The Gunflint Trail Blog

Words, weather, wit, wild things... and a bit of whatnot. All the latest news from the One-And-Only Gunflint Trail.

Archive for February, 2011

From Boots to Running Shoes

February 26th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Spring get off on  a running start on the Gunflint Trail with the Ham Run Half Marathon and 5K, offering runners of all abilities a chance to shed their winter boots and lace up their running shoes.

The race event, now in its fourth year,  turns the Gunflint Trail into a race course on Sunday, May 1. Both the Half Marathon and 5K racers cross the starting line at 10 a.m. Half Marathon runners run 13.1 miles from the Gunflint Pine Resort to the Trail’s End Campground.  5K racers take off from Seagull Creek Fishing Camp and also finish at Trail’s End. A children’s “Little Runt Run”  is held at 1:00 p.m in the campground.

At the races’ conclusion, a food service, including ham and fixings, will be offered at Trail’s End Cafe at Way of the Wilderness Canoe Outfitters. Post-race festivities include entertainment, door prizes,  and massages. Racers are provided a “pre-race” spaghetti dinner on Saturday night.

The run roughly follows the course of the 2007 Ham Lake Wildfire. As racer navigate the course, they have a chance to celebrate spring,  regrowth, and the natural scenic beauty of the Gunflint Trail. The race is also operated with a green initiative, seeking to combine environmental stewardship with outdoor family fun.

Registration is open through April 30.

Spring Comes Creeping In

February 25th, 2011 | Chik-Waulk Museum, Uncategorized | Comments Off

The view out any Gunflint Trail window may decidedly look like winter, the snow may continue to swirl and temperatures stay firmly rooted below zero, but lately there’s been a noticeable increase daylight each day. That extra bit of blue sky every day isn’t being squandered at the end of the Trail. At Chik-Wauk, we’re busily moving forward on preparations for the 2011 summer season.

Gift shop and supply orders are being placed, schedules determined, brochures produced, events scheduled. The to-do list before opening day has a knack of growing longer rather than shorter this time of year.

Chik-Wauk is excited to increase its nature center offerings for the 2011 season.  The popular Becoming A Boundary Waters Family presentations with U.S. Forest Service rangers will return on Thursday afternoons on the Chik-Wauk porch.  In addition, Chik-Wauk will also be hosting guided nature walks each Sunday afternoon on Chik-Wauk’s network of hiking trails. Naturalist programming will run from June 23 – August 28. We hope you’ll have a chance to take part in a hike or presentation, or two.

There’s a new temporary exhibit this season as well. All season long, you can swing by to see Rick Anderson’s exhibit of his family archaeological finds from along the Gunflint Trail. The exhibit will take the place of the popular “Evolution of the Gunflint Trail” exhibit from last season.

Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center will be opening Memorial Weekend and will be open every day from 10-5 p.m. every day through mid-October. See you then!

Gathering Around the Woodstove

February 24th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

The Gunflint Trail is a veritable mecca for outdoor winter enthusiasts. There’s no end of opportunities for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers, ice anglers and other snow and ice lovers in the Gunflint Trail forest. But if snowy scenes inspire you to grab a blanket, cup of hot cocoa, and a good read, rather than your heavy winter coat, that’s okay. The Gunflint Trail is a haven for all winter enthusiasts, regardless of if you enjoy this snowy season best inside or out.

With a heavy blanket of snow covering the earth and forest, the world feels a little snugger and cozier this time of year. Away from cell phones and, for the most part, television, a winter trip up the Gunflint Trail can be a peaceful retreat that allows time for those projects which always seem like a good idea but remain low priority in the confines of everyday life.

A winter day or a week on the Gunflint Trail can offer an escape with no distractions and no demands on your time. Not sure what you’d do with all that free time?

Well, you could: start making progress on that stack of books that’s piled up on your bedstand. Knit a mitten, crochet a hat. Work on a pair of mukluks or moccasins. Make snowshoes or a guitar. Work on a piece of artwork or bead a bracelet. Take a nap. Do a puzzle. Watch the birds from your window. And maybe, if you’re feeling really adventurous, head out the front door and strap on a pair of skis.

There’s still plenty of winter to enjoy on the Gunflint Trail. Yesterday evening, another 4-5 inches of snow fell on the Gunflint Trail forest. We hope you’ll get up to gather around a woodstove in our neck of the woods before the season’s through!

Think “Green Up”

February 19th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

This past week temperatures on the Gunflint Trail soared into the mid 50s.  Winter’s since made a solid return to the Gunflint Trail with daily lows below zero,  but the brief February thaw has a few minds thinking about growth and green.  Luckily, plans for the 4th Annual Gunflint Trail Green Up were announced early this week to help foster those spring thoughts.

