are in good health to begin with and if they are not defoliated two or three seasons in a row.

On a forest scale, outbreaks are usually left to run their course, ending once the food supply has been reduced.  Dead trees after an outbreak can be a wildfire hazard, so we often do some type of management to reduce fuel in afflicted areas.  Individual trees, like a favorite in your yard, can be treated with the insecticide Bt.  This insecticide is effective, but also kills other moths and butterflies which are both lovely and beneficial, so it is best used in a limited way to save specific trees.

Of course, there’s more than just budworm out there though.  The Heck Epic mountain bike race takes place this weekend.  The course runs from Two Harbors to Grand Marais and back.  Bikers will be fairly well spaced out, so watch for individual bikers on roadsides. You should also be watching for log trucks because there is a fair amount of log hauling going on.  In Tofte, haulers are on the same roads as last week – the Dumbell River Road, Wanless Road, Lake County 705, the Four Mile Grade, the Grade, and Cook County 27 and 8.  On the Gunflint District, hauling is happening on the Lima Grade, South Brule Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Blueberry Road, Cascade River Road, Pike Lake Road, and Cook County 6 and 7.  There is also hauling across the Superior Hiking Trail southeast of Cook County 6.

Beginning this week, culvert replacement will be happening on the Grade’s east end from Brule Lake east to Two Island Lake.  I’m planning on staying out of this area entirely for a while.  Not only will the driving be difficult, but you can expect waits of up to thirty minutes when the culvert is installed.

Some people are using this time to do their own road work by clearing roadways leading to their cabin or favorite area.  If you plan to clear brush from a remote Forest Service road, please stop by the office and pick up a permit first.  The permits are free, and we appreciate the help, but we need to keep track of when work was done on what road, so just take a couple of minutes to grab a permit before you begin.  The Gunflint office will also have information on permits for burn piles to dispose of the slash you generate when you brush the road.

Speaking of burn piles, a large bear was sighted in several places this past weekend.  He was carrying a shovel and wearing a ranger hat and was riding on a Forest Service truck in the parade for Bay Days in Silver Bay, and also was hanging around up in Grand Marais getting ready for Fishermen’s Picnic.  If you see this bear, don’t worry, he’s friendly.  He sure gets around a lot for an almost 75 year old bear, and he’s getting ready for his birthday party in August.  He did stop by to thank everyone who has been out on the Forest this year – we are all doing a good job of being careful with fire so far in 2019, and had a fire free Fourth. 

Keep up that good work, enjoy summer on the Superior, and remember what the bear says: “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”!


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest - July 12

National Forest Update – July 11, 2019
Hi.  This is Renee Frahm, visitor information specialist on the Superior National Forest, with the National Forest Update for the middle of July, and in fact the middle of the summer.  We hope you’ve been out on the Forest enjoying some of the really nice weather we’ve been having!  With the Fourth of July having past and other town celebrations such as Bay Days in Silver Bay and Heritage Days in Two Harbors this weekend as well as Fisherman’s Picnic coming up in a few weeks, it’s a great time to enjoy the outdoors with your extra family in town. 

Those nice days though mean that there’s been little rain over the whole forest for the last few weeks.  However, there have been spotty showers or downpours in some locations.  While much of Minnesota is suffering from too much water, we are on the edge of too little.  The dry conditions have caused the Smokey Bear sign in front of our ranger stations to raise his finger to the ‘High’ fire danger rating.  In the definition of High Fire Danger are the phrases “unattended campfires are likely to escape” and “fires may become serious and difficult to control”.  This means that it is very important for you to make sure your fire is dead out and cold to the touch before you leave the area – even for a short time.  The easiest time to control a fire is when it is still a campfire, so don’t allow your fire to escape and become a serious incident.  It is also a good time to keep an eye on possible fire restrictions if Smokey ends up pointing at an even higher fire danger ratings as the woods continue to dry. 

Adding to the fire concerns has been an outbreak of spruce budworm.  Several people have stopped by our office asking about fir trees they have seen with brown branch ends and silky masses at the ends of the twigs as well as entire stands of dead firs.  These are signs of spruce budworm, which actually attacks more fir trees than spruce.  The budworm is the caterpillar stage of a moth and is a local, not an invasive, species.  It tends to have population booms and busts, and there is currently an outbreak in some areas of the forest.  The caterpillars spread when the adult moths fly and lay eggs in new areas, and also when the caterpillars themselves ‘balloon’ away on a long thread of silk.  Once on a tree of their choosing, the budworms eat primarily new needles at the ends of the branches.  It is possible for them to defoliate entire stands of trees, similar to what the eastern forest tent caterpillar or army worm does to aspen and birch.  The tree can recover from this, but if it is defoliated two or three years in a row, it will probably die.  The dead trees then become a fire hazard.  There’s no large scale treatment for budworm – usually an infestation is left to run its course, though thinning stands of trees and removing dead trees is done to curb the worms and reduce fire danger.  It is possible to treat individual trees with insecticides such as BT and save a particular tree in your yard, but BT kills all caterpillars so treating a large area would be harmful to the other butterflies and moths we all enjoy and benefit from.

