The Minnesota Department of Transportation was called to remove a massive tree that blocked all lanes of Hwy. 61 in northeast Minnesota early Monday morning, and authorities believe it was intentionally cut to keep visitors and tourists out of the area.
The downed "very large tree" was reported to the Cook County Sheriff's Office at 1:52 a.m. on Hwy. 61 near the county line, according to a release, which notes that investigators believe the tree was cut in response to an influx of visitors amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Cook County is one of two Minnesota counties – Lake of the Woods County being the other – without a confirmed case of COVID-19.
In late March, about 10 days after Gov. Tim Walz announced stay-at-home orders in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Cook County Board of Commissioners to what it called "prudent" action and told people with second homes or cabins in the county stay away.
"People who have seasonal homes in Cook County, please stay at your primary residence at this time," the message from the board said.
The tree blocking all lanes of traffic sent a similar, yet far more dangerous message.
“This type of action is reckless, dangerous and uncalled for. The commission of this inappropriate act can carry very serious consequences," said Sheriff Pat Eliasen.
Hwy. 61 is the main artery entering Cook County from the Duluth Area. All other access points from the south require going through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
"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.” the sheriff added.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing.