“Trail Time” by Marcia Roepke highlights events and phenology on the Gunflint Trail.
Heard every other Friday on North Shore Morning
“Trail Time” by Marcia Roepke highlights events and phenology on the Gunflint Trail.
Heard every other Friday on North Shore Morning
This summer on the Gunflint Trail has been kind of like an everything bagel: it’s been cool, rainy, hot, and humid and everything in between. And the thunderstorms have been epic. One night I was inside staring out at the darkness; at the massive flashes of lightning; at the tiny sparks of fireflies. I jumped at every boom of thunder (that was close!) and slowly relaxed as the sound of heavy rain drummed on the metal roof. This latest storm was preceded by a little heat wave and that’s been the pattern this season: a week or so of temperatures gradually getting higher then rain following after, cooling everything down. This contrasts starkly with last year’s epic dryness and threat of wildfire. Believe me when I say that we are so happy not to be running the sprinkler system every few days and not to be in pre-evacuation mode! (more…)
Our lush summer continues on the Gunflint Trail. We have had abundant rain — with an accompanying insect population boom. That’s a big benefit to all plants, birds, animals and fish, so we humans must endure the insect swarms. It appears the black fly season has ended — or paused — but it’s still a big year for mosquitoes. It’s been so buggy that I’ve been using a head net for the first time in about 10 years. When I walked through the woods to get to the lake yesterday, I put gloves on too so I had total coverage. I felt slightly ridiculous fully suited like that, but since nobody else is around to look, who cares? And once I’m on the water, most bug issues become just one more trouble, and then, along with most of my other troubles, they disappear for a time. I can always pick them up again when I come back to shore.
June 24, 2022
I am continually grateful for the lushness of this spring and summer after last summer’s drought and forest fire threat. It’s been a wonderful season for wildflower lovers like myself. First, of course, was the tiny flower of the hazel, then the elderberry bushes bloomed; and before the chokecherries blossomed the pin cherries burst forth in abundance. The pin cherries were absolutely luxurious with flowers; the trees formed mounds of delicate white blossoms rising up among the conifers, maples and birch. With such a bountiful spring, I keep asking myself, “Was there really snow here just a few weeks ago?” It’s hard to believe there was snow in the ditches along the Gunflint Trail on May 28, less than a month ago, but there was! I saw it. I’ve tried to shake off memories of winter by soaking in the sun and swimming in the lake — in 62 degrees water! But there’s this ritual I do every year that banishes my memories of the cold weather and rings in the fresh new spring: I head to one of my favorite trees — a wild apple — and shake the branches so the spent blossoms rain down all over and around me, the pale pink petals falling on the tall grass and raspberry bushes. I revel in the beauty of spring.
It’s been a cold wet spring on the Gunflint Trail, interspersed with a few gorgeous sunny mornings or afternoons. One of the benefits of colder temperatures is that the gnats are less of a bother. One of the benefits of wetter weather is that wet birds stay put far longer than they do when it is sunny and dry, so I can observe them for longer periods. After a recent rain, I watched a group of wet finches in a birch tree. They were evenly spaced out around the crown of the tree, fluffing themselves up, drying off their feathers before they took wing once again. They stayed there for quite some time. One day I watched a wet hummingbird perched on a slender branch of a birch tree, sheltering under a leaf, the leaf acting like a little umbrella.
May 27, 2022
What a joy it is to paddle this spring! I miss traveling in a canoe so much in the winter. It makes me happy to be floating on the (liquid) water once again. And it’s a good year for floating. The water level in lakes and streams is very high, though it has gone down a bit since the ice went all the way out. The waterfalls are roaring with the power of thousands of gallons of water rushing on its way to the sea. A few days ago, Lars and I visited Trail’s End campground. Standing on the banks under the tall white pines, we were awestruck by the level of noise and the sheer power of the water as it roared and foamed and crested and poured over the rocks on its way downstream. Elsewhere we clambered up and sat quietly on rocks high above the water. We saw peeled logs floating in a quiet bay — the remains of beaver dams or lodges destroyed by the high water. As the water eddied in a counter clockwise direction, the logs slowly circled the bay, almost making it into the faster current, but then getting pushed out of the mainstream and back to their same slow circular path.
