The Outside World, In and Around Duluth


Tettegouche Visitor Center

I was heading up to the Boundary Waters about a month ago, and I saw that the Tettegouche State Park‘s new Visitor’s Center was looking almost complete. Because I’m a big fan of the MN State Parks system, I decided to stop by and chat with Park Staff this past weekend, to see what they thought of their new building. They like it.

A few weeks ago, the Tettegouche State Park recently had the ‘soft opening’ of their new Visitor’s Center.

Their old Visitor’s Center was built in 1986, and was expected to serve about 28,000 people annually:


It wasn’t open for five years before Tettegouche staff were feeling pinched. In 2012, the Tettegouche Visitor’s Center was handling 332,000 people per year – about twelve times the number the building was designed to accommodate.

Tettegouche was established as a State Park in 1979. Compared to its more famous neighbor to the South, Gooseberry State Park, which was founded in 1934, Tettegouche is a relative newcomer. Despite Tettegouche having almost 10 times the acreage and significantly more access points, Gooseberry has been a jewel of a park for over 75 years.

However, as I drove up on Sunday afternoon, the 50+ cars in the parking lot made it seem like Tettegouche’s time may be coming.


I took a walk around the back of the building and was impressed with the new amphitheater:


Also on the back of the building, they have a big open area with a fireplace that looks like a great gathering spot:

The architecture looks reminiscent of the David Salmela-designed Gooseberry Falls Visitor’s Center, which was apparently intentional, according to park staff.

One area where the Tettegouche Visitor’s Center far-exceeds the Gooseberry Visitor’s Center is in the attention to energy and sustainability. In the parking lot is a 24.3 kilowatt solar array:


This array is expected to generate over a third of the visitor center’s energy needs. Additionally, the walls are 8″ thick structural insulated panels. The design also includes a significant upgrade to Tettegouche’s stormwater handling, with expanded rain gardens and water handling features.

Inside, most of the exhibit space is done (the line on the carpet in this photo indicates a still-being-delivered exhibit):


For the regular visitor, the interior is smaller than the Gooseberry visitor’s center. There is less exhibit space and a much smaller gift shop. However, the two buildings are almost the same size – in fact, according to park staff, Tettegouche’s visitor’s center is exactly one cubic foot smaller than the Gooseberry visitor’s center. Since Tettegouche services several State Parks, it houses the staff for those parks, whereas Gooseberry’s office space is just for Gooseberry.

The building isn’t an unalloyed success – it was originally budgeted at $4.2 million, with an expected completion in 2011. The current budget is $7 million, and although the visitor’s center is open, the official opening won’t be for another month or two.

When I visited, the visitor’s center was in heavy use. The Duluth-based musical group Four Mile Portage was on what they are calling their “North Shore Dance/Bike/Busk Tour,” playing gigs from Grand Marais to Duluth, as they rode from park-to-park on their tandem bicycle. They were set up in the amphitheater, picking banjo, playing fiddle and singing. The cash register at the gift shop was constantly ringing people up, for the ten minutes or so I was chatting with the park ranger. The license plates on the cars in the parking lot were from dozens of states. I think it’s safe to say that the Minnesota DNR has made a good choice.

Here’s a FACT SHEET about the new building.


Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

A few weeks ago, I met with other U of MN Sustainability folks at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.

What a cool place! I love seeing all of the science that’s going on in the world. It sometimes makes me wish my career path would have gone toward field research.

On the other hand, field research also occasionally means that you have to deal with bugs:


A few of us went for an early morning nature walk on Tuesday and were just hammered by deer flies. Our own fault – we did not prepare for them (bug spray, etc.). Oh well.

The primary purpose of the meeting was to connect with all of the other Sustainability people throughout the University of MN system (Twin Cities, Morris, Rochester, Crookston and Duluth). That was interesting and inspirational. Much work ahead.

However, we also took a field trip to get a look at what the scientists at Cedar Creek are working on.

Here, the director of Cedar Creek (in blue, with his arm up) is showing us one of the 3 meter x 3 meter plots where they are conducting research:


They’re looking at a lot of different things, including how to efficiently grow biofuels, trying to figure out how much biodiversity is required to keep a healthy ecosystem, the difference in levels of prairie fire suppression, and many more.

“Operationalize ecosystems.”

In this picture, they are growing switchgrass. Look closely, and you’ll see toothpicks and paper clips in the soil – some of the experiments are that finely-grained:


In this experiment, they are changing the soil chemistry at each site and looking at how minute changes in chemistry affect growth and plant hardiness.

Here’s an overview of the research site. Each square is 3 meters by 3 meters. Note the size of the car I circled to get a sense of how large this place is:

1-Image 1

They are doing other experiments at other sites (they have over 5,000 acres!).

In this experiment, they are blowing CO2 onto plants:


Some people have theorized that as we have additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it will actually improve how well plants grow. This experiment is meant to figure out whether that’s’ really true. The preliminary results show that there’s a small degree of additional growth, but other things start happening at the same time. Plant biology evolved to grow in the environment that we have, and if change happens too quickly, organisms don’t have time for adaptation.

Here’s a picture of Cedar Creek’s, that shows a passel of grad students out working in the plots:


Image from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Cedar Creek is a unique and interesting place. Nice to see all of the work they’re doing down there.

Boreal Owl Along Lester River

There have been a lot of reports of an owl irruption in Duluth lately.

For quite a while, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled, and finally, I was rewarded with this Boreal Owl that was hunting along the Lester River:

Boreal Owl 1

It flew right over me and was obviously listening for something:

Boreal Owl 2

I managed to take a lot of bad pictures (the camera can’t tell the difference between a tree branch and an owl), but at least these two came out all right.

Finally, the owl decided that whatever it was hearing had hunkered down, and it flew off.

I haven’t seen many owls, so this was a special treat.

Tornadoes in Duluth?

No, probably not.

But not impossible, either.

I don’t actually think much about the possibility. But when NOAA put out a cool new graphic mapping the frequency and intensity of tornadoes in the US, I thought about the axiom I’ve heard – that Lake Superior protects Duluth from tornadoes, and I wondered if it held water, historically speaking.

NOAA reviewed the previous 56 years of tornadoes touching down, it looks as if the North Shore has in fact, been spared of too many touch downs:

Click to enlarge. Image via Data courtesy National Weather Service.

Isn’t that a cool graphic? Makes you wonder what’s happening, meteorologically speaking, that splits the country in half. Mountains, sure. Same thing over along the Appalachians. But what do the mountains do exactly? How do they affect the air? Hmm, a question for another day.

But what about us? Of course, NOAA isn’t particularly concerned about Duluth. But we are, so let’s zoom in a little closer:

Interesting. As I look at this, I see maybe a couple close to Duluth, and neither of those particularly large (heavier line indicates stronger tornado).

A little more searching shows that, since 1950, Duluth has had 9 tornadoes at level F2 or higher:

Data from

And of course, who remembers the details of the F-Scale? Not me – here was the original:

  • F0 (Gale)
  • F1 (Weak)
  • F2 (Strong)
  • F3 (Severe)
  • F4 (Devastating)
  • F5 (Incredible)

I love the adjectives.

Slightly less exciting, and perhaps more understandable:

And to really geek out on the metrics of a tornado, you can visit the Enhanced Fujita scale site:

So do we get tornadoes? I suppose we could. But in the same way that really good winter storms seem to have a tendency to miss us with depressing regularity, so too do tornadoes.

Kind of fun to do a quick little research on something that strikes your fancy, isn’t it?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: