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News & Information

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!


What's On:
A snow covered picnic table at Sawbill Outfitters/ photo Bill Hansen

West End News March 1

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We had a little excitement here at Sawbill last weekend. If you remember, that was two storms ago, when we had the first significant snowfall of the season that Sunday. Here at Sawbill we got 9 inches, but in the snowbelt, 5 to 10 miles inland from Lake Superior, we got more than a foot. As usual, we had a couple of winter camping parties coming out of the wilderness that Sunday afternoon, hoping to head back to home and family in the Cities.

Unfortunately, their vehicles were not able to make it down the unplowed Sawbill Trail. I tried to break a trail for them with my big pickup plow, but as we got closer to the snowbelt, even my truck couldn’t make way. We returned to Sawbill where I turned up the heat in our crew housing and scrounged up some foo,d and we hosted seven men for an impromptu sleepover. Although the two groups had never met each other before, they were delighted to find a 30-pack of Schmidt beer that had been left by last summer’s crew, and they all soon became fast friends.

In the morning, we provided them with fresh coffee cake, orange juice and coffee. They were so enjoying being snowbound, that they stayed for a couple of hours after the road was plowed, drinking coffee and swapping winter camping stories.

This isn’t the first time, or probably the last, that we’ve had to lend a hand to winter campers stranded here at Sawbill. About 15 years ago, we hosted a solo camper whose car wouldn’t start when the temperature dropped to minus 20 the day he planned to leave. I had to push his frozen car into our heated workshop, where it took five hours to warm up enough to start. Meanwhile, the camper joined us watching the Super Bowl. We’ve kept in touch ever since then and he still camps here frequently with his family.

It’s all part of the fun when you live at on the edge of the wilderness.

The Bloodmobile will be in Tofte, in the parking lot of Zoar Lutheran Church, Monday, March 5 between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. I urge all West End residents to give blood if you are willing and able. Not only is it important to our community to maintain a ready blood supply, but the whole event is a fun chance to visit with random friends and neighbors. The process itself is almost painless and the Bloodmobile staff is friendly and efficient. Dennis Rysdahl, who manages Bluefin Bay and several other large properties in Tofte and Schroeder, is a regular donor, even though he is self-confessed to be deathly afraid of needles. If Dennis can do it, so can you! To make an appointment call Polly Erickson at 663-7398.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters organization is offering a new program this summer for an advanced internship in wilderness advocacy. It is called the Bill Rom Advocacy Fellowship and it’s part of their strategic focus on building the next generation of wilderness stewards. Bill Rom, along with his wife Barb, was a pioneer of the outfitting industry for the BWCA Wilderness. They founded Canoe Country Outfitters in Ely, which is still in business today. The internship is geared toward college or graduate students. It features a trip to Washington, D.C. with Friends staff to get firsthand experience in advocacy, meeting with members of Congress, federal agencies, and partner organizations. The application deadline is March 16. You can find more details and application forms on the Friends website, which is easily found by Googling “Friends of the Boundary Waters.”

Patty Nordahl at the Birch Grove Center in Tofte is wondering if anyone is interested in learning how to build an outdoor brick oven. Birch Grove is hoping to host a North House class in brick oven building this summer. It’s a win – win event with students learning a traditional craft and Birch Grove ending up with a brick oven for delicious bread and pizza baking. Call Patty at Birch Grove, 663-7977, if you are interested.

The latest storm canceled last week’s senior lunch at Birch Grove, along with the guest nutritionist from Essentia Health. However, her presentation was videotaped and will be shown at Birch Grove at a later date. The blood pressure and blood sugar screenings will be rescheduled. Time and date will be publicized as soon as it is set.

Patty also would like to remind everyone that Birch Grove is still selling Spring Light 60 watt compact fluorescent light bulbs very cheaply, with profits going to support the Birch Grove Foundation. She also notes that Early Childhood Open Gym is every Friday school that is in session from 9 to 10 a.m.

