Friday, August 26, 2005

High Speed Wireless Internet Service Comes to Gunflint

Wild Blue, a new Internet provider is offering broadband Internet service to rural residents and business. The company's Internet services come to the user by satellite. While broadband service is available in most urban area through ground phone or cable TV lines, until now it was rarely available in more remote rural area such as the Gunflint Trail.

Poplar Creek Guesthouse B&B is one of several Gunflint Trail businesses with Wild Blue's broadband service. Acording to Barbara Young, co-owner of Poplar Creek Guesthouse B&B, "having high speed internet services is great, waiting for documents to download through our old dialup service was really a drag." Young, when on to state, "we are now also providing wireless service to all our rooms in the B&B. We have several regular guests on work-play vacations that set-up their office in their rooms and use the Internet to conduct their business. While our dialup service worked for them, I'm sure they are really going to enjoy having access to high speed wireless service now."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Alpine Lake Fire Cools Down but Memories Still Simmer

Now that the Alpine Lake fire is under-control and the firecrews are mopping-up it is time to reflect on the fire and to revisit the feeling of the residents of the area.

Residents of Seagull and Sag Lakes are still asking, "did the Forest Service fiddles while seagull burnt?" Case in point- why did the Forest Service wait so long to get on the Alpine Lake Fire and why on Sunday night (August 7) when the fire was still manageable did the Forest Service discontinue their all-out attack on the fire. Everyone including the Forest Serves were aware that on that afternoon the weather forecast was for strong winds and hot dry weather. Predictably on Monday afternoon when the wind came up the fire, of course, "blew-up" and almost forced an evacuation of the upper Gunflint Trail.

Shortly after the fire began Sag Lake Resident, Bill Douglas stated; The Forest Service has changed their fire fighting philosophy since our last major fires, much to the risk of local property owners on Seagull and Sag." Douglas when on to state that, "The Alpine fire started Saturday, August 6. The first crew wasn't supposed to go in to fight the fire until Monday morning. In our earlier fires, they had people on the fire within hours." And Further, "The Forest Service knew about this lightning strike for two weeks. Why didn't they take a day and send two people in there to put it out? It would have saved us all the concern we have and probably a couple million dollars in cost fighting the fire by the time it is out. Forest personnel were heard to say that they really didn't want to send anyone in because it was 1/4 to 1/2 mile through heavy forest to get to the fire. In our earlier fires, they didn't hesitate to crash through equally dense forest for half a mile to get to the fire. Fire crews were observed heading up the trail at 11:30 am Tuesday morning. In our earlier fires, there were two fire fighting shifts. The first crews went in at 8:00 am, and were replaced by a crew fighting through the night at around 6:00 p.m. giving the fire 24 hour coverage. It was the evening crews that made the most headway due to low winds and higher humidity." finally Douglas stated that, "The Alpine fire puts the entire end of the Gunflint Trail at risk and I believe the Forest Service is not doing nearly enough to get it under control. They are literally playing with fire in our backyards by prescribing to a 'let-It-Burn' policy."

Could this failure of the Forest Service to mount an all-out assault on the fire immediately when the fire was first reported and to continue this assault until the fire was contained have anything to do with the Forest Service's stated policy for this fire of, "Minimum Impact Suppression Tools (MIST) using light-on-the-land fire fighting methods?"

Following the fire blowup on Monday the Forest Service decided to do a "back burn" from the fire-line to the Seagull Lake's northwest shoreline that included the Seagull palisades.
Fred Rouse another area resident in an email states that it, "Looks like the Forest Circus wants to play with fire. In the past great expense and effort were put into saving the Palisades and shoreline. Why or who has okayed this change. If the fire would run on them at the top of the Palisades they could lost the whole east-end of Sea Gull. With the height of the Palisades the wind could blow the sparks for miles."

Other disagree and seem to think the Forest Services is doing the right thing even though it means burning much of the Shoreline of Seagull Lake. Sue Prom of Voyageur Outfitters, who business was within a few miles of the path of the fire, writes in her Boundary Waters Blog, "I think the people in charge know what is best in this situation and if they need to burn a little bit of shoreline in order to protect the 70-80 cabins and businesses in the area, then so be it. I would rather be safe than sorry."