Spring has come slowly to the Gunflint Trail, but it is happening like gangbusters now! The grouse are drumming day and night and Cross River is roaring and foaming on its way to Gunflint Lake. Some of the bigger lakes like Gunflint and Loon are still mostly frozen over, although there is open water near the shore. Little Iron and Poplar still have ice on them, with leads of open water steadily growing larger. Temperatures are predicted to be in the 70s over the next few days, so the warmer weather and the rain that is forecast ought to clear most of the ice on the lakes. But, who knows? It might all be gone by tomorrow. Water levels are high, especially on Seagull, where the water is four feet higher than it was last year. Fishing opener is this Saturday, May 14. (more…)
Anybody that’s familiar with driving conditions on the Gunflint Trail knows to be on the lookout for animals year-round. This is the time of year when we all need to watch for some other big obstacles: bumps in the roadway itself. That is especially true right now. The road crew flagged the worst spots where frost heaves have corrugated the road, and there is a spectacular trough on the southbound lane by Trout Lake that is a doozy. Road repairs can happen when winter quits. Then the crew can assess what’s going on under the pavement. So, everybody, please be watchful and slow down when you see a flag.
It has been a quiet time on the Trail lately. The weather warmed up there for a while; the sun and rain melted quite a bit of snow. I haven’t heard snowmobiles for a couple of weeks. Road restrictions have been imposed, which means there won’t be any logging trucks going up or down the Trail until the frost is out of the ground. Many lodges are closed for a spring break; the restaurants at Trail Center and Poplar Haus will reopen in mid-May. Gunflint Lodge and restaurant remain open.
March 18, 2022
By Marcia Roepke
Oh my goodness, it’s been so beautiful on the Trail the last couple days. I mean, it is always beautiful, but the recent sunny weather was heavenly, especially if you remember that last month it was 46 below. Yesterday was 45 — that’s a 90 degree change in 4 weeks! It was nothing but sun all day. It was the first time I sat outside in the sun for any length of time this year. In that moment, nothing on my to do list was as important as simply reveling in the glorious weather. The sky was bluer than blue; the sunlight glimmered on the snow and on tiny ice crystals in the air. Everything was backlit in a golden glow. All was quiet except for the sweet burbly sounds of the chickadees and grosbeaks, the “yank” of the nuthatch… There was no wind. No snowmobile or chainsaw noise. A blue jay parked itself in the woods and repeated “Skip it! Skip it!” over and over. A new bird chimed in with its song from high in the balsams and aspen (A new bird is a big deal to us and we report it to one another as if a new neighbor had moved in). Ice and snow were melting off the roof with a steady drip. It felt like the earth slowed down and took a long slow breath. In and out.
Trail Time March 4, 2022
By Marcia Roepke
I’ve had one of my favorite hymns in the music playlist of my brain for the past few days. It’s called “In the Bleak Midwinter.” (more…)
February on the Gunflint Trail started out above zero, then plummeted down to the twenties below. It climbed up well above zero just in time for the Beargrease Sled Dog Race. The warmer weather certainly affected the trail conditions for the race last week. Warm temperature and snow “like mashed potatoes” caused 11 out of 23 mushers to scratch. It might sound counterintuitive, but it is better for the sled dogs when it is colder outside – they are less likely to overheat and the colder snow lets the sled runners glide more easily. Still, it was so much fun to watch the race. Lars was in the thick of it and got some great photographs of mushers and dogs from the Lima Grade to Grand Portage. As usual, there were crossings along the Gunflint Trail that are guarded by volunteers, where there are bonfires and company and lots of cheering for the teams. Just like for the Gunflint Mail Run race, I walked out after dark to witness the night running of a few teams. I treasure that silent time waiting for the musher’s headlamp to flicker over the trees until first the dog team, then the dogsled glide into view and then slide on by, quietly disappearing around a curve into darkness. The next sled dog race will be during the Dog Days of Winter event held at Trail Center March 13.
It has been very cold lately with wind chills of -40 and below up here on the Gunflint Trail. We had a sweet run of sunny days during the most recent cold spell, though, and when I’m on a south-sloping path and sheltered from the north wind, I enjoy our winter world on foot and snowshoe. We mostly keep our walks short and our wood stove going this time of year, especially after dark. And the life of the forest goes on even in the coldest and darkest winter nights. We can see the evidence of longer daylight hours now that the winter solstice has passed. More sun in the mornings and later sunsets keep us attuned to the promise of spring.
Well, we are really into winter now. We’ve had some very cold weather and lots of snow the last two weeks. When it warmed up to above zero, Lars and I and small group went on a snowshoe and ski outing in deep snow along a narrow lake. It was a sunny day, the snow was sparkling and we didn’t have to deal with too much wind or slush. I got as much energy from the beautiful day as I did from the expressions of happiness and joy from friends that were new to a winter adventure on the Gunflint Trail. It reminded me how lucky we are to be surrounded every day by the beauty of this special place.