Congratulations to Jackie Dillenbeck and Plamen Dimitrov who are the newest members of the Birch Grove School Board. They join a long list of West End Community members who have pitched in to make Birch Grove School and West End children successful and productive.

There is a great event coming up soon in Silver Bay. It’s an evening of Folk and Classical music presented by members of the Duluth Symphony Orchestra and the Blue Canvas Orchestra from the Big Top Chatauqua in Bayfield. The show starts at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 3 at William Kelley High School Auditorium. You can pick up a ticket at either the Grand Marais or Silver Bay libraries or tickets are available for sale at the door. The sponsor is the wonderful Northern Lake County Arts Board with help from the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Legacy Fund, Silver Bay Area Tourism Association and the Minnesota Arts & Culture Heritage Legacy Fund. Be there or be square.

It sure is a relief to see that real Minnesota winter is here at last. All the trails are now open and ready for fun. The snow back in the woods is over-the-knee deep and more is arriving all the time. Time for me to go wax my skis.

Dr. Dorscher

Anishinaabe Physician Joycelyn Dorscher, M.D.

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This edition of Anishinaabe Way features Dr. Joycelyn Dorscher, an Ojibwe Family Practice Doctor who also heads the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the U of MN Medical School. She discusses her path to becoming a physician, the cultural challenges faced by Native medical students and issues surrounding Indian health.

Round River Farm, a CSA in Finland, MN, is hoping to make Birch Grove a weekly delivery point for veggies this year

West End News Feb. 23

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It was good to see what I am calling The Big Snow Storm of 2012 drop a season high 5 inches of snow the other day. I can remember years when a 5-inch snowfall was met with a shrug and a broom to clear the steps. This year it’s worthy of news stories and celebration. Here at Sawbill we’ve been luckier than most of the state, with 37 inches of total snowfall for the season so far and 19 inches currently on the ground.

Another big story this week was the reworking of political districts that follows the general census every decade. It is heartening to observe that the non-partisan judicial panel that actually does the redistricting actually was non-partisan and fair. In this time when partisanship seems to be creeping into every aspect of life, I give credit to the redistricting panel itself and to the Minnesota Supreme Court that appointed the panel for keeping the best interests of the whole state in mind.

That said, I do think the panel screwed up our legislative district. I’m not saying they did it for political reasons, but it does appear that they don’t understand the geography of northern Minnesota very well. Our old legislative district, numbered 6A, used to be all of Cook County, all of Lake County, which includes Two Harbors of course, and a slice of St. Louis County that included the townships just east of Duluth. The new district is numbered 3A and includes all of Cook County, all of Lake County except Two Harbors, northern St Louis County and – in my opinion, oddly – all of Koochiching County.

If you just look at the map, this seems to make sense, but the reality is that Cook and Lake Counties have little in common with Koochiching County and plenty in common with Two Harbors and the communities just east of Duluth. There is not even a direct road between Cook County and Koochiching County and it takes almost seven hours to drive from Grand Portage to International Falls. That’s roughly how long it takes to drive from Grand Portage to Northfield! I mean no disrespect to the good people of Koochiching County, but due to the geography, we have little day-to-day interaction with them.

From the perspective of party politics, it probably won’t present a huge change. Our incumbent representative, David Dill, who caucuses with the Democrats, lives in Crane Lake, which is pretty much in the middle of the new district. It’s probably fair to say that Koochiching County tends to vote a bit more Republican than Two Harbors and the Duluth area townships, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of elections.

Birch Grove Foundation Director, Patty Nordahl, reports that the Timber Beasts, led by team captain Ryan Blaisell, won this year’s Boot Hockey Tournament. This is their second consecutive annual victory. The other teams were Awesome, Mixed Nuts and Superior Hot Shots. The event was a big success, thanks to the participants, spectators, and sponsors, especially Grand Marais State Bank and Sven and Ole’s Pizza. Everyone is looking forward to next year’s tournament on the brand new rink.

