There is no denying that the bugs are bad this year. Over the Memorial Day weekend, we sold almost 200 head nets and bug shirts. Black flies, the flying mouth of the north, love high water and humid, cloudy days. We are near the southern limit of the black flies range, so most visitors are not familiar with them unless they’ve visited the north in late spring or early summer before. Every year, I hear many people say that this year, the black flies are the worst they’ve ever been. Obviously, this can’t be true every year, but I understand the sentiment when you’re trying to set up a tent or cook dinner with a cloud of black flies around your tent. I’ve also noticed that over the last 20 years or so, people have become very reluctant to use the tried and true DEET based insect repellents. DEET actually has a remarkably long record of safety and efficacy, but we all feel queasy these days about putting chemicals directly on our skin. When I recommend to people that they use DEET to defend themselves agains bug bites, the nearly universal response is “I don’t like to use that stuff.” I’ve never met a single person that actually enjoys wearing bug dope, but if the alternative is getting chewed up by a swarm of black flies, pass me the bottle.
Speaking of better living through chemistry, I am pleased to hear that the county is expanding it’s calcium chloride treatment of the local gravel roads this year. Although it is mostly a method for reducing the amount of dust kicked up by traffic, it also helps the road hold together and reduces future maintenance costs and evironmental impact. Although is seems like it might not be good for the environment to spray millions of gallons of liquid salt on the roads, years of careful research have shown that calcium chloride has remarkably little impact on roadside ecology. Years ago, I was driving on the Grade Road when I came upon a couple of people who were erecting little aluminum fences along the edge of the road. At both ends of each fence they had buried a five gallon bucket to form a small pit trap. Of course, I had to stop to find out what the heck they were doing. It turned out that they were trapping spotted salmanders during their annual migration and examining them to see if crawling acrosse the calcium chloride treated road caused them any distress. I was amazed to learn the salamanders migrate, but even more amazed when the biologist in charge told me that spotted salamanders are extremely common in Cook County. I had only seen a handful of them in my entire life, but he explained to me that they mostly live beneath the litter on the forest floor, so they are not commonly seen. He said that salamanders make up the largest mass of vertabrate life per acre in Cook County. That is a fine piece of cocktail party trivia if I’ve ever seen one. By the way, the study didn’t find any harm done to the salamanders by the calcium chloride.
A new law that is now in effect will change the way people use minnows in the BWCA Wilderness. Under the law, you must drain the water from your minnow bucket before leaving any body of water. It is legal to transport minnows from one lake to another, but illegal to transport their water between lakes. DNR enforcement says that the law applies to all lakes in Minnesota including those connected by portages in the wilderness and specifically applies to oxygen minnow packs prepared by bait dealers. As a practical matter, this means that live minnows are not practical as bait in the wilderness unless you trap them in the same lake where you are fishing. Minnows have always ben hard to transport on a canoe trip, but now portaging minnows will literally be fish out of water. As I mentioned last week, my fishing buddy Hawk Jensen and I used to catch our own minnows and we often had more fun catching the minnows than catching the fish with the minnows.
Two cool events are available this coming weekend of June 11th. The first is the Lutsen 99er mountain bike race that starts and ends at Lutsen Mountains. It will be fun to see how the racers like the race and what impact they have on our tourism industry. The second event is the state park open house on Saturday. All the state parks are offering free admission and many will have special activities available. Both are a perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the best that Cook County has to offer.