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AM Community Calendar/photo by masochismtango on Flickr

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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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West End News: December 24

At this time of year, it’s hard to think about anything but the holiday season, especially when the woods are a winter wonderland like they are right now. If you get just a few miles away from the big lake, every tree and bush is loaded with snow. The back roads feel like tunnels as the trees bend down to winter’s soft hand.
 
While the snowy trees do wonders for the holiday spirit, they are definitely bad news for the area snowmobile and cross-country ski trails. Trail maintenance crews are reporting incredible numbers of fallen and leaning trees across the trails. Trail clearing is a tough job at any time, but it’s made much more difficult when you have to wade deep snow to cut windfalls that are loaded with hundreds of pounds of snow and usually frozen to the ground. Despite the hard labor, the job will get done and the trails should be open very soon.
 
Right now, the only open ski trail in the West End is the unplowed portion of the Onion River Road, which is groomed for classic and skate skiing. I see that people are riding snowmobiles on the state trail, but I think they might be jumping the gun a little bit.
 
The lakes are odd this year, so I can’t recommend recreating on the ice yet, unless you are fully prepared for self-rescue and survival if you fall through. Most of the ice is fine, but there were open spots on the larger lakes very recently, so it’s unpredictable. In any case, the slush is terrible right now, so that’s reason enough to stay off the ice.
 
Stoney Creek Dog Sled Rides has opened for the season. I can’t think of anything more fun right now than taking a dogsled ride through the snow-laden trees. If you have company from anywhere south of Minnesota, they will get a huge kick out of it.  You can call for reservations at 218-663-0143. You can get more information by googling Visit Cook County or contact WTIP.
 
Of course, a great part of the holiday season is the time you spend with friends and especially family. I was recently reminded how much fun it is to question the oldest members of our families about their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  Most of us know next to nothing about our great-grandparents, but our parents remember them well.  It’s fun to hear not just who are ancestors are but what they were like as people. It also beats talking about the presidential election, which just gets everyone riled up!
 
If you go back just twelve generations, you will find that you are the direct descendant of 4096 people.  It’s incredible to think that each of us carries around the genetic material from that many people – and in fact - millions more.  You don’t have to think like this for too long before you realize that you are literally a cousin to every other person on earth. It’s just a matter of how far back you have to go to find the common ancestor.
 
And, that’s the ideal way to think about humanity at this time of year, when our thoughts are turning to Peace on Earth.
 

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Winter through a window

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 24

The days of waiting have dwindled and our anticipation intensifies toward this annual blow-out celebration. Everyone’s been scurrying here and there trying to finish this and that before settling down for this big day in America and around the Christian world. Hopefully on the 25th there can be a moment where all of us can reflect with some tolerance and love for all of mankind. Thinking of all the tragedies man has imposed on fellow man during the past year, might we take time out to share some contemplation of peace.

The Gunflint Trail has been quiet and peaceful of late with most winter related activities being on hold. Some mini-snippets typical of up north at Christmas-time have drifted over the territory, but for the most part people who enjoy the season of white remain in a state of frustration. In this season of hope, perhaps the grip of “El Nino” will let go with a gift of snow and cold as we head into 2016.

Pre-holiday gatherings are winding down with the big birthday bash at hand. As the season of holiday tunes dance in our heads, I will attempt to serve up my rendition of an old favorite with an up north twist. The lyrics may be a stretch, a composer I’m not, but you all know the melody. Titled, “The Twelve Days of Christmas Up North," here goes and bear with me.

On the first day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the second day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…two hairies pecking… and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the third day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…three martens racing…two hairies pecking…and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me… eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…eleven white tails browsing…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…twelve plodding moose…eleven white tails browsing…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.

Whew, that’s a lot of wild critters, I’m out of breath, fingers cramping and the keyboards a-smoking!

We at Wildersmith and those of the wild neighborhood hope you have a Merry Christmas, filled with love, peace and goodwill toward all beings! This is Fred Smith, on the Trail…

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the moment!

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A Year in the Wilderness: December 22 - Winter Solstice

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences travelling the BWCAW. As the calendar nears the solstice, here’s their latest installment as they travel through several lakes - paddling through a snowstorm at one point.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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(Cindee Snider Re /Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 18

 Our Gunflint Trail winter has extended yet another week with no appreciable change in the temperate status. While the Grand Marais village received a healthy dose of liquid precipitation since we last met, barely a sniff collected in our wilderness neighborhood in some drizzling light rain and a scant couple inches of snow.