Dry weather also makes it impossible to grade roadways.  We’ve been dry long enough that some of our forest roads are showing considerable washboarding.  Drive with care – going fast over washboards will really reduce your traction and make it easy to run right off the road on a curve.  If you are using a less used Forest Service road to access your cabin or a remote lake and want to clear the road or brush the roadside, be sure to get a permit from us first.  The permits are free; but we need them in order to keep track of what maintenance is being done where on the road system.  You can also pick up a permit to dispose of the slash you generate at a Forest Service burn pile.  Contact the Gunflint office for the permit and location of the pile.

There is a fair amount of log hauling going on.  In Tofte, haulers are on the same roads as last week – the Dumbell River Road, Wanless Road, Lake County 705, the Four Mile Grade, the Grade, and Cook County 27 and 8.  On the Gunflint District, hauling is happening on the Lima Grade, South Brule Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Blueberry Road, Cascade River Road, Pike Lake Road, and Cook County 6 and 7.  There is also hauling across the Superior Hiking Trail southeast of Cook County 6.

While we are talking about roads, our field going people have noticed a lot of turtles on the gravel roads.  This time of year, turtles are nesting and walking from ponds and lakes to sandy areas to dig nests and lay eggs.  Please watch out for these slow pedestrians.  You can help turtles to cross, but don’t set them back on the side they started from.  They are stubborn and will just set out across the road again. 

So, set out on your own adventures, enjoy the summer, go on a picnic, get out and fish or take a hike but certainly take advantage of the warm weather while it lasts.  Until next time, this has been Renee Frahm with the National Forest Update.


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - July 9

Superior National Forest Update with Steve Robertsen, education and interpretation specialist - Superior National Forest.
July 5, 2019


Superior National Forest Update

Superior National Forest Update - June 14

Superior National Forest Update – June 13, 2019
Hi, my name is Lillie Oravetz, and I’m a seasonal naturalist working this summer with the Superior National Forest, and this is the National Forest Update – information on all sorts of things for people visiting the Forest.
The reason I’m here this week is that this is the start of our summer Resort Naturalist Programs.  The Superior has been providing naturalist programs with the cooperation of area resorts and businesses since the 1980s.  Currently, the program is cooperatively funded by the Forest Service and Visit Cook County.  The programs themselves are given at several of the resorts along the shore as well as at Hedstrom’s Lumber Mill, Sawbill Campground, and the Grand Marais Municipal Campground.  Although programs are given at specific host resorts, they are open to everyone:  people staying at the resort, people staying elsewhere, local residents – all are welcome.  There’s a wide variety of topics from bogs to stars to bears and everything in between.
Campfire programs start at 7:30 and generally last from one to two hours, and morning programs usually start at either 10 or 10:30.  A complete schedule can be found on our website, on the Visit Cook County website, at Forest Service offices and the Grand Marais Visitor Information Center, or at any of the participating resorts.  These are all fun programs with something for people both young and old, so we hope to see you at a campfire or on a hike soon!

As our roads continue to firm up, travel has gotten easier.  Our road system is in good shape right now, although on some of the more heavily traveled roads there can be some areas of washboarding.  You can expect to encounter logging trucks on the Tofte District along the Trappers Lake Road, the Perent Lake Road, The Grade, Cook County 27, and Cook County 8.  On the Gunflint District, trucks will be using the Lima Grade, the South Brule Road, the Greenwood Road, the Firebox Road, Blueberry Road, Cascade River Road, Pike Lake Road, and Cook County 7.
Our spring prescription burning has been completed.  There are still two summer burns planned for later in July - as always, weather depending.  People need to continue to be diligent with campfires, particularly in the Seagull area which has not received as much rain recently as other areas.  Make sure always that any fire is dead out and cool to the touch before you leave the area.
If you have a hummingbird feeder, you may notice that in the next few weeks, fewer birds will be visiting.  While hummers need to tank up on sugary nectar for the energy needed to migrate, they need more protein to successfully lay eggs and raise chicks.  That means that right now, the birds are concentrating more on eating insects than on visiting your feeder.  You’ll still have hummers, but they won’t be visiting as often as earlier in the spring.  With fewer birds and warmer temperatures, it is easy for the sugar water in feeders to go bad.  Change the sugar water at least once a week, and whenever you see cloudiness in the water.  Feed a three to one mix of water to sugar, and don’t add any color to the mix.
Be sure to look for a naturalist program schedule!  This weekend includes programs at the campfire ring at Cascade Lodge and Chateau LeVeaux on Friday and at Sawbill Lake Campground and Bluefin Bay on Saturday.  We hope to see you there!  Until next week, this has been Lillie Oravetz with the National Forest Update.