Swimming in Grand Marais, Minnesota

Torn- Chapter 5

I love to swim. When we’re on canoe camping trips in the Boundary Waters or Quetico Park I’ll sometimes swim three or four times a day. I am not talking about just taking a dip to cool off but actually going for a swim and exploring the lake. I also love having the Seagull River to swim in at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters.

While river swimming sometimes sounds scary the Seagull River is anything but. There isn’t a ton of current in the river and unlike lakes the river rarely gets big waves. It’s ten feet deep off of the end of our dock so you don’t have to worry about weeds or a soft bottom. I used to begin each day with a quick run and then swim across the river and back. I haven’t done that for awhile but just the other day I did go for a quick dip fully clothed before returning to town. I just love the cool, refreshing water and the way it instantly calms me.

You’re never far from a lake on the Gunflint Trail and in Grand Marais, Minnesota, you’re right next to Lake Superior. The problem with Lake Superior is the water temperature is not conducive to a long swim, or a short one for that matter. In fact, the other day my niece and I went down to a beach on Lake Superior to go for a swim and the water was so cold our feet were freezing just walking on the wet rocks on shore. The lake had been stirred up and the water temperature had to be in the 40’s so there was no way we were going to even take a quick dip to cool off. 

There have been times I’ve swam in the big lake and it is very refreshing. If it is super calm, sunny and hot it’s an amazing experience. The water is so crystal clear you can see so far down it’s eery. Some people choose to swim in the Grand Marais Harbor where the water is much warmer. It’s not as pristine as other areas of  the lake but the temperature sometimes reaches into the 60’s. Unfortunately there are times when no water contact is recommended in the harbor due to bacteria levels.

The no contact advisories don’t happen very often for the beaches on Lake Superior around Grand Marais, Minnesota. Thankfully we live in an area where there is very little pollution compared to the rest of the world or the state where,  “40% of the lakes and streams in Minnesota are not meeting standards set for safe swimming, fishing, or drinking”(MN Pollution Control Agency).

But back to swimming around Grand Marais, if you don’t want to swim in Lake Superior you have to do a little bit of driving. Mink Lake is probably about a 12 mile drive from town and it is the most popular place for folks to swim. It has a little beach and the water is quite warm due to the fact the lake is really shallow. It’s so warm there are weeds and towards the end of the season I’ve heard biting bugs sometimes become a problem. It isn’t my first choice place to go for a swim.

Devil’s Track Lake has a campground and a public boat access where people can swim. The campground doesn’t have a sandy bottom, in fact it’s super rocky but at least there aren’t weeds. It’s a 12-15 mile drive up to the public spots on Devil’s Track Lake too so I don’t go there very often.

I’ve swam in a number of lakes near Grand Marais including Pike Lake, Elbow Lake, Crescent and Kimball Lake to name a few. I haven’t found a place I love to swim as much as I do on the Seagull River where the eagles soar overhead, the loons swim alongside of me and the water is clean, cool and naturally refreshing.

 

 

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Good News for Grouse Hunters

We’ve seen alot of ruffed grouse on the Gunflint Trail this year and we aren’t the only ones!

MN DNR

Ruffed grouse counts up
Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were up 57 percent statewide this year compared to last year, according to a survey conducted by the DNR.
For grouse hunters, the large increase in drumming counts this year is sure to be a signal of good times ahead during the fall hunting season.
The grouse population is nearing its 10-year peak, and grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle, with counts this year typical for what’s expected as the population nears peak.
Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting. Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.

Posted in wildlife

Another Reason to Spend Time at the End of the Gunflint Trail

We’re number one on the Bortle Scale! What does that mean? Read about it here or check out this video to find out.
KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

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Posted in Gunflint Trail

What About the Smell?

Torn- Chapter 4?