It’s a winter wonderland on the Gunflint Trail this week. There’s about a foot of new snow making a great base for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling or snowshoeing… and dog-sledding! Many years have passed since I first careened down a snow-covered logging road in Hovland behind a friend’s team. And I remember a wonderful time dog-sledding in the Boundary Waters on a winter camping trip years ago with a terrific group of people that included one of my best friends and my future husband, Lars. Dog-sledding is a lot of fun to do and it’s almost as fun to watch. The sled dogs are so full of energy and joy. They love to run! Next week there’s a great opportunity to watch some excellent dog sledding: The Gunflint Mail Run Dogsled Race will be held Saturday, January 8. Some good places to watch the action are at Trail Center Lodge, Big Bear Lodge or Rockwood Lodge. There’s also a spectator area at the Old Blankenburg Pit, where the twelve teams will be turning around. NOTE: It is very important that spectators do not bring their dogs to the races. And keep a tight hold on young children. Things get lively and move fast. You can find lots of information, as well as safety and etiquette tips, on the web site at gunflintmailrun.com
We had quite a snowfall last week on the Gunflint Trail. Loon Lake had about 12-15 inches on the ground by the time the snow stopped blowing. The temperature clocked in 15 below zero the day following the storm. The gusting wind created drifts in some places and windswept bare spots in others. I usually notice deeper snow mid-trail around Poplar Lake and this storm was no different. I imagine the Laurentian Divide has something to do with the differing snowfalls along the Trail, but I have zero science about that to share today. I’ll get back to you on that topic.
We have had all kinds of weather on the Trail these past few weeks. It’s been cold and gray (in the 20s and below), it’s been sunny and warm (in the high 30s!) and yesterday we had a very memorable snowstorm. It had started the day before with a gray sky and several loud booming sounds. Lars and I didn’t know what the noise was; each time we heard it, one of us asked the other, “Did you hear that?” I kept checking the news, figuring that if something exploded certainly it would be reported. Or, I thought, maybe it was the noise of a dump truck bringing gravel up the Trail and the boom was the sound of it bouncing around, echoing off the lake and cliffs. It was a mystery. The next day there was a pretty little snowfall in the morning and then the wind started gusting, the snow started swirling, and I heard another boom. I think it was a thunder boom, which is what thunder in a snowstorm is called. The wind was gusting up to 45 mph; it was wild weather. And in the middle of it, I saw a flock of common redpolls cavorting straight into it. I felt their joy in the wild windy snowfall and it echoed inside me. If I could fly, I would have joined them.
As I write this I’m sitting indoors in a cozy spot looking out at the darkening sky. Snow is forecast tonight for the Gunflint Trail, and although I always think I’m ready for it, the changes that come with winter surprise me each year. I watch the skim of ice come and go on the smaller lakes and rivers as the cold weather ebbs and flows. And when the ice comes to stay, it’s accompanied by the winter song of the lakes as they groan and moan and roar and snap and make Star Wars light saber noises.
For a few weeks we were reveling in the sunny and mild fall weather on the Gunflint Trail. The temperatures of last few days, though, have been dipping into the 30s at night; we awaken to frost most mornings. While that lovely weather held, I assumed every canoe adventure was going to be the last one. And then we’d go on yet another canoe trip and I’d think, well, this one must be our last time out. But, nope! Wrong again! It was like the end of an unfamiliar symphony when you think it’s over but it continues with more notes and on and on to the true finale. I don’t mind being mistaken about the end of canoe season — I can’t remember a time when I’ve more enjoyed being wrong.
It’s definitely fall on the Gunflint Trail. Many aspen and birch have lost their leaves, and the weather is cool and damp. Unlike spring, with its gradual unfolding, autumn loveliness arrives quickly. Two days ago day I saw the limbs of a birch tree covered in shimmering yellow leaves, reaching toward the clear blue sky; the next morning almost all the leaves were lying on the ground, like a puddle of gold, like a slender dancer had just let her silk dress drop to her feet. The whole of last week was magical, with the warm sun sparkling on water and gauzy little fairy-like bugs floating around in the air. At first I mistook these incredibly tiny insects for gnats or ash, but I managed to catch a few – very gently, for they were so easy to squash – and looked them up online using the search term “tiny blue insects with fuzzy butts.” I got answers immediately. They were woolly aphids. It seems there are as many kinds of woolly aphids as there are trees, with at least 15 different kinds in Minnesota, and some sources said that there are probably more. The adult woolly aphid sucks tree sap and produces a waxy white covering that looks like minute downy feathers. I had never seen them before. I wonder if it was the unseasonable warm weather which brought them out. For a few days, whenever the weather warmed, you could see these little fairy bugs floating by, wafted by the breeze.
