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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!


What's On:
The Heart of the Continent Partnership has been meeting throughout the week

West End News Oct. 27

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This is the time of year when the community turns its attention to the Birch Grove School and Community Center. First up is the popular and long-standing Birch Grove PTO Halloween Carnival. I can't remember when the carnival started, but it has long been an important community event in the West End. This year it falls on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. It includes games, bingo, costumes, a cakewalk, haunted house, treats and basically a wahoo good time for everyone. If you've attended in the past, you know what I mean. If you haven't attended before, I guarantee that it is big fun for kids of all ages. Of course, all the proceeds go to support the programs at Birch Grove.

Hard on the heels of the carnival comes the annual lutefisk dinner for Zoar Church, Nov. 12 in the Birch Grove gym. This will be the first year that the lutefisk will be prepared in the beautifully remodeled school and community kitchen. I assume the kitchen design took into account the rigors of lutefisk preparation, including adequate ventilation. When my kids were students at Birch Grove they claimed that they could smell the lutefisk for two weeks after the event. All kidding aside, this is a great West End community event, and ham is also on the menu for those few people who don't love lutefisk.

Next up is the Birch Grove Foundation's annual Papa Charlie's dinner and dance at Lutsen Mountains. Save the date for Friday, Nov. 18. Dinner and the silent auction run from 4 until 8 p.m. The fine local band, D'Merritt, will play for dancing from 8 until they stop. Most, if not all, of the labor and supplies for this event are donated, which makes it an exceptionally good fundraiser for all the great things that the Birch Grove Foundation does.

As I speak, I am in the far east end of Cook County attending the Heart of the Continent Partnership conference at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino. The Heart of the Continent Partnership is an informal coalition of public land managers and local stakeholders from both sides of the international boundary in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. It includes public land managers, business owners, non-profit groups, elected officials, and virtually anyone with an interest in the truly beautiful ecosystem that includes Lake Superior, the Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, Voyageurs National Park, the Chippewa Tribal lands, First Nation lands, many smaller state and provincial parks, and various units of government from local to national. The idea of Heart of the Continent is to create a regional identity around our shared ecosystem and cooperate in exploring how we can work together to improve the economic health and sustainability of the region.

The four-day conference is the first of its kind for this region. It is especially valuable in bringing Canadians and Americans together to see what we have in common. When you combine the long driving distances and the inconvenience of crossing the border, we almost never see each other, even though we live very near each other as the crow flies. The most immediate benefit of this effort is just getting to know one another and acknowledge that we are all in the same boat. And the people at the conference are also working to launch specific projects that will improve and protect the already great quality of life in the region. Among others things, this includes cooperative marketing to studying problems and solutions related to climate change.

It almost goes without saying that much of the discussion revolves about how we can best take advantage of the outstanding natural features of lakes, rivers, forest, trails and wilderness that are so abundant here. Within the Heart of the Continent region there are more than 5 million acres of public land. The trick is to use these resources in a way that provides a rich and dignified life for local residents and is welcoming and fulfilling for visitors, while protecting the region's natural character for our children, grandchildren and beyond. On the personal level, I've enjoyed revisiting Thunder Bay's Old Fort William Historical Park, where the first half of the conference was held, and the Grand Portage community, where the second half was held.

Although the leaves are now fully down, the tamaracks are at their golden peak. While November can be a cruel month here in the northland, it does have its own stark beauty. I have my fingers crossed for the lakes to freeze smoothly this year, because skating on "wild ice" is never far from my mind. I think it would be interesting to explore the Pagami Creek fire on skates, but failing that, on ski or snowshoes for sure.

Northern shrike

Fall to winter -- the changing of the seasons

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Fall moves toward winter – sometimes in slow motion, sometimes quickly.  Jay Andersen of WTIP North Shore Community Radio spoke to local naturalist Chel Anderson about snow buntings, shrikes and deer in the changing season.

At her first job, Ada spent most of her time planning what she would do outside of work

Of Woods and Words: The Weekend Warrior

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About six months out of college, I discovered what it meant to “live for the weekend.” I’d just started as an administrative assistant for an extremely small international accounting recruitment firm. This start-up company seemed to think it needed an administrative assistant. In reality, it did not. And since I was the one getting a paycheck out of the illusion, I wasn’t about to let them in on this little secret.

Every day, I spent 45 minutes commuting to a two-person office that they’d managed to cram three desks into. I was in a city far, far away from my friends and family and while the glamour of it all was enough to buoy me along for a while, eight hours with nothing to do each day was still a very long time. In those early days of Facebook, there simply wasn’t eight hours of Internet surfing to do every day as I waited for the phone to ring or my coworker to find some new task for me that would take all of 10 minutes to do.

