Straight-line winds gusting up to 65 mph and 45° temperatures greeted staff and guests on Monday, September 28th. What was predicted as very strong westerly winds was all that and a bunch more. Massive pine trees were being whipped around like rage dolls and snapped like twigs all across the resort and state park. As many as twenty or more trees, some over 80 years old were blown over in what felt like hurricane strength wind gusts. Rental units, bridges, hiking/ski trails, power lines and even a few cars were damaged in this storm. Luckily nobody was injured, but some of the chainsaw clearing crew narrowing avoided getting hit by tree tops. The power went out on 8:30 am on 9/28 and was not restored at Cascade until 11:00am on 9/29. We were without telephone service to 2 days. Guests staying in the main lodge made the most of the situation by gathering around the fireplace sharing stories and conversing by the fire and candle light. Cabin guests stoked up their fireplaces and reported they were nice and toasty after they threw that extra blanket on. Up until a few days ago the North Shore was basking in summer-like 60 and 70 degree sunny skies for the whole month of September. I think this is Mother Nature’s way of telling us that she’s still in full control. Cleanup will be a long, tedious process especially along the hiking and ski trails. We like to try and find a silver lining in any bad situation. Here there are two: 1). Cabin 7 now has an excellent lake view thanks to the toppling of a very mature, 80-year-old pine tree. 2). We now have like a two year supply of firewood!
A quiet morning fog blankets Cascade Forest, adding a mysterious, eerie touch to my hike. In a muddy stretch of trail I notice the footprints of something large, probably a timberwolf. The prints are filling with water as I stoop for a better read of them. These tracks were just made. I am not alone. Suddenly I catch movement in a small grassy lea in front of me. I stand upright just in time to glimpse a tawny, furry back slinking silently through the thigh-high grass before disappearing in the foggy spruces.
My heart is pounding. I run after it, hoping against hope for another, clearer glimpse, but alas the fog is too much, and I’m left standing in a silence broken only by my heavy breathing.
Cougar? Yes! Cougar!!! What a thrill!!! I can’t wait to walk into Cascade Restaurant later today and announce in my perfect Minnesota English, “Yah, I seen me a cougar dismornen.”
And why couldn’t I have? Reports of cougar sightings in these parts have been multiplying in recent years. Everyone knows someone here who’s seen a cougar, and the list of those who’ve actually had the thrill of a cougar encounter is growing. Why can’t I, who spends so much time in the forest, be on that elite list too?
It’s certainly within the realm of probability that a cougar or two exist in Cook County. There’s enough wilderness and more than enough deer to sustain a cougar population here, and Minnesota does abut two other states–North and South Dakota–that have established cougar populations (albeit very small ones). Stan Tekiela’s Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide lists cougars among our resident mammals, and a cougar was caught in a deer hunter’s camera trap near Floodwood a couple years ago, although whether it was a wild specimen or an escaped pet is up for speculation. We can certainly say at the very least that cougars could exist here.
As the morning sun rises, my wild imagination dissipates with the fog. Those fresh tracks I found surely had the telltale clawmarks of a canine; I would have noticed if they hadn’t. And the tawny, furry back I saw in the grass was probably more motley than tawny, with flecks of black. I know that if I were to stand before an all-knowing God and recount my experience this foggy morning, I would tell God that it was in all likelihood a coyote, not a cougar, that I saw.
The problem with all these cougar sightings is lack of hard evidence to lend credibility. For all the exotic mammals seen in the forest, there is a wealth of evidence that precedes and procedes seeing them: tracks, scat, hair, etc. For every bear, wolf, moose, marten, fisher and fox I’ve seen, I’ve seen the evidence of their existence many times over.
Why should cougars be different? Why can’t anybody find their tracks, their scat, a cougar-killed deer or bit of cougar hair?
I want to believe that cougars exist here. I want to believe it so much that a glimpse of a coyote on a foggy morning can so easily morph into a cougar sighting. But I need to build my beliefs on evidence, and in the case of Cook County cougars, I’m sorry to say evidence is sorely lacking.
A quiet autumn hike through Cascade forest , especially around sunup or sundown, is full of mammal sighting possibilities. Red squirrels and white tailed deer are almost guaranteed. Wolves are surprisingly abundant here, sometimes seen, occasionally heard singing their mournful songs. You might see a black bear…or step in one of their soft black “calling cards” if you’re not careful. Martens, fishers, and fox show up on our trails now and then. You can watch beavers refurbishing their lodge on a nearby pond which is frequented by moose. We’ve seen otter tracks on the upper reaches of Cascade River, and watched otters themselves swimming in Lake Superior, in front of the lodge. Lek and I have seen all of these mammals on our hikes through Cascade Forest, and we’ve found their tracks, scat, and other evidence of their presence many more times. With enough time, patience, and a bit of luck, any hiker in Cascade Forest will have the same inevitable mammal encounters.
But a cougar?
Maybe someday, cougar tracks will show up on a muddy trail. Maybe some foggy morning somewhere in Cascade Forest, you or I will catch a glimpse of this magnificent mammal slinking away through the grass. Until then, the cougar will remain the phantom of Cascade Forest.
A long string of gorgeous summer weather has everyone on the North Shore in high spirits. After a couple weeks of cool damp weather, the sun, blue skies and 70 degree weather has returned. According to the weatherman it is supposed to stick around all the way through next week! All the visitors coming for the big holiday weekend will no doubt be thrilled. Speaking of the last big summer weekend, we are all very busy in preparation. A massive food order for the restaurant will arrive tomorrow, rooms and cabins cleaned, grounds mowed and cleaned up and firewood stocked. It is a lot of work for sure, but well worth it in the end when you see people of all ages enjoying our resort. The state park has recently cleared and mowed the Pioneer Ski Trail so the hiking and mountain biking conditions are fantastic.
In staff news I would like to thank Chef Dave for stepping in and contributing a great article comparing and contrasting life on the North Shore and Thailand. Matt recently visited Isle Royale with a few friends that came up to visit last weekend. I guess the scenery out there was awesome and the fishing was world-class as evidenced by the massive 13 lb Laker he pulled in. His party also boated 2-10 pounders and three 6ers! We have recently added a new member to our team of front desk associates. We are happy to welcome John Mianowski of Grand Marais to Cascade Lodge. He is a very nice gentleman and very familiar with the area having grown up in Cook County. We think he will do a fine job for us. He replaces Mary Hay, daughter of previous owner Gene Glader. Mary worked at the front desk and as gift shop manager for many years and grew up at the lodge, but has decided to move onto a new adventure. Many of you probably knew her or had spoken with her. She will be sorely missed. Good luck to her and her future endeavors and welcome John!