At the time of this report, the Gunflint lake area was slightly decorated in white. It seemed probable the territory might not have a white Christmas. However, in an unexpected notion, “Mother Nature” shocked us with 8 inches of the stuff in this neighborhood and even more in other places back down the Trail. Further, conditions for the big lakes of the upper Trail territory to become frozen in the near future are growing remote. Looking back at my data since 1982 for “ice on” over Gunflint Lake shows latest date as December 29 in 2001.

Most recently, in 2011 we waited until the 28th for the second latest incident of solidarity. At the rate things are going “ice on” for the Gunflint Gal could extend well past the first of the New Year. Anything is possible with this screwy weather phenomenon, but wouldn’t it be something if the larger lakes out this way didn’t freeze at all in ’15-’16. If this did occur, the January trout fishing season would open with watercraft and dip nets instead of snowmobiles and ice augers.

To contrast our current non-ice issue, a reflection from the past tells of Trail icon, Justine Kerfoot walking across Gunflint Lake on the ice, June 1, 1936. That year “ice out” occurred on June 3. Historically, that was a long winter in all of the Midwest. I don’t have info on the freeze up time that winter, but it surely could have been at least eight months of ice time around here.

Meanwhile, holiday preparations and celebrating goes on in the absence of usual north woods atmospheric components. Good cheer permeates the area with little more than nine hours of daylight, knowing in a few short segments our early sunsets will be history. “Old Sol” will have stalled out in its southward crawl, soon to resume a climb back northward.

After not seeing a moose in this area for many weeks, the trend was snapped for yours truly last week during a trip to Grand Marais. And, several other sightings have been mentioned by other local byway travelers. In my case, three were observed somewhere in the moose zone between the advertised viewing site and Lullaby Creek Rd. All three were yearlings or better, and appeared in healthy condition. They delayed my trek while reluctantly refusing to move from their blacktop salt lick. I have since heard of three moose being struck by vehicles on the Trail over the first two weeks of December. Guess two were killed and the condition of a third is unknown. The scenario makes me wonder if the three might have been the same ones I encountered.

Speaking about our briny pathway, I’m amazed at what appears to be questionable applications of melting brine to the Trail surface when we get no more than a skiff of snow/ice. It's mind boggling if this is deemed prudent use of our road maintenance tax dollars. I can’t believe the number of times over the years when I have met a snow plow unit spreading this noxious material and seemingly scraping more off the asphalt than snow. What’s an even greater shame are the masses of drivers without common sense to slow down when road conditions become tricky, thus necessitating this chemical treatment. Even worse is the thought of this sodium chloride residue and other added unknown nasties ending up in our lake waters. It’s bound to get there eventually after decades of applications, and once such chemicals get in the water, it’s pretty much there to stay and all kinds of bad things begin to happen in this precious resource.

On another note, it makes me wonder if consuming copious doses of the briny elements might also be a contributing factor to our moose herd decline. If high dietary salt intake is bad for us humans, couldn’t the same be said for moose? I would think moose flourished for eons before man-made dietary supplements lured them onto our byway. Question is, couldn’t we be using just plain old sand? I’m betting we could be saving considerable tax dollars by eliminating the chemicals while lessening the chance for these compounds to taint lake waters and at the same time make for a reduced salt moose diet. Such a plan would also save corrosive wear and tear on both road surfaces and our vehicles, in addition to those quarter million dollar county plow truck/spreaders. Above all, it would be more appropriate from any and all environmental stand-points. It’s worthy of thought!

I’m stepping down from the soap box now, and wish everyone cheerier times and peace during the remaining days of 2015.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. It’s Christmas time in the forest! 
 


 

