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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


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Nosey Rosey

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 9

Full blown winter remains on hold along the Gunflint Trail. At the moment I begin this week's scoop, conditions have slipped back into semi-cold season character. The unseasonably warm temps and rain that ended November are, hopefully, in the rear view mirror.

It would seem our notorious frosty atmospheric bragging rights might not appear until the winter solstice rings in on the calendar. In the meantime, winter recreation activities are having a difficult time getting into full gear. I am told there has been enough snow left on the mid-Trail area, following the big meltdown, to enable Trail grooming and some CC skiing opportunities. Further up this way, and on to Trails end, scarcely a couple inches of white covers the ground, save for protected spots.

Ice making has re-upped over the rain soaked lakes and most of the smaller bodies along the byway are covered over once again. I heard of one anxious ice fisherman who ventured out onto a couple inches of hard water, on an unidentified lake, to try his luck. Sounds a bit dangerous to me, but it’s told he tied rope around his waist and then to a tree on shore as a safety precaution before trekking out. Guess luck was on his side in regard to not cracking through, but don’t know if catching found the same fortunes.

Moose are on the loose as indicated by scattered reports. One observation came from a couple who spotted a quartet hanging out for a road side salt lick near the mid-Trail fire hall; while another report came in from a fellow traveling the Trail between Swamper Lake and the Bearskin Road intersection.

In this case, the driver was headed up the Trail and became enveloped in a white-out snow squall, when suddenly, there they were. A couple of the big animals were right in his path. Fortunately speed was not a factor, due to the blinding snow. Nevertheless, the vehicle was unable to come to a complete stop and slid into moose number one, while moose number two lumbered off the road into the forest.

Number one was struck in the hind quarters and knocked off its hooves. It scrambled to its feet, apparently not seriously injured, and headed on up the Trail. Neither the driver nor his vehicle sustained injury or damage. It was a lucky day for both the “hitter and the hittee.”

To conclude the short-lived confrontation, the fray must have irritated the beast. It defiantly chose to keep the vehicle at bay by taking its half of the byway out of the middle, until reaching the turn-off onto Bearskin Road. Once again, confirming the critters of “Mother Nature's, wild neighborhood” have more control of things than we would like to admit.

In the Wildersmith neck of the woods, “brother wolf” has made yet another obscure visit during darkness hours. Would sure like to know more about this mysterious wildland icon, but assume it prefers to not be seen while making reconnaissance rounds.

Paraphrasing iconic northwoods naturalist, Sigurd Olson, “it's the simple things” that enrich life with meaning. With this in mind, residents living throughout Gunflint Territory are embellished by the mere presence of unadulterated life about us. Most outsiders probably wonder why we would choose to live in unorganized territory so far away from “so called,” civilized hub-bub. Furthermore, what do we do with ourselves deep in this natural paradise?

More often than we might realize, our satisfaction and enjoyment are derived from the unadorned activities seen, heard or smelled during a walk down a back country road or watching just outside our windows.

Such is the case for yours truly during twilight time, at either end of the day. One cannot help but be energized this time of year. Wild critters gather in feeding frenzy, either for a new day's readiness or bulking up on energy morsels in order to survive the long cold night ahead. The enthusiasm of these furry and feathered gals and guys is delightfully uplifting. Every daily segment provides chattering delirium, akin to kids on Christmas morning.

News in these northwoods can be exchanged by any means, often via the moccasin telegraph or by any number of “cub reporters” who volunteer with a nose and ear to the ground reporting tip of the Arrowhead happenings.

As one of those, sadly I report the loss of a member of the WTIP family, with the passing of “Rosie, our “pup reporter.” “Rosie” covered me with on-air commentary for many years when I was away from the keyboard. In ill-health for several months, she recently passed on to those heavenly kennels in the sky.

With her dad, she could snoop and scoop with dogged energy, giving a unique perspective of back country snippets from a canine's down to earth level. Fans of Gunflint territory news will never forget her “woof, woof” observations after sniffing out and digging up borderland headline accounts. Memories of WTIP’s wagging tail pooch from Hungry Jack Lake are etched in yet another chapter of Gunflint Trail history.