Gunflint Green Up is an early spring event that offers participants a hands-on forestry experience in the Gunflint Trail area.  During a time when early wildflowers are emerging and baby animals are born, the Green Up celebrates this season of renewal and growth by planting cedar and pine seedlings in the forest area recovering from the Ham Lake Wildfire of 2007.  The 2011 Gunflint Green Up event takes place Friday May 6 and Saturday May 7.

The Green Up is a chance to both learn about the Gunflint Trail forest, through interpretative hikes and presentations on Friday, and help the forest grow, through tree planting on Saturday. All planting areas are in the Superior National Forest but outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  The planting locations for the 2011 Green Up are Iron Lake, Round Lake, Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, and the Seagull Lake Access Road (Blankenburg Landing).

This year’s Friday activities include an afternoon fire ecology hike with naturalist Steve Robertsen at the Trail’s End Campground, an evening welcome picnic, live music, and anafter dinner presentation by Superior National Forest Archaeologist Lee Johnson on  “The Paulson Mine and the Port Arthur Duluth and Western Railroad: Collapse of the Gunflint Iron Range.”

On Saturday morning, participants gather at their assigned planting area .  A box lunch is provided to all registered participants. Planting is expected to take approximately 3-4 hours. A thank you dinner will be held in the evening, followed by a dance with live music by the Trail’s End Band.

More information about the Gunflint Green Up and how to participate is available at the Green Up’s official website.

5th Annual Mush for a Cure

February 16th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

The fifth annual Mush for a Cure FUNdraiser takes place Friday March 11 and Saturday, the 12th on the Gunflint Trail. The two-day event centers around dog sled and skijoring fun runs on Saturday while blending fundraising events, live music, and camaraderie to raise breast cancer awareness.  This year’s Mush for a Cure goal is to raise $30,000 in donations for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. If that goal is met, Mush for a Cure events will have raised a cumulative $100,000 in five years!

Mush for a Cure activities begin on March 11 at Trail Center Lodge. A pink pasta feed is served from 5-8 p.m. Meanwhile, from 5-7, local hairstylist Andrea Peterson provides “Cut for a Cure”, providing fundraising haircuts.  The hair Andrea snips won’t be the only hair falling to the floor before the night’s through.  This year brings a return of the Bald, the Brave, and the Beautiful competition where a few individuals risk having their locks shaved off at 9:30  if enough donations are made during the evening.   Last year, the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department Chief and Assistant Fire Chief as well as the Cook County Sheriff and Assistant Deputy braved the buzzer and walked away with new bald-dos. From 8-10, Trail Center transforms into the Pink Masquerade Ball.

Saturday activities begin with a 9 a.m. pancake feed at the Gunflint Pines. The skijoring run begins at 10 a.m. at Cross River, finishing at Gunflint Pines. The dog sled run kick off at noon with a sourdough start at the Gunflint Pines. (With a sourdough start, dog mushers start in their sleeping bags  when the starting horn blows and must get all their gear in order before heading down the trail.)  The dog sled course is approximately 26 miles in length,  heading west from Gunflint Pines before turning southeast towards the finish at Trail Center. There are several places to watch the race’s progress: Gunflint Pines, Gunflint Resort, Gunflint Lake boat landing, Iron Lake Access, Old Gunflint Trail (both west and east ends), Windigo Lodge, Nor’wester Lodge and the finish at Trail Center Lodge.

Prizes are presented when the last team crosses the finish line and the rest of the evening is devoted to a finisher’s party with live music at Trail Center. More information available at Mush for a Cure’s website.

Gardening the Gunflint Trail

February 12th, 2011 | Chik-Waulk Museum, Uncategorized | Comments Off

As the winter wears on, many Gunflint Trail residents turn to seed catalogs and the prospect of  planning the summer gardens to spark hope in spring’s arrival.  Gardening has always been an adventure on the Gunflint Trail. Despite temperatures that frequently reach the 90s in mid-summer, the short growing season limits the variety of plants which can be grown.  Gardeners also have to contend with a general lack of top soil,  not to mention hungry deer and chipmunks ready and willing to filch a gardener’s handiwork.  Nevertheless, through the years, many gardens have sprung up on the Trail.