So I spent my days in the stuffy office planning my weekends. The week became something to be conquered; the weekend something to savor. If I could make it through the week thinking of things to search on Wikipedia, I was rewarded with museums, movies, hikes, and other adventures for two whole days come Saturday and Sunday.

But I haven’t worked a conventional 9 to 5, Monday through Friday job for two and a half years. My two back-to-back days off come smack dab in the middle of everyone else’s work week and those days off are often consumed by side projects like this here writing gig. While my schedule makes perfect sense to most people in this community where seasonal and hospitality jobs reign supreme, I have a harder time explaining myself to farther flung friends. The weekend warrior I once was is a thing of the past, although it is necessary for me to put up a fight if I want a Saturday and Sunday off during the summer season.

As a result, I am not only the friend who moved back to her hometown, then took a left at the woods and kept going, I’m also the friend who is constantly sending her regrets. I say no to bachelorette parties, showers, and casual get-togethers. I am the girl who has to explain why it will be a minor miracle if I make it to a holiday weekend wedding, let alone be a bridesmaid. The weekend everyone else is savoring is just the middle of the week to me.

When a friend asked me commit to being a bridesmaid 10 months in advance of her Labor Day wedding, I balked. I had no idea how it would work for me to be gone for at least three days over one of the busiest weekends of the year. But when I pleaded the bride’s unreasonableness, another friend took the bride’s side. It probably would be helpful for the bride to have her wedding party figured out. Turns out she wasn’t being a stick in the mud: I was.

And if I’m the stick in the mud, it seems I’m destined to wallow in the muck for a while. I don’t see a return of breezy weekends in my future. As a sole employee, I have major problems finding alternative staffing for weekends and will continue to have trouble until I get a coworker or another job. Even when I do finagle a weekend away, I often feel the weekends are exhausting, half-realized events. When it takes a good chunk of the day to get anywhere off the North Shore, the weekend jaunts are fleeting at best.

Anymore, my friends and I share a mutual confusion about weekends. I can’t understand how they can possibly need my bridesmaid dress measurements 10 months in advance; they can’t understand why I can’t commit to a weekend 10 months in advance. The distance between us is apparent not only by the miles, but also our differing weekend cultures. We’ve started to speak different languages.

TGIF? What’s that?

Airdate: October 17, 2011

Photo courtesy of Michael Gil via Flickr.

Bret Higgins, Miranda Mulholland, Tony Dekker, Erik Arnesen, and Greg Millson

The Great Lakes Swimmers front man on his music, songwriting and upcoming performance in Grand Marais

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The Great Lakes Swimmers hail from Toronto, Ontario. The band is known for its haunting sound and for pushing the musical boundaries of folk, country and indy-rock. For a project that has seen a slow upward trajectory since its humble beginnings in 2001, the Great Lake Swimmers are suddenly getting exponentially more attention across North America and Europe. The band will be performing in Grand Marais on Friday, Sept. 16 during the Mountain Stage Program at the North House Folk School. Tony Dekker is the band’s front man and he spoke with WTIP about the songs he writes and where his inspiration comes from.

Butch Deschampe

Butch Deschampe on the Local Music Project

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Butch Deschampe is a lifelong resident of Cook County, playing and singing in a number of local bands over the years.  He's currently with the popular country band "Portage."   In this segment of WTIP's Local Music Project, Butch remembers sneaking into dances at the old log school in Grand Portage and listening to the Grand Ole Opry as a youngster. 

This edition of the Local Music Project was produced by Carah Thomas.

Mr. Frost reads to his preschool class

Early childhood education, economic development and the school referendum

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Cook County Schools ISD 166 is going to voters for approval of a property tax increase to help support and sustain the district’s operations. A small part of what the levy would preserve is money designated for early childhood education: education for kids before kindergarten and support for their families.

Eric Frost teaches preschool at Cook County Schools ISD166 and his daily challenge is to channel that excitement into structured learning opportunities.  “Students who are three and four years old are so excited about everything they see,” says Frost. “Early childhood education capitalizes on that exorbitant interest in the world around them. And so, we are able to teach students a huge number of vocabulary words, we’re able to get students interested in literacy and books, and all of these pre-academic skills that kindergarten requires of them.”  Frost works on a lot of basic skills in his class. He has his students tackle everything from following multi-step directions, to coordination, to learning the ABCs and numbers. He also endeavors to develop their young imaginations.

