Just One More Reason
Not that anyone needs another reason to visit the Gunflint Trail but just in case they do they can say they traveled Minnesota’s newest National Scenic Byway. It seems like it was just yesterday when the Gunflint Trail became a Minnesota State Scenic Byway but in fact it has been ten years already. Mike worked on that original committee and then a few years later I became a member of the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee.
The committee was responsible for developing a Corridor Management Plan. I think that’s what it was called anyway. We compiled information about the geological and historical aspects of the Trail as well as the natural world and recreational opportunities. We talked about things the Trail should have and places of interest we could highlight. I remember during that time I attended the North Shore Scenic Byway Meetings and listened to the group dream about rock cairn signs that are now in place along that Scenic Byway. Sometimes it takes awhile to get things done but it is usually worth the wait.
It’s wonderful to see everyone’s hard work paid off with the Gunflint Trail receiving a National Scenic Byway Designation. Congratulations and Way to Go Everyone!
Gunflint Trail gets scenic designation
Visitors to the Gunflint Trail don’t need the U.S. Department of Transportation to tell them how beautiful the 57-mile drive is. But now it’s official.
From the winding uphill climb above Grand Marais and Lake Superior, through the scenic white pine "gateway," past the overlooks at Loon and Gunflint lakes and on to the trail’s end at Saganaga Lake, the Gunflint Trail has been designated an official National Scenic Byway.
The designation was announced last week at a ceremony in Washington and, while it doesn’t include any regulatory authority, it does offer the clout of the national byway system as a tool for preservation and marketing.
"That drive is an important part of the experience," said Nancy Seaton, who runs Hungry Jack Outfitters just off the Gunflint Trail with her husband, Dave. "And this means that will be there for the future."
Seaton said she expects the designation to remind people of the value of unspoiled, scenic vistas like those the Gunflint Trail offers and also serve as a marketing tool. The designation tells people "there’s something here. There’s something to see, to experience."
"But it [the Scenic Byway designation] is really not going to change anything. And that’s sort of the point," she said. "It really means that if someone proposes building a six-story hotel on Poplar Lake, for example, that we have this clout of a national designation behind us when we say that’s really not compatible with the natural or historic intrinsic qualities of the Gunflint Trail.
The dead-end wilderness road, officially known as Cook County Road 12, serves 22 tourist-oriented businesses, a few dozen permanent residents, hundreds of seasonal cabin owners and thousands of summer and winter visitors.
The original trail apparently had its origins as a foot path for American Indians, then for geological surveyors. It became a dirt road of sorts in the 1920s and an angler’s and canoeists’ access to what is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Canada border lakes in the 1930s.
While the road has been widened, straightened and paved in recent decades, it retains much of its historic and scenic charm — and is a great opportunity for people to see moose, bears, wolves, deer, loons, eagles and other wildlife.
Sue Weber, Gunflint Trail resident, noted the designation comes just two years after the Ham Lake forest fire that burned across the Gunflint Trail, destroying more than 150 buildings in Minnesota and Ontario. Much of the burned area already has returned to lush green vegetation.
The designation "even in the wake of natural disaster, is uplifting to the community spirit," Weber said. "The Gunflint Trail community feels a deep connection to the area and to the curvy road that intersects the forest."
The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States. Since 1992, the National Scenic Byways Program has funded 2,672 projects for state and nationally designated byway routes in all 50 states.
The Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway joins seven others in Minnesota with official national designation, including the North Shore scenic drive along Lake Superior, Edge of the Wilderness in Chippewa National Forest, the Great River Road along the Mississippi River down much of the state, Grand Rounds Scenic Byway between Minneapolis city parks and lakes, Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway in southeastern Minnesota, the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway and Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway in north-central Minnesota.