7/4/09 – Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the devastating windstorm that hit the BWCA on July 4, 1999. Here is what we wrote and saw at the time:
7/5/99 – Things here are busy and a little hectic. We had a thunderstorm pass through here at about 2:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon, which lasted about a half an hour, with tornado-like winds and heavy rain. It took a lot of trees down and the Sawbill Trail was impassable until about 7 p.m. last night. There have been no injuries reported so far and all campers and Sawbill crew are accounted for. We are all a little weary, as this twist of events on the 4th of July has added more excitement to this normally peaceful place. It is events like this that bring to our attention, once again, to the awesome force of Mother Nature.
The storm was the worst in our history, with 80 mph windgusts violently uprooting trees by the thousands. After the storm passed, the Sawbill crew of 1999, including Laura (Ter Beest) Strubbe, Nathan Ter Beest, Eric Frost, Natasha (Warner) White, Adam Hansen, Laura (Smith) Greensmith, Anna Constance and Josh Bacscai, worked tirelessly to check on those people staying in the campground, and begin to clear the roads.
In front of the Sawbill store, a few days after the storm, the extent of the damage was evident.
Even after the storm passed, we still could not comprehend the total extent of the damage. A few days after the storm, we wrote:
7/7/99 – Now that we’ve had time to assess the damage from Sunday’s storm, we are counting ourselves very, very lucky. Although many trees went down here, in the campground and in the wilderness, it appears that no one in this immediate area was hurt. One family on the campground had two tents set up on their campsite. When the storm hit, they all dived into one of the tents. The other tent was totally destroyed when two huge trees fell across it moments later. Another group was driving over to Kawishiwi Lake with two canoes on a trailer. A large tree fell right across the trailer, destroying both canoes. Our worst loss here at Sawbill was our largest and most beautiful white pine, right by the picnic table in front of the store. It uprooted and fell just a couple of feet from our communication tower guy wires.
The Duluth News Tribune is reporting that 19 people were airlifted out of the wilderness with injuries. No deaths have been reported in the BWCA Wilderness, but a few of the injuries were severe.
These stories are just a few among the thousands told by those who experienced the storm.
In the 10 years that have passed, the wilderness has shown remarkable signs of rebirth. Many exposed hillsides now bristle with new growth. More sobering, the BWCA has seen two massive wildfires–the 2006 Cavity Lake fire and devastating 2007 Ham Lake fire–burn through the blowdown area and beyond.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed. It has been a truly remarkable period of destruction, change, and resilience–and a reminder that wilderness is a place all its own that does not always bend to human will. Through it all, so many of us continue to seek out wilderness year after year, occasionally humbled, but always inspired to follow our own path and see what lies around the next bend. – Adam