Research has demonstrated a great benefit to working with kids at this young age. Close to 80 percent of the brain is developed by age five, so early childhood education targets a critical time of development.  According to Art Rolnick, former vice president and head of research for the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis who has devoted much of his career to research on early childhood education, “If you intervene with positive programs in the earliest years, you have long-term effects in terms of kids doing better in school, more likely to be literate by the sixth grade, graduate high school, get a job, pay taxes and stay off welfare.”

The benefits also go beyond the school system. Rolnick and others have found that investing in early childhood education is one of the best economic development strategies out there. According to Rolnick’s colleague Rob Grunewald, “Once you add up all the benefits of investments in early childhood relative to the cost, we found really high returns. The rate of return, 16 percent, is much higher than the rate of return we see in the stock market over a long period of time, which is about six percent.”  An investment in childhood education has also been shown to benefit the larger community. According to Grunwald, “Most of the benefit that accrues to early childhood investments goes to the public; that is, to the non-participants. More than half of the benefits go to essentially the tax-payer, not only just the family and the children who participate.”

Funding for early childhood education programs at Cook County Schools, however, now hangs in the balance. Although the benefits are widely understood, the state doesn’t provide much funding for it. If the levy fails, parts of the program will certainly be cut. According to Cook County Schools Superintendent Beth Schwartz, this is a concern because there is already some research that shows a greater number of kids in Cook County show up to kindergarten underprepared than elsewhere in the state. “Right now,” says Schwartz, “we know that research around the state is showing that 50 percent of the children entering kindergarten are underprepared.  The research that we have in Cook County suggests that that could be as high as 60 percent of our children underprepared for kindergarten. So if that continues, or if we have to make reductions, that either stays the same or gets worse. Then what we see then is the school district spending more money on remedial programs, and the school spending more money on special education, leaving less money to challenge our higher level students.  It also has the long-term counter benefits like lower homeownership and lower economic status as these kids leave school.”

If the levy does pass, Schwarz says early childhood education is one of the areas that will benefit from some additional funding. That would allow the district to maintain an early childhood parent educator and the preschool program in general. “Other areas those dollars would be spent,” says Schwartz, “would be developing a more county wide curriculum-not only here at ISD166, but county-wide, working with our preschools and daycares.  So if the levy would pass this is money that would benefit every early child out there-under kindergarten.”

But tax increases are hard to stomach, especially in tough economic times. According to John Van Hecke, the executive director of Minnesota 2020, a non-partisan think-tank that focuses in part on educational issues across the state, this frustration is showing up at the local level.  “People are looking at their local property tax payment and saying ‘It’s just going up and up and up!’ and they are absolutely right about that,” Van Hecke says.

Over the past eight years, funding for schools throughout the state has declined by 14 percent. Of the 337 school districts in Minnesota, 333 have seen a decline in funding. In response, districts have been tightening their belts by making cuts and have been going to property owners for levies to close the gap.  And schools are not the only ones out asking: cities, counties, and lots of local agencies are trying to make up for cuts in state funding though property taxes.  “I understand the frustration that people feel,” says Van Hecke.  “It seems like all they are being asked for is more money and they know from their own experiences that their kids are increasingly sitting in classrooms that are more and more packed and they don’t have the resources for the kind of schooling that they need, but it’s not a local cause of that.  The state has cut 14 percent of its contribution to schools and that has real consequences and those are the consequences we’re seeing. And it’s a frustration. But I guess I would urge people not to get sucked into that framework of just blaming the local school. Schools are overwhelmingly doing a phenomenal job with far fewer resources. But there’s no way that taking money out of the system is going to improve schools.”

The vote on the local school levy is Nov. 2, and how it will impact our community remains to be seen.


Baking bread/photo from the Cook County Historical Society

The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps Part 2

Finalcut_CCC_Part2_20101021.mp37.29 MB

In 1933, Cook County was just another area of the United States struggling with the Great Depression. But a program begun by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the Civilian Conservation Corps offered hope for the future of both Cook County and area young men. In this episode, former CCC enrollees and construction foremen recall their experience working in Cook County’s CCC camps. This piece is part of WTIP’s ongoing series on the legacy of CCC in Cook County.

Picture a young man between seventeen and nineteen years old; five foot eight, ten pounds underweight, and very little work experience, if any. That’s how historian Barbara Sommer describes the average Minnesotan CCC enrollee during the Great Depression. Ted Peterson of Silver Bay, Minnesota is now 93 years old. He was just 136 pounds when he enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps back in July of 1936.

Peterson served in both the Hovland and Gunflint camps in Cook County, MN. He enrolled shortly after graduating from Duluth Denfield High School in the spring of 1936.

