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At the boat access in Polk County Park near Mentor, Minn., pontoon boats are overturned in the water (foreground), stacked on top of each other (center) and hanging from trees (background) Friday morning after a tornado moved through the park Thursday afternoon. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Maple Lake: In the path of destruction

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region Park Rapids,Minnesota 56470
Park Rapids Enterprise
Maple Lake: In the path of destruction
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

MAPLE LAKE, Minn. -- Gary Gruhot stopped in at Harlan's Boats R-Us in Mentor, Minn., on Friday to buy a new pontoon, even though there was no electrical power in the building, so owner Harlan Kirkeide couldn't get it ready for him.


Gruhot, who lives in Argyle, Minn., has a camper at Polk County Campground on Maple Lake, which took a direct hit from Thursday's deadly tornado that carved a wide swath through this lake country about 50 miles southeast of Grand Forks.

"Our pontoon is the one about 10 feet up in the air, in the trees," he said. The Gruhot family had just docked the pontoon at the campground marina moments before the tornado struck.

On Friday, he and his neighbors spent the day cleaning up the mess of overturned campers, pontoons, boats, docks and once-towering shade trees, wondering what might have been.

"It's a good thing it wasn't a weekend," said Boyd Knudson, a Grand Forks resident. He and his wife, Opal, have been coming to the campground just about every summer weekend for a decade.

The Knudsons' 26-foot camper was ripped from its campsite and thrown against a line of trees overlooking the lake.

"If those trees weren't there, who knows where it'd be," he said. "If we'd been in there, I don't know."

The Knudsons' next-door camping neighbors are Deland and Joy Elseth, who live in Newfolden, Minn.

On other side of the Elseths are Jim Wenger and Lorri Tucker, a Crookston couple who serve as campground hosts.

"We've been coming here for seven years," Deland said. "We became instant friends with them on both sides. We've been great friends ever since."

The Elseths' 35-foot camper flipped over and landed 30 feet from the campsite.

On Friday, Deland used a ladder to climb on top and crawl in his camper to check out the damage. He emerged a short time later, hoisting two bottles of brandy into the air.

"I've got my brandy. I'm happy," he said. "Everything else in there is messed up, totally gone."

The camper is insured, he said.

"How do you figure this? I've got a big, heavy camper, and the tornado rolls it," he said. "And it leaves a mostly empty garbage can right next to it untouched. But all of this can be replaced. It's only stuff. "

Down the hill at the boat dock, Jon Knudson wonders, too. His pontoon was heavily damaged after flipping over and landing on top of two other pontoons.

He consoled Joan and Dave Strong, Thief River Falls residents whose 22-foot pontoon was ripped in half, part of it lodged in some trees overlooking the marina, the other half carried hundreds of feet away.

Their 40-foot camper was damaged, too. It sat on a lot on the other side of the campground hosts.

"They saw our camper coming right toward them," Joan Strong said of the hosts. "He opened a door and that must have eased some of the pressure, because it stopped."

The tornado destroyed Mike and Karen Raymond's camper, too. The Crookston residents have been camping here for 15 years, just a few doors down from the Knudsons, the Elseths and the campground hosts.

The Raymonds did not witness this deadly tornado. They were at their Crookston home.

"We've been through lots of storms, but nothing like this," Karen said. "We've got insurance. We'll be all right."

After spending a few hours Friday cleaning and salvaging items from their camper, the Raymonds raised a U.S. flag at their campsite.

"We're not leaving," Mike said. "Give us a year, and this park will be all cleaned up."

"We may not have any shade," Karen added, "but we'll be here."