Project turns industrial wasteland

into natural wonder

A former industrial wasteland in the Duluth-Superior harbor is now a restored wetland and one of the region’s best birding areas.

Description

Grassy Point is a 100-acre estuary in the lower the St. Louis, near the river’s confluence with Lake Superior. It was one of many coastal wetlands that ringed Duluth-Superior harbor before logging companies transformed it into an industrial port in the late-1800s and early 1900s. Before the logging companies arrived, natural grasses in the lower St. Louis River were so abundant that some explorers struggled to find the river channel, according to published reports.  By 1890, several sawmills around the harbor were churning out lumber harvested from hillsides surrounding the bay and beyond. The mills were erected just off-shore, so that logs could be floated up and then processed wood was loaded on railroad spurs raised above the water. In the infamous 1918 Cloquet fire, the mills burned down. Remnants of some mills still poke above the water. The fire broke out near the end of the logging era that swept across the Great Lakes basin, and the lumber mills were never rebuilt. The mills did leave a lasting reminder of logging operations in the bay: Tons of timber and wood waste. Layers of soggy wood waste, up to 16-feet-deep in some areas, suffocated fish and wildlife habitat at Grassy Point.  Local, state and federal officials launched a plan in the early-1990s to restore the site. To make the wetland suitable again for fish and wildlife, crews used backhoes to remove tons of soggy wood waste and restore natural channels. Workers then reseeded the marsh by tossing bags of rocks laced with seeds into the water, where they sank to the bottom. Crews also planted cedars and white pine, extended a bike path into the site, built a boardwalk and a viewing platform for birders. The restoration work was completed in 1996. The site is now home to dozens of fish, waterfowl and other wildlife. It is considered one of the best spring birding areas in the Duluth area.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of native habitat for fish and wildlife
  • Loss of coastal wetlands

GRASSY POINT RESTORATION

Estuaries, like the one pictured above, play an important ecosystem role, providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Credit: Wisconsin Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

Removing 11,000 cubic yards of wood waste from the wetland at Grassy Point created wildlife habitat that attracts dozens of bird species every spring. New trails provided public access to the site.