“Mother and I’d get up after I’d graduated and there’d be a little brown baggy on the kitchen table. Mother was telling me to get out and look for a job. . . So several of us went downtown there one day and we signed up for the Coast Guard, the Army, the Navy, Marine Corps . . . We’d go to the first one that called us. CCC,” recalled Peterson.

For many young men, enlisting in the CCC or some other government service was the only possible employment option as the 1930s dragged on.  

At the start of the CCC young recruits underwent army style training before being posted. Walter Matthews, called Matt, of Grand Portage was one of the first three Cook County men to enroll in the CCC. He was shipped down to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota for a month long boot-camp.  Matt remembers it as miserable.

After training, enrollees were shipped off to various camp locations. They weren’t told in advance where they would end up.

“We still didn’t know where we were going.  Then we heard this rumor. ‘Do you know where we’re going?’ . . . . ‘Yeah, Grand Marais.’ Gee, I let out a war-whoop. I was glad,” said Matthews.

Matthews was happy to wind up so close to home. And he was lucky. Enrollees from Minnesota were part of the Seventh Army District which included most of the Midwest. He could’ve been shipped as far away as Arkansas. But even though ending up in Northern Minnesota was good for him, many of the other recruits dreaded the location. At that time the area was better known for its cold climate and harsh conditions than its spectacular scenery. There was a joke amongst CCC enrollees about Minnesota where one enrollee says to another:

“When’s summer here?”

“I don’t know,” the other answers. “I’ve only been here 11 months!”

Life in the CCC took some getting used to. Initially crews had to build their own barracks and a lot of work went into just getting the camps set up. Most enrollees showed up without the necessary skill set for the various jobs at hand. But in time they learned. Claude Ingram worked for several years as a construction foremen first at the Good Harbor camp and then at the Cross River Camp.

“That’s one thing that it took me a little while to figure out. That they weren’t a work camp. It was training,” said Ingram.

Crews had to solve problems on the fly. Direct orders were often impossible to follow through. For example; Chet Erickson was a construction foreman at several camps in the west end of Cook County. One of his first orders from above was to have his crew plant pine seedlings along the Good Harbor hillside. But, all the seedlings molded during shipment, making the assignment impossible to fulfill. Even when they had good quality seedlings to plant, it was still tough.

“And up here in northern Minnesota, you know, it’s terrible to plant trees. Rocks and so forth. You’re lucky to plant a hundred a day,” remembered Peterson.

Chet Erickson remembers using competition as a way to motivate enrollees. At the end of the week, the construction foreman would buy a keg of beer for the group of young men that planted the most trees.  

But competition wasn’t always necessary. As the CCC picked up momentum, enrollees developed a wide variety of skills in construction and fire suppression. Soon the CCC became an indispensible corps, especially during the fires of 1936.

“When they got on a fire, why they, boy, they put everything they had right into it. The sooner they could get it over with, why the sooner they could be back in the camp again,” said Ingram.

Even as the CCC enrollees evolved into hard-working, trained individuals, working with such young men still resulted in some peculiarities. Chet Erickson remembered that building fire towers was one assignment where he never could figure out what was going through the enrollees’ minds.

“Most of them steel towers, the first set of legs were eighteen foot long. Angle iron you know. Then from there up they were thirteen foot. But the first set was a little heavier. And getting these kids to work up there to start in with, I had to do practically all that sky work. Kids were scared up there! But it’s funny with these kids. After you got ‘em up in the air, say 40 or 50 feet up, then they got like squirrels,” recalled Erickson.   

When thinking back on time spent in the CCC, camp supervisors tend to remember the work they completed with their crews. In contrast, the memories of young enrollees focus more on CCC activities outside of work. Things like; the dynamics of the army run camp life, wildlife encounters and baseball competitions, and of course the scorn they received from local girls.

Matthews remembers the girls saying, “How are you going to show us a good time with 5 bucks. You know. You make 5 dollars a month!”

But more than anything, interviews with CCC enrollees reveal a deep sense of gratitude for the skills and friendships these young men developed during their time with the CCC.

“It was a good experience. It was healthy. We had good meals and warm clothing.  I have no regrets,” said Peterson.

Many, like Ted Peterson, would enroll again. Most enrollees gained weight and more than that, they gained invaluable experience in labor and cooperation.     

The Legacy of the CCC is produced by Ada Igoe and narrated by Bill Burkhart. Barbara Jean Johnson is the executive producer. Many interview clips used in this episode came from Arrowhead Civilian Conservation Corps Documentation Project. Special thanks to the Cook County Historical Society for their assistance. Support for this program comes from the Minnesota Legacy Fund.