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July 4, 2016 by: Ted

July 4th 1999 – the Blowdown Remembered

July 4th 1999 – the Blowdown Remembered

JULY 4-5, 1999 DERECHO through "The Boundary Waters to Canadian Derecho"

Gunflint Trail people remember that fateful time on or about noon Sunday July 4, 1999 when the area was hit by a massive storm- later to be became known as the BWCA Blowdown. Not as well understood, the Blowdown was actually a massive storm system that started in North Dakota raced thought Minnesota into the Boundary Waters and then traveling east across Canada and into New England and out into the Atlantic producing havoc along it entire route. For a look at this massive storm go to – NOAA- Derecho.

West Bearskin Lake - July 4, 1999

For many years the folks on West Bearskin Lake on July 4 each year would gather at one of their neighbor’s cabin's for the annual firing of a homemade cannon at noon off his dock. On that fateful day of July 4, 1999 as the lake folks gathered for the annual firing of the canon, they noticed the sky was becoming very threatening. It was clear a storm was on the way. So, close to noon, the cannon was quickly fired. At the same time –the rain, lightening, thunder and the wind started knocking down trees all around them. The assembled folks quickly scattered for shelter.

Some on West Bearskin, so the story goes, to this day still blame the storm and the knocking down of all their trees on the firing of the cannon. There was a T-shirt showing the cannon knocking trees down. The t-shirt was designed and printed by lake resident Stephanie Boddy (sadly she passed away several years ago.) It is my understanding that since the Blowdown the West Bearskin 4th of July tradition of shooting off the cannon is no longer observed. Photo on of West Bearskin resident - Charlie Helbling

Tuscarora Outfitter’s Annual 4th of July Parade

I have been told that a few years as a spoof on Tuscarora’s new employees the new employees would be required to design and construct a Tuscarora Outfitter’s float. These new employees were told that the float was to be in the Gunflint Trail’s Annual 4th of July Parade. Many of the floats built by the new employees were quite elaborate in order to impress other participants that were expected to participate in the annual event. The event of course was bogus; Tuscarora would be the only participant in the so-called parade.

July 4, 1999 was no different- the new employees float was ready. The new employees took their seats on a hill along the supposed Gunflint Trail parade route. Then as in every other July 4th parade, the one and only float and for that matter the parade’s only participant was the Tuscarora float with the older employees riding on it. Just as the float was ready to pass in review -the storm hit with gale force winds, straight line rain, thunder lighting, trees falling in bunches. The parade participants and new employees assembled to watch the so-called parade, headed for cover. This Tuscarora 4th of July parade spoof has not been repeated since the year of the Blowdown.


Old Ceders on Young Island

Some Random Personal Thoughts Wrote Down Five Years After the July 4th Blowdown

Seventeen years ago around noon, July 4, 1999 the Gunflint was struck be a massive storm- the Blowdown. Five years later after reflecting on that event I wrote down the following random thoughts about the storm. These thoughts were not in any particular order, some are not even grammatically correct but these thoughts are what at the time just came to mind.

  • Brought the Gunflint Community together with a shared benchmark - July 4, 1999
  • After the storm we went through a period of grieving; we have now moved on
  • We lost some stately trees and we grieved. To some extent just as New Yorkers lost part of their skyline. But most trees were spared and we moved on.
  • Mother nature" has taken over and the forest is now filled by new growth
  • We replanted some 6,000 white, red pine and white spruce trees on and near our property at Poplar Creek. The Gunflint Trail community planted tens of thousands more throughout the trail... The property where now live looks very nice
  • Prior to the storm we had planned to build a new bed and breakfast on our land at Poplar Creek. While the storm delayed us about a year, it gave more time to better plan the project. As a result we increased the building’s size and changed the construction site to where we think is a better location. The new B&B, Poplar Creek Guesthouse opened on September 13, 2001 (two days after 9/11).
  • We expanded ski trails on State land logging trails that were cleared of storm down trees.
  • Electrical power grid has been rebuilt; much of it underground
  • Portages within the BWCA are in better shape then before the storm because the USFS crews used real equipment to clear them
  • Forested neighborhoods have always lived with "wild fires." Now because of the storm we are better prepared to fight wildfires.
  • Many people on the Gunflint have cleared flammable materials away from their structures. Most have installed sprinklers.
  • USFS, DNR and our own local volunteer fire department has better equipment
  • The backroads to our home was upgraded.


In this Blog post we at Poplar Creek are remembering and commemorating the "storm" that at the time seemed to consume us. Since then we have moved on. We do not control Mother Nature; we live with and like the new growth of trees that have emerged since the storm. We, as humans, are often renewed by events such as the blowdown of 1999.

Blog post by Ted Young, Boundary Country Trekking and http://poplarcreekbnb.com

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