Superior National Forest Update: December 18

Hi.  I’m Steve Robertsen, education specialist, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For mid-December, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.
You can’t help but have noticed our unusual weather for December.  This is shaping up to be our warmest on record, following the warmest fall on record.  The rain and temperatures seem more like Seattle than northern Minnesota.  There is no doubt that climate change is happening, and the Forest Service has nationally acknowledged it as one of the main challenges facing forests in the future.  While it is a challenge, forests are also one of our best weapons in the fight against greenhouse gases.  A lot of carbon dioxide is taken out of the air every year as trees photosynthesize, and that carbon is made into plant tissue and leaves.  Forests act as huge carbon sinks, so the Superior is doing its part to help reduce carbon dioxide.
On a more local scale, that warm weather, rain, and slushy snow has created some truly terrible driving conditions.  In the warm periods, gravel roads have been soft and slippery.  In the cold periods, they have been ice covered and slippery.  Either way, driving this year on Forest roads requires slowing down, and paying attention.  If you’ve got a four wheel drive vehicle, remember that four wheel drive does not equal eight wheel brakes, and while you might be able to get moving fast, you won’t slow down any better than other cars.
As unplowed back roads become snow covered, their use shifts to snowmobiles.  This time of year can see both snowmobiles and cars trying to use the same roadway, so both users need to watch out for each other.  Also in the mix are logging trucks.  Portions of Old Greenwood Road, Greenwood Road, and Firebox Road on the Gunflint District are snowmobile trails, but log hauling will be taking place on segments of these trails as well.  A good rule of thumb in the winter is that if a back road is plowed, chances are good it is being used for timber hauling.
Elsewhere on the Gunflint, log hauling is taking place on FR144 (Old Greenwood), Shoe Lake Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Bally Creek Road, Caribou Trail, Ball Club Road, and the Grade.  On the Tofte District, people can expect logging traffic on FR 369 and FR 380 from Sawbill Landing to Isabella; on FR 348 and FR 170 from the Whitefish Lake area to Lake County 7; and on FR 1238 and FR 170 from the Plouff Creek area to the Ball Club Road. 
To find out conditions on snowmobile trails, and ski trails as well, visit the Superior’s webpage.  There are links there to our cooperators who groom ski trails, and to the DNR site which has state park ski trail and grant in aid snowmobile trail conditions.  The DNR site also has a map of statewide snow depth.  Our site serves as a one-stop-shop to access all these different reporters of trail conditions.
Speaking of shopping, check out our District offices for nature-related books and other items which make great last minute gifts.  Doesn’t every house in the north woods need a stuffed Smokey the Bear?  You can also still pick up permits for Christmas trees and other holiday greenery if you’ve really been procrastinating. 
Have a great weekend, and until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the Superior National Forest Update. 
 

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Railings on the new Six Hundred Road Bridge in Tofte

West End News: December 17

I’d like to extend heartfelt thanks on behalf of a grateful community to Amity Goettl, who recently resigned from her position as the Lutsen Township Clerk.  The clerk is the hardest position in township government, requiring many, many hours of tedious and complex work.  I don’t know how long Amity was the clerk, but it was for a long time, and she did a good job.  Thanks also to Sharon Hexum-Platzer, for agreeing to step into the Clerk position, at least until the next election.
 
The three township boards of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder that make up the West End do a ton of good for our communities.  Take a minute to say thanks to your township officials the next time you see them at the post office or in the grocery store.  Also thank them for the growing spirit of cooperation between the three townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder.  My parents always taught us that you actually get more through cooperation than you do from competition.  That has certainly proved to be true here in the West End.
 
The new Six Hundred Road bridge across the Temperance River near the Sawbill Trail in Tofte appears to be completely done.  The crew from Edwin E. Thoreson did their usual professional job.  The iconic old steel bridge, which was famous for being pink, was taken down and cut up with torches.  The new bridge used the existing cement piers in the river and is made almost entirely with wood.  It is just one lane, like the old pink bridge was, and fits well in its truly scenic location.  The only part of the design that makes me nervous is the very low railing that runs along each side.  They only come up to about knee height, which makes me wonder about being a tripping hazard.  Even more alarming is the very real possibility that a heavy snow year will raise the snowmobile trail level even with, or maybe even above, the height of the railings.  It’s a long drop from the bridge to the river, which may not be obvious to riders at night.  However, I know that civil engineers know their business, so I assume they know that it will be OK.
 
For all the years that I’ve lived here, I’ve never been able to determine how the Six Hundred Road got its name.  Heartbreak Hill, which is on the Six Hundred Road, is well known to have been named by teamsters who struggled to get heavy loads up and down the long, steep hill during the horse logging era.  If any history buff knows which 600 things the road was named for - please let me know.
 
It’s fun to live in a community that has so many vivid place names.  From the Scandinavian to the descriptive, most of the local names have a story to tell. Of course, for the various roads that are tagged as trails, it comes from their history of being literal trails in the past.  The township names are mostly Nordic, except for Grand Portage and Grand Marais, which speak to a French connection.  Grand Marais is widely believed to mean “Big Swamp,” but some historians suggest that it actually had a meaning of “Big Harbor” in the older French dialect. 
 
Don’t even get me started on lake names, which are as colorful as we could ask for.  I remember years ago, when Garrison Keillor had a weekday morning show on Minnesota Public Radio, he would read BWCA Wilderness Lake names just to revel in their sounds.
 