David Abazs, from Round River Farm in Finland, spoke at the Birch Grove senior lunch last week. Round River Farm practices what is known as community supported agriculture. They sell shares in their output before the growing season starts for a flat fee. Each shareholder gets an equal portion of the produce as it is harvested throughout the season. They share the bounty, but also share the risk, which makes life a lot more predictable for the farmer. Here at Sawbill, we have purchased a share from David and his partners for many years and I highly recommend it. This year, David would like to find three more shareholders in the West End community and make Birch Grove a weekly drop-off point for veggie deliveries. A share can be split among two or more families. You can get a discount by working two four-hour shifts on the farm. The healthy, delicious produce comes with a newsletter that details what’s going on with the farm and recipe ideas for that week’s produce. You can find contact information by Googling Round River Farm, Finland Minnesota on the Internet.

And finally, it’s not too early to mark your calendar for the Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder annual township meetings, held in the evening on Tuesday, March 13.

A Photo by George Desort/ Logo by Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: A Perfect Storm of Circumstances (Full Report)

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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has hundreds of miles of beautiful beaches. Seemingly pristine and still very wild, the North Shore of Lake Michigan is a wilderness destination. But in 2007 George Desort, a filmmaker and photographer, stumbled upon a cataclysmic event. He saw something you’d never expect to see in such a beautiful place.

This is the full report on the bird & fish die-offs in the lower Great Lakes.


Joe Paulik with Jessi Nicholson - Photo by Stephan Hoglund

Local Music Project: Joe Paulik with Jessi Nicholson and Al Oikari

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Joe Paulik has been writing music since he was 12. He moved to Cook County in 1982 when he was 20 years old and began performing in the area a few years later. He recently performed in Grand Marais with his partner in life and song Jessie Nicholson and multi-instrumentalist Al Oikari. Cathy Quinn was there and brings us this edition of the Local Music Project.

The Cook County High School Invitational cross-country ski meet was broadcast on the radio and online through WTIP and Boreal

West End News Feb. 9

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The second annual Birch Grove Foundation boot hockey tournament will be held at Birch Grove School in Tofte on Friday, Feb. 17 starting at 4:30. This event was a big hit last winter and is back by popular demand. The teams are filled for this year, but if you stop by to a spectator there will be a lot of laughter, followed by a bonfire and pizza available for purchase.

Patty Nordahl, Director of the Birch Grove Foundation, recently won a prestigious award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson honored professionals and organizations from across the state on January 20th, citing their outstanding contributions to human services program clients. Eleven individuals and organizations were recipients of the DHS Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence Awards. Patty was recognized for her work with Cooperation Station in Grand Marais and her efforts in developing the Parent Aware child care rating system. She also advised DHS on its federal Child Care Development Fund Plan and serves on the Governor’s Early Learning Council. Congratulations Patty!

If you thought you missed Birch Grove Community Lunch this week, you have another chance to make it, because the wrong date was publicized for the event. The Community lunch is held the second Tuesday of the month, which falls on February 14th. So mark your calendars and drop by Birch Grove in Tofte for a delicious meal and congenial company.

The Birch Grove Senior Lunch is held the next day, on Wednesday, Feb. 15 and David Abazs from Round River Farms in Finland will there to talk about Community Supported Agriculture and the possibility of having a drop off point in Tofte for his produce next summer. I’ve heard David speak and he is a really interesting guy. Anyone who is a full time farmer in Finland, Minnesota has to be pretty determined.

The next Senior Lunch on February 29th will have an interesting speaker too. Bonnie Brost is a registered dietician with Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Heart and Vascular Center. She’ll be giving her popular presentation titled “Sugar: The Sweet and the Sour.” There will also be free blood pressure and glucose checks before lunch.

Finally, in Birch Grove News this week, the Early Childhood Coalition is having a Fun Day at Birch Grove on Saturday, February 11th from 10 until 1 for families with children under school age and their siblings. There will be skating and gym will be set up with inflatable bouncers and other activities.