The Trail community is grieving the loss of two longtime residents. Condolences are extended to the family and friends of John Baumann, and Andrew “Drew” Schmid. John is remembered as a onetime owner of Golden Eagle Lodge along with his family, while “Drew” lived and loved the woods from his beloved spot along Seagull Lake. In their own ways, both had a special place in history of the Gunflint Trail. They will be missed, and forever remembered!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and can provide a wild country adventure at any moment!

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove School: December 8

Daniel, Deja, and Sophia report the latest school news. For more school news, click here.

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 Onion River Road Ski Trail, now open for early season skiing

West End News: December 8

Congratulations to the Silver Bay Police Department on reaching the august old age of 60 years. Most institutions in Silver Bay are in or near their 60th year because the town was created out of whole cloth when Reserve Mining built the taconite plant and power plant there in the late 1950s.

The current police officers and staff held an open house last week where they recognized all the former officers and administrators who have served in the last six decades. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need police forces, but in the real world it is crucial that communities have a method of enforcing behaviors that are agreed upon by civil society. The Silver Bay Police Department has always had a good reputation - both for their police work and for their strong connection to the community. If you see Chief Doug Frericks, or any of the current officers, be sure to thank them for their service.

I'm glad to hear that the Cook County Economic Development Authority is moving ahead quickly to help solve the severe housing shortage in Cook County. It looks like projects on the front burner include new housing in Grand Marais, Lutsen and Tofte, targeted toward the working person market. Tofte is already a ways down the road on their housing, but it makes sense for them to throw in with the EDA to finish the project. The EDA has the staff, resources, connections and expertise to make all three projects a success.

Once the current efforts are done, it will be time to see if more housing needs to be developed in other parts of the county. The need is so critical that now is not the time for parochial jealousies. Obviously, the problem can't be solved all at once, so let's get the get the baby walking and then move on to getting it running.

Although it came close, Sawbill Lake did not thaw out last week, so the official ice-in date for 2016 is November 23. This is late by historical standards, but pretty normal in recent years. The older snow didn't completely melt at Sawbill either, so with the recent additions, it really looks like Christmas back up in the woods.

Word has it that the Onion River Road Ski Trail in Lutsen is open for business. This is always the first trail to open in the West End and the avid early season skiers have become quite expert in providing a quality skiing experience with the bare minimum of snow.

Lutsen Mountains is also expert at getting the downhill skiing going as early as possible in the season. Between the natural snow and the snow-making made possible by colder weather, they should have most runs ready for schussing soon.

Mrs. Claus, who was featured on the front page of last week's Cook County News Herald, is a former Tofte resident who has recently moved to Grand Marais. Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Claus is not actually married to Santa Claus, but is married to me. Seeing as how she has moved to Grand Marais, I decided to do it too, mainly so she will have someone to wash the windows and take out the recycling.

Obviously, it is difficult to be the author of the West End News when I no longer live in the West End. I have notified WTIP of my pending retirement from radio commentary - probably no later than Christmas time. Stay tuned for an announcement of a new commentator soon. Extra points if you can guess who it is. You have three guesses and the first two don't count.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: December 6

Patience and Graham report the latest School News.

Listen to more School News here.

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North Shore birch trees.jpg

North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 2

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the language of bark. This is part two of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature.

(Photo by  Jeffrey Bary, Flickr) 
 

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Superior National Forest Update: December 2

Hi. This is Brandee Wenzel, administrative support assistant, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For December 2nd, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

Our website is all set for winter if the weather would cooperate. There are links from our recreation page to our trail partners who groom ski trails, and to other sources for ski and snowmobile trail information. We also have some tips for driving on winter roads for those of us who have forgotten what snow is like over the summer.

One reason to be out in your car in the forest is that it’s the season for harvesting holiday greenery! Tags for Christmas trees are available for five dollars at district offices, and, if you are in fourth grade, you are eligible for a free Christmas tree tag through the Every Kid In A Park program! When you are selecting a tree, there are some rules to keep in mind. Trees cannot be ‘merchantable timber,’ in other words, they need to be small trees, not just the top off a big tree. The maximum stump height you can leave behind is 12 inches. The best tree to cut from a forest point of view is balsam fir. They grow back readily, and in many places we are looking to actually decrease the number of fir trees. True pines grow back more slowly, so we’d like to keep the young pine in the forest. You are not allowed to cut white pine or cedar for Christmas trees.

