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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!

 


What's On:

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 26

        
Boy how time flies! Seems as though February just arrived and already we’re bidding her farewell. The February log book has passed two details since we last met on WTIP. The first marked the second full month of winter while the other was the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon.” With that, we take aim at March.

The area experienced more up and down seasonal character over the last week. The Wildersmith neighborhood went from bitter subzero to a drippy freezing mark and back, over about 72 hours of weekend number three.

During the time of our bouncing thermometer, we had flurries, sleet, freezing drizzle, snow pellets, rain, drizzle and fog, then more snow. With exception of hail, the Gunflint way pretty much got everything “Mother Nature” could offer in terms of precipitation. Ending the unusual wet weather onslaught, new snow refreshed and replaced what was lost to the near 50 degree temperature swing. 

The maddening thing about a February meltdown is what it does to roads, drive ways, and walking paths. The grit of dry snow makes moving about tolerable for most of the cold season, but when a couple warm days interrupt, making the snow soft and slick, getting around in the upright position and keeping one’s vehicle between the snow banks is nightmarish.   

So my driveway and the Mile O Pine have an icy sheen now hidden by new fluff, making navigation troublesome at best. As to my pedestrian efforts, our slick under-footing is slowing me down to a mere creeping, which is even slower than my normal old-timer pace. In short, it’s slow-going around here and will most likely remain this way until the onset of “mud season.” 

Winter activities took a hit as well. Cross country ski trails turned to mush and the slush on our already gooey lake ice was surely made worse than ever for snowmobile traffic. Now that we’ve returned to a colder side, ski trails are crusty and slick. It will take a lot of extra work to grind up the frozen layer and redress.  Groomers are busy fixing things so gliding conditions should be back to normal soon.

Meanwhile, heading into March, chances of an extended period of subzero are waning. Our slushy lake cover is likely to linger on with the insulating snow adding a dangerous cover to the water on ice status.

Difficult lake conditions make me wonder if the surfaces will be able to accommodate a couple coming events on the March calendar. On Sunday March 6, the Cook County Ridge Riders will be hosting their annual trout fishing derby here on Gunflint Lake. One week later, the “Dog Days of Winter” will be holding Sled Dog Derbies and Skijoring Races on Poplar Lake at Trail Center Lodge. Info on event status for the Trout Derby can be found by checking the CCSC Ridge Riders website, and for the “Dog Days” events see www.visitcookcounty.com.  

The weekend warm-up stimulated an enthusiastic gathering of local winged folk. Big ones and little ones of many colors energetically arrived and departed the seed trough. I happily obliged them with seeds, bread scraps, and leftover waffles. As would be expected, the blue jay gang fell in love with the waffle pieces, devouring them like a plague of locusts. 

A couple here-and-then-gone-again visitors, came back over the last week. Our transient pine martens have hit the feed rail again. 
When I ran out of poultry scraps, guess they took offense to only having sunflower seeds on the menu and thought they could do better elsewhere.

Since the Wildersmith “Colonel” has a replenished chicken cache, the cool critters seem content once more. Adding to discussion of the furry guests, it’s a good bet, if they are females, they’re fattening up for delivery of their next generation.   

Further, speaking of little ones, romance is wafting through the forest. It’s mating time for canine types in the woods. Fox, coyotes, and wolves have been in the mating mood these past few weeks. While on another note, bear cubs are probably crawling about their dens as momma catches her last winks of the slumber season.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith!  Happy Trails to you, Gunflint that is!

(photo by Mary & Dan via Flikr)
 

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Superior National Forest Update: February 26

Hi.  I’m Patrick Krage, assistant fire engine captain, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For late February, here’s what’s happening on the Forest.
The variety of weather we’ve had, from biting cold to almost balmy, from snow to rain, has really impacted all forms of recreation, and work, on the Forest.  There is a lot of slush on the lakes, and in subfreezing temperatures, it will freeze to snowmobile tracks or cross country skis as soon as it gets exposed to air.  One way to deal with this on a sled is to go faster, but the faster you go, the harder it is to see dangerous thin ice, or to stop when you do see it.  Give yourself extra space around possible danger zones at lake outlets and inlets and look for other signs of thin ice.  A friend was telling me about seeing an otter appear on the lake, and realizing that the otter’s sudden arrival meant there must be a hole through the ice in that location.   Also, keep an ear open for ice house removal dates.  They are coming up sooner than you might think. 
Off the lakes though, the trails are in pretty decent shape.  While we’ve had some thaws, they’ve usually been followed by a little snow, so ski trails are good.  Most snowmobile trails are good as well, but some may be rough where slushy snow has refrozen into bumps.  We are asking for a little help on wilderness portage trails though.  Some portages are still blocked by trees downed in the December ‘snow-down’ storm.  We don’t want you to clear trails, but if you are out in the Boundary Waters, please note what the conditions are on any portages you cross.  Photos would be particularly useful.  Reports and photos can be sent to the Tofte and Gunflint email addresses listed on our website, or taken to our offices.  This information will be used as we plan for trail clearing during the summer season.
As far as work in the Forest is concerned, warm weather has kept some swampy areas soft, making it hard for timber harvesting equipment to move in the winter.  This caused a break in timber activity, but this week, things have picked up again.  On the Gunflint District, visitors should expect logging traffic on the Greenwood Lake Road, Gunflint Trail, northern end of the Bally Creek Road, and The Grade.  On the Tofte District, logging traffic can be expected on the Honeymoon Trail, Caribou Trail, and Clara Lake Road.  Some of these roads are very narrow and winding.  Drive slowly and attentively; log trucks don’t stop on a dime, and they generally don’t back up long distances for passenger cars.  There are also ongoing state logging operations using some of these roads, which may add to the traffic. 
There is actually a little fire news as well.  The DNR is adjusting the burning permit season due to lack of snow cover in some areas and warm temperatures.  It seems odd to think about fire in February, but if you are looking to burn brush piles, you should do it sooner rather than later as there may be an early start to the fire season this year.  Check on permit needs, keep the fire in a clear area away from other flammable material, and never leave a fire unattended, even in winter.
With spring coming up fast, these next few weeks may be the final weeks to really get out and enjoy winter.  So, hit the trails, and until next time, this has been Patrick Krage with the National Forest Update.