What about the awful smell this summer in Grand Marais? I know it isn’t good for tourism to complain about how bad it smells in town sometimes but it’s just another thing that makes me want to spend more time at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

I like to be outside and since it’s more difficult to do that in the winter I try to make the most of our summer months. I enjoy sitting on the deck at the house in town but this summer just having the windows open on some days has resulted in experiencing the overwhelming smell of shit.

The waste water treatment plant is obviously struggling to keep up with the number of showers and flushes this summer. In the past, there may have been a day or two a person could smell septic in town. The wind had to be just right to get a whiff of stench but this summer it doesn’t seem to matter what direction the wind is blowing or if it’s blowing at all, it just stinks. I’m hopeful they can fix whatever problem they have or upgrade to a better system sooner rather than later.

I know Grand Marais isn’t the worst smelling place on earth and most people probably can’t even smell it but like my ears are sensitive to sound my nose must be very sensitive to smell.  I’ve vacationed places like Yellowstone and suffered through the sulfur stench and stayed in Savannah, GA where the paper mill made the whole town reek in spite of it’s charmful appearance. Even if I had to smell septic every day, year around in Grand Marais it would be a far better place to live than almost everywhere else, except at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

I will admit we sometimes have septic smells in the summer on our most busiest days at Voyageur. Our septic holding tank is right in front of the lodge and it is pumped from their up to our mound septic system. You can’t normally smell anything unless we’ve had an extremely busy day and then it’s only if you are within close proximity to the holding tank. The smell doesn’t cover the entire resort and it doesn’t last very long.

One day this summer the poop truck was visiting Voyageur and pumping poop out of a holding tank in a boat and into their truck at our docks. It was one of the most offensive smells I’ve encountered and I wondered who on earth said it was ok for them to use our docks? I of course would have said it was fine too, but that is beside the point. At the time I was gagging and thinking how much better it would have been for them to use the public landing.

The smells at the end of the Gunflint Trail are normally wonderful. Fresh unpolluted air mixes so nicely with the plants found in our woods. Sometimes when I walk by the moose pond I get the faint smell of Patchoulli and other times I can smell the wild roses in the breeze. While boating or paddling on Saganaga you can smell pine and if you’re at a campsite with cedar trees you’ll imagine yourself in a cedar treasure chest it smells so good.

There’s no vehicle exhaust in the Boundary Waters because there aren’t any roads. You can’t smell what your neighbors are cooking or what the stubborn guy down the road who continues to use a burn barrel is burning. You can sometimes catch a whiff of a distant campfire but for me that is a welcome smell.

A welcome smell is actually either no smell at all or the smell of the fresh earth found at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

 

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Improving Water Quality 25% by 2025

Here’s some information from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about water quality in Minnesota.

How’s the water?
Minnesota has a very unusual geographic position. We sit atop a triple, continental-scale water divide. Almost all of our water arrives as rain or snow. We have some very high quality waters, but Minnesota also faces some serious challenges.  

Nitrate in groundwater is a growing concern
Three out of four Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater sources, but groundwater is threatened by overuse and contamination in some places.

Nitrate is one of the most common water pollutants in Minnesota groundwater, affecting a large number of private wells and public water supplies. Elevated nitrate in drinking water can be harmful to human health, specifically to the health of infants. Septic systems, fertilizers, and manure are major sources of nitrate pollution in Minnesota.

40% of lakes and streams are not good enough for swimming and fishing
Statewide, 40% of the lakes and streams in Minnesota are not meeting standards set for safe swimming, fishing, or drinking. In the northeastern part of the state, a higher percentage of lakes and streams meet water quality standards, compared to central or southern regions.

Water quality in a body of water depends a lot on the land around it. In watersheds dominated by agricultural and urban land, half or fewer of the lakes fully support the water quality standards for swimming due to contaminants from runoff and drainage.

Runoff in urban areas and drainage from agriculture fields move water into streams and rivers quickly, increasing the speed and volume of water in streams and rivers. Sometimes these flows bring pollution that might otherwise be removed by wetlands or other landscape features.

