Jay Cooke may be open for business – sort of – in two monthsThe summer season may have been a wash for Jay Cooke State Park thanks to massive flood damage, but officials are hoping to salvage part of the fall and winter seasons at the popular Carlton County park. If all goes as planned, visitors should be able to drive into Jay Cooke State Park from Carlton by the end of October.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
The summer season may have been a wash for Jay Cooke State Park thanks to massive flood damage, but officials are hoping to salvage part of the fall and winter seasons at the popular Carlton County park. Visitors should be able to drive into Jay Cooke State Park from Carlton – the west entrance – by the end of October.
“Visitors will still see a lot of destruction,” said Kristine Hiller, park naturalist.
The damage starts with the roads leading to the park.
June’s rainfall and flooding damaged roads in the region, but none more so than Highway 210 in and near Jay Cooke, where the road is built on hills of unstable clay and silt. Slides and washouts severed the highway in several places. At the St. Louis River, the flood washed out a 9-foot-diameter overflow pipe near the Thomson Bridge. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will replace the culvert with a bridge approximately 100 feet long. The new bridge should open in late October.
The flooding caused numerous bridge issues, said Gary Hoeft, park manager.
“We lost nine or 10 bridges in the flooding,” Hoeft said. “Well, the bridges are still there but the banks washed away so now there’s a 30-foot gap where there’s a 20-foot bridge. Now the bridges just aren’t long enough, plus some of them are downstream from where they used to be.”
One of the park’s most popular attractions – the iconic swinging bridge – won’t be
repaired until later in 2013 at the soonest, according to Hoeft. The bridge’s four main columns appear to have escaped damage in this year’s flooding, but the rest of the bridge – cables, boardwalk, fencing and some smaller supports – need to be replaced.
“We hope to start on some of the stonework this winter inside heated shelters,” he said. “The majority of the bridge would be repaired next spring and summer.”
This summer wasn’t the first time the swinging bridge had to be rebuilt. Built in 1924 by the Forest Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the structure with the familiar stone pillars we see today in 1934-35. Fifteen years later the bridge was destroyed in what was then the largest flood on record. The 1950 flood was recorded as 42,000 cubic feet per second, compared to the 55,000 cubic feet per second of this summer’s flood. Like the 2012 flood, the smaller pillars were knocked down and reports were that one main pillar went too. The decking was destroyed.
Hoeft is hoping it won’t take three years to reopen the bridge this time, since many of the trails lie across the St. Louis River from park headquarters. In the meantime, however, a number of trails are close to being repaired.
“We plan to have at least a token ski season,” Hoeft said. “We had some trails that were completely washed away, but we should still have some good cross country ski options.”
Hoeft expects the following trails to be in good enough condition for grooming and skiing this winter: CCC trail, White Pine trail, Thomson Loop, Oak trail and Triangle trail, Summer trail and the East and West Ridge trails.
Hoeft said the Grand Portage trail is in the worst shape of any of the trails.
“It just washed off the side of the hill in places,” he said.
There are other ways the park likely won’t be back to normal. At the moment there is no water or sewer, although the park does have phone lines again – those were down for a month after the flooding – and once the roads are fixed, the sewer lines can be repaired.
However, because the park’s water comes through a pipe that runs at the bottom of the Forbay Canal – which is now empty – it is now exposed and would be liable to freeze over the winter.
In short, any camping will be more primitive, even though the park’s campground and camper cabins weren’t affected by the flooding.
“We expect to have some rustic camping available,” Hoeft said. “But there certainly won’t be showers or flush toilets.”
Other parts of Highway 210
It may be more than a year before flood-damaged Minnesota Highway 210 between the park’s headquarters and Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood reopens.
“We ask people to be patient while we try to put it back together,” said Jim Sorenson,
MnDOTproject supervisor. “It is quite a challenge for us. We have never had anything like this. We are working it a piece at a time. I think everyone will be pretty happy once we get to the park.”
Floodwaters also overwhelmed a 6-foot-diameter culvert beneath 210 between Thomson and Jay Cooke’s headquarters, leaving a 35-foot-deep, 100-foot-long gap in the highway. To help plug the gap, the state ordered a $310,000 custom-made box culvert. The 250-feet-long, 12-feet-wide, 8-feet-high culvert will arrive in about 50 sections and be assembled on site. Sorenson said they are still awaiting delivery but hope to have that section of the road open by the third week in October. Cost for materials and labor for this one washout? Just under $1 million.
Another major section of Highway 210 washed out between park headquarters and Oldenburg Point after an earthen embankment on Forbay Lake – part of Minnesota Power’s reservoir/power generation system – gave way. When the lake’s waters hit Highway 210, they tore through the road, leaving a 50-foot-deep, 250-foot-wide gap. MnDOT engineers and consultants are working to develop a temporary solution for reopening the road. A permanent solution has to wait until Minnesota Power decides how it will repair Forbay Lake, Sorenson said.
That will take time, said Amy Rutledge, a Minnesota Power spokeswoman.
“We are working with [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] on the design and the restoration of Forbay Lake,” she said.
In addition, the two are doing an analysis of Minnesota Power’s entire hydro-electrical system. The Thomson Hydro Station, the system’s largest, hasn’t operated since Forbay Lake failed. Minnesota Power and FERC are examining options on how to get Thomson at least partly operating again while looking for a long-term solution.
Steve Kuchera of Forum Communications contributed greatly to this story.