News of Gunflint Trail fire could burn resorters

Dave Seaton
Dave Seaton owns Hungry Jack Outfitters near the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota. Seaton is concerned dramatic and sometimes sensational stories in the media about the Ham Lake fire will keep some people from vacationing in the Boundary Waters this summer.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Dave Seaton runs a canoe outfitting service and resort on Hungry Jack Lake just off the Gunflint Trail.

This is a busy time of year for Seaton. His first customers of the season are arriving in the next few days, so he's preparing all the equipment they'll need for a trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

"We pack tents and sleeping bags. The next room over is where we keep all the camping food, we pack all that up for people," he said.

Except for the faint smell of smoke in the air, this area has been unaffected by the wildfire raging along the Gunflint Trail.

Rows of paddles are waiting for canoeists at a resort near the Gunflint Trail. Resort owners in the area are concerned that sensational media stories on wildfires might prevent people from vacationing in northeast Minnesota this summer.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

It turns out Seaton is one of the few resort owners in the area who will even talk to reporters about the fire. He says most resorters have good reason for being tight lipped.

"We've been burned," he says, by the media. He says news stories have painted this entire region as a big tinderbox, ready to explode into flames, every summer since the 1999 storm in the Boundary Waters that blew down 600 square miles of forest.

"The media has taken advantage of that and created the gloom-and-doom stories, and it has hurt us, it really really has, both financially and emotionally," he said.

Seaton says the financial hurt comes when people cancel trips to the Boundary Waters because they're afraid they'll get caught in a fire. Or that their favorite camping spot has been turned to ashes. He says it's hard to convince people wildfires affect a relatively small area especially if they seen dramatic pictures of burning forests in newspapers and on TV.

"Once they've decided that, 'Oh gee it's dangerous to go to the Boundary Waters,' never mind that where it might be dangerous is nowhere near where they were scheduled to go. Or if I was scheduled to go there I could get a permit to go someplace else, they've made up their mind and that's really unfortunate," he said.

Seaton says he's not trying to completely disregard the Ham Lake fire. He knows the cabins that have been lost and the land that has been scorched is near and dear to many. But what he wants people to remember is while the last seven miles of the Gunflint Trail are closed because of the fire, almost 50 miles of the trail have been unaffected.

Seaton knows even talking about the fire will keep some people away, but he says there a few who will be drawn to the aftermath.

"Because they want to see what happens after the fire. They want to see things regrowing, they want to see things coming back. Now those are not as many, that's a harder sell for sure. But the people that like that? Boy, we just love those people."

Seaton says it's likely business at his resort will start out a little slow this year because of the Ham Lake fire. But he says as usual by August he'll probably have more customers than he can handle.

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