Forest Service seeks input on infrastructure repairs to prioritize with Great American Outdoors Act

Birch Lake Campground, Superior National Forest. Photos by Anne Queenan.

There could be new bridges, trail and campground improvements ahead for Superior National Forest, thanks to legislation passed this summer. The Great American Outdoors Act seeks to help federal land managers catch up on a backlog of maintenance projects across the country.

While funding will go to the National Park Service, with benefits for Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks, the U.S. Forest Service will also receive money. The Forest Service manages the three-million acre Superior National Forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The legislation was intended to help government agencies tackle deferred maintenance that built up over years of chronic underfunding. The Forest Service is now seeking public input on what projects it should prioritize. Forty-three possibilities are listed for the Superior National Forest.

“We want to hear from our visitors and stakeholders about what matters most to them and what they think is needed to improve their experience,” said Gina Owens, Eastern Regional Forester. “This effort to improve our infrastructure is the largest investment in a generation, and we want to make sure we wisely use it to meet our visitor’s needs and modernize our offerings.”

The list of possible projects includes replacing bridges and culverts on remote Forest roads, and while many projects might not be exciting, there are several where visitors will notice the improvements.

Funding is expected to be available for this round of projects in Fiscal Year 2022. Any projects which are selected for funding would go through individual environmental review and public comment processes.

Comments are requested by November 30, 2020. Review the proposed projects here and comment here.

Campground repairs

Rustic campgrounds at Fenske, Kawishiwi, Birch, Fall, and other lakes need a variety of maintenance. Potential projects include new picnic tables, fresh gravel, new wells and septic systems, boat landings.

New Superior National Forest headquarters

The Forest Service is considering partnering with the City of Duluth to build a joint office building. The agency is currently based in a former school building on Grand Avenue, in western Duluth. The possible new headquarters is envisioned as a demonstration project for a relatively new construction material: cross-laminated timber (CLT). Only added to U.S. building codes five years ago, the wood product is seen as a strong and sustainable product, which also creates a market for logging.

Superior Hiking Trail bridges

The popular 310-mile trail along the North Shore is now officially part of the federally-designated 4,600-mile North Country Trail, which stretches from Vermont to North Dakota. The Superior Hiking Trail crosses Forest Service lands (as well as private, state, county, and other land). Funds would be used to repair or replace seven bridges. The work will be done in partnership with the Superior Hiking Trail Association, a long-standing partner, which will do much of the work and provide additional funding.

More trails

Trails across the forest could receive considerable work, with projects like replacing stairways, boardwalks, culverts and bridges, raising the tread, new signs, and installing erosion control. Sites include Oberg Mountain, Dry Lake, Magnetic Rock, and Pincushion Trails. Some sites are portage trails within the Boundary Waters, including boardwalks on the mile-long portage between Missing Link and Tuscarora Lakes, the hiking trail to Eagle Mountain, and the staircase between Duncan and Rose Lakes.

Wildfire infrastructure

Several projects seek to improve facilities for firefighters. Guard stations and equipment caches need new roofs and other renovations. At the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, the funds could provide a new small-engine repair shop and an outdoor hose cleaning and drying area.

Rough roads

Numerous roads across the National Forest need work. Some bridges need to be replaced, while others need only significant repairs and restoration. Ditches need to be cleared and rebuilt, gravel added to the roads and regraded to improve water drainage, culverts replaced, and more.

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