Our water infrastructure is aging
Our infrastructure is badly in need of attention. Water systems are aging. Many equipment and pipes are at the end of or past their expected life span. Over the next 20 years, Minnesota will have some big bills to pay to upgrade wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. We will need to decide how to equitably pay for these costs.

Water quality issues vary by region depending on geology, land use, and other factors. You can find more details about water quality issues near you in these information packets. Find more information at their website.

What do you hope the water is like in 2025?

At the current level of effort, there will be only a 7 percent improvement in water quality statewide by 2025, and without further action, water quality will get worse. That’s why Governor Mark Dayton is calling on Minnesotans to learn about these issues and share their ideas with him for “25 by ‘25” Water Quality Goals, which would spur collaboration and action to improve Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by 2025.

 

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Go to the end of the Gunflint Trail

Chapter 3?

If you like it so much at the end of the Gunflint Trail then go already! I could spend more time at the end of the Gunflint Trail. There is plenty of work I could do at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. I could make life easier for my crew up there by being around but that would mean being away from my family.

My kids really don’t need me. They are 16 and 17-years old and they can take care of themselves. They spend the majority of their time with their friends or alone in their rooms as far away from their parents as they can get. They can both drive themselves around so unless they need money or can’t find something I may as well be invisible. But, being invisible is different than not being around if or when one of them may actually need me for something other than cleaning the cat litter.

And even if my kids don’t want or need me around they have friends. Sometimes their friends will ackhowledge my existense and even enter into a conversation with me.  And sometimes my kids will actually talk to me more when their friends are around!

If I’m spending time up the Gunflint Trail then there is no chance of seeing them, their friends or my husband of 25 years. I can’t see their beautiful faces, hear their laughter or kiss their cheeks.  If I were up the Trail then it would be peaceful but what good is being at peace if you can’t be around those you love the most in life?

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Wildlife at the Minnesota State Fair

My favorite part of the Minnesota State Fair, besides the food, has always been the Minnesota DNR area. Why is it my favorite place to hang out at the fair? Read on and you’ll see why.

 

DNR’s iconic state fair exhibit educates, entertains visitors

A wide range of educational displays, exhibits, presentations along with music and entertainment highlight the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair, which runs Aug. 24-Sept. 4.

“The DNR building and surrounding park area serves as a landmark, a meeting place and a must-visit educational and entertainment destination,” said Dawn Flinn, who helps coordinate the DNR exhibit. “It’s where generations of fairgoers have created life-long memories.”

About 500,000 people visit the DNR’s building and exhibit area during the fair.

“Minnesotans are passionate about the state’s natural resources,” she said. “This is a great way for us to spread the word about how interesting, important and exciting nature is.”

This year’s DNR State Fair theme is Wonderful Water. “We’ll have displays and signs that emphasize the link between clean water and natural resources heath and recreation,” Flinn said.

What’s new?

  • DNR building is open daily during fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Civilian Conservation Corps erected the building in less than six months using machined logs.
  • Funding came from federal and state emergency relief administration and State Fair funds.
  • Gate tickets in 1934 cost 25 cents. Today, a regular adult admission ticket costs $14.
  • Approximately 500,000 people visit DNR building and surrounding park area each year.
  • The 40-foot-high building opened Sept. 1, 1934.
  • Historic DNR building at State Fair is celebrating 83rd anniversary this year.
  • Displays inside the DNR building cover a wide range of natural resource topics including state parks and trails, rocks and minerals, watersheds, aquatic invasive species, state lands and forests. People can also buy hunting and fishing licenses at the DNR building.The outdoor fish pond and indoor fish tanks give visitors a chance learn about the different fish that call Minnesota home. This year’s exhibit features about three dozen fish species.The DNR fire tower will be open for people who are interested in climbing the 84 steps to get a bird’s-eye view of the State Fairgrounds.There also will be a number of presentations and musicians on the DNR Volunteer Outdoor Stage, the Garden Stage and the Forest Stage.For schedule of events, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/events/statefair/schedules.html.

