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Reward offered for vandalism at cherished site

A metal historical marker at the Stones Bridge canoe landing sits in a pile of sawdust after vandals cut it down with a chainsaw. The marker was among three structures on the Brule River State Forest property recently vandalized. (Photos courtesy of Catherine Khalar)

The search continues to search for the culprit of recent vandalism at Stones Bridge canoe landing on the Brule River, and local residents are throwing their support behind the effort.

A reward of $2,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators.

"It upset quite a few people," said John Holter, vice president of the Brule River Sportsmen's Club.

Since news of the vandalism came to light, Holter has been contacted by a swarm of organizations looking to help. He said two Trout Unlimited chapters and Arrowhead Fly Fishers offered to put up money, and an anonymous donor volunteered to give up to $1,000 in matching funds. The sportsmen's club is also making a contribution, which Holter said puts the total reward at $2,000.

Anyone with information about the vandalism can call the Brule River State Forest at (715) 372-5678.

"I'm pretty certain whoever did this has already bragged about it to some friends, but with this size of a reward someone may come forward with enough information to make an arrest," Holter said.

Brule River State Forest superintendent Dave Schulz spent the beginning of this week assessing the damage at the canoe landing. He estimated the vandalism will cost the state forest $3,000 to $4,000, and setting the canoe landing back to rights will take a great deal of time and effort.

Vandals damaged three sign structures at the canoe landing on Highway S, using a chainsaw to cut through the large logs supporting the signs. Two of the structures vandalized were less than two years old.

"I don't remember anybody doing anything like this since I've been here," said Kevin Feind, with the Brule DNR. "We had the burning (of a kiosk), but cutting down things with a chainsaw? That's a new one to me."

The state forest will have to plant new poles in the ground for all three of the structures damaged. An excavator was hired to plant the logs previously.

"Those big logs are 12- or 14-inch logs," Schulz said. "They're six, seven feet out of the ground, and they're also four or five feet in the ground. They are very heavy."

The state forest staff is also working to repair a cast aluminum sign that sustained a large crack. The toppled sign had served as a historical marker, detailing important features of the Bois Brule River. The sign was hauled to a metal shop this week with hope it can be repaired. A replacement sign would cost about $4,000, Schulz said.

"It's going to take some serious work, regardless," Schulz said. "At minimum, I'm going to have to weld that crack shut on the back at least, which is going to involve repainting at that point.

"We just put $1,000 into that metal sign thinking, 'That old metal sign is a really neat part of the landing.'"

Schulz said by this summer, the Brule River State Forest hopes to have the big sign structure at the road replaced. The timeline for the information kiosk and historical sign is uncertain.

"I wouldn't expect anything new in the ground there until next spring or summer," Schulz said. "But we will work on it."

Greg Gerard of Hudson was the first to discover the vandalism at Stones Bridge on Dec. 11. He was born and educated in Duluth and has had a special connection to the Bois Brule River since his grandfather introduced him to it the in 1960s.

"I've made every trout opener on the Brule since the early '70s, even though I've lived in Fargo, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, Miami, New York City, Boston and Los Angles," Gerard said. "Twelve years ago I bought a cabin on Lake Minnesuing so I could spend more time on the Brule and pass my love of the area on to my children."

Gerard was visiting his cabin on Dec. 11 when he decided to stop by the Brule River for a stroll along the shore.

"It was intended as a stewardship and observance walk -- taking in sights and sounds as the sun rose over the tree line," Gerard said.

The Hudson man arrived at the Stones Bridge canoe landing at about 8 a.m.

As soon as he parked his car, Gerard noticed the downed kiosk. At first, he thought the DNR might be planning another upgrade. The canoe landing had undergone a number of improvements in the past year -- including the installation of a new well.

But Gerard realized the landing had been vandalized when he saw the newly restored historical marker had been cut down as well. The sawdust around the lopped-off posts looked fresh, Gerard said, and he could only make out one set of footprints.

"I was a bit numbed and discombobulated ...," Gerard said. "Then I became angry and looked around when I noticed the very old, very large sign post across the road had been cut, too. More than the other two signs this one is a historical landmark for me. It's been there forever.

"It's almost a personal feeling of violation," Gerard said.