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Snow fleas

West End News: February 25

I was very excited to see a healthy looking cow moose on the road the other day. It seemed to have a thick winter coat and was not wearing a collar.  Why was I excited? Because I drive the back roads of the West End as much as anybody and I almost never see a moose anymore.
 
When our kids were in school, which was less than 10 years ago, we saw many moose – so many that the kids became blasé – barely willing to be roused from their reverie to take a look at even the most magnificent moose. It was so routine as to be bordering on boring.
 
Everyone knows that the moose are disappearing from Minnesota, but no one really seems to know why. In the last year, I’ve read conflicting expert opinions, including too many wolves, too many ticks, too much hot weather in the summer, not enough cold weather in the winter, climate change in general, over-hunting, habitat loss, viruses, not enough logging, too much logging and most recently, too many deer.
 
With all due respect to wildlife biologists, it really seems that nobody knows. And, none of the expert opinions strike me as being completely objective and non-political, no matter how well intentioned.
 
I certainly don’t claim to know what the problem is, but I’m beginning to suspect that it may be unknowable. It may be the case that the sheer complexity of a functioning ecosystem is beyond the ablility of the human brain to fully understand. In other words, life in the forests of northeastern Minnesota may be connected in so many subtle and intricate ways that it may not be possible to tease out the one, six or a dozen causes for moose population decline. It is at least possible that the there are hundreds, if not thousands of ecological relationships that can alter forest dynamics resulting in the simple fact that the moose can no longer survive here.
 
The moose are not the only species that is in flux during the last decade. All over the world, animal populations are declining or growing in unexpected ways. Even a casual observer here in the West End can tell you that there have been many changes over the last half century – literally dozens of species that used to be common and are now rare, and dozens more that were never seen here and are now common. It could be reasonable to conclude that whatever is causing this general trend may be causing the moose decline.
 
Switching from large wildlife to tiny wildlife, I was delighted to see a large outbreak of snow fleas this week. Snow fleas are tiny black insects that mysteriously appear on snowbanks in the middle of the winter.  They are called snow fleas because, although they are no larger than a speck of dust, they are prodigious jumpers. They appear in flocks, or perhaps swarms might be more accurate, and as you draw near to inspect them they jump so fast and far that they give the illusion of just abruptly disappearing.
 
I should point out that they are not actually fleas and do not bite. Their taxonomic name is Collembola, and while they are in the group that includes insects, they technically are not classified as insects. Their eyes are not proper compound eyes, their abdomen has fewer segments and some special extra appendages that insects don’t have. They are commonly known as springtails, due to a couple of appendages that look like tails that play a large role in their incredible jumping ability.
 
The sources I read are a little vague about why the snow fleas emerge on the surface of deep snow during warm late winter days. I feel like they are more common when the snowpack is deeper. It is a fact that they are cute and interesting, occupying one of the more unique ecological niches in the woods.
 
There is plenty of snow over the hill this year for the snowfleas and everyone else who enjoys snow. I measured 32” on the deck this morning. That is down a little since the rain we had last week.

Slush remains a serious impediment to travel on the lakes, at least in the Sawbill area. The slush has been bad all winter, but finally started to freeze up during the last cold snap. Sadly, just a day or two later the rain brought it back with a vengeance. It has been common this year to see camping parties head out on Sawbill Lake with full camping gear only to see them return a few hours later, get in their cars and leave.
 
Hopefully, the late winter cycle of freeze and thaw will soon create a crust on the lakes and rivers that will make travel a joy and the epic slush of 2016 an unpleasant memory.
 
 

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Northern Sky: February 20

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and contributes to WTIP bi-weekly on the Monday North Shore Morning program through "Northern Sky," where she shares what's happening with stars, planets and more.

