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Gunflint Canoe Races look different in 2021

There was always a crowd at the Gunflint Canoe Races. File photo, Rhonda Silence 2019
There was always a crowd at the Gunflint Canoe Races. File photo, Rhonda Silence 2019

Although the work of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department goes on, the major event that so many folks look forward to each year, the Gunflint Canoe Races, was canceled for 2021. A smaller, resort-staff-focused event was held this weekend. WTIP checked in with fire department representative Michael Valentini to talk about the work of the fire department and about the role he had played at the large canoe races in the past.

Valentini shared information about the Gunflint Fire Department, which serves probably the largest fire district in the state, covering over 200 square miles. The fire department is actually even larger, as there is an agreement with authorities in Ontario to respond to emergencies on the Canadian side of the border lakes, as Gunflint can reach that area long before Canadian responders could.

The fire department has three fire halls—the MidTrail or Poplar Lake Hall, the Gunflint Lake Hall, and Seagull Lake Community Center and Firehall. Each hall has a variety of equipment, but the halls on the upper Trail area are stocked with medical and search and rescue equipment. The ambulance is kept at the MidTrail Firehall as it is centrally located on the Trail.

Valentini notes that the majority of calls are for medical emergencies and search and rescue missions. In this interview, he shares details of just one of the recent long and difficult rescue operations in which the Gunflint volunteers participated, working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Asked if the Gunflint Fire Department is on edge with the current high fire danger, Valentini points out that the fire department and emergency medical personnel are always on high alert. However, he said residents are experiencing more tension with the smoke from Canadian fires in the air and the drought conditions. He said the fire department recommends that anyone with a fire protection sprinkler system get it running now.

Valentini also confirmed that yes, many of the activities at the Gunflint Canoe Races were canceled in part due to the uncertainty around COVID-19 during upfront planning, but also because of the difficulty in finding volunteers at the event. Three property owners associations, the Gunflint Lake Property Owners Association, the MidTrail Property Owners, and the Seagull-Sag Property Owners Association have hosted the event for decades.

Valentini is one of those volunteers, serving as the emcee for the canoe races, as well as a MidTrail event. He has had a lot of fun doing that over the years and said he will miss it. There are some online activities, starting on July 26, to try to offer some feeling of the canoe race camaraderie. That information can be found on the fire department's website Gunflint911.org.

The proceeds of the canoe races benefit the Gunflint Fire Department, helping maintain the fire halls and keep equipment—such as the ARMER radios needed by responders—up-to-date.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Michael Valentini of the Gunflint Trail Fire Department to learn more about all of this, as well as a final question—will there be a Gunflint Trail Fire Department calendar for 2022? Click and listen to find out. 
 

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