Flash flooding causes damage at landmark North Shore resort

ALONG THE NORTH SHORE - After a day of repeated rounds of heavy rain, Cascade Lodge owner Michael O'Phelan went to bed Thursday night thinking the worst was over.

Flood damage
Cascade Lodge owner Michael O'Phelan points out where a stream that runs through the property carved off large sections of earth during a flash flood early Friday. The erosion wiped out sections of one of the lodge's trails. (Andrew Krueger /

ALONG THE NORTH SHORE - After a day of repeated rounds of heavy rain, Cascade Lodge owner Michael O'Phelan went to bed Thursday night thinking the worst was over.

The stream that cuts across the lodge grounds was running high but remained within its banks; the rain had stopped and departing storms were putting on an amazing lightning show over Lake Superior.

A few hours later, though, O'Phelan awoke to hear the beep-beep-beep sound of road maintenance trucks at work on Highway 61 in front of the landmark resort west of Grand Marais - and he knew then that something had gone very wrong.

"The rain stopped (Thursday night), and we felt pretty good about it because we didn't have any damage" at that time, he said Friday morning. "(But) as I was walking down this morning I heard the beeping trucks and knew it was a lot more serious than I had realized."

Yet another round of torrential rain moved across southern Cook County late Thursday and early Friday, sending the Cascade Lodge creek out of its banks and washing out parts of the resort's trails and driveways, buckling pavement, tossing boulders and sweeping across Highway 61. No one was injured. Total rainfall in southern Cook County from Thursday through early Friday reached a half-foot in some areas.


Highway 61 at the Cascade Lodge was reduced to one lane for a time Friday as Minnesota Department of Transportation crews filled in a washout along the lake-side shoulder.

Floodwaters carried a large section of pavement from the Cascade Restaurant parking lot across the highway and deposited it, intact, on the other side. At the mouth of the creek, a delta of rock, gravel and mud lined the shore of Lake Superior.

"It created a whole new beach on Lake Superior," O'Phelan said of the flash flood.

Floodwaters washed around the base of the lodge's 85-year-old Cabin 11 - the "Honeymoon Cabin," but it appeared to be structurally sound. The restaurant building, too, had a narrow escape from floodwaters.

Upstream, parts of the lodge's Wildflower Trail collapsed into the normally placid stream where floodwaters carved into the high banks.

Harold "Butch" Piepho of Lutsen spent 27 years working at Cascade Lodge, starting in 1974. He heard about the flooding on the radio Friday morning and came to survey the damage. He said the Cascade Lodge creek has flooded other times - notably in 1999, during the Boundary Waters blowdown storm - but Friday's damage was the worst he could remember.

"After the flood of '99 the whole side of the creek was lined with monster boulders to prevent it from happening again," Piepho said. "(Now) the boulders are laying at the mouth of the creek."

As MnDOT crews continued to work on Highway 61 Friday morning, O'Phelan already was making calls to get help with the cleanup. He said the business would continue operating as normal during the busy summer season.


Just up the highway from the lodge, Cascade River State Park had some minor washouts in campsites and on campground roads, but manager Kate Flitsch said the park was operating as usual. The waterfalls were running at levels comparable to spring runoff, Flitsch said. Other nearby North Shore rivers, including the Temperance, also put on an unseasonably good show for visitors on Friday.

Russ Klegstad, Cook County highway maintenance supervisor, said Friday afternoon that one county road remained closed because of flood damage - County Road 35, near Lutsen. It's a loop road, though, so residents could make their way in from either end.

There also was some flood damage along County Road 97 - Cascade Beach Road - and there was a mudslide on County Road 45 west of Grand Marais. Crews were out all day repairing that damage, Klegstad said.

Rain gauges showed 6 inches of rain Thursday into early Friday at Tofte and just west of Grand Marais, Klegstad said.

Elsewhere in the Northland, storms Thursday evening knocked out power to about 650 Lake Country Power customers in the Cook, Orr, Clear Lake, Winton, Aurora and Keewatin areas, as well as north of Grand Rapids and north of Cloquet. The utility reported that service was restored by Friday afternoon.

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