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Trail maintenance in the future at Gooseberry Falls

The Gooseberry River has swollen in recent weeks as rainfall and snow melt have combined to increase the volume of water flowing into Lake Superior. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 3
Rainfall combined with foot traffic on Gooseberry Falls State Park trails have caused the sea steps on the east side of the Gooseberry River to lean or slump slightly toward the river. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 3
Visitors peer off the cliff on the east side of the Gooseberry River last weekend. The steps on the east side will soon need some maintenance after rainfall and foot traffic has caused some of the sea steps to lean toward the river. (Duluth News Tribune photo by Andrew Krueger)3 / 3

With all the rain and even ice that's fallen over the past few weeks, the Gooseberry River is swollen and water raging into Lake Superior at Gooseberry Falls State Park near Castle Danger is increasing by the day.

The trails at park and wayside rest station are feeling the strain of all the increased moisture after the snow melt and regular rains. In fact, a closer look at the sea steps on the east side of the river reveals some bowing and slumping of the trails toward the river. To an untrained eye, the way the trail is bowing can look like the river is undermining the the stability of the trail and even the cliff itself.

Fortunately, that's not what's happening on the trail. Gooseberry park ranger Nick Hoffmann went out and inspected the trail Tuesday morning and said that while there is some bowing, it's certainly not the river causing it. The added moisture coming down the hill from snow melt and rain combined with foot traffic is causing the bowing and while some maintenance might be in the near future for the Gooseberry trails, there is no danger to the cliff or to trail users.

"It's not dangerous. What's happening is that the uphill side is heating and its pushing up the sea steps...The slope side is stable and we aren't seeing anything slumping off where the cliff edge is," Hoffmann said. "We have nothing falling in like that. If the whole slope was going down you would start to see cracks and things going down the side opening up, but we aren't seeing anything like that. It would look like actual land breaking off into the river."

Hoffmann added that the steps were installed in the 1990s and with about a 30 year lifespan, the steps are due for some maintenance. The fix is relatively simple but also labor intensive and time consuming.

"The fix is to take the stairs out, tamping down the ground, and putting them back in and diverting the water so it either goes underneath them or around them," Hoffman said.

Some maintenance work at Gooseberry Falls could begin this summer with minor fixes and some step replacement, but in the next summer or two there could also be a major upgrade for the trails coming. Since the trail and park are among the most popular on the North Shore, park officials want to be able give visitors a little notice in the event the trail has to closed for a more extended period.

"We would be looking to close that trail down for up to a month to reset that and as summer comes up, that is one of the more popular trails to use," Hoffmann said "We like to try to give more advance notice of that kind of work including sending folks on a detour trail."

The Department of Natural Resources, which oversees state parks and trails, has recently proposed increasing the park fees at Gooseberry and other parks around the state to help pay for trail upgrades and maintenance. Currently, a day pass for cars going down into the park, beyond the wayside rest station and visitor center, is $5 for the day and $25 for the year, but the DNR is proposing increasing the daily fee to $6 for the day and $30 for the year.

For more information on trail conditions and other happenings at Gooseberry Falls, visit the website at

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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