The Gunflint Trail Blog

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Archive for March, 2011

Spring Symphony

March 31st, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Today marks the last day of the winter lake trout season both inside and outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This ice fishing finale is probably a better marker of winter’s passing on the Gunflint Trail than the first day of spring, or even ice out dates that are yet to come.

Although we’re fast approaching the month of April, a quiet time on the Trail, we’re in the midst of one of our most uniquely noisy times of the year. We’re well into our second week of day-after-day sunny skies and when sunshine combines with snow and ice, an interesting cacophony forms. For the last couple weeks, ice has been groaning and creaking as it expands and contracts with rising and falling temperatures throughout the day. At this point, the ice isn’t producing too many loud gigantic booms. Instead, the ice makes muffled noises — similar to a car door slamming shut in the distance or a heavy box being dropped onto a wooden deck– that often rumble all through the night.

Snow will always be susceptible to sugar analogies it seems, and in in the last few weeks, we’ve watch snow along the Gunflint Trail shift through “sugar types” fairly quickly.  Just a few short weeks ago, powdered sugar fluff was coming from the sky.  Warmer weather compacted the snow cover and subzero nights hardened snowy surfaces into a baked sugar cookie sort of consistency.  Now,  with daily highs in the 40s, Gunflint Trail snow is currently in the grainy “rock candy” stage.

Snowbanks remain plenty high, but if you listen closely as you pass the banks, you can hear the telltale tinkling sounds of melting.   It almost sounds as though little creatures are stumbling down the snowbank in a tinkling fall every time a small section of the snow bank collapses. Throw in chirping songbirds, chattering squirrels, and thumping ice and it’s a veritable springtime symphony in the Gunflint Trail woods these days!

Have you signed up for the ultimate Gunflint spring time event, Gunflint Green Up, yet?

Late Winter Days Slipping Away

March 27th, 2011 | Chik-Waulk Museum, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Thanks to the current that runs through the water, Gull River, which meanders through the Trail’s End Campground near Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, never ices over completely in the wintertime. In these late winter days, the scene of bright blue water lapping at dark ice is lovely precursor to springtime scenes ahead.

Ice remains solid and stable on Gunflint Trail lakes, but the return of bald eagles, noisier songbirds, the end of the winter lake trout season and more daylight means spring is on the minds of many Gunflint Trail residents. Years ago, this was time of year when trappers like Charlie Boostrom would head out to collect their winter traplines.  Those living on islands on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake –  Powells, Bensons, and Madsens — might start making sure they had all the necessary provisions to get them through springtime “ice out”,  when the ice becomes impassible and they must wait at their island homes for open water before they can traverse the lake again. Even today, although subzero mornings have “winter” written all over them, it’s a time when Gunflint Trail residents start thinking less about hauling in the nightly firewood and more about starting the seeds for the summer gardens.  

At Chik-Wauk,  preparations continue for the summer season. While Memorial Day weekend, when Chik-Wauk opens, may seem a long ways off, we know opening day will still manage to sneak up on us.

If you’re looking for an excuse to hang out on the Chik-Wauk grounds before we open for the season on Memorial Day weekend,  you might be interested in planting trees on Chik-Wauk’s grounds as part of the  Gunflint Green Up.  Not only is tree planting good for the soul, you’ll also have a chance to check out the new boardwalk before anyone else.

Bald Eagles Are Back

March 27th, 2011 | News | 1 Comment

The lakes are still frozen solid on the Gunflint Trail, but at least one migratory wildlife species can read the calendar. For the last week or so, bald eagles have been spotted soaring over the Gunflint Trail. Granted, of all the animals who head south in the winter, bald eagles probably make one of the shortest treks.

Bald eagles aren’t strictly a migratory bird.  Rather, bald eagles only head for different digs during the winter months if they need to relocate to find food.  For bald eagles living along the Gunflint Trail, that means heading  down to the open water and fishing offered along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Considering that with their 6′ wingspan, eagles can fly about 30 mph, that’s not a very long journey for the birds!

The eagles are back on the Trail this time of year with a specific purpose in mind: it’s nesting season.  If they haven’t already, eagles will soon lay 1-3 eggs in their large nests, also called aeries.  Eagles mate for life and take turns sitting on the eggs.  After about 35 days of incubation, fluffy white eaglets emerge.

Now there’s a face only a mother could love . . .

The birds are particularly prolific in the upper Gunflint Trail area. You can spot dozens of the birds’ nests (which are usually about 5′ in diameter)  on Seagull and Saganaga Lakes. One of the best known Gunflint Trail eagle nests is located in the Trail’s End campground.  Although it’s always fun and  interesting to watch eagles, it’s never a good idea to approach an eagle nest.  If eagles get spooked by humans, these otherwise model parents may abandon their eggs or young.  It’s best to watch from a distance; if the eagles notice you, it’s time to move on.

