Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Day Grand Marais Closed Down in Protest

The "History Reflections" in the December 30, Cook County News Herald shows a photo of not "some kind of protest" but actually the largest protest demonstration our county has ever witnessed. The demonstration took place on April 14, 1978, when one thousand Cook County, protest sign and American flag waving, residents along with logging trucks and skidders marched from Coast Guard Point to the old USFS offices to protest the proposed Vento-Burton legislation.

Howard Joynes, Joynes' Federated Store and others organized the city's businesses and virtually every business in Grand Marais closed for the event. The Grand Marais City Council passed a resolution closing all non-essential city offices and lowering the flag to half-staff.

When the marchers reached the Forest Services offices Bruce Kerfoot from the back of a truck proclaimed to the crowd, "We don't have much power. We don't have many votes. This is the only way we can show them what we feel." Charlotte Eckroot (Nelson) stated, "we want to be heard in Washington. We are tired of being stepped on." City Councilor Walt Mianowski next read an eviction notice to USFS District ranger Earl Neiwald and as Neiwald returned to his office, locking the door behind him, the eviction notice was taped to the building door.

Mayor Richard Humphrey then took the podium and shouted, "I just heard you say we don't have much power. Well I'm here to announce that they," pointing to the Forest Service's building, "doesn't have any power." With this a crew from the city's Public Utilities Commission cut the electrical power to the Forest Service office and their offices went dark. A thousand cheered went up from the crowd.

Headline in the Duluth News Tribune the next day proclaimed, "Grand Marais Shuts Down- 1000 protest BWCA bill."

The Vento-Burton Bill as it was called then would have closed all lakes within or partially within the BWCA lakes to any form of motorized use- even Poplar Lake with a small portion of the lake near the Meads Lake portage within the BWCA would have been closed to motors. More ominous the proposed legislation would have placed the Gunflint Trail and other similar areas into a National Recreational Area and empower the USFS to assert zoning control over the Area.
The demonstration dramatically thrust Cook County into the center of the fight raging throughout northeastern Minnesota over the Vento-Burton Bill. Under the banner of the Boundary Waters Conservation Alliance the fight continued though the summer. Ultimately and over the objections of the Alliance a modified version of the Bill was passed as the BWCAW Act of 1978. Most Cook County residents were not happy with this new bill but as a result of the fight put up by Cook Country residents and the Alliance, limited motorized use was retained in some BWCA lakes and the provision creating a National Recreational Area was stripped from the Bill.

While it has been twenty-eight years since this protest, some things just do not seem to change. The Forest Service continues to plod along without regard to what local people need or want. Important snowmobile trails are closed with little concern to finding an acceptable replacement route or if replacement routes are found the routes take years to approve. The Forest Service continues its de facto expansion of the Wilderness, this time through the Roadless Area program. Along the Gunflint Trail their controlled burn program is more of a blight than a control and in the process some of our area's finest hiking and skiing trails are destroyed. Even the Forest Service's reforestation plan promised following the July 4 Storm has been willfully lacking. It is no wonder the locals are getting restless again.

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