State making progress on recovery from wind storm along upper river

St. Croix State Park will fully re-open its campgrounds in the spring, after being closed for overnight use since last July’s windstorm.




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Storm damage at St. Croix State Park, October 2011
Storm damage at St. Croix State Park, October 2011

Genetically-tested plants, heightened fire risk, lucrative logging and 127 miles of roads cleared are all part of the picture six months after severe storms flattened thousands of acres of forest in the upper St. Croix River valley. Two July storms knocked down trees on 97,000 acres of publicly-owned land.

Straight-line winds caused widespread damage at the most popular park on the St. Croix River, St. Croix State Park, shutting the park down entirely for the months of July and August. The park was fortunately closed during the storm, due to the Minnesota state government shutdown; trees were knocked down in many of the campgrounds.

In a recent press release, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced all St. Croix State Park’s campsites will be open for the 2012 season, and provided updates on the clean-up efforts that have taken place across the 175,000 acres affected:

DNR makes major progress in St. Croix Valley blowdown recovery, but much work remains
January 5, 2012

Six months after 100-mile-per-hour winds devastated state forests and recreation areas in the upper St. Croix River Valley, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has made significant progress in restoring facilities and salvaging timber.

A July 1 storm knocked down trees and buildings across 161,000 acres in eastern Minnesota’s Pine County and caused significant damage to St. Croix State Park and St. Croix, Chengwatana and Nemadji state forests. A second wind storm July 19 impacted another 24,500 acres in the same region.

Since the storms, the DNR has sold 180,000 cords of salvaged timber for $2.3 million, while another 45,000 cords will be sold and recovered during the next 18 months. The standing timber had a value of $6 million, but forestry experts estimated only half of its worth would be salvageable and sold.

Blowdown damage at St. Croix State Park in October 2011
Blowdown damage at St. Croix State Park in October 2011, photo by Greg Seitz

“Quick work from our emergency response teams of state foresters and state park staff from the Sandstone area enabled us to salvage a significant amount of the fallen timber before it deteriorated,” said Sandstone area forest supervisor Jeremy Fauskee. “We are pleased with the auction prices for the initial sales, but realize the demand is also softening as the private loggers return to their normal winter work schedules.’’

Depending on land classifications, revenue from salvaged timber sales will go into the state’s forest management investment account, the state’s school trust fund or the state’s general fund.

The timber auctions should be completed by February 2012.

The blowdown left about 30,000 acres of productive standing timber on the ground across an 185,500-acre area. Timber that remains on the ground will present a heightened fire hazard during the next five or more years. That hazard will be closely monitored by DNR foresters and other cooperating local, state and federal agencies.

While much of the salvaged forest lands will regenerate naturally, a reforestation effort will allow foresters and biologists to restore the mix of conifers and oaks that once covered the area and improve a coldwater trout stream.

Earlier this month, seed collectors finished gathering more than 300 bushels of pine cones so native seeds could be extracted and those genetics could be restored during a seven-year reforestation process. In spring of 2014, the first of an estimated 3,000 acres will be replanted in a mix of pine and oak seedlings at a cost of $900 to $1,200 per acre.

Ongoing park and state forest campground recovery efforts

At St. Croix State Park, the last of the damaged campgrounds, Old Logging Trail, was cleared of debris in December, meaning all the park’s campsites will be ready for campers this spring.

“An extraordinary amount of hard work and emergency planning has been on display during our recovery efforts after the St. Croix Valley blowdown,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We’re very proud of our employees for their efforts.”

Only one mile of hiking trail remains to be cleared out of the park’s 127 miles of roads and trails impacted by the storms.

Storm damage at St. Croix State Park, October 2011, photo by Katie Seitz
Storm damage at St. Croix State Park, October 2011, photo by Katie Seitz

The state park opened for day use in September, just six weeks after the storm. St. Croix State Park was third most popular state park in overnight stays in 2010, with 50,579 overnight visitors. It was 16th in overall attendance last year with 187,891 visitors.

Building restoration is also underway at the park. Manager Rick Dunkley said about 95 percent of the buildings at the park’s south end has been repaired, with the remaining work to be completed this spring. Camp buildings at Head of the Rapids and Norway Point have been repaired, but some repairs are still needed to the headquarters office and two cabins.

A bid is going out soon to repair 22 buildings at historic St. John’s Landing. The bulk of that reconstruction will occur this summer, Dunkley said.

Three state forest campgrounds – the Snake River Campground, Boulder Campground and Tamarack Horse Camps – remain closed to the public for the winter months and will have limited availability next summer.

Cleanup efforts will continue at the park and throughout the state forests for the next several years.

“We’ve had many repeat visitors to the park who are interested in the cleanup effort and the progress being made,” said Dunkley. “We will be spending time talking to them about the fire risk, where they can safely recreate in the park, and the work that is being done to restore this wonderful facility.”

Midweek visitors can observe the harvest and restoration efforts from a safe distance, while weekend visitors will likely not see or hear those activities.

Previous storm coverage on St. Croix 360:


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State making progress on recovery from wind storm along upper river