As always, you can contact Patty Nordahl at 663-7977 for more information about all the activities at Birch Grove.

The North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte has scheduled another installment of "Voices from the Fishing Life." Tofte native, Dale Tormondsen, Lake Superior commercial fisherman, former Cook County School Superintendent and all around good guy, will be at the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 2PM to talk about his experiences fishing the big lake. Admission is free and all are welcomed. Call 663-7050 or for additional info.

It was fun to hear the live coverage of the Cook County High School Invitational cross-country ski meet on WTIP last week. Announcer Buck Benson and color commentator Jonathon Rova did a great job. I usually volunteer at the meet as a starter, but I had to miss it this year due to having a terrible cold. WTIP also broadcast live video of the meet in cooperation with Boreal Access, as they have been doing with some other high school sports events recently. Station manager Deb Benedict says that there will be more live video broadcasts of all sorts of events as broadband internet service becomes available in Cook County over the next couple of years. I find the cross country ski meet to be particularly heartening to watch because you can look across the stadium and see hundreds of happy, physically fit teenagers all enthusiastically participating in a healthy event. It makes the future look bright.

It's approaching caucus time in Cook County

West End News Feb. 2

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After ducking the various cold viruses that are rampaging through the county, I finally got caught a couple of days ago, which explains why I’m singing bass in the choir today.

It is time once again for the political parties in Minnesota to hold their precinct caucuses. Your election precinct is basically your general neighborhood and is the smallest part of governmental geography. Caucus is just a fancy word for get-together. I imagine that all of Minnesota’s political parties hold caucuses, but here in Cook County, as far as I know, only the Republican and Democratic parties caucus. You can attend whichever caucus you like with no requirement that you have previously voted for, or been a registered member of, the party.

There are two main purposes for caucuses. The first is to introduce resolutions that propose additions or deletions in the party’s platform. The platform is a published document that lists the official position of the party on a wide variety of issues. Frankly, the platform documents are rarely read, but they do serve to stake out the basic philosophy of the party. The platform is used to guide the actions of elected officials, although they are not bound by the positions. Think of it as providing advice from the people to the government at all levels.

The second purpose is to select delegates that will go forward in the process in which candidates run for office under the flag of the party. At the local and county levels, candidates rarely seek party endorsement, but at the state and national level most candidates are endorsed by a party and will cooperate with others elected from their party if they get into office. If you support a certain candidate for a particular office, you can work to get yourself elected as a delegate to a series of meetings known as party conventions, that progress from the local level, through a couple of regional levels, finally to the state convention – and if you’re really ambitious – on to the national convention. Candidates for office organize their supporters to become delegates, because the delegates eventually vote to endorse, or give the party’s official blessing, to a single candidate. The party then provides the endorsed candidate with resources – money, advertising, volunteers and voter databases that help get them elected.

This year, as you know, unless you live under a rock, the Republicans are working to nominate a candidate to stand for the presidency of the United States. At the precinct caucuses, a straw poll will be conducted to see which candidates are most popular with local Republicans. The straw poll is non-binding, but is kind of fun, nonetheless.

On the Democratic side, there is a lively race for a congressional candidate to run against our current congressperson, Republican Representative Chip Cravaack. Three strong candidates are in the running so far and all three will be trying to line up delegates to support their efforts to eventually run against Mr. Cravaack in the general election in November.

When all is said and done, the caucuses are really an important part of our democracy. If you choose to spend the time, you can play an important role in how government works and who represents your interests in the process.

In Cook County, all the precinct caucuses are held in Grand Marais starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. The Democrats meet at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts, which is located next to Cook County High School. The Republicans meet at the log 4-H building next to the Community Center.

