Two trucks left high and dry in Northland park after harrowing night of flooding

Danny Singpiel is between a rock and a hard place. That's because his pickup is between a mudslide and a washout. Singpiel, 28, was driving through Jay Cooke State Park about midnight during the torrential downpour on the night of June 20. He hap...

Stranded trucks
Two pickups remain stranded along Minnesota Highway 210 in Jay Cooke State Park, where they were abandoned by Danny Singpiel and Jim Kielty during flooding on June 20. (Photo courtesy of Danny Singpiel)

Danny Singpiel is between a rock and a hard place. That's because his pickup is between a mudslide and a washout.

Singpiel, 28, was driving through Jay Cooke State Park about midnight during the torrential downpour on the night of June 20. He happened on to Jim Kielty, 44, of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, who was inspecting damage on Minnesota Highway 210 in the park.

The two, traveling in tandem, eventually came to a major washout on the highway.

"The guard rail was waving in the water,"

said Kielty, of Barnum. "We knew the road was gone."


Backtracking along Highway 210 in their trucks, they soon found their path blocked in that direction by a mudslide. They had driven past that point just minutes before.

"At that point, we were kind of trapped," said Singpiel, who works for the Cloquet Terminal Railroad in Cloquet.

Kielty was driving a three-quarter-ton MnDOT Chevy pickup. Singpiel was driving his 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. Both trucks still are sitting right where the men parked them in the downpour that night.

After leaving their trucks behind, the two men set off on foot in the driving rain following the beam of Singpiel's flashlight. They hoped to reach the Minnesota Power Thomson Hydro Station. It was a wild walk, Kielty said.

"The biggest thing was noise, hearing the river roaring," he said. "I've never been to a war zone or a battlefield, but it had to be as noisy as a war zone, mostly from water rushing and the trees snapping and popping."

It is hard to understand the force of moving water that night that sent entire hillsides sliding across the highway. Before the men even left their trucks, they watched a mudslide carry a large aspen tree down the hillside -- standing up.

"That tree went scooting by us straight vertical," Kielty said. "It must have been going 25 mph. We both looked at each other like, 'Did you see that?' "

That's when they decided to make their escape to the hydro plant. They reached the station about 2 a.m., Singpiel said. They were given coffee and cookies by the three Minnesota Power personnel operating the hydro station. The men slept until daylight in a conference room. Then they hiked through the morning rain to the highway. They planned to follow the highway to reach another MnDOT crew whom they had talked to by radio.


"I just wanted out of the park," Singpiel said. "I was the only one who wasn't getting paid."

In order to reach the MnDOT crew, the two men had to cross the large washout that had stopped them during the night.

"It was definitely muddy, but more importantly, the mud doesn't bother me as much as water racing a million miles an hour. In the ravine we crossed that morning, you could hear the water level rising," Kielty said. "We did not wade in the creek. There would have been no way to stay vertical."

They clambered along downed trees to cross the creek safely, then walked Highway 210 until they met their MnDOT pick-up crew. Singpiel was then picked up in Carlton by a friend and made it to his day shift in Cloquet by 8 a.m., he said.

Neither man said he was worried about making their way through the park during the night or in the morning.

"Nervous? Yes, absolutely," Kielty said. "Respectful of what Mother Nature was doing to us? Absolutely."

Since that eventful night two weeks ago, Singpiel has explored all kinds of options in an effort to get his pickup back -- including a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter -- but to no avail.

The helicopter would have been $390 per hour, he said.


"And they weren't sure if the helicopter would lift the vehicle," Singpiel said.

He wanted to "cut about five trees" and drive his truck out through state park property, but park officials nixed that idea.

Meanwhile, he's driving a loaner car from a body shop in Cloquet owned by a friend of his dad. His best bet is that MnDOT will be able to repair the washout, allowing both Singpiel and Kielty access to their trucks. But that won't happen anytime soon, said Todd Campbell, an engineer and project manager for MnDOT in Duluth.

"We would like to have a private contractor on board as early as the end of next week," Campbell said, "to repair the washout east of Jay Cooke Road and clear mud slides. ... It should be a matter of a few weeks rather than a few months before we get out there."

Singpiel, while frustrated, is trying to remain philosophical about the experience.

"It's a vehicle," he said. "I'm not going to get that wrapped up over it. Overall, I thought it was a pretty neat experience. I got to see some stuff that nobody else got to see."

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