Justine Kerfoot wrote in the foreword of the Gunflint Lodge Cookbook about the garden her father, George Spunner, maintained at Gunflint Lodge for several years, starting in the 1930s: “There was always an abundance of lettuce, carrots, radishes, cabbage, rhubarb, onions, and of course, a year’s supply of potatoes. Tomatoes and sweet corn would never make it. The deer like all the fresh greens, too. After many experiments, Dad discovered that a row of mothballs placed around the garden would act as a deterrent to deer.”

Willard Johnson at Loon Lake Lodge in an interview with the Gunflint Trail Historical Society remembers Clara Dewar, past owner of Loon Lake Lodge, had beautiful gardens. Berries were Clara’s specialty.  “All the neighbors up on Gunflint and all east [of here] used to come up and buy raspberries from her,” said Willard.

A few years back, the Pattens at Okontoe developed quite the potato field on one piece of their property with sandy soil. The venture yielded tons of Yukon Gold potatoes, but also lead to some potato bug issues, said Nancy Patten in a 2004 interview.

Many gardeners along the Gunflint Trail resort to raised bed garden to deal with this northern land’s lack of top soil. Betsy Powell’s raised bed garden on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake consisted of a series of Styrofoam containers. Her neighbor, Irv Benson, preferred to use 5-gallon pails as his planters.

Not all gardens on Gunflint Trail are planted to produce food. Many individuals, such as Benny Ambrose and Ben and Mama Gallagher are remembered for their exquisite flowerbeds. Another fellow with flowerbeds was George Wartner, who lived alone on Gunflint Lake in the 1910s.

Dietrich Lange would write about Wartner in his book Stories from the Woodland Path: “The largest and most gorgeous pansies I ever saw were not raised by some rich man’s gardener, but by an old hermit, who lived in the wilderness north of Lake Superior. A beach of red shingle and pebbles on Gunflint Lake on the International Boundary, the old man had converted into beds of pansies: Pansies white, and yellow, blue and purple, and very dark, pansies smiling and pansies laughing, pansies suggesting all human moods and faces. It was worth a journey of many miles to see the pansies of the Hermit of Gunflint Lake.”

May these thoughts of gardens help you imagine soft warmth of spring sunshine on your face.

Moon Rests in the Winter Circle

February 12th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Sometimes in these mid-winter days, we become so focused on the growing daylight, that we forget the gifts of darkness. Every clear night on the Gunflint Trail offers wonderful stargazing. The dark skies above the Gunflint Trail can display so many stars, it’s rather dizzying. Tomorrow, February 13,  you can try to make sense of all those stars, by seeing if you can find the waxing February moon inside the Winter Circle.

The Winter Circle is asterism (non-constellation star formation) of the six brightest stars in the winter sky.  The six stars — Pollux, Procyon, Sirus, Rigel, Capella, and Aldebarran — form a large circle/hexagon that is visible earlier and earlier in the evening as the winter progresses.  Tonight you’ll find the moon hanging out off-center in the circle, just above reddish Betelgeuse.  Once you’ve found the Winter Circle, you can easily pick out another asterism: the Winter Triangle which features the stars Betelgeuse, Sirius and Procyon.

While the term asterism might sound a little strange when we’re so accustomed to referring to star formations as constellations, you’re probably already well familiar with two asterisms. The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are the best known asterisms since the Dippers aren’t constellations in and of themselves. They actually reside in the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

When you’re gazing up at the Winter Circle,  you might notice that one winter constellation, Orion, is slowly making its western exit off the night sky stage. Spring must be on its way!

Gunflint Trail Mid-Winter Scenes

February 10th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

There’s wonder in every season on the Gunflint Trail and this beautiful, snowy winter has offered plenty to marvel at. Things like . . .


Watching the snow fall and the temperatures vacillate anywhere from -20 to 20F.

(Moral of the story: wear layers.)

Visits from pine marten friends

Crossing paths with the moose (or two).

There’s no knowing what you’ll see or who you’ll run into on the Gunflint Trail, and there’s always plenty to do.

This weekend marks the grand finale of the Winter Tracks festival. If you haven’t done so already, there’s still time to sign up for the Volks Ski 400 on Saturday (Feb. 12) when cross-country skiers converge on Cook County in an attempt to collectively ski all 400+ kilometers of county ski trail in a single day.

If you think racing, say, a dog sled team, is more up your alley than the non-competitive atmosphere offered by Volks Ski, don’t despair. The Bearskin Wilderness Pursuit offers an opportunity to test your cross-country ski skills against three teams of excited sled dogs. Even if you’re not much of a skier, this is a spectator event not to be missed. While you’re at Bearskin Lodge for the Wilderness Pursuit, you can also check out the Gunflint Trail’s contributions to the Winter Tracks snow sculptures.