Most lake resident appear not to agree with Prom. Prior to the Forest Service's proposed back-burn, fourteen lake residents organized a flotilla of boats to go to the palisade in protest of the proposed back-burns. However the flotilla was turned back by the Cook Country Sheriffs Department before reaching the palisades. The Forest Service then met with the protesters and agreed to spare the palisades from their back-burn.

While the flames from the back-burn did not reached the Palisades much of the shoreline including several islands in the northwest end of the lake were destroyed. According to Debbie Marks, Seagull Lake Canoe Outfitter, "the two good things that came out of our protest was the Palisade was not burnt, at least up to now, and they are now holding daily briefing with area residents, something the Forest Service has never none done before up here."

To understand why lake residents were so upset you have to understand the Forest Services. controlled burn program for Seagull Lake. In 2002 Three Mile Island and a substantiall portion of the lake's shoreline was intentional burned by the Forest Service. Then in 2003 the Forest Service burnt another 4,000-acre including some of the Lake's southern shoreline around the Meditation Lake Portage. Resident are now being told that more prescribed burns are planned which will consume more shoreline of Seagull Lake.

Opponents say the fires are not only aesthetically unpleasing, but the lack of trees along the shoreline can spur erosion, and that the fires rob good seed trees for forest recovery.
"I understand why they want to do it, but they didn't have to do it," said Tony Faras, a Seagull Lake property owner. "There are a lot of problems with the way they're burning right down to the shore -- especially when they had the opportunity to put this fire out and didn't do it."
Seagull Resident Jim Raml, a self taught ecologist and former Forest Service employee with firefight experience, agrees with Faras and further stated that, "even thought the Forest Service have told us they were going to preserve the lake shoreline, they went ahead and burnt it anyways."

One also must understand that many lake residents still have not forgotten what the Forest Service's BWCA Legislation had previously done to Seagull Lake. The 1964 Wilderness Act resulted in the Forest Service taking many Seagull resident's cabins and resorts to make way for the BWCA. If this was enough the lake was further restricted by the 1978 BWCA Act which closed most of Seagull to outboard motors and snowmobile used by the lake residents. This also resulted in the removal of the last remaining resort on the lake- Seagull Lodge.

With the burning of a sizable portion of Seagull Lakes shoreline and more shoreline burning planned, and with memories of what the Forest Services' BWCA actions have done to their lake it is little wonder that most area lake residents are upset and quick to protest. The fire may have cooled but many tempers remain smoldering around Seagull and Sag.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mid Trail Property Owners Raise Cash for Fire Department

This year' Annual Fleemarket and Auction according to road Lake resident, Eleanore Lease was a great success. The event sponsored by residents of the Mid Trail Lakes- Poplar, Little Ollie, Birch, Mayhew, Leo, Road, West Bearskin etc. raised $4833.06 for the Gunflint Fire Department. According to Lee Zopff, Leo Lake resident $1954 was from the raffle, $86.25 pop and popcorn sales, $2421 from the Auction and $371.81 from the fleemarket. Sally Hennessy, of Grand Marais, was the winner of the Quilt.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Containment Date Set for Alpine Lake Fire

The incident Management Team has announced an anticipated containment date of Saturday, Aug 20th, for the Alpine Lake Fire. Individual tree torching and minimal fire spread occurred mostly in the interior yesterday. A hose lay, installed on the north side of the fire, should be completed by the end of today's shift. Crews will continue to patrol and mop-up the fire perimeter. No additional spread of the fire is expected. Light-on-the-land fire fighting methods are being used to minimize impact on the wilderness environment; these methods include using natural barriers, hose lays to make wet lines, and water drops by aircraft.

Level II restrictions remain in effect for the blowdown area of the BWCAW; information on closures of campsites is available at permit issuing stations and entry points.A daily public information meeting will be held at Blankenburg Landing Fire Hall at 10:00 AM. Safety of fire personnel, residents and visitors continues to be the top priority.