    The DNR’s State Fair building and surrounding park area are located at the corner of Carnes Avenue and Nelson Street in Falcon Heights. It will be open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily during the fair.

    ###

    2017 DNR State Fair exhibit fact sheet

    Main building

  • Small children’s nature play area with climbing boulders and rock interpretation.
  • Explore interactive displays to learn how to prevent spread of invasive species.
  • Iron “Ore” man, photo op of person dressed in a northern Minnesota clothing from early 21st century (Aug. 28).
  • Interactive theater production: “Da Range – Minnesota Iron Range Comes to Life” (Aug. 28).
  • A kayak and paddleboard simulator so people can experience two of fastest growing paddle sports.
  • Gaze upon a wall of tree cookies 11 feet tall – all native, Minnesota trees.
  • Explore a life-sized white pine tree, complete with roots a person can walk on and learn how forests create clean water.
  • Wonderful Water Day, booths and presentations related to water (Sept. 1).
  • Step inside a giant hiking boot surrounded by huge leaves for a unique Minnesota photo. Just imagine what it is like to experience a real Minnesota forest.
  • Fish pond
  • Fish exhibit is one of State Fair’s most popular attractions.
  • Pond holds about 50,000 gallons of water. It is kidney-shaped and is about 100 feet by 50 feet.
  • Fish pond talks take place at quarter to the hour daily, from 9:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Indoor aquariums
  • There are five tanks that show fish in their native Minnesota habitat: trout of southeastern Minnesota; fish of the St. Croix River; and species of central, southern and northern Minnesota lakes.
  • Aquariums are built lower to the ground, making it easier for more guests to see the turtles, fish and other species.
  • Combined aquarium capacity of more than 5,000 gallons of water, the same amount of water the average family of four uses in a month.
  • When full, tanks weigh about 118,000 pounds or about the weight of 118 Minnesota moose.
  • Aquariums are open daily during fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Fire tower
  • Specifically built for State Fair to provide a wildfire prevention message to visitors.
  • Opened in 1966 and was closed in 1978 because of safety concerns. Was repaired and reopened in 2006.
  • It is 65 feet tall and there are 84 steps from bottom to top.
  • There is no charge to climb fire tower stairs to get birds-eye view of fair.
  • Weather permitting, fire tower open daily during fair from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Land and minerals display
  • “Blast Shack” takes historical look at mining in Minnesota and features actual footage of iron ore blasted from an active mine that includes sound. Old-fashioned plunger provides kids with opportunity to get a feel of what it’s like to set off a blast.
  • “What is Under Your House,” display will allow people to check out geology/type of rocks under their house.
  • A “Minnesota Bedrock Geology Quilt” – an 84-inch wide by 108-inch long quilt using 80 colors that show the bedrock geology of Minnesota.
  • A hands-on display of Minnesota-found fossils, co-sponsored by the Science Museum of Minnesota.
  • Interactive theater production: “Da Range – Minnesota Iron Range Comes to Life” (Aug. 28).
  • “Living statue” of an iron miner available for photo opportunities on Monday, Aug. 28 from noon until 5 p.m.
  • Display open daily during fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Located inside DNR State Fair building.
  • Camper cabin
  • Fairgoers can step inside the 24-foot by 12-foot camper cabin that’s on display.
  • Cabins are built to provide a “camping out” experience within the comfort of four walls.
  • Cabin has two sets of bunks. Also includes a picnic table and fire ring with grill.
  • There are more than 80 camper cabins available to rent in state parks and recreational areas around the state.
  • Many cabins include electricity, and some are wheelchair accessible.
  • Camper cabin display model open daily during the fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Located in DNR Park, near southwest corner of DNR building.
  • DNR forestry display
  • Three new interactive exhibit areas.
  • Step inside a giant hiking boot surrounded by huge leaves for a unique Minnesota photo. Just imagine what it is like to step into a real Minnesota forest!
  • Explore a life-sized white pine tree, complete with roots a person can walk on and learn how forests create clean water.
  • Gaze upon a wall of tree cookies 11 feet tall – all native, Minnesota trees.
  • Walk into a “forest” of interactive, informational trees on: forest stewardship, urban trees, forest products, fire and forests and Minnesota’s biomes.
  • Play with a puzzle of dimensional lumber to learn how much wood comes from a log.
  • Explore the tools foresters use in the woods every day – clinometer, increment borer and drip torch.
    Exhibit is open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. in DNR Building.
  • Stand-up paddleboard and kayak simulators
  • Stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are the fastest growing paddle sports in Minnesota.
  • Simulators are free and located near the DNR fish pond.
  • Experience lasts about three minutes. All ages welcome; parental participation required for children under 8 years of age.
  • Variety of life jacket styles, including inflatables, will be available to try on.
  • Simulators open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
  • Wall of Shame trailer – Turn in Poachers
  • Mounted animals and stories about how they were taken illegally.
  • 16-foot long lighted trailer.
  • Display located on south side of DNR building.
  • Wildlife Wing
  • Fairgoers can learn about Minnesota species and wildlife habitat.
  • Special sound and lighting effects help create an experience of moving from day to night and through the four seasons, as visitors walk through the display.
  • Master naturalist volunteers available to answer wildlife questions.
  • Display located in DNR building and is open daily during fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Invasive species display
  • Learn about the invasive species present in Minnesota.
  • Explore interactive displays to learn the actions people can take to prevent invasive species.
  • People can clean, drain and dispose to stop aquatic invasive species and PlayCleanGo to stop invasive species on land.
  • Check out the PlayCleanGo pledge wall to pledge to clear gear to Stop Invasive Species In Your Tracks.
  • See examples of invasive animals and plants and the impacts they can have.
  • Talk with DNR staff and volunteers about invasive species questions.
  • Smokey Bear
  • Smokey Bear is celebrating 73 years of reminding children and their parents about the dangers of wildfires.
  • Smokey Bear makes daily appearances at DNR Park at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
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Posted in News