Local blogger, Stanley Tull, reports having a bobcat living under his deck at his house near Murmur Creek. It was just a year ago that we had a bobcat under our deck. After a few days of constant barking by our highly agitated terriers, we live-trapped the beautiful cat and relocated it to an even more remote location just for the sake of some peace and quiet. The YouTube video that we posted of the cat’s release went viral in a modest way, mostly because people apparently enjoyed hearing – and making fun of - our strong Minnesota accents. It continues to rack up views although not at the same rate as last winter. Just search “Sawbill bobcat” on YouTube if you want to see it.

Bill and his daughter Clare found this freshly shed moose antler while out grooming the ski trail at Sawbill

West End News

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It is certainly good news that the wolf population in Minnesota has recovered to the point where it no longer requires special federal protection. I’m distressed, however, to see some legislators already whipping up the old prejudices and fears about wolves for their own political gain. Wolf management is a very complex and intricate issue, with many, many stakeholders and dozens of competing interests. I would urge the legislature to listen carefully to the professional wildlife biologists both within and outside the Department of Natural Resources. Everyone will be better served in the long run by a carefully considered, scientifically-based plan that balances all the interests.

A few weeks ago, my daughter Clare and I found a freshly shed moose antler while grooming the ski trail here at Sawbill. It is always fun to find an antler, but especially now when the moose population is at low ebb. A found antler, especially one that is recently shed, always tells an interesting story. This antler was large, but not huge – suggesting a mature bull moose, but not a giant. The base, where it attached to the head, was still bloody, so it hadn’t been long since the owner lost it. One paddle on the antler had been broken off, but the broken edge had healed over. I can picture this moose crashing headlong into a larger rival and regretting it later. My favorite thing about newly shed antlers is their smell. As the moose wanders through the forest, it drags its antlers through the brush and low tree branches, packing the little crenulations along its leading edge with rich mixture of sap, bark and leaf material. If you scratch and sniff, you get a heady whiff of the entire forest in aggregate. Balsam, mixed with birch, mixed with hazel, mixed with spruce and so on. There is just the faintest undertone of bull moose smell present too, leading Clare and I to hatch a scheme to bottle the smell and market it as men’s cologne. We thought up some names, but they mostly too tasteless to repeat on the radio, so I leave that to your imagination.

Speaking of the ski trail, I don’t want to be seen as gloating, but there is really a pretty decent snow covering up here at the end of the Sawbill Trail. As I speak, there is 17 inches of snow on the ground. Our little 7K cross-country ski trail is in perfect shape. I only mention this because people on the North Shore are amazed to hear that there is so much snow so close by. The Sawbill ski trail isn’t marked in any way, so if you come up, or send someone up to ski, just go to the bitter end of the Sawbill Trail, step over the snow bank and you will see the trail. It’s a loop, so you can go either way and it will bring you back to the same spot 7 kilometers later. It is a narrow trail, groomed for classic style skiing and is suitable for beginners.

There is a fun thing going on every Monday night at Papa Charlie’s nightclub at Lutsen Mountains. Every Monday, at least through the middle of March, they are presenting some of Minnesota’s best songwriters in an intimate, mostly acoustic session between 8 and 10 p.m. The shows so far have been excellent and the acts that are coming are top notch. The crowd is much smaller than the typical weekend crowd and much more local. For the local folks who work in tourism, Monday night is much more of a weekend night than Friday or Saturday and it gets you home early enough to get a good night’s sleep if you do have to work on Tuesday morning.
I’m thrilled to see the announcement of a new cell phone tower at Taconite Harbor in Schroeder. I know some people don’t like them, but cell phones have become an important and useful tool worldwide – and it’s high time we had decent coverage in the West End. I hope the new Tofte tower won’t be far behind.

Hoary Redpoll

Wildersmith January 20

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Winter in the north woods, mellow as it has been, is already a month old and whizzing by fast. The minutes between sunup and sundown are gradually increasing to the point where we are having about nine hours of daylight.

