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Visitors come to see what's left of Tettegouche arch

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Diane Herold
Diane Herold and son Joe sit on the beach looking toward the former Tettegouche arch.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

One of the iconic images of Lake Superior's North Shore is no more. A rock bridge known as a sea arch on the shoreline in Tettegouche State Park has collapsed, leaving behind a tree-covered stone pillar isolated in the lake.

The park is a popular stop both for its breathtaking Lake Superior trails, and for a welcome rest stop halfway between Duluth and Grand Marais. But on Monday, it was popular for what it lost over the weekend.

As a steady stream of visitors arrived to see what was left of the Tettegouche arch, park officials were trying to figure out just when it collapsed.

  "What used to be a sea arch became a sea stack this weekend," park manager Phil Leversedge said. "The arch collapsed, so now this is what folks are going out to look at."

"Before" and "after" photos are taped to the countertop of Leversedge's office. In the "after" photo, the high arch that once clung to the side of the rocky cliff has simply vanished, leaving behind an isolated tree-topped stone column, standing alone in the lake.

Tettegouche arch
The naturally formed stone arch at Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore, seen here before it collapsed into Lake Superior.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DNR

Leversedge said the arch was probably the park's second most popular attraction behind Shovel Point, a spectacular clifftop walk high above the lake.  

  "I didn't know how popular it was," he said Monday. "I've been on the phone almost non-stop."

  Visitors noticed the arch was gone on Saturday.

  "It probably happened sometime between Friday and Saturday, because we had a visitor in today who said they saw it and took a picture of it Friday," Leversedge said. "And then if course, Saturday morning it was gone."

One path to the former arch climbs down sets of wooden stairs to a little rocky beached cove. The sea column stands there, across 100 feet of water.

Visitors also can see it from above, walking along the Shovel Point trail.

Dave Degree
Photographer Dave DeGree lives nearby, outside of Little Marais. He said he's taken plenty of photos of the Tettegouche arch before it fell.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

Paul and Linda Bishop of Wisconsin came to the spot after reading of the arch's collapse.

  "I'm wondering where the rock is that fell, if the water is so deep that you can't see any of it," Linda Bishop said.

The park manager told the Bishops he hadn't even considered the arch might someday collapse.

  "I never really gave it thought," Leversedge said. "I knew that it eventually would fail because that's how geology works, but I hadn't really considered whether it would be this year or next year, or something that I'd be responsible for."

Sea arches form from caves hollowed out by waves, Leversedge said. Waves from two different directions open the cave into an arch. But eventually, the combination of waves, freeze and thaw cycles and erosion bring an arch down. 

The Tettegouche arch was the only arch along Minnesota's share of the North Shore. It formed in hard basalt rock hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years ago.

Tettegouch arch
A view from the north side of what was the Tettegouche arch. DNR officials believe the arch fell into the water due to natural causes sometime over the weekend.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

But nothing unusual, like a storm, occurred over the weekend to bring the arch down.

Dave DeGree, who lives about three miles away, hiked into the park with cameras to see what's left of what he calls an old friend.

  "I'm a photographer, and so I have lots of pictures of it in various seasons when it was standing up. And I thought I'd get a picture of it after it fell down," DeGree said.

He said the fallen arch isn't going to affect future visitation to the park or the North Shore.

  "Not a bit," DeGree said. "Might even enhance it over the short term.  Hate to see it go, though."

The iconic North Shore image will live on of course, in thousands of photographs and photography books. And, there could be a day when wind and waves and time open another one, somewhere along the craggy cliffs and rocky North Shore of Lake Superior.

Have photos of the North Shore? Send them to us for our Minnesota in photos page.