Fire Trivia:- Over 30 miles of hose has been laid to create wet line around the fire and at contingency lines.- The fire perimeter is 10.5 miles - 115 boats and canoes are being used- 12 local businesses are being used for a variety of services- 252 personnel are working on the fire- 1.3 millions gallons of water have been dropped

Fire Facts:Date Started: 8/06/2005 Cause: Lightning Current Size: 1335 acresLocation: NE MN, near the end of the Gunflint Trail between Alpine, Seagull, Red Rock and Grandpa Lakes Injuries to Date: three - one twisted ankle, one broken finger, one strained kneePercent

Containment: 46 Estimated Containment: 252 Wilderness campsites closed: 18. Cost to date: $1,939,000Command: Unified: Stegmeir's MNICS Type 2 Incident Management Team, USFS, MN DNR, Cook County Sheriff Cooperating Agencies: Gunflint VFD, National Wx Service, MN DOT, Interagency crews from MN, WV, IN, OH, and MOFire Restrictions: Level II - effective 12:01 AM Friday, August 12, 2005

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Alpine Lake Fire Update

Received the following press release from the USFS on the Alpine Lake Fire -located within the BWCA, north of Seagull Lake.

Alpine Lake Fire UpdateFire fighting on the Alpine Lake fire continued yesterday. While some parts of the state received significant rainfall, this area did not and the small amount received did not penetrate the canopy in heavy timber. The fire is currently 960 acres in size. Fire fighters were able to activate and use water lines between Seagull and Grandpa Lakes creating a "wet line" on these trails. Fire lines were built by hand on the South side of the fire between Seagull and Alpine Lakes. Two loads of fire retardant were dropped by heavy airtankers in three locations to reinforce line building near Grandpa Lake.Alpine Fire Facts:No evacuations are planned or in progress at this time.

Date started: 8/6/05 Cause: LightningCurrent Size: 960 acres Percent Containment: 5%Number of Personnel: 181 Estimated containment: UnknownLocation: NE MN near the end of the Gunflint Trail between Alpine, Seagull, Red Rock and Grandpa LakesFirefighting objectives continue to be:- Firefighter safety- Visitor safety- Protection of the 70+ structures near Seagull, Gull and the Saganaga Corridor- Minimum Impact Suppression Tools will be used (these are light on the land tactics including, using natural barriers, hose lays to make wet line, and geographic barriers)There is a Unified Command between the USFS, MN DNR, and the Cook County Sheriff. An Incident Management Team involving all wildfire fighting agencies in Minnesota is in charge of fire fighting operations.

Today's events:If the weather cooperates, fire officials expect to "burnout" portions in the south and east areas of the fire area in order to better contain the fire.Helicopters and boats will be transporting more personnel into the area. A 10-person spike camp is being set up near Grandpa Lake.There are 181 personnel on the fire with a 20-person crew from Ohio in route from the Mobilization Center in Duluth.

Temperatures are expected to be cooler with less wind over the next few days with the possibility of showers. The best chance of precipitation in the fire area is not expected until Thursday.

Approximately 16 campsites on five lakes have been closed; they include sites on Grandpa, Seagull, Saganaga, Alpine and Red Rock Lakes. The portage between Alpine and Seagull lakes is closed.Fire restrictions in the Blowdown area are being planned for the 1201 AM Friday. Level 2 restrictions state:

× Uses of campfires or wood/charcoal burning stoves are not allowed in the restricted area.× Exception: Campfires will be allowed, any time of day, at Trails End, Iron Lake, East Bearskin and Flour Lake developed campgrounds, ONLY in fire grates.

× Campfire restrictions apply to PowWow and Eagle Mt./ Brule Trails

× The Kekekabic Trail, east of Disappointment Lake, and the Border Route Trail (with associated connector trails) will be closed to all use.

× Use of gas or propane cook stoves will be allowed anywhere in the restricted area at any time of the day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

BWCA Visitor Use Restrictions and Closures in 1999 Blowdown Area

Beginning at 12:01 AM, Friday, August 12, 2005, the Superior NationalForest will prohibit the use of campfires and charcoal or wood burningstoves in the blowdown area within the Boundary Waters Canoe AreaWilderness (BWCAW) and surrounding areas. The Pow Wow Trail and EagleMt/Brule Trail are included in this campfire restriction.Gas or propane cook stoves will be still be allowed at any time of thedayin the restricted area.