Winter Green

March 24th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Old Man Winter has been continuing his tussles with Spring this week. Although the extended hours of sunshine have been slowly wearing away at snow cover and lake ice, it looks like it’ll be a while be a while before spring proves victorious over winter. Today much of the Gunflint Trail woke up to -5F temps! Looks like we’ll be skiing and snowshoeing into April this year.

With winter lingering on, wildflowers are a ways off. Luckily, the Gunflint Trail’s a colorful place all year long. Along the Gunflint Trail there are four main colors out in the natural world in the winter: white, blue, gray, and green. Although many plants and trees lose their leaves during the autumn, we’re fortunate to get a year-round dose of green from our stately evergreen trees like balsam, white pines, jack pines, and cedars.

With the snow cover receding slightly, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for less obvious evergreen plants. Wintergreen, a short little shrub of only about 6 inches in height is often found in jack pine stands. Although it’s short in stature, its edible red berries might help you spot it.

Another evergreen to look for is polypody, which is often found clinging to mossy rock faces.  This teeny fern, only 6-12 inches in height, offers frilly foliage in the winter world.

It’s not easy being green, especially in the wintertime, but we’re sure glad to have these plants around to brighten late winter days!

Ethereal Moments

March 17th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

You can tell Old Man Winter’s contemplating giving into the exuberant new energy of Spring when the days start to turn misty. The last few days have been overcast with temperatures above freezing and lots of moisture in the air. On days like these the snowbanks slowly start compacting in the rather ethereal atmosphere, like the moment on East Bearskin Lake last March captured in the picture below.

The end of March is often synonymous with the changing of the seasons on the Gunflint Trail. Although spring officially comes on March 20, several Gunflint Trail businesses view March 31 as the date that marks winter’s end.  These businesses shut their doors for the April thaw, reopening in May for the summer season.

March 31 also marks the end of winter lake trout season. If ice fishing just sounds like too chilly of a pastime for you, you might try it in these late March days when the ice is still thick and anglers are sometimes spotted fishing in short sleeves.

One sure sign of spring are road restrictions going into place on Gunflint Trail side roads.  Although the restrictions have absolutely no affect on everyday driving around the area, it does mean reduced big-rig traffic on the Trail and signals the end of some winter logging operations.

Winter’s in the midst of going, going, gone on the Gunflint Trail. Better catch it while it lasts!

Northern Lights

March 15th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Last Thursday evening, folks along the Gunflint got a rare treat: a northern lights showing. Artist Joi Electra took a moment to post the picture below on the Gunflint Trail’s Facebook page.  You can check out the Gunflint Trail’s Facebook to see other northern lights shots from Joi.

Named for the Greek goddess of dawn (Aurora) and the Greek god of the north wind (Boreas), the aurora borealis, or northern lights,  are perhaps most obvious symbol of the magnetic pull so many feel to the north country of the Gunflint Trail. These captivating moving lights make for some of the best night sky gazing that the Gunflint Trail offers.

The Exploratorium entry on the Aurora explains why we sometimes see northern lights: “The short answer to how the aurora happens is that energetic electrically charged particles (mostly electrons) accelerate along the magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere, where they collide with gas atoms, causing the atoms to give off light.”

Your chances of seeing the northern lights depend on recent “space weather.” The northern lights are influenced by solar wind and how it pushes on the earth’s magnetosphere. You check out auroral forecasts to see the probability of spying northern lights on any given evening. Although northern lights are hardly a nightly occurrence on the Gunflint Trail, it just takes one night of gazing at the greenish, dancing lights to have memories of lifetime.

Happy sky gazing!

Oh those crazy squirrels

March 12th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

We caught the squirrel in the above picture in a rare contemplative moment at a Gunflint Trail feeder last week.

The squirrels aren’t spending much time sitting still this time of year.  The most energetic species on the Gunflint Trail gets an extra spurt of energy in late winter days. For the last week, temperatures have been consistently above freezing during daylight hours.  As evidenced by the crisscross of squirrel tracks over just about every outside surface on the Gunflint Trail, the squirrels aren’t wasting one bit of the warm, icicle melting sunshine. It’s mating season for red squirrels and that means squirrels coming out of the woodwork for high speed chases up and down trees, across cabin decks, through the feeders and off into the woods . . . and you thought squirrels chased each other around a lot during the rest of the year!

Because female squirrels only ovulate for one day,  they like to make little “heads up” forays for a few days before that day to clue in the male squirrels into their situation.  Squirrels have a gestation period of approximately 35 days.  After birth, baby squirrels nurse for approximately 70 days, living in dreys (squirrel nests), often constructed of grass in tree branches and hollows.  Rather than having one “home sweet home,” squirrels utilize multiple dreys when their babies are little, shuffling the babies from one nest to another. After all, if a red squirrel survives its first year of life, it’s chance of survival greatly increase.

