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North Shore Morning

AM Community Calendar/photo by masochismtango on Flickr

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:
Gentlemen Hall - (West End native Jacob Michael - center)

Lutsen native Jacob Schmidt and his band, Gentleman Hall

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Lutsen native Jacob Schmidt and his band “Gentleman Hall” performed in December at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen. We’ll hear in interview with Jacob taped backstage just before the performance.


The Lake Superior Project / logo by Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: Voices from the Lake

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In our broadcast area, we sit on one of the biggest resources in the world: Lake Superior. The lake means different things to different people, whether it's a spiritual connection, a source of income or a favorite place to fish. In this first segment, Voices from the Lake, we explore some of ways in which the big lake is significant to people.

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.


Late night broomball at Sawbill Outfitters

West End News Jan. 5

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I was pleased to read that Tofte Township was moving ahead with plans for a new cell tower. The same article mentioned that a new cell tower is also being planned for Taconite Harbor. Hopefully, the two new towers will finally bring reliable cell service to the West End.

When I was in Africa last year, the village I visited had no electricity, no running water and most people were subsistence farmers living on less than $300 per year. But, they had excellent cell service, with a choice of three providers and good service everywhere. Almost everyone I met had a cell phone. They had to take them to a shop with a generator to have them charged and bought their minutes in small quantities on scratch-off paper slips, but they used them constantly, including a clever system of transferring money between people by cell phone. My African hosts were shocked to hear that I did not enjoy reliable cell service at home. They think of the United States as being technologically advanced and they also wondered how I could possibly live with the inconvenience of no cell service.

Seven or eight years ago, I had a chance to visit Norway House, Manitoba, a town about the same size of Grand Marais, located way up at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. Everyone in Norway House seemed to have a cell phone and used it frequently. Everyone seemed so comfortable and adept with cell phones that I was moved to ask how long they had enjoyed cell service. To my surprise they informed me that it had only been five months and they couldn’t imagine life without it.

Here at Sawbill we have a long-standing tradition of inviting our crewmembers back to enjoy the New Year’s holiday with us. We get a good crowd every year, mostly current crewmembers, but also a few who have moved on to what they call “the real world.” They are a very easy group to have for company because they have all lived here, so they just move back into their old rooms and pitch in with the cooking, cleaning and daily chores. They also entertain themselves, making music, playing games and especially playing outside. Every year, they adapt themselves to whatever the weather offers them. Some years it’s been ice fishing, other years it’s been skating, skiing, sledding, fox and hounds, snow cave building and even a polar plunge through the ice. This year the highlighted activity was broomball. They spent half a day shoveling and resurfacing a rink on the lake. The main game started late on New Year’s Eve and ended with champaign on the lake at the stroke of midnight. Cindy insisted that they all wear helmets for safety, so we scrounged every bike and ski helmet that we could find. We didn’t have enough, so one fire fighters helmet and one antique motorcycle helmet were pressed into action. The brooms were also a ragtag collection of whatever could be found. It would have been a strange sight for any passing fox or wolf to behold.

I was very distressed to observe the level of spending - and the effectiveness of that spending – by the so called super-PACs leading up to the recent Iowa caucuses. In a nutshell, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a case last year that now allows corporations to campaign independently for or against political candidates with no limit on spending and no disclosure on who is contributing to the campaign. Judging by the millions spent by super-PACs in Iowa, we are in for a barrage of negative advertising this election season, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. In my opinion, this is a terrible development for American democracy. Already corrupt politicians now have a virtually unlimited source of money. Even honest politicians will be forced to play this big money game, making them beholden to the money, rather than their constituents. I don’t want to be cynical, but I can’t imagine that foreign governments and corporations, who now are prohibited by law from contributing to American campaigns, will abide by that law when they have an easy and untraceable conduit to pump money into our elections. In the face of this terrible decision, we are in real danger of losing the democracy that the founders dreamed of. History clearly tells us that the founders specifically wanted our public policies to be driven by the concept of one voter, one vote, rather than one dollar, one vote.

