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Superior National Forest Update: March 20

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USDA_SNFUpdate_Robertsen_20150320.mp34.97 MB

Hi.  I’m Steve Robertsen, education and interpretation specialist on the Superior National Forest, with this week’s edition of the National Forest Update  -  information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the week of March 20th, here’s what’s going on around the Forest.
First and foremost, it’s official!  It is now spring!  Three big celestial events happened on March 20th.  If you happened to be in Northern Europe, you got to see a solar eclipse, but it happened at the wrong time of day for us over here.  There also was what is called a Supermoon, which happens when the moon is at its closest point in its orbit to Earth.  The Supermoon on the 20th happened when the moon was new and not visible, so that’s two events we couldn’t actually see.  So, the most important event for us in Minnesota was that the 20th was the spring equinox.  Day and night on the equinox are exactly the same length, but from then on, days will be longer than nights until September.  That’s something we can actually see!  The equinox marks the official beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere!
Also in astronomical news, a large solar storm took place this week.  While the storm wasn’t visible, it caused beautiful northern lights.  With that storm subsiding, there is less of a chance of an aurora, but the possibility lingers, making it worth going outside before bedtime.
Despite astronomy saying it is spring, there is still some winter left out there.  Cross country ski trails up the Gunflint Trail are still open and actually not bad skiing.  At the time of recording, Pincushion ski trails are also still very skiable, and even the Sugarbush area down near Tofte has a 3 to 6 inch base.  Be on the lookout for bare spots though, nothing will stop you faster than hitting grass at the bottom of a hill.
If you are out driving, there are a couple of logging operations going on.  One is off the road to Wilson Lake on the Tofte District, and the other is off the Greenwood Lake road on the Gunflint District.  Due to the spring thaw making gravel road beds mushy, the county has imposed load limits on county roads which means that there is not much in the way of logging truck traffic right now.  While this means you don’t have to watch for large trucks as much, it also means you have to watch for washouts, crumbling shoulders, and water over the road.  Since we didn’t have much snow this past winter, conditions are better than they are some springs.
Most roads that were not plowed during the winter are still impassable due to snow.  Plowed roads have been thawing and refreezing, and with cold weather anticipated this weekend, they will probably be very icy in spots.  One of our people reported that some plowed roads were so icy, it was hard to even walk on them.  Enjoy spring, but keep a watch for those remaining bits of winter!
With all the snow and ice, you are probably not thinking of forest fires.  Our fire people are already preparing for the spring fire season though.  The prediction is that this will be a warm and dry spring, nice for hiking, but also good for accidental fires.  Until May when we start to get thunderstorms, humans are the only source of wild fires, and conditions predict a higher than normal potential for fire.  We’ll be talking more about this in weeks to come, but the main message will always be to be careful with fire.  As Smokey says, only you can prevent wild fires.
While we’ve seen signs of raccoons, I have yet to hear a report of a bear being up and about.  But, this is the time for the bruins to start waking up.  If you have bird feeders out, it is also the season to start taking them in at night, unless you really want bears to take them down for you.  Gulls have returned as well, and it just makes me feel warmer when I hear the cries of the gulls as I walk the shore.
Enjoy the gulls and the Forest, and until next week, this has been Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.