By the age of three months, squirrels are pretty much on their own and then the scampering, the arguing over territory, and the chasing starts all over again as a bunch of “teenage” squirrels head out to discover the North Woods this summer.

Winter So Far

March 8th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

It’s been a snowy winter on the Gunflint Trail. Snow that came down on November 13 laid a fluffy base over the Gunflint Trail that’s only grown deeper and deeper as the winter months pass.

Last night’s snowfall on the Gunflint Trail of about 2 more inches has the Gunflint Trail’s 2010-11 winter snowfall total at nearly 80 inches. That’s almost double the total of 42.20 inches  Golden Eagle’s Nordic Ski Center reported the Gunflint Trail region receiving for the entire 2009-10 winter.  Warmer weather in March and early April often brings large snowfalls which boost seasonal snowfall totals in a flash.  That’s  a good news for late season winter enthusiasts and also a guarantee for a moist spring with gushing waterways and plenty of wildflowers.

As the snow stacks, there’s no need to catch cabin fever.  This weekend is a busy one on the Trail. The 5th Annual Mush for a Cure takes place this Friday and Saturday. The annual FUNdraiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation is sure to be a swirl of pink and puppies.

On Sunday, the Cook County Ridge Riders hold their Trout Derby Picnic at Gunflint Lake Public Landing. Registration starts at 9 am and is open to all.

If you’re feeling starved for open water, late evenings on the cabin porch, or the sound of spring peepers, head over to the Gunflint Trail’s fanpage on Facebook and post your favorite summer Gunflint Trail picture!  We’ll be posting favorite summer scenes over there all week long. See you there.

Subtle changes

March 5th, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Conditions remain excellent for winter activities on the Gunflint Trail. Days are longer and with daily temperatures climbing to highs in the mid 20s, it’s a great time to grab your ice fishing gear and head out for a day on the lake.  As you ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, or even just hike (really, after the February thaw and subsequent freeze up you can take off down Gunflint Trail lakes with just your boots on right now) through the Gunflint Trail forest, you might notice that the woods have grown a little noisier in recent weeks.

Songbirds, like the black-capped chickadee, respond to the increasing daylight by singing. (We humans kind of do too.) You can hear these happy sounds, especially the clear “fee-bee” of the chickadees’ spring song, any time you pause in the woods.

The warmer weather means we can shed a layer or two of our normal winter apparel.  Running around with no mittens on (even for the briefest period of time) feels like a luxury after all that time bundles.  However, foxes and other furred animals will hang onto their winter coats for a while yet, although it’s hard to imagine them getting much fluffier.  The fox in the photo looked like he was wearing a second coat over his winter coat!

It’s a little earlier for the telltale sign of spring in northern Minnesota: baby animals. That is, unless you’re the gray jay (also known as Canada jay or Whiskey Jack). These bird’s young are so well adapted for cold weather that they hatch in February and March.  Other animals, moose, deer, wolves, foxes, coyotes, are all currently in their gestation periods. It’s an expectant time on the Gunflint Trail: lots to enjoy in the present and plenty to look forward to.

Lions and lambs, March is here

March 1st, 2011 | News | 0 Comments

Maybe on the Gunflint Trail, moose and wolves are better animal descriptors than lions and lambs for how the month of March may come and go. Regardless, the month of March is here and with it comes more daylight, noisier birds in the trees, and winter adventures touched with a kiss of spring.

March is often a transition month on the Gunflint Trail, when the area’s not quite sure if it’s winter or spring. If this year’s wintery winter is any indicator, March 2011 will be more winter than spring. We’ll keep you abreast of trail conditions throughout the month. Don’t worry, if you’re still hoping for a winter wonderland getaway, it’s not too late!

If you’re thinking summer rather than winter, now’s a good time to make that reservation for the summer’s BWCAW canoe trip. It’s never too early to reserve your Boundary Waters permit, especially since the permit reservation fee dropped from $12 to $6 this season. The reduced reservation fee goes into effect today!

If you happen to be in Madison, WI, March 11-13, you’ll have a chance to meet up with several Gunflint Trail outfitters at the 2011 Canoecopia paddle sports show. You can also learn about Becoming A Boundary Waters Family at Canoecopia.

Back on the Trail, March 11-12 mark the dates of the 5th annual Mush for a Cure . This family-friendly dogsled event raises breast cancer awareness and is a FUNdraiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Lions or lambs; moose or wolves, March is a great month on the Gunflint Trail, whichever way it comes in.

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