A dirt road with fresh snow / photo from

Gunflint Notebook: Running With Moose

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In this edition of the Gunflint Notebook, Steve delves into a story about his morning routine that’s anything but ordinary. Many people start their day with a jog, but not too many folks can say they’ve run with moose!

Moon, with the constellation Auriga

Northern Sky: What To Expect This January

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Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and in this segment, she explains exactly what there is to see in the night sky in January, and gives us something to mull over on these dark winter days.

Read this month's Starwatch column by Deane.

Photo courtesy of Glass_House via Flickr.

Little Girl Doing Laundry

Moments in Time: Northern Cleaners & Laundry

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Vi Wonser and her husband Gordon operated Northern Cleaners & Laundry from 1947 to 1981 in downtown Grand Marais. In this editon of Moments in Time, Vi shares her memories of the business.

Photo courtesy of W.E. Vilmer via Wikimedia.

Algol, known as the Demon Star, is the bright object on the right hand side of this photo, to the right and down from the Comet

Northern Sky: A Cosmic Smirk, Demon Star & More

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Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and in this segment, she talks about "a cosmic smirk" that will be visible this month, the story of Algol (known as the "demon star") and more!

Read this month's Starwatch column by Deane.

Photo courtesy of Mark Kilner via Flickr.

Wolf tracks in the snow

West End News Dec. 16

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Today, I have two stories of local boys making good - both with West End connections.

This weekend, a big-time, national touring rock band called Gentlemen Hall will be appearing at Papa Charlie's nightclub at Lutsen Mountains. It will be a homecoming for the band's lead guitar player and singer, Jacob Schmidt. Jacob was born in Cook County, raised in Lutsen and graduated from Cook County High School before heading off to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee School of Music. Jacob is the son of Carol Perkins from Lutsen and Jim Schmidt from Grand Marais. Jacob showed musical aptitude early in life and was an accomplished guitarist by the time he started high school. Jacob and his equally talented brother, Josh, were mentored by several older musicians in the area and quickly became popular performers in the region. While at Berklee, Jacob naturally played music with classmates and other musicians from the fertile Boston music scene. This led to the founding of Gentlemen Hall, followed by winning several awards, attracting a loyal fan base and a contract with a professional management company. The band is currently on a nationwide tour and some quick thinking by Lutsen Mountains marketing manager, Jim Vick, landed Jacob and his band mates at Papa Charlie's on Saturday, Dec. 17, starting at 9:30 p.m. Be there, or be square.

MinnPost, the excellent, statewide online newspaper, ran a feature story this week about the Johnson brothers, Colee, Skyler and Clay, from Hovland. The young men’s parents are Kathi and Rusty Johnson. They are also related to a number of West End residents including great aunt and uncle Carol and Ron Gervais from Tofte, aunt and uncle, Misty and Tim Schliep from Schroeder, and second cousins Terry Gervais and Cindy Hansen from Tofte - which makes them my second cousins by marriage. The MinnPost article is part of a year-long project called "Rural Minnesota: A Generation at the Crossroads" that explores the lives of young people and how their choices might be shaping the future of outstate Minnesota. The Johnsons are notable for being very young entrepreneurs, having started a firewood business while they were still kids to now owning their own general logging company. It is no surprise to anyone from Cook County that the writer highlighted how hard they work. The young men come from a long line of honest, hard-working people. Congratulations to the Johnson brothers on getting some well-deserved attention for their determination and grit. You can find the article by going to and searching on the keywords Johnson Brothers.

Winter is unfolding in slow motion here at Sawbill. A couple of light snows have combined with the sparse existing snow cover, resulting in a scene that begins to approach the ideal for the holiday season. Lake travel by foot or ski is easy right now. The cold weather has formed over a foot of ice with no slush and the snow cover is just enough to give you a grip without having to do any serious trail breaking. We've had a couple of parties pass through on fishing expeditions in the wilderness. Neither group did well with the walleyes, but they enjoyed beautiful weather and scenery.

