Reporting Mike Binkley
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota has long been one of the best spots in the state to see a moose in the wild. The big beasts are still around, although their numbers have dropped dramatically across the state – more than 50 percent since 2010.
Researchers are trying to figure out what can be done to keep the moose population from dying off, but if love alone was a remedy, Grand Marais would be on its way to a cure.
It’s a place to go for a peaceful getaway, a charming bit of northern exposure. But for all that Grand Marais has to offer, visitors keep asking for something that’s harder to come by lately.
It may be the biggest request at the Cook County Visitors Bureau.
“I had somebody ask me today, ‘where can I go find a moose?’” said executive director Linda Kratt.
David Vanderheyden of St. Louis Park said he’s been lucky enough to see a few along the nearby Gunflint Trail.
“I mean they’re sort of majestic, right?” he said.
The image of the moose is something Grand Marais has embraced and developed throughout its business district. It’s why you can sip coffee at the Java Moose, shop for antiques at the Blue Moose, and settle in for the night at the Mangy Moose Motel.
“Where do we live? Moose Country,” Ann Jorgenson, owner of Java Moose, said.
Chelsea Pusc owns Gunflint Mercantile and Candy Company, which features moose mugs, moose candies and a scale model of a moose toward the back.
“You used to be able to see 12 or 13 in one drive from the end of the Gunflint into town,” she said as she sat beneath a sign that invited customers to “Moosey On In.”
But even though the numbers are down, Grand Marais is still working to offer moose sightings of some kind. It’s getting ready for the fifth annual Moose Madness family festival.
Anna Klobuchar is helping organize the event with the Cook County Visitors Bureau, which is renamed Moose Central for the weekend.
“This time of year, typically the male moose are in rut and they go a little crazy, so hence the festival got its name,” she said.
But even if the real ones don’t show up, the focus of the festival is mostly on getting families to play together. They’ll win “moose bucks” to spend on prizes when they do scavenger hunts, races and other activities around town.
“And as they’re doing them,” Klobuchar said, “the families are finding that obviously the treasure is not in the moose bucks, it’s in the time they’re spending together.”
Likewise, Grand Marais has spent decades with the moose as its unofficial symbol. It’s always seemed to be there like a treasured friend.
“Hopefully they’ll find out what’s going on up here,” said Jorgenson, “and why they’re disappearing at the rate they are disappearing.”
Early studies have blamed wolves, ticks and disease, in part, for the population decline. The state’s moose hunt is called off for this year and won’t resume until the moose population recovers.