Balsam boughs may be harvested for wreaths, though you will need a permit for this activity. Princess pine, which is actually an herbaceous plant called a club moss, is often used to decorate wreaths, but its harvest is not allowed on the Superior National Forest.

Speaking of cutting balsam fir, people may have noticed either a piece of equipment or a crew with brush saws working in several areas this past season to remove brush and balsam fir. These areas will be planted in the spring with white pine, white cedar, and yellow birch. The young trees will be protected from deer with cages. We are doing this along the North Shore where we are working with partners including the state, private landowners, and the North Shore Forest Collaborative to restore some of these
long-lived forest trees. You may have seen the material being hauled with ATVs along County Road 6 and 60, at Pincushion, and around Cascade State Park, the Onion River Road, and Hovland.

On a grander scale, you can expect trucks hauling larger trees on Trestle Pine Road, Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, Firebox Road, and Powers Lake Road. They are also using Blueberry Road, Rice Lake Road, Clara Lake Road, and the Honeymoon Trail. On the Tofte District, expect trucks on the Trappers Lake Road, Dumbell River Road, and Wanless Road. Use caution in these areas, especially with our wintery mix of road conditions including ice, mud, and slush.

Good luck to all in selecting the perfect tree, balsam bough, or just selecting the right road to travel. Enjoy the woods, and until next time, this has been Brandee Wenzel with the National Forest Update.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 2

Well the weather outside’s been less than frightful, since our last meeting on the radio. Just when the north woods appeared to be into some serious ice making, the gods of meteorological happenings pulled up the reins.

Thanksgiving until the beginning of this scribing last Sunday evening, winter conditions have been on the brink of collapse in this neighborhood. A few more inches of snow was added to the pack early in the stanza, but settled invisibly into the previous storm totals nearly evaporating.  Add on four-tenths of an inch of rain by Monday morning and we’re in a sludgy mess around Wildersmith.

The thermometer has hung out at or near the freezing mark for days, not varying as much as a couple degrees from night time lows to day time highs. This in mind, our white blanket is soft and sticky making for slippery going on back country roads, driveways and walking surfaces. Thus a few unsuspecting urbanite visitors have found roadside ditches around the territory much to their disliking.

Speaking of slippery, such conditions have altered means of mobility at Wildersmith. Traversing down the driveway on foot is a slow, baby step adventure to avoid winding up on one’s posterior. Further, the idea of not being able to get my vehicle up the steep greasy grade has caused me to now park on top of the hill. For how long this will be needed is anyone’s guess. So getting to the vehicle has created double jeopardy. Caution is surely advised to all in this neck of the woods until a cool down makes for better traction on drier snow cover.
                            
Last weeks’ discussion of tracks in the snow has prompted intensified interest on wild beings’ extremity impressions. Just days ago footprints confirmed a visit from “brother wolf.” Although the critter was not observed, the near hand-sized paw prints found it meandering the yard in several different directions. The Canids’ presence is a bit unnerving, but then again, the adventure of knowing this iconic resident of the “untamed neighborhood” was close by energizes the primitive spirit of living in the wildlands. 
              
In the meantime, our next door neighbors recently met with what was perhaps another member of this upper Gunflint pack while traveling along the trail above Loon Lake. This meeting resulted in some great photo ops as the handsome animal tracked beside the byway. See a couple digital shots of their experience alongside my column on the web at WTIP.org. This lone wolf is a robust beauty.

In other snowy tracks activity, it’s evident a fox is making routine nocturnal visits to the yard. Then a couple days ago, the lush red hunter made a reality appearance, trotting by our deck. I do not purposely put food out, but I do catch an abundance of mice type rodents in my out- buildings. I toss them out into the snow and by next morning, all these dietary supplements are gone. It is my guess this might be an attraction for this foxy one.
          
