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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: 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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Superior National Forest Update: January 6

Hi. This is Steve Robertsen, forest interpreter, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For January 6th, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

It may be cold, but we do have snow! That’s great news for all of us winter recreation enthusiasts, whether you like going out on a snowmobile, skis, dogsled, snowshoes, toboggan, or all of the above. Winter trails are currently being groomed for various uses across the Tofte and Gunflint Ranger Districts. Our trails are maintained through the coordinated efforts of dedicated volunteer organizations and the Superior National Forest. These volunteer organizations work very hard on our trails to offer quality recreation experiences and we ask all listeners to respect their efforts by following the rules of the trail. For example, a trail designated as a ski trail should not be used by individuals who are snowshoeing, hiking, or biking. Misuse of a trail can ruin the grooming for the intended use, spoil the experience for others, and make more work for our volunteers and our recreation crew. Help to preserve our trails for everyone by using only the trails which are designated for your activity. Remember too that off-trail is an option for many winter sports. The general Forest is open for most winter uses, though with some restrictions based on location and snow depth. If you have questions about where you can hike, bike, or snowshoe, please contact a Forest Service office for details.

Speaking of trail use, dog sleds will be out this Saturday for the annual Gunflint Mail Run. Keep an eye out for both participants and spectators if you are traveling on or near the Gunflint Trail. Good luck to all the mushers and the dogs!

If you’re traveling elsewhere, there are only a few places where you might encounter logging trucks. You may have truck traffic on the Sawbill Trail and the Grade on the Tofte District, while on the Gunflint District, trucks will be on the Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, and Trestle Pine Road.

When you are out on the trail, you may see some newer blue signs with letters and numbers on them. These are emergency location signs which refer to the National Grid system. If you have an emergency while on the trail, you can use the numbers on the sign like an address when you call 911 on a cell phone. Of course, it is unlikely that your emergency will happen right next to a sign, so you will probably have to backtrack to the last sign, or go ahead to the next one. There also might not be cell phone reception at the sign, so you’ll have to remember or write down the numbers, and then call it in where you have reception.

With all the trails to use, and all the winter activities, how can you not like northern Minnesota in January?! The Forest Service has two slogans right now, both of which have to do with enjoying our winter. The first is ‘Get Out There’ … so turn off the TV, close the chip bag, and put on a coat. The second is ‘Go Play’. No explanation necessary.

Until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the Superior National Forest Update, and I’ll see you on the trail!

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Superior National Forest Update: December 16

Hi. This is Renee Frahm, visitor information and administrative support specialist, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For December 16, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

 Only about a week to get out and get a Christmas tree for this year! Tags are five dollars, but if you have a fourth grader in the ‘Every Kid In A Park’ program, they can get a free tree tag! When you are looking for a tree, keep an eye out also for the dense clusters of branches often called witch’s brooms. While witch’s brooms might seem to relate more to Halloween than the current season, they are caused by Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe. Mistletoe has long been considered a mystical plant, and the tradition of kissing under it was once considered a promise of marriage. Peace treaties were also signed under mistletoe, and warring couples could kiss and make up beneath a ball of mistletoe. So, depending on who you are tree hunting with, you may choose to steer them under, or take them far away from any mistletoe you find!

There’s a lot of winter though before summer travels begin. We’ve lost over six hours of daylight since June 21st, so if you think it has been dark, you are absolutely right. We are close to the longest night of the year, the winter solstice on December 21st, but after that low point, our days will start to lengthen again. The average temperature lags behind day length though, so it won’t be until much later that we start seeing increases in average temperatures. Since you can’t do much about our long cold nights, you may as well get out and enjoy them. Winter is one the best times to go stargazing. The cold air is still and dry and gives a better view of stars than the warm wet summer air. Long nights mean you don’t have to stay up late to see the stars, there are no mosquitoes, and there’s better chances of seeing the aurora as well.

We finally have some snow on the ground, and our trail partners have been working on grooming cross country ski and snowmobile trails. Most ski trails are in the process of being groomed. Pincushion and Sugarloaf ski areas are compacted, but not groomed, although that information could already be out of date. Similarly, bogs in the Flathorn-Gegoka ski area were insufficiently frozen for grooming, but with our recent cold spell, that may have changed. Check our website for links to the grooming organizations, which will give you more up to the minute information on trail conditions. Snowmobiles need a bit more snow that skis, so most of the snowmobile trails are still not groomed, and many are closed.

While you’re out checking out trails, you may find some log hauling going on. On Gunflint, hauling is taking place on Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Trestle Pine Road, Rice Lake Road, Clara Lake Road, and Honeymoon Trail.  Portions of Firebox Road and Trestle Pine Road are also designated snowmobile trails, so snowmobilers need to be extra cautious and aware that hauling may be taking place on these roads. In Tofte, you’ll have logging traffic on the Grade and Trapper’s Lake Road. Please use caution when driving or recreating in these areas. 

