Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park still recovering from flood
by Polly Scotland
A June 2012 flash flood near Duluth, Minnesota, destroyed hundreds of homes, wiped out roads and killed dozens of animals at the Lake Superior Zoo. The St. Louis River rose 11 feet and crested at a record-setting 16.6 feet. Scars from that terrible event are still evident, especially in the area of Jay Cooke State Park.
Years later, my husband, Lee, and I drove to Carlton, Minnesota, to see how the state park had recovering from that record-breaking event.
The parking lot was nearly empty and a handful of tourists roamed the information center. The gloomy rain of that late afternoon in October had stopped. Vibrant red and orange autumn colors were sandwiched between the light gray sky and the root beer-colored rushing water of the St. Louis River.
As I stepped out of the car, I grabbed my raincoat and camera before strolling across the newly rebuilt swinging bridge, a replacement for the iconic bridge that was destroyed in the devastating torrent of 2012. I paused to enjoy the park’s showcase: a waterfall cascading into a gorge of chiseled slate and greywacke bedrock. Gold and yellow leaves of the deciduous trees popped in contrast to the deep evergreens.
The map on the other side of the bridge depicts over 50 miles of hiking trails, some of which were still closed. We walked several loops on soggy leaves and slippery red clay, avoiding the orange barricades of damaged paths.
Roger, over and out
After a few hours, Lee said, “It’s five o’clock and there’s two hours of daylight left, so we can finish on the longer East Ridge Trail.”
After a while, the movement of what first appeared to be a large animal caught my eye. I stopped Lee by grabbing his arm and pointing to the form that was by then also standing still.
We cautiously approached and to find a brawny, football player-sized man leaning on a makeshift pole. The dark haired, husky guy, wearing a gray sweatshirt and navy blue shorts, was smeared head to toe with red mud and leaves.
With a casualness that belied the situation, he asked, “How are you folks?”
“Are you O.K.?” I quizzically blurted out,
The man sheepishly smiled, then winced before replying. “Actually, I took a nasty spill as I was jogging and something happened to my knee. I was lucky to find this tree branch to use to get back to my car.”
The man demonstrated how he’d been plodding forward, six inches at a time. At that pace it would take hours for him to get out.
Without hesitation, Lee peeled off three layers of his own clothing, handed me his cell phone and said, “You two stay here and I’ll run for help.”
The entirety of Polly Scotland’s encounter with the injured runner appears in the December 2015 print edition of Silent Sports. To order a copy, call 888-706-4045. Or subscribe online here and never miss another issue!