Henry Hanka, of Duluth, stood on the rocks below the Gooseberry River's shrunken waterfalls Tuesday and worried about his grandchildren inheriting a world wallowing in a climate crisis.

"This shouldn't happen," said Hanka, with the vastly diminished Middle Falls behind him. "Something's going on. We have to protect the environment and stop global warming."

The lack of rain this summer and the preceding precipitation deficits have shrunk the water flow over the main and lower falls in Gooseberry State Park.

"This is the lowest I've ever seen it," Hanka said Tuesday. "I've seen dry summers, but not like this."

The river, which typically flows over the entire wall of the Middle Falls, was only coming down on the east side.

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In contrast to current conditions, water flows over much of the Gooseberry River’s Middle Falls on Aug. 4, 2019. (Beverly Godfrey / file/ News Tribune)
In contrast to current conditions, water flows over much of the Gooseberry River’s Middle Falls on Aug. 4, 2019. (Beverly Godfrey / file/ News Tribune)

The Middle Falls aren't as dry as they appeared in a 2005 photo shared with the News Tribune by retired, but longtime park superintendent, Paul Sundberg.

"It was the driest that I had seen it up to then," Sundberg said of the 2005 conditions.

The west side of the Lower Falls was also running dry, which isn't entirely out of character, said the park's assistant manager, Nick Hoffmann.

"Typically that does have lower water going over it. Even last year it dried up," Hoffmann said.

However, that part of the lower falls usually doesn't slow down until late August or early September.

A pool of still water lies below the west side of the Lower Falls of the Gooseberry River on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Although it is not unknown for this side of the falls to stop running during the summer, it typically doesn’t happen until late August. Water continues to flow over the east side of the falls, out of sight to the right. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
A pool of still water lies below the west side of the Lower Falls of the Gooseberry River on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Although it is not unknown for this side of the falls to stop running during the summer, it typically doesn’t happen until late August. Water continues to flow over the east side of the falls, out of sight to the right. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

"The upstream of the Gooseberry River Watershed — all the tributaries, all the wetlands — that reserve is starting to get low," Hoffmann said. "That water is just not there."

Without rain, rivers across the Northland and state are near record lows. The St. Louis River, for instance, had been averaging about 330 cubic feet per second when its long-term average is about 1,500 cubic feet per second. Monthly precipitation averages have been below average since June.

PREVIOUSLY: June, July in Duluth driest since Dust Bowl days

Harriet Quarles, a Grand Marais resident who offers shuttle services to Superior Hiking Trail backpackers, said her customers' reservations have been dropping like flies because many of the northern creeks hikers rely on for water have dried up.

"There is some water and I hear people are going in the middle of beaver ponds to get water," Quarles said.

So to help, she's been telling all her hikers that if they need water she'll meet them at a trailhead to deliver a few gallons if they give her a heads-up.

"These are my hikers who have been riding with me for a long time. We need rain. That's it. It's scary," she said. "What are we doing to our environment? That's my greater concern."

Hanka's granddaughters, 8 and 12 years old, share that concern as well. On recent nature walks in Duluth, Hanka said they had been asking him why the leaves are already shriveling, why the ferns are drooping and why the creek is just a trickle. They learn about climate change in school.

"We need more public awareness," Hanka said.

News Tribune reporter John Myers contributed to this report.