Highway 61 Aerial view of Highway 61 along the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. © Christian Dalbec

Stories in Minnesota

Highway 61 Reforested

Replanting forests on the North Shore of Lake Superior is our route to forest resiliency.

Few experiences are more quintessentially Minnesotan than the scenic drive along Highway 61. With its rich topography and stunning views of Lake Superior and the Northwoods, it’s no wonder this stretch has been designated as a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road.

“This corridor has a lot of appeal for people because it is such a special place,” says Steve Weekes, a TNC supporter and retired forest products company owner in Minnesota. 

Declining Forests Threaten Water Quality, Wildlife and People

Minnesota’s Northwoods are undoubtedly a crown jewel of our state and, to many, part of what makes it so nice to be a Minnesotan.

But if you’ve been on 61 in the past few years, you might have noticed that our forests are looking… different. 

Due to Minnesota’s history of logging in the Northwoods, our stands of towering red and white pines were replaced with shorter-lived species like aspen and birch. Now that these trees are expiring, in many places our forests are in a vulnerable state and they aren’t growing back.

The result of all this is what we see today: large swaths of dead and dying trees. While unsightly, this rapid decline of our forests holds much deeper consequences for us and for all the living things that rely on them.

“White pines were once one of the most abundant tree species in the Northwoods,” notes Jim Manolis, TNC’s forest conservation program director in Minnesota. “But with this massive loss of conifers happening, we’ve recognized that human intervention is critical to saving our Northwoods.”

That’s why Steve and his family, through the Weekes Family Foundation, felt so moved by the loss of these iconic conifers and were inspired to donate in support of our forest conservation work.

Highway 61 Reforested (3:25) Along Hwy 61 in NE MN, partners of the North Shore Forest Collaborative are hard at work on an ambitious reforestation plan. The millions of trees planted will provide benefits like water filtration, carbon storage and unmatched natural beauty.

Reforestation to Create Climate-Resilient Forests

Now, as part of the North Shore Forest Collaborative, our teams are hard at work planting trees in this region that’s so economically and culturally significant to the state. And, as always, we’re doing so using science as our North Star.

According to researchers, species like red and bur oak, yellow birch and white pine will be better suited to Minnesota’s warming climate. To ensure they’ll be part of our future, we must work quickly and collaboratively to protect our North Shore rivers and streams.

Quote: Steve Weekes

This reforestation effort will have a big impact on the North Shore’s scenery, the environment and local communities.

TNC Supporter, North Shore Forest Restoration Partner

You Can Help!

With help from supporters like Steve (and you!), we’re planting millions of more trees in northeastern Minnesota in the coming years. If we’re successful, we’ll help prepare the Northwoods for a changing climate, secure clean water and restore the region to its former glory—ensuring that future generations will be able to travel up Highway 61 and enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of the North Shore.