There will be no update next week, so happy holidays to everyone from the Superior National Forest! Enjoy the woods, watch out for mistletoe, and until next time, this has been Renee Frahm with the National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: December 2

Hi. This is Brandee Wenzel, 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 December 2nd, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

Our website is all set for winter if the weather would cooperate. There are links from our recreation page to our trail partners who groom ski trails, and to other sources for ski and snowmobile trail information. We also have some tips for driving on winter roads for those of us who have forgotten what snow is like over the summer.

One reason to be out in your car in the forest is that it’s the season for harvesting holiday greenery! Tags for Christmas trees are available for five dollars at district offices, and, if you are in fourth grade, you are eligible for a free Christmas tree tag through the Every Kid In A Park program! When you are selecting a tree, there are some rules to keep in mind. Trees cannot be ‘merchantable timber,’ in other words, they need to be small trees, not just the top off a big tree. The maximum stump height you can leave behind is 12 inches. The best tree to cut from a forest point of view is balsam fir. They grow back readily, and in many places we are looking to actually decrease the number of fir trees. True pines grow back more slowly, so we’d like to keep the young pine in the forest. You are not allowed to cut white pine or cedar for Christmas trees.

Balsam boughs may be harvested for wreaths, though you will need a permit for this activity. Princess pine, which is actually an herbaceous plant called a club moss, is often used to decorate wreaths, but its harvest is not allowed on the Superior National Forest.

Speaking of cutting balsam fir, people may have noticed either a piece of equipment or a crew with brush saws working in several areas this past season to remove brush and balsam fir. These areas will be planted in the spring with white pine, white cedar, and yellow birch. The young trees will be protected from deer with cages. We are doing this along the North Shore where we are working with partners including the state, private landowners, and the North Shore Forest Collaborative to restore some of these
long-lived forest trees. You may have seen the material being hauled with ATVs along County Road 6 and 60, at Pincushion, and around Cascade State Park, the Onion River Road, and Hovland.

On a grander scale, you can expect trucks hauling larger trees on Trestle Pine Road, Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, Firebox Road, and Powers Lake Road. They are also using Blueberry Road, Rice Lake Road, Clara Lake Road, and the Honeymoon Trail. On the Tofte District, expect trucks on the Trappers Lake Road, Dumbell River Road, and Wanless Road. Use caution in these areas, especially with our wintery mix of road conditions including ice, mud, and slush.

Good luck to all in selecting the perfect tree, balsam bough, or just selecting the right road to travel. Enjoy the woods, and until next time, this has been Brandee Wenzel with the National Forest Update.

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Superior National Forest Update: November 18

Hi.  This is Chris Beal, Gunflint wildlife biologist, with this week’s National Forest Update -  information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest.  For the week of November 18th, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.
This is the last weekend of the rifle deer season, so wear your orange and be on the lookout for parked vehicles along roads.  While Sunday will be the end of the rifle season, bow hunting will continue, and the muzzleloader season will begin on the 26th.  Seasons for small game and grouse are also still open, so even after Sunday, orange is a good color while you’re out and about. 
Heavy snow is coming, and it is time to think about winter driving.  Plowing in the National Forest is done by state and county plows on state and county roads, and by private contractors on forest roads.  Many forest roads are unplowed in the winter.  If you are wondering if a road you are planning to travel is plowed, check with a Forest Service office.  While driving, if you run into a small Forest road which is plowed, be aware that this is usually an indicator that there may be logging activity up the road.  Watch for trucks!
In fact, watch for trucks particularly in these areas.  On the Tofte District, log hauling is taking place on Sawbill Landing Road near Sawbill Landing, the Dumbell River Road, Rice Lake Road, and Clara Lake Road. On Gunflint, expect trucks on the Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, Blueberry Road, Firebox Road, Powers Lake Road, and Trestle Pine Road. 
With snow comes snowmobiling and skiing!  Snowmobiles are allowed to travel cross-country on the Forest and use unplowed roads if the snow depth is over four inches.  Travel on designated snowmobile trails also requires adequate snow cover, and that depth may vary between trails.  The DNR website is the best source of information on which state trails are officially open. 
For cross-country skiing, our website provides links to the websites of our trail partners who groom the trails.  This is your best source of information on trail conditions.  There are also maps of trail systems on our website.  These maps should not be considered to be totally accurate as trail locations may have shifted since the data was collected.  They will, however, give you a good indication of the extent and location of the trail system. 
If you are interested in getting outside and helping on a worthwhile project this weekend, the Northwoods Volunteer Connection is hosting a clean-up on The 600 Road (Forest Service Road 166) this Saturday, November 19th from 10 am to 1 pm. Volunteers will work to pick up litter along the roadside near the junction with the Sawbill Trail. The group will meet at the Tofte Ranger Station at 10 am and carpool to The 600 Road at 10:15 am. Gloves, safety equipment and lunch will be provided to volunteers.
Whether by car, truck, ski, or snowmobile, take it easy through this first round of winter until we are all used to it again.  We are switching to doing these updates every other week, so on behalf of the Superior National Forest, safe travels and have a wonderful Thanksgiving next week.  Until next time, this has been Chris Beal with the National Forest Update.

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