Tree cut down over Hwy. 61, possibly to keep COVID-19 out

An unrelated photo of Cook County's Cross River snaking under Hwy. 61 in 2016.

An unrelated photo of Cook County's Cross River snaking under Hwy. 61 in 2016. Brian Peterson/Star Tribune

As Gov. Tim Walz loosens COVID-19 restrictions, someone may have gone to extreme lengths to keep the pandemic out of northern Minnesota.  

In the wee hours of Monday morning, the Cook County Sheriff's Office discovered a tree lying across both lanes of Highway 61 near the county line. Officers believe someone chopped down the tree to keep coronavirus-infected travelers out of Minnesota's northeastern tip, according to a press release.

“This type of action is reckless, dangerous, and uncalled for," Sheriff Pat Eliasen says in a statement, noting that the stump was sliced horizontally with a saw. "If there was a medical transport to Duluth which was a life or death matter and the ambulance was unable to continue due to this irresponsible conduct, the cost is far greater than making this type of statement. Not only does this endanger motorists, but there is also a significant cost to the taxpayers for removal of the tree."

MnDOT had the highway cleared by Monday afternoon, Eliasen tells City Pages. 

Cook County has remarkably dodged the virus entirely, with zero reported cases so far, the Minnesota Department of Health reports. The 5,400-person county faces a tricky balancing act: keeping its North Shore resorts alive while relying on medical infrastructure that includes zero ICU beds and just one ventilator. Nearby Lake County has experienced just nine of the state's 28,224 total cases; COVID-19 has killed 1,197 Minnesotans.

Have info about the suspected tree blockade? The sheriff asks that you hit him up at 218-387-3030.