BRAINERD, MINN. – Just in time for Halloween, the curse of North Long Lake has struck again.
Fifteen years ago, a massive opening dubbed by locals as the “black hole” appeared in the lake’s ice and didn’t close all winter, puzzling residents and scientists, too. Now, a giant rogue bog weighing 1,000 tons is roaming the waters of the 6,000-acre lake, smashing a dock and boat lifts in its path.
What is it with this lake, anyway?
The black hole stayed open for two winters, swallowing more than a dozen unsuspecting snowmobiles and ATVs. Nobody ever figured out the cause and it never reappeared, but the locals had fun speculating about Godzilla, UFOs and meteor strikes.
Now comes the giant bog, as large as 5 acres, which has been creeping along the lake since breaking loose from the shoreline on Friday the 13th.
When Wendy Wagnild spotted the bog that morning, it was crushing her neighbor’s dock and boat lifts on Merrifield Bay on the lake’s east end.
Her husband, Dave, shouted at her to look out the window, “and I just said, ‘Holy smokes!’ ” Wagnild recalled Wednesday.
The bog, larger than three football fields and carrying a stand of tamaracks on its back, practically filled the horizon.
Then, over the weekend, it disappeared.
“Who knows where it is?” Dave Wagnild said Wednesday. “I guess it will just keep bouncing around the lake.”
Indeed, it did.
The bog drifted almost 2 miles, where it parked in shallow water on the shoreline smack in front of the swimming beach and boat launch at Legionville, a summer camp and training center for Minnesota school patrol guards.
Bill Schmidt, president of the North Long Lake Association, hopes it stays there. But that’s entirely up to Mother Nature.
“The wind decides where it goes and when,” Schmidt said, noting that the bog’s trees and thick, head-high stands of cattails and bulrushes act as a very effective sail. “This is a monster.”
So what caused the bog to break free in the first place?
The lake’s water level has been unusually high this fall, and the rising water probably loosened the chunk of land from the marshy shore, said Kevin Martini, a fisheries specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Brainerd.
“We run into eight to 10 bogs a year in the Brainerd area,” he said. “This is unusual because of the size. It’s the largest one I’ve ever heard of.”
Since the DNR considers bogs natural habitat and their movement a natural process, it has no plans to move the massive mat of vegetation, Martini said.
But the agency will usually grant a free permit to anyone who asks to move a bog, he added.
Schmidt said the lake association hopes to stake down the bog and keep it in place until a long-term solution can be found to keep it from drifting. Towing or pushing it with boats are possibilities, too, he said, but it’s not a simple task.
“If I asked you to put a rope around the city of Brainerd and move it to Minneapolis, how would you do it?” he said, estimating that it might take as many as 100 boats to shift the bog.
For now, the North Long Lake bog holds a strange fascination for Nicole Zoschke, who lives just down the beach from Legionville.
“I want to play on it!” she said with a laugh, then wondered what would happen if the bog took root.
“What if it parked in front of your yard?” she said. “You’d have free land. But you’d probably have to pay taxes on it.”
On Wednesday, the bog was the talk of Harpo’s bar in the small town of Merrifield, where Don Trumble speculated about cosmic coincidence.
Taking a pull off his beer, Trumble referred back to the massive hole in the ice 15 years ago.
“You know,” he said with a sly smile, “the bog is about the same size as the hole.”