With some assurance the bears have gone to napping, I’ve started putting provisions out on the deck side rail. To say our “wild ground and airborne friends” are busy keeping track of these handouts is an understatement. This in mind, another furry creature anecdote is worthy of mention
Within 24 hours of stocking the outdoor feed trough, those poultry poaching pine martens stopped in, making their first up close appearance since last spring. Lucky for them, the cupboard was not bare, and they’ve been regulars each day since.      
                                 
The world is now into week one of our next holiday season. Trail residents are reminded of the third annual Gunflint Trail Holiday Open House, Saturday, December 3rd. The event commences at 4 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall No. 1).  
                                                                                                                              
Once again sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS Crew, dinner and refreshments will be provided. All are welcome, and in the spirit of this giving season, please bring a donation for our local food shelf. 
                                                               
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great as we wait for the real “Jack Frost” to get with it for keeps!

(Photo By Margo Brownell)

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove Community School: December 2

Jack, Goshi, and Kalina report the latest school news.

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Sawbill Lake, on a windy day, looking deceptively like open water, but it is actually ice - flooded by rain.

West End News: December 1

Congratulations to Craig Horak who has stepped up to fill the Tofte Township Supervisor position recently vacated by Paul James. Craig is a natural for the job. He was born and raised in Tofte at his parents' resort, Cobblestone Cabins. Craig and his wife Ellen have chosen to make Tofte their home and plan to raise their daughter there.

I'm glad to see younger people taking leadership roles in the West End. A regular infusion of new thinking in the community, combined with the wisdom of the elders, is a healthy thing. Speaking of elders, Craig's father, Jan Horak, served as the Tofte Township Treasurer shortly after the township was formed, back in the old, old days, so township government seems to run in the family.

As I've said before, township government is sometimes fun - and sometimes not so fun - and almost always a bit tedious. It is, however, the level of government that most directly impacts our lives and is vitally important, so I applaud those who serve.

If you're looking for fun with very little tedium, mark your calendar for the annual meeting of the Superior Timberwolves Sportsman's Club on Tuesday, December 6. Although this is the annual business meeting for the West End snowmobile club, it is more importantly a social hour, starting at 5:00, followed by potluck dinner from 6 to 7:00. A short business meeting will follow, but it beats washing the dishes any day. It all happens at the Tofte Town Hall.

Tofte native, Danielle Hansen, will be singing in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival this year. You may think, "what's the big deal about someone singing in their college Christmas program?" Well, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is not your typical college musical event. It is truly a world class concert and you have to be a singer of the absolute highest quality to be allowed to participate. The training and rehearsal are a serious commitment and not easy. This is a very big deal for Danielle and for her parents, Paul Hansen and Diane Blanchette, who I'm sure are proud of their talented daughter. Danielle, it should be pointed out, is a 2015 graduate of Cook County High School.

The roads over the hill were virtually undriveable for a few days last week. I hasten to say that the bad roads were a victim of circumstances, not a lack of care by the county highway department. When the snow arrived last week the road surfaces were not yet frozen. This requires the plow drivers to keep their blades a few inches about the gravel to keep from plowing a thick layer of saturated gravel into the ditches. The ensuing rain turned the snow on the roads into dense slush - the kind that grabs control of the car from the driver and pulls it inexorably toward the ditch - even at slow speeds. Actually, normal speeds weren't even an option with the slush literally slowing even four wheel drive vehicles to a crawl. Now that is been driven on for a few days it is much better.

Many of the lakes in the back country were also weirdly affected by the rain. The lakes had already frozen over and received a few inches of snow. The rain melted the snow, but not the ice, leaving an inch or two of standing water on top of the ice from shore to shore. The ice is black, so it was an optical illusion with the lake looking like it would on a dead calm day even when the wind was blowing briskly. Overall, it was an eerie and unsettling effect. If only we would have received a quick cold snap at that moment - the ice skating would have been spectacular. Fingers crossed for some good skating eventually, but you never really know what mother nature has in store for us here in the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: November 28

Cy, Selena, and Neveah report the latest school news.

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