Last year, we had two albino chickadees that attended our feeders all winter long. The first one we noticed had a faint black spot on its tail and was a regular at our home feeder. The second one was almost pure white and fed exclusively at our office feeder, which is only 90 feet from the house. We never saw either bird at the opposite feeder, which answered the long-standing question about whether or not the chickadees feed from both feeders, or just one. We were hoping that our little albino buddies would return this season, but it's starting to look like that won't happen. A little research informs us that the average life span of a chickadee in the wild is two and a half years. The oldest chickadee ever documented was 11 years old. It makes sense that the white chickadees enjoy extra camouflage protection from predators in the winter, but stick out like sore thumbs once the snow melts. Nature is a harsh mistress at sometimes, but wonderful to observe in all her variety.

Lundie Cabin

Moments in Time: Minnesota architect Edwin Lundie

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Renowned Minnesota architect Edwin Lundie (1886-1972) had a 50-year career in St. Paul.  Lundie also had strong ties to the North Shore.  We learn more about those ties in this edition of Moments in Time, featuring Linda Lamb of the Schroeder Area Historical Society.  The Society sponsors the annual "Lundie Tour"of  North Shore homes and cabins designed by Lundie.  Produced by Carah Thomas.

(Lundie cabin photo courtesy of the Schroeder Area Historical Society)

It's time for skiing and snowboarding in this week's West End News

West End News Dec. 8

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 Mary Somnis sent me an email the other day, calling my attention to a local shopping initiative called “Made On The Range.” It is a website, – just like it sounds with no spaces or punctuation – that lists dozens of companies that offer holiday goods and services and are based in northeastern Minnesota. The website eloquently says: “The people living in northeastern Minnesota have a long history of resourcefulness and personal innovation culminating in the design and creation of quality and interesting goods and services. This web site is a convenient one-stop-shop for these goods and services and serves as a direct portal to these companies.”

Mary Somnis is in charge of the tourism initiative at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. The IRRRB is a state agency that receives a production tax from the iron mining industry that it uses to develop and support a stable economy in northeastern Minnesota. It operates in parts of six counties, including all of Lake County and Cook County. Mary got her start in tourism promotion right here in Cook County where she served as the Executive Director of the Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association. She started at the LTTA as a secretary, but through hard work and talent, rose quickly to the executive position. During her tenure, the Lutsen Tofte Schroeder area led the state in tourism growth. After a few years at the LTTA, Mary was recruited for her current job at the IRRRB, where she has continued her success. She kept a property here in Cook County, which she visits frequently, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her return permanently at some point.

Again, the local shopping website is madeontherange,com.

The snow cover, or lack there of, is becoming a common topic of conversation around the West End. Of course, most good West Enders are hoping for enough snow to enable their winter sport of choice – especially the snowmobilers and cross country skiers. The down hill skiers are lucky because the snowmaking at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area is well underway and downhill conditions are already excellent. At this writing there is a 12” to 24” base with six lifts operating. There are a number of improvements at the ski area this year, including a beginner’s terrain park on Ullr Mountain, a more advanced terrain park on Eagle Mountain and a boarder-cross course on Mystery Mountain where riders can race down the series of turns, jumps and drops. It’s great to have such a wonderful facility right here in the West End along with the extensive trail systems.

There are other concerns with the low or non-existent snow cover. In the past, when we’ve had little snow and cold temperatures, many people have had their septic systems freeze up. This is a particularly annoying phenomenon with ramifications that are better left unspoken. Local well driller, Bill McKeever, was quoted the other day saying that the wells he’s seeing are the lowest that he can remember. Another long-term worry is what the fire season will be like next year if we have a dry winter and/or spring. I remember reading somewhere that the total winter snowfall on the Superior National Forest in the winter of 1935/36 was 4 inches. 1936 was an epic year for forest fires. After the big Pagami Creek Fire this fall, we could do with a breather in 2012. But, we’re lucky enough to live in a big beautiful forest, so I guess we’ll have to learn to play with the cards that Mother Nature deals us.