Grand Marais is a Wonderful Place to Live

Grand Marais Harbor

Shall I say this is Chapter 2 of Torn? That would assume there might be a 3rd and I’d hate to commit…

People all over are envious of those of us who live in Grand Marais. It’s “America’s Coolest Small Town” (Budget Travel Magazine), A “Top 10 Beach Getaway” (Outside Magazine), and a “Next Great Adventure Town”(National Geographic Adventure Magazine) but it isn’t the end of the Gunflint Trail.

I spent my first 23 years of my life living in St. Cloud, Minnesota. At the time I lived there the population of the city itself was around 40,000 but with the students of St. Cloud State University, the surrounding towns of Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park along with all of the rural towns nearby it always felt much bigger.  An interstate runs through it, major highways bisect it and it’s anything but quaint. When people ask me what I miss about living there I can honestly answer, “Nothing.”

We moved to the end of the Gunflint Trail in 1993 and for the first five years we had no indoor plumbing. While it was a major adjustment from living in St. Cloud I embraced it immediately and fully. Seeing the northern lights at 20 below zero from the seat of the outhouse, washing linens in a ringer washing machine and living in a 20×24 house I felt like I was the luckiest girl alive.

We made trips to Grand Marais, Duluth and Thunder Bay, Ontario but we lived at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Sometimes weeks would pass by before we had to make a trip to town. Those days are a distant memory but one I am so fond of and long to experience again.

I still consider myself a very lucky and blessed woman. How many people get to experience the things I do? I have canoes and boats with direct access into the Boundary Waters just an hour away from my house in Grand Marais. Just 60 miles will take me to the edge of the wilderness where pines sway to the music of the loons.