The new high-speed gondola is finished at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area and is being dedicated this week. Many dignitaries will be attending the ceremony, but the arrival of colder temperatures and snow are even more welcome.
 
I had a chance to visit the new pumping station in Lutsen that will soon be supplying water for the Poplar River Water District, including the snowmaking at Lutsen Mountains.  The three massive pumps are each 36 feet tall and can pump an incredible 3000 gallons per minute.  It’s been a tough fight to install the pumping station while dealing with the troublesome soils and the fury of Lake Superior, but it looks now like the battle is nearly won.
 

 

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Great Expectations Charter School

Great Expectations students participate in National Novel Writing Month

NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s an annual project during the month of November. William Durbin is an author who writes books geared toward young readers, and he recently visited Great Expectations School to engage students in how they might start writing their own novels. WTIP’s Martha Marnocha visited a classroom to find out more.
 

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A Year in the Wilderness: December 16 - Waiting for Freeze-Up

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences travelling the BWCAW. Here’s their latest installment as they find themselves adopting a slower pace to their lives as they await freeze-up.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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North Woods Naturalist: Strange Fall

The prolonged fall was accountable for unusual late season events. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the strange fall.

(Photo courtesy of Ben Klocek on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 11

Sounding like a broken record, all I can say in regard to the Gunflint weather is winter remains ugly. To say the least, “border country normal” has seemingly taken a step backward with temps some 15 to 20 degrees above what the average might be, come week two of December.

As forecasters paint a continuing picture of a non-winter for these parts, the view is becoming dimmer with each passing day. One has to feel for those folks whose livelihood includes an ice and snow business component. What we are going through will have devastating economic impact if the atmosphere doesn’t belly-up with some cold and snow.

To take things a step further, thinking ahead to next summer, our wilderness territory could face some sad commentary. There will be reduced snow melt in the watershed to refill many already depleted lakes and underground aquifers. And as moisture is just not reaching the northland, there’s potential for a dry forest landscape with an ever-waiting fuel load. Our wildfire danger could be haunting.

Besides these troublesome moisture inadequacies, if hard freezing doesn’t occur, the billions of flying, gnawing and biting pests that often give up a goodly portion of their population to bitter temps will no doubt be beyond tolerable. In general, many usual natural occurrences are, and will be, turned upside down.

For many living out this way, our early “getting ready for winter chores” could have easily been delayed, if not avoided totally. One positive is the fuel needed to keep us warm is being saved, allowing us easier home heating bills. On the other hand, suppliers will no doubt raise the rates to offset their sales loss to protect their “bottom line.’’ Somehow, the consumers just can’t get a break in our capitalistic reasoning.

In spite of the seasonal weather gloom to this point, people of the Gunflint Community are busy making the season bright. One shining example in our territory is the twinkling, lonesome pine along the Trail at the west end of Birch Lake.

Whereas most American metropolises have their usual holiday lighting experience among thousands, if not millions of cheering people, we woodsy folks are quietly blessed with our remote sparkling sentinel in the midst of a zillion, quiet coniferous cousins. A big thanks to Daryl P. and any others who made it happen. We Gunflinter's notice and appreciate your offering of holiday cheer.

And by the way, for you readers and listeners not in the know, this lighting experience doesn’t come by just plugging it into the nearest socket. This tree requires daily battery exchange and charging, and is forever green, no recycling needed, just add more lights as it grows skyward.

A further moment of cheer was shared this past Saturday at a festive open house in the mid-Trail area. A full house of Gunflint friends and neighbors gathered to enjoy a late afternoon of visiting and munching at the Schaap Community Center. Big thanks to the Trail Volunteer Fire department for organizing this, their second annual get together.

Yet another winter function has added glow to the rapidly approaching birthday of all birthday celebrations. The Borealis Chorale and Orchestra performed their longstanding tradition of holiday spirit for two full houses last Sunday and Monday evenings in Grand Marais at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. A few of our upper Trail neighbors were included in the ninety person choir and 20-piece instrumental ensemble. Congratulations and thanks to all for another awesome concert.

The roaming coyote mentioned last week has been seen again in the neighborhood so the wolves haven’t got it yet. I’m betting it will meet its “Waterloo” soon, as the wolves are hungry, with few, if any venison opportunities.

And speaking of those whitetails, they are going to be more difficult challenges for their predator adversaries with bare ground readily available, thus allowing easier “sprint for life” pathways. For sure, it seems certain a severe winter may not be an issue for them in 2015-16.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

(Photo courtesy of Tal Viinika on Flickr)

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