Tourism-dependent region worries about flood impactby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio,
Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio
DULUTH, Minn. — With parts of northeastern Minnesota devastated by flooding following heavy rains on Wednesday, some area businesses and officials are worried about how the damage will affect the region's $800 million tourism industry.
On Thursday, floodwaters from Otter Creek continued to flow across Highway 210, the main downtown street in Carlton, Minn. About 15 miles south of Duluth, it's one of the gateway communities to scenic Jay Cooke State Park.
Hit hard by flooding, the park is closed, and probably will be until mid-July. Roads and bike trails inside the park were reportedly washed out. The park's famous swinging bridge was severely damaged.
Carlton Mayor Leola Rodd said those are some of the things that draw tourists to her town. Now she's worried those visitors won't be back for a while.
"I can tell you right now that probably our tourism industry is non-existent right at this point," Rodd said. "We have a lot of people who come through here and they come to Jay Cooke State Park. There is no way, with all of this water and everything, that people are able to get through. And so pretty much for our businesses this is going to be a tough one."
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One of the hardest-hit places is the nearby tiny town of Thomson, just upstream from Jay Cooke State Park. Thomson is a favorite launch spot for kayaks and white water raft enthusiasts. The town had to be evacuated because of flooding. Mayor Lawrence St. Germain is worried about whether his town will recover.
"We have no water, no sewer, no electricity, no phones," said St. Germain, who has lived in the community for 61 years.
"We're underwater," he said. And it will be a while before visitors will be able to come back.
"You can't get there," he said Thursday. "The DNR went down there this morning, down their bike trail to get down there to see exactly what's going on, and Four Bay Lake washed out during the night last night. Munger Bike Trail is gone in the city limits."
The tourism outlook isn't all gloomy for communities hit by the floods.
Visit Duluth, the city's convention and visitor's bureau, wants to make it clear that Duluth is open for business.
Visit Duluth's President and CEO Terry Mattson said the heavy rains and flooding damaged about 10 percent of the city's roads and utilities infrastructure, mostly in residential areas, not places frequented by tourists.
"Most of the areas near Lake Superior, everything on the waterfront, Spirit Mountain, other places on the hill are all just fine as well as the major arteries," he said. "We've been working with the general managers from all of the hotels, the restaurants, all of the attractions. Most of them got through the entire storm without missing a beat."
Mattson said he doesn't want to minimize damage some residents experienced, but he thinks the region's tourism industry will be minimally affected by the flooding.
Up the North Shore on Highway 61, in Lake County, state parks like Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock are open.
The Lutsen 99er bike race is still on for Saturday, though organizers warn cyclists to allow extra time to get there and use the re-route past Duluth to get to Two Harbors.
In Grand Marais, two hours up the North Shore from Duluth, Greg Wright, executive director of The North House Folk School, is gearing up for what he hopes will be a busy weekend of visitors.
"The biggest thing I heard someone say was, 'What's the impact on Cook County?' Well, the waterfalls are really roaring! Water coming down the rivers," he said. "So there's no question there's a lot of water moving along the North Shore."
Wright hopes visitors will enjoy the scenery of those roaring waterfalls as they make the trek to the North House's Wooden Boat Show and Summer Solstice Festival, one of its biggest events of the year.
"It's clear there's routes with significant delays through the Duluth area and we're just encouraging people, if you can, come North," he said. "We'd love to see you. The show, the party will go on."
The wooden boats at the solstice festival will be floating just a little bit higher this year. According to University of Minnesota Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory, the storm caused lake levels in Lake Superior to rise three to four inches, a remarkable amount of water.
- All Things Considered, 06/21/2012, 5:17 p.m.