In addition, the Kekekabic Trail east of Disappointment Lake and theBorderRoute Trail with associated connector trails will be closed to publicuse.Parts of these long-distance trails are located more than a quarter milefrom a large body of water with concentrated areas of blown down treesbetween the trail and a lake. Cross-country travel is extremelydifficultand slow in areas of concentrated blowdown. This is a risk for hikerswhocannot quickly get to a large body of water if there is a firesituation.Campfires will still be allowed in firegrates at any time of the day indeveloped campgrounds (Trails End, Iron Lake, East Bearskin and FlourLake)within the restricted area.These restrictions are based on long range forecast of hotter than normal temperatures and low precipitation. In particular, the restriction on campfires is an important preventive measure to reduce the risk ofwildfireand protect visitors and adjacent communities. Historically,approximately50% of the wildfires in the BWCAW have started as the result of humanactivities. Most of these wildfires were from campfires that were notmanaged carefully.

Additional information is posted with maps of the restricted area andlistsof included lakes on the Superior National Forest and is also available through the Forestofficesand BWCAW permitting offices.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Group Seeks to Establish a Gunflint Trail Museum

A group of Gunflint Trail residents and business owners are interested in the possibility of turning the old Chikwauk Lodge building into Gunflint Museum. Located on Saganaga Lake, the building was acquired by the USFS following the passage of the 1978 BWCA Act. The USFS has trying to figure out what to do with the building ever since. According to Terry Eggum, from the Gunflint Rangers District such a museum would be a good fit.

The project was first suggested by Sue Prom at a Scenic Byways committee meeting. The Byway's committee thought it was a "great." idea and decided to consider it. A Museum Committee is currently being formed by Sue Kerfoot to work on this project. According to Kerfoot, if the committee is successful in negotiating an agreement for the use of the building from the USFS, they would then set-up a non-profit corporation to develop and administer the property.

It is expect that renovating the building will require a major fund raising effort. Gunflint summer home owner and Edina resident, Betty Hemstad who has consider fund raising experience with the Edina Historical Society has agreed to serve as chairman of the Fund Raising sub-committee.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Vegatable Lakes Designation Can Be Changed

The following article appeared in the Cook County News-Herald, Thursday, July 28th, 2005 by Vicki Biggs-Anderson Editor/Publisher

Forest management plans are not forever. Revised every 10 years, plans can be, although rarely, subject to spot changes. Such is the case with the Cucumber/Vegetable Lakes area, reclassified as a semi-primitive non-motorized in the newly revised plan for the Superior National Forest. Gunflint Ranger Dennis Neitzke brought that fact to the attention of the Cook County Board of Commissioners when a number of people complained about being shut out of a favorite fishing area. The 1,081-acre tract within the county includes lakes commonly accessed by off-road vehicle users. Many of these people, along with most of the county commissioners and U.S. Representative James Oberstar, accuse Neitzke of sneaking the changed designation past them in the draft review process. Tempers have run so high that a bumper sticker reading “Dump Dennis. Save the Vegetables” was printed. Neitzke must, by law, enforce the non-motorized designation. However, local and state government do have a chance to reverse the designation. It’s not a sure thing, however, and it will take some time. In an interview at the Gunflint Ranger station in Grand Marais earlier this month, Neitzke said, “The complete inventory of Minnesota roadless areas under the 2005 roadless conservation rule will be fit within the forest plan unless the governor petitions the Sect. of Agriculture to change those designations.” The Veggie Lakes area is defined as a roadless area. “It’s local government’s and the governor’s decision whether or not to petition,” Neitzke said. Governor Tim Pawlenty has already charged the Minnesota Forest Resource Council with finding the basis for such a petition. The council has until Nov. 2006 to file with the U.S. Sect. of Agriculture. A final decision could be forthcoming within the year.