The last two weeks of September have been absolutely lovely on the Gunflint Trail. We’ve had rain, we’ve had sun, we’ve had temperatures about ten degrees above average. Usually the shorter days and cooler temps of September make me want to slow down, but this fabulous weather has sped me up again. I can’t get enough canoeing or fishing, it’s 76 and sunny and I just might swim this afternoon. I want to be by, in or on the water all the time. With the weather so warm, it feels kind of strange to see little groupings of buntings by the road. I think of them as cooler weather birds. Juncos are back as well and yesterday we heard then saw a flock of cranes fly overhead, bugling and honking. They were flying so high, it was hard to see them. It is autumn, though it feels like August.
I feel Fall in the air! Reminders are everywhere that summer is fading into autumn: The purple asters contrast beautifully with the goldenrod; The pin cherry leaves are red, orange and yellow – all on the same tree; the moose maple foliage gives us shades from yellow to red and those lovely winged seed pods called samaras; bronze and maroon grace the bush honeysuckle leaves. The mountain ash berries are turning red once more. Usually it’s the time of year for the hazelnut harvest, but I haven’t seen any hazelnuts since spring.
What a difference a week makes! We’ve had some gorgeously beautiful days on the Gunflint Trail. Last Saturday’s rain, the cooler temps, sunny skies and good news from the Forest service have all combined to make this a stellar week.
Monday night we attended another community meeting at Fire hall #2, where the Forest Service, the county sheriff and the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department spoke about the fire conditions, gave advice and answered questions. The Forest Service folks announced that the risk remains at 1.5% chance of the John Ek fire reaching the Trail at this time, or, as Lars puts it, there’s a 98.5% chance it won’t get here! Of course they can make no promises – fire is unpredictable. But it feels like a blessedly welcome reprieve from last week’s danger and our anxiety level.
Rain has finally come to the Gunflint Trail and with it some cooler temperatures. It’s been flannel shirt weather for drinking morning coffee on the porch, looking out at the lake, listening to the loons. We’ve had several foggy mornings and the fog added to the rain and cooler temps means that the fire danger warning has been lowered to moderate. It will likely bounce back up to high or very high again unless we get more rain, but for right now, I can’t decide which gives me more relief: the rain, the cool weather or the lower fire danger. All three make for better sleeping weather and less anxiety about wildfire. The Ham Lake Fire of 2007 lives on in our psyches, even for those of us who watched from a distance. I’ve heard the stories and read the reports from the excellent collection at Chik Wauk Museum, and I have good friends that were evacuated several times from their home. I still can’t imagine what it was like to live through a fire of that magnitude. I never want to know. We all need to continue to be extremely careful with fire and follow the restrictions.
My good friend and neighbor Dharma Dave stopped by last week. He reported that everyone on the Gunflint Trail has been talking about two things: wildfire sprinkler systems and cutting brush. With the almost constant presence of smoke from the Ontario fires, wildfire is very much on our minds. The sprinkler systems only do part of the job: creating a defensible green zone. The brush cutting makes sure the water gets where it is needed. In the absence of rain, these systems can make a huge difference.
This morning the loons were singing a beautiful chorus of multiple voices. There’s no better sound than this for bringing to mind some of the Boundary Waters trips I’ve been on —creating in my mind a collage of images and memories of different lakes, portages and, of course, all kinds of weather and challenges.
We have our favorite canoe routes. And sometimes it’s just impossible to get permits for the first choice. But a few trips where the weather or the route were less than perfect have become some of the most vividly memorable. Today I’m thinking of one canoe trip that became what my younger daughter called “a miracle a minute” day.
Hi. I’m Marcia Roepke and I live on the Gunflint Trail. Recently, Fred Smith ended his eleven years of reporting from the Trail and I’ll be continuing in his rather large footprints to bring you a little flavor of the Gunflint Trail wherever you might be.
I asked Fred what the biggest change was in his 22 years. He said that with the exception of the Ham Lake Fire of 2007, the biggest change was the creation of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and the opening of Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center in 2005. Chik Wauk is dedicated to the preservation of the cultural and natural histories of the Gunflint Trail and has a variety of exhibits and events, as well as volunteer opportunities, throughout the summer.
This summer is shaping up to be one of the lushest and greenest of recent memory. A dry spring gave way to a series of rainfalls that lowered the fire danger to moderate. Earlier this week, however, I saw that the fire danger had been set to high once again. So everyone: residents, visitors and campers need to be extremely careful with fires where and when they are allowed.