Winter storm knocks down dozens of red pine along the Superior Hiking Trail near the Devil Track River
Joe Friedrichs
Outdoor News

Winter storm knocks down dozens of red pine along the Superior Hiking Trail near the Devil Track River

Severe winter weather during the recent holiday season, including wind gusts clocked at more than 70 miles per hour in Cook County near Lake Superior, led to many trees snapping or uprooting across the WTIP listening area.

Among the areas devastated by the storm is a stand of red pine along the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) near the Devil Track River, about 5 miles east of Grand Marais. The stand of trees is located near the Woods Creek Trailhead on the SHT.

Tamer Ibrahim, the trail operations director for the Superior Hiking Trail Association, said there are numerous sections of the popular hiking trail that were impacted by falling trees during the recent storm events. Other locations where trees fell on or across the trail include areas near the Pincushion Trailhead near Grand Marais, and near the Onion River on the west end of the county. The section of trail near Pincushion was mostly clear by Jan. 6, Ibrahim told WTIP. It’s important that hikers stay on the SHT and not venture onto the groomed ski trails at Pincushion, he added.

It’s possible, even likely, that other sections of the SHT were impacted by the winter storms. People recreating on the trail this winter should expect fallen trees in various sections, Ibrahim said. The bulk of the cleanup on the SHT following the winter storms will not occur until spring. Furthermore, the well-known blue blazes painted on trees lining the SHT might be hard to see this winter. Ibrahim told WTIP that some of the trees with the blue marks could have blown over in the storms, or they could be covered by other trees.

“The trail might be obstructed and hard to follow in places,” he said.

Above the Devil Track River gorge near the Woods Creek Trailhead, dozens of red pine blew down on Dec. 23, 2022. The United States Forest Service owns and manages this section of land. Several years before the recent winter storm annihilated the stand, the federal agency “thinned” the red pines in this location, according to Mike Crotteau, the Gunflint District ranger on Superior National Forest.

Crotteau said the Forest Service thins planted stands of red pine on occasion to reduce competition among the trees. However, after a thinning occurs, it can take several years for the remaining trees to grow strong enough to survive severe weather, particularly wind events. As they grow, trees develop a combination of strength and flexibility known as wind firmness, Crotteau explained during a recent WTIP interview. Wind firmness enables them to sway with strong winds without breaking or toppling, he said. The trees near Woods Creek likely did not have enough time for this process to occur, Crotteau said.

The Forest Service will conduct a salvage logging operation in approximately one month to clear much of the fallen red pine from the area. Anyone recreating in the area near the Woods Creek Trailhead on the SHT (located off County Road 58, Lindskog Road) should expect heavy machinery to be present.

To hear more about this story, listen to the most recent episode of the WTIP Outdoor News Podcast. Audio below.

Also featured in the episode is a report from the National Weather Service (NWS) with details about the recent winter storms. The NWS in Duluth told WTIP during an interview Jan. 10 that the December storms produced the second-strongest wind ever recorded in the Grand Marais Harbor.