BEMIDJI - A windstorm that struck the Bemidji area on July 2 has severely impacted the Mississippi River State Water Trail along the first 53 miles of the river. The damaged area runs from Itasca State Park to Lake Irving in Bemidji, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Trails Division. The windstorm caused major damage to campsites at the Wanagan, Coffee Pot, Island Point and Pine Point landings.
Immediately following the storm, the DNR Forestry Division opened existing forestry roads into some campsites reachable by vehicle, but the campground facilities remain damaged by large downed trees strewn across the site. Campsites are still open, but toilets, fire rings and picnic tables may be unusable or difficult to reach. DNR crews are removing numerous hazard trees and assessing how to reclaim each site.
DNR Parks and Trails field crews are examining sections of the river to ensure it is navigable by canoe, kayak or paddle board. Many river campsites, such as Fox Trap, Iron Bridge and Silver Maple, remain reachable by water only. Water levels are low this time of year, so navigating to these sites may be difficult, even by canoe.
"After viewing the river corridor from roads bisecting the river, paddlers traveling most sections of the river should take precautions and expect to encounter numerous downed trees that will make portaging difficult," said Dave Schotzko, Bemidji area supervisor, Parks and Trails Division.
Although the Island Point campsite downstream from Bemidji was severely damaged, the river corridor appears unaffected. The DNR suggests that until conditions improve, water trail users avoid the upstream portion of the Mississippi River and use the downstream portion from Lake Bemidji.
Schotzko said that the impacts of this storm will linger into the future. "Unfortunately the storm seemed to follow the river corridor and take a swipe at nearly every designated campsite. Many of these are located on unique sites along the river, featuring mature trees on high bluffs. This is where the wind damage took its toll," he said.