And don’t forget, Valentine’s Day’s right around the corner.  You won’t want to pass up the opportunity the holiday offers for a drive (or snowmobile ride) up the Gunflint Trail  for a romantic wilderness dinner at your favorite Gunflint Trail dining establishment.

Trapping: A Way of Life

February 4th, 2011 | Chik-Waulk Museum, Uncategorized | Comments Off

For centuries, fur trade has helped shaped the history of the Gunflint Trail region. Were it not for fashionable beaver pelt hats in Europe who knows how this region in the heart of the North American continent would have been developed. From 1650 until the early 1800s, French and English voyageurs paddled their mighty canoes into Minnesota’s Arrowhead region to trade a variety of goods like beads and kettles with the Ojibwe people for beaver pelts. The trapping of mink, fisher, beavers,  and pine martens continued to be an important source income for Gunflint Trail residents well into the 20th century.

Early Gunflint Trail pioneer Charley Boostrom of Clearwater Lodge fame, spent many winter months on trapline when he came to the area in the 1910s. Lloyd K. Johnson recalls that Charley would come into Grand Marais at winter’s end to trade his furs at the trading post owned by Lloyd’s father, Charlie. Both Charlies would inspect the fur, determining the furs’ worth based on the quality of each fur, a process known as grading. Charlies were alike in more than just name. The price the two men each individually figured the furs to be worth “came in within 25 cents of each other,” Lloyd said in a 2002 interview with the Cook County Historical Society.

Trapping was cold work that kept trappers out in the winter elements for weeks on end. North of Saganaga Lake in Canada, trappers like the Powells and Plummers spent two-three weeks out on the trapline at a time, traveling from one trapping shack to another. The shacks were small log structures that often provided few amenities other than a roof over the trappers’ heads.

But not all nights were spent in the relative comfort of these trapper shacks. In 1979 interview, Gunflint Trail entrepreneur Russell Blankenburg described the trapping practices of  Pete LaPlante in the 1920s and 30s.According to Russell, Pete would head out on the trapline on bitterly cold winter days.

“On those days Pete would head right out into the woods for week with just a light pack sack and a light blanket while I’d freeze to death in the meantime. Way below zero you know, 40 below or so and he didn’t mind it at all,” said Russell. “But one thing, his technique of how to build his fire and the way he’d commonly do it if you were with him any time, you’d see how he does it, he’d get one of these cliffs with the wind at the back, not the front, see the wind’s going over the top. A cliff would be fifteen, twenty, thirty feet high for that matter. But he’d make his fire then, he’d cut dry wood, standing dry wood, in six foot lengths. Not little pieces like we build a fire. He’d cut them six foot lengths and lay that on the reserve pile at the foot of the cliff. So that the heat would be a reflector. And then he would get in there next to the cliff.”

Modern technology and equipment have changed the nature of trapping, but on a much smaller scale than years ago, trapping continues to this day. Just as before, trapping still generates supplemental income to help make ends meet during the long winter months.

It’s a bunny of a different color!

February 3rd, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year: the year of the rabbit. On the Gunflint Trail, the resident rabbit is actually a hare, the snowshoe hare to be exact.  Hares are born with fur and sight as opposed to their rabbit “cousins.”

These small creatures usually weigh between 2-4 lbs and eat a mainly herbivorous diet. During the summer, these hares wear a brown and gray coat, allowing them to blend into the undergrowth.  In fall, the hares begin changing into their snow-white winter coats. The change in coats takes approximately 10 weeks and although the hares are usually some of the best camouflaged animals around, depending on when snow comes or goes, hares can go through an awkward transition period if they adopt one coat prematurely. Because of this seasonal morph the hares are sometimes referred to as “varying hares. “

You might have trouble spotting a hare (not only are they snow-white right now, they’re also nocturnal) but if you’ve ever been on the Gunflint Trail in the winter, you’ve probably noticed their unique tracks:

The hares’ back paws are large and shaped like snowshoes. These back paws give the hares their name and just like the snowshoes we humans wear, help keep the hares on top of the snow. Their tracks can be a little puzzling; if you examine the tracks closely it might look like the hare’s paws are on backwards. In actuality, when hopping through the woods, the hares’ back paws hit the snow first and the front paws hit the snow in between and behind the large back pads.
Speaking of tracks . . .

It’s a great time to be leaving tracks of your own on the Gunflint Trail. The Winter Tracks festival kicks off tomorrow, Friday, February 4th. You can find updates and photos of Winter Track activities on Facebook by either “friending” the Gunflint Trail or “liking” the Gunflint Trail Association.

Switch to our mobile site