A full Snow Moon or Hunger Moon on February 22; Earth prepares to lap Jupiter on March 8; Scorpius, Saturn and Mars in the morning sky; and in news - cataclysmic events producing gravitational waves that we can now detect.

(constellation map by Torsten Bronger via Wikimedia Commons)


 

School News from Oshki Ogimaag: February 19

Hunter reports the latest news from Oshki Ogimaag Community School in Grand Portage.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 19

              
Following some “true north” cold, Gunflint conditions have turned somewhat southward once again. Before the turn-around, this neighborhood had a spell of January frigidity as Wildersmith experienced several days of bitter readings prior to emerging above zero last Sunday. 

On the precipitation side of the weather ledger, things were also on the minus side with the only snow happening of the horizontal variety. As strong winds ushered in the cold, loose snow was whisked off flat lake surfaces. Subsequently, the forest landscape was plastered with a hard coating of icy crystals. Hence, critters' trails around the yard were smoothed over as if a fresh snowfall had taken place. 

The bitter cold may have firmed up some of the slushy places on lakes away from shore lines, but plenty of the icy goop remains near shore on a number of lakes. Longtime residents living along Gunflint Lake indicate this is the worst slush they’ve ever seen. That in mind, this semi-winter has broken two records what with the latest “ice on” ever of January 4 and now this continuing slurry mire.  

Another consequence of this “El Nino” disaster is the lack of ice depth on big area lakes. A friend in my neighborhood was here angling over the Presidents' Day weekend, and reports Gunflint Lake ice measured at 17 inches. Normally right now, as winter begins its descent toward spring, we would be looking at two and a half to three feet of hard water. This oddity causes yet another instance of cold season weather lore trivium. 

Speaking of snow, in spite of what appears to be mediocre accumulations around here thus far, a healthy couple feet of the stuff had built up on the Wildersmith roof. Coupled with some early season freezing rain and sleet, ice damming character is becoming a problem along the eaves of our abode. Consequently, yours truly has been into housetop snow removal over the last few days. What a job!  Notwithstanding my passion for the white, I hope for a little reprieve from a new build up until sore muscles recuperate. 

Our “green thumb” neighbor from over on Loon Lake relayed spring tidings last week. She announced her first indoor plantings (bok choy) had sprouted. This may be more indicative of an early spring than “Punxsutawney Phil” or any other of his groundhog kin. Of course, it’s still a long ways until sprouts can be set out in the garden, but the happening alone makes people smile. 

During a quiet moment of outdoor observation last week, I was amused at the sight of a neighborhood squirrel munching sunflower seeds with posthaste. The red rodent was eating like there was no tomorrow, seed after seed, as fast as one could be picked up while casting away shells like they were coming from an automatic weapon.  

After watching this dining exercise for several moments, I decided to time the tiny fellow/gal to see how many kernels it might consume in a 60-second segment. There is probably not a category for this in Ripley’s “Believe it or not,” but for the record, 25 morsels were picked up, shelled, and devoured in a single minute.  I’d bet the “boys of summer” couldn’t come close to matching this. 

Perhaps readers and listeners think I have too much time on my hands, and maybe so, but I’m chalking it up as one more up north educational highlight. You know one has to keep their ear to the ground and eyes to the sky for any and all Gunflint Trail enlightenments. 

Lastly, but certainly not in the least of news for this week, listeners and website readers are reminded of this station''s first fund raising mission of this new year. The session for sustaining this North Country broadcast phenomena kicked off Thursday and runs through noontime this coming Monday.     

The theme of this membership drive is “Cabin Fever.” Regardless of where listeners reside, there is no need to feel the “fever” when you have WTIP at your beckon. The wonderful spirit of North Shore, and wilderness living, is brought to life every day through a dedicated staff and countless volunteers. 

However, costs of bringing this airwave effervescence to you does not come cheap, quality programming costs money. This is where supporting membership is so important! WTIP cannot continue to grow without the gracious support of its membership. Members, both renewing and first timers, have been great to step up in the past with their financial resources, and I hope all will do so again during the next few days.  

Don’t delay, give us a call at 387-1070 or 1-800-473-9847, or click and join at WTIP.org, or stop by the studios at 1712 West Highway 61. The folks at WTIP need you! 

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, keep the radio on and JOIN in the “Cabin Fever” fun!
 
 
{photo by Jon Large via Flickr}

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A Year in the Wilderness: February 18 - Cold weather guests

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 traveling the BWCAW.

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

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FAFSA

West End News: February 18

The news that a Dollar General Store is being planned for Cook County has certainly caused a flurry of discussion recently.  As with any public policy issue, there are many interests at play and almost as many opinions as there are people, including good reasons for and against building a Dollar General store in our fair city of Grand Marais.  And, the same arguments would apply to just about any part of Cook County, including the West End.
 
In my opinion, it boils down to how we want to organize our society.  Dollar General is part of a giant corporation that exists for one reason and one reason only – to return profit to