This Fourth of July will be seven years since the Blowdown of 1999. As you may remember a windstorm with winds of over 100 miles per hour swept across the canoe country that afternoon. At Gunflint Lake we were hit full force and trees went down everywhere. Throughout the Superior National Forest (and thus BWCAW) over 30 million trees went down. Luckily no one was seriously hurt.
The aftermath of the storm was really with us for the next year. First there was the mess to clean up. We closed for almost two weeks just to take trees out. The only alternative for parts of our back property was to clearcut. This was true for many areas up and down the trail. Then all winter long we had to live with at least one article a week in the Minneapolis Tribune about not if but when the horrific firestorm was going to sweep through the area. Finally April came and the Gunflint Trail was a sorry looking place. Clearcut areas were just flat and bare. If we managed to survive this great fire that was coming, it would still be forever before we had our forest back.
Well, forever is getting a lot closer. It seems that this summer and last year the regrowth of trees has shot forward. I was walking this week through the area we clearcut. Suddenly there are trees up to ten feet tall. Also you can't see through the growth.
We built a new home across from the stable in the winter of 1999-2000 and didn't have to take down a single living tree. Everything was down. The contractor just pushed it all into a pile and burned it. Poplar are growing off the root systems of the few remaining trees and we have trees 15 feet tall. All the upright birch have died but clumps of new birch are growing out of the stumps. They are 10-12 feet high and beginning to have bark that peels off.
Down on Leo Lake one of the neighbors planted and nurtured some small red pine. They are now 4-5 feet tall and just beautiful to see. Above the Moosehorn Road, the Forest Service planted lots of red pine seedlings. Then a couple of years ago they released them -- that means they cut the brush around the young trees to give them more sunlight. These trees are now about 3 feet tall.
Our side road was hit very hard by the blowdown. You could see Gunflint Lake in places it had never shown through before. By next year the view of the lake will again be covered by forest vegetation.
Don't get the idea that we have a mature forest again. That is still in the future but the growth thus far indicates that the forest is coming. It is truly miraculous the way our forest has regenerated itself.
And, knock on wood, that horrific firestorm hasn't come yet. In fact, most of the fuel for that fire has already rotted away.