Driving the Gunflint Trail

My shoulders relax when I think about the calm and quiet of the Seagull River. Where boat motors may occasionally buzz and traffic is the crunch of vehicle tires on gravel. Where the sound of a siren is almost non-existent and a Jake Brake(break) would be one of our crew members at lunch.  A place where we know the day of the week by the arrival of a single delivery truck.

I know I am very fortunate to have a house in Grand Marais. Lake Superior is forever changing in color and shape and creates a most inspirational backdrop to life in town. The Sawtooth Mountains, the sailboats in the harbor and our iconic lighthouse add beauty and charm to our quaint village. It’s a place tourists flock to because of all of the recreational opportunities and terrific restaurants.

Most of those people are so accustomed to noise they don’t even notice all of the sounds that interrupt my thoughts. Maybe I have a sensitivity to noise because I have lived for so long where it is quiet. But in the summertime in Grand Marais with the windows open I hear every sound. Car alarms beeping, power ratchet racket from the nearby auto shop, dogs barking, music from restaurants, shouts of people or children playing nearby and the almost constant sound of traffic. Sometimes my ears burn with the sound of the squawking of seagulls or as I refer to them, Sky Carp.

I know there are far noiser places to live. There are people who live near airports and next to busy interstates and I’m sure if you tested noise levels Grand Marais would be considered quiet. But my ears want to be able to hear the leaves rustling in the wind, the waves lapping on the shore and even the chatter of a chipmunk. My ears long to hear the noise of my other world at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

 

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Bears in the Boundary Waters

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard of any bear complaints from folks in the Boundary Waters. Our guests haven’t had any trouble this year but other visitors to the BWCA have. The USFS informed us of the following.

Bear activity reported on Gneiss Lake on the Granite River and Knife Lake.  On Ogishkemuncie Lake there was a report of two friendly young bears visiting campsites and on Duncan Lake a sow and a cub made a mess of a campsite. 
 
Please continue to stress the importance of a good, clean campsite and food storage practices.  Hang food properly and not always in the same obvious tree.  Bear proof containers are helpful could possibly be tied to a tree, make sure they are clean and free of food on the outside
Encourage visitors to scare the bear out of the campsite, making themselves larger than the bear and creating a lot of noise.

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Posted in BWCA

Torn Between Two Worlds

There is a book called, “A Life in Two Worlds,” actually when I googled it there are two but the one I’m referring to is about Betty Powell-Skoog. She tells of her life in two worlds, the first part of her life growing up in the woods north of Saganaga and the second part of her life when she moved to town. At the time I read it I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about it but I might have to take another look.

As some of you know I too have a life in two worlds. Our daughter Abby is going to be a Senior this year and our son Josh a Junior and they are highly involved in athletics. They have been for some time and this means a ton of travel year around.  In 2007 we purchased a place with a walk-out basement to use as a crash pad in town and had renters upstairs. This allowed the kids to be able to participate in school activities.

Most of you know we have partnership in Voyageur Brewing Company in Grand Marais. Since opening the brewery in 2015 we’ve spent the majority of our time in town. The past few summers we’ve been blessed to have a highly capable crew and managers at the end of the Gunflint Trail.  They have done such a great job operating the canoe outfitting business I don’t need to be up there. While that has been wonderful it has also put me in a strange position.

One time while vacationing we returned to our hotel and one of the kids said, “Phew, we’re home!” Since then I have always said, “Home is wherever we are all together.” I love spending time with my family and my kids but every mother knows the older your kids get the less they need Mom. So while it has been wonderful to have an awesome crew at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters it has also been a struggle. It has placed me in the position of having a choice! A choice as to whether I should be where my heart is at the end of the Gunflint Trail or where my life is right now, in Grand Marais.

Every day I am torn between two worlds.

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