Red Lake River summer tradition shut down by low water
As a long, sunny holiday weekend approaches, the phones have been ringing off the hooks at the Voyageur’s View resort near Red Lake Falls.
It’s best known as a tubing destination for the surrounding area and the callers wanted to know if they should come out for some fun on the Red Lake River that runs by the resort.
Stephanie Brumwell Lolich, one of the resort’s owners, said she had to tell them “no.”
Not now. Not this weekend. Maybe not until next year.
“We just feel bad. People look forward to tubing in the summer,” Lolich said.
Voyageur’s View suspended tubing on the river June 22 after about two weeks of operation because water levels are too low.
“This is our 29th season in business, but never once have we had to shut down this early,” said Ryan Brumwell, Lolich’s brother and another owner. “We have had it get dry near the end of the season, when we’ve had to close early, but nothing like this.”
To compound the frustration, it hadn’t rained much at Red Lake, the river’s source, but it had rained plenty at Red Lake Falls, filling the low-lying areas of the resort’s campground.
“I mean, we just drilled holes for two of our volleyball courts, and you wouldn’t believe how much groundwater came up. It’s just crazy,” Brumwell said.
Lolich said Tuesday that the river is a few inches short of where it needs to be for tubing to be fun. At the bridge near the campground, where the river is deeper, the gauge needs to be at 10.1 or 10.2 feet but it’s now at 9.8, she said.
That means upstream, where the river is shallower, large rocks are breaking the surface and the river bottom is just inches below the surface.
“It’s more a walk at this point, unfortunately,” Lolich said.
She and the other owners, her siblings, remain optimistic, but looking at the 10-day forecast for cities in the Red Lake Basin makes it hard to feel that way, she said. It’s nothing but sunshine and 80-degree days, meaning the Red Lake will be losing a lot of water through evaporation, she said.
“Honestly, tubing season is looking a little bleak,” she said. “We’re coming to realization we may have to call it a tubing season.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the dam at Red Lake, has told her the water there is still below the minimum level needed to release more water.
The uneven rain pattern the area has experienced is pretty typical, said Jeff Makowski of the National Weather Service. “That’s the nature of rainfall this time of year. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, we have had some areas that have gotten a lot of rain, and some have stayed dry.”
Makowski said the amount of rainfall the area has gotten is fairly typical, and a more even distribution of precipitation usually doesn’t occur until the fall.
Since shutting down tubing runs, Voyageur’s View has had to lay off more than 30 seasonal employees, and many people with campground reservations have called to cancel their plans, according to Brumwell.
The resort’s owners do expect abnormally dry periods and, in fact, have built that uncertainty into the business model.
“When your business model is based two ways on Mother Nature — water conditions and weather — you have to anticipate bad years,” Lolich said. “Not years like this. I’m not going to kid you, this has not been fun.”
At least there are still campers at the Voyageur’s View campground, she said. Still, she feels bad about having to let go so many employees, and about the reduced economic impact to Red Lake Falls’ other businesses, she said.
The closure has also had an impact on a business farther afield. Grand Forks, N.D.-based Mister Bus teamed up this year with bars in the city to offer shuttle services to Voyageur’s View on weekends, but had to cancel the service while the tubing runs are shut down.
“It would be nice to get it going again because we can do trips out there in the day and still have our buses available at night in town,” said Mister Bus co-owner Matt Marynik. “It sucks right now, but we’ll start it back up when they get some rain and start tubing again.”
Lolich said it takes about five days for water from Red Lake to reach Red Lake Falls, and Voyageur’s View is ready to swing into operation.
But, until Red Lake gets enough rain, Brumwell said people looking to tube on the Red Lake River will be left high and dry. “All we can do is hope we get the right amount of rain, and in the right spot.”