If that isn’t giving us enough notice about things to come, folks are already getting those spring seed and plant catalogs. And, the Farmer’s Almanac says it’s time to start planning spring veggie and flower gardens.

The season we had all hoped for along the Gunflint seems as though it will be a non-entity. Spring is not far from peeking around the corner and we are running out of wintertime opportunities. I know one of those green thumb gals in the area who I can almost bet is getting those seedling pots and grow lights lined up.

The scourge, of a border country winter that hasn’t been, reflects a territory so moisture starved it’s scary. As we went into the cold time, the area was already choking in drought. We always bank on some hefty amounts of frozen moisture to fill things back up come spring but, unless there is a huge turnaround, that’s not going to happen.

I for one am deeply concerned about the danger of more wildfire tragedy when what little snow we do have dries up come April and May. I’ve already heard of some unattended campfires flaring up down in the burn area of Pagami Creek where there is little to no snow. The rest of the Arrowhead wilderness is about to become just as vulnerable.

When the coming season of brown and dry replaces white, one would hope that timely burning bans will not be left to chance by governing agencies. With our ever changing, unpredictable climate, history over the past half dozen years has shown that just when agencies assumed conditions were tolerable for campfires and burning, they really weren’t; the proof is in the forest.

Temps did fall enough to do a little ice enhancement on Gunflint Lake. Hard water improvements came in the nick of time for our trout opener. My friend down the road indicates that the thickness ranges from near a foot right near his shore to about five or six inches 100 yards out to where he set up his trout camp. This says nothing to other areas further out and where there is rushing water beneath.

Come last Saturday morning, a few brave souls screamed by Wildersmith on their snow machines headed for their usual trout hangouts. I must say that they used common sense and stayed quite close to the shoreline. To my knowledge there have been no plops through the ice around here. By the way, what few catching reports I’ve heard indicate the action is slow to moderate depending upon the locale and possibly skill.

Molly Hoffman, our well-known Cook County avian expert and WTIP volunteer, came to my rescue after last week’s scribing on unusual birds coming into the mid-trail area. She shared with me that the whitish redpoll I mentioned was most likely a hoary redpoll. Guess the ghostly looking birds are often seen dining with their true red cousins.

The other bird of mention, which I thought was a lady pine grosbeak, was in fact an immature male pine grosbeak. Guess the adolescent males can have the bright yellow-red plumage that gives them a bright feathering appearance, somewhat parrot-like. As they mature, their orangeish quills eventually give way to the brilliant rosy pink to which we are accustomed.

The pack is still in our neighborhood as they practiced their winter song for the trout fishing neighbors last Saturday night. Then come morning the Smiths did some tracking of a threesome that came out onto Mile O Pine. The trio was side by side and went further than we eventually cared to follow--what an adventure. One of the three had imprints in the snow larger that the palm of my hand.

On MLK day I got word from my ice fishing friend that a huge wolf was observed coming out of the woods along our Wildersmith shore. Trudging icebound to the northeast, I suppose it was on survey detail for another venison dinner.

It seems tragic that these marvelous warriors of our wilderness are going to be put in peril once again at the hands of the trap ‘em/shoot ‘em up human race as they come off endangered species listing.

We supposedly civilized folk just can’t leave the many aspects of our natural world well enough alone. One would think that the people of Minnesota would know better than to let a hunting season happen for this revered historical component of our natural resources.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a peaceful forest moment.

Airdate: January 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Omar Runolfsson via Flickr.

The Lake Superior Project / logo by Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: The Blue Desert

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Invasive species are one of the biggest issues facing Lake Superior. The most important invasive species to the lake to date is the sea lamprey. It changed everything. It wiped out the lake trout population in the other Great Lakes, and came close to doing the same in Lake Superior. In this edition of the Lake Superior Project, we take a closer look at this invader, and the impact that it had on the lake and the people who live around it.

This project is funded in part by the Coastal Zone Management Act, by NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, in cooperation with Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program.

Sounds by Peter Elvin.