Several hundred volunteers have already signed up to plant 75,000 new trees along the Gunflint Trail to mark the first anniversary of the most destructive forest fire in Minnesota in 90 years.
The Gunflint Green Up celebration is planned for May 2-4, a year after the Ham Lake fire burned across 76,000 acres in northeast Minnesota and western Ontario. More than 250 volunteers are signed up to plant the red and white pine trees.
"It's a healing process for us up here, and for the people who don't live here but still love this country," Dan Bauman, co-owner of Golden Eagle Lodge and chief of the Gunflint Train Volunteer Fire Department, told the Duluth News Tribune. "It's also a notice to people that we're still here. We're open. This is still the most beautiful wilderness in Minnesota."
The weekend events also include food, music, dance, a half marathon and educational talks. It's also billed as one of Minnesota's sesquicentennial celebration events.
The Ham Lake fire, which burned out of control from May 5 to May 20 last year, damaged or destroyed 136 structures in Minnesota including six permanent homes and 22 seasonal cabins. No one was killed or seriously injured, but it was the largest wildfire in Minnesota since 1918 in acreage, lost buildings and financial damage.
Authorities said the fire was caused by an unattended campfire at Ham Lake. Results of an investigation were turned over to the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota; so far, no charges have been filed.
Fire risk is much lower this year than in the previous few years, when drought conditions prevailed over much of northeastern Minnesota. Recent heavy snows and autumn rains helped refill swamps, lakes and streams across much of the region, and wetted down forest areas.
Forestry experts say much of the forest area struck by fire will regenerate on its own, but the Forest Service is replanting some areas near the Gunflint Trail and other spots where the majority of large seed trees were wiped out.
"Our crews, even last summer already, could see a lot of areas that were regenerating naturally," said Kris Reichenbach spokeswoman for Superior National Forest. "But there are pockets that could use some help, especially right along the (road) corridor."
The volunteer tree-planting effort is being coordinated by the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee and the Gunflint Trail Association, and will focus on public places in Superior National Forest: boat landings, campgrounds and access points to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, including the hard-hit Trails End and Iron Lake Campgrounds.
The trees were donated by nurseries and the Iron Range Resources agency. They'll be planted in pockets to mimic natural stands, not in rows or plantations. Forest Service personnel will be on hand to steer the efforts.
All the plantings will take place outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which because it is an official federal wilderness will be allowed to regenerate completely on its own.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)