On September 10, 2011, our group of six departed for a few days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and away from the modern world. We departed from Sawbill Canoe Outfitters in Tofte, Minnesota, circling 75 miles clockwise through Lake Polly, the Kawishiwi River, a magical moonlight side trip to the pictographs, through Little Sag, Tuscarora and Cherokee lakes. Through pure luck, we managed to stay a day ahead of an enormous expanding forest fire that lay to our west. And while we paddled west, the fire raced to the east. But in the nick of time, our route headed north, out of harm's way.
Our group consisted of me and my brothers Kent and Andy Keith, brother-in-law Lee Scotland and friends Carlton Cook and Jeff Abrahms. For some of us, it was the first time in the BWCA. For others, this would be just another excursion. For me, this was my first big loop trip, full of portages getting us deep into the wild woods and lakes. I've experienced a fair bit of adventure - through kayaking down the Mississippi and cycling across the US - but this trip would present a new and different element.
The Pagami Creek fire, which had been smoldering for a month, was barely noticeable on our first day. But it expanded greatly on our second day to engulf 11,000 acres. On the third day, hot dry winds exploded the fire to record size, sending apocalyptic looking plumes of smoke soaring across the sky. Of course we didn't know these details since we were disconnected from news. We only knew what we could see ominously overhead.
While fires, especially on such a large scale, are destructive, they are a driving force of nature. This destruction will bring renewal and beauty to the Boundary Waters.
Pete Keith lives near Lanesboro, Minnesota, with his wife Barb. He is a consultant for medical devices companies but makes time who traveling, cycling, gardening and woodworking.
BWCA bridge rebuilt during fire
The Banadad Bridge remotely located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area midway along the Banadad Ski Trail, was rebuilt in September while the Pagami Creek fire raged east of Ely, Minnesota.
Because the fire forced the closure of most BWCA entry points west of the Gunflint Trail, the bridge builders (consisting of members of the Banadad Trail Association and North Star Ski Touring Club) were given special permission by the U.S. Forest Service to enter at One Mile Lake. While the fire encompassed some 94,000 acres, cooler weather and some precipitation allowed for the crew to travel to the bridge site.
The group trucked their canoes and equipment two miles along the Moose Trail west of Poplar Lake and then portaged into One Island Lake and on to Rush Lake. They canoed to the far west end of Rush where the bridge is located and where they set up camp overnight.
The bridge - 36-feet long with a 24-foot center span - was in much need of repair.
"The bridge previously installed in 1996 was solid until the last few years when the aging support beams rotted out and it became treacherous crossing, especially with the weight of the ski groomers," Banadad Trail maintenance manager Ted Young said.
The crew removed cedar decking, installed new bridge abutments and put three new 26-foot stringers in place. The bridge repair was done using grant money from Arrowhead Electric Cooperative.
The project was completed by late afternoon on a Saturday, enabling the crew to spend several hours clearing trees from 3K of the ski trail near the bridge. The Banadad Trail is a 28.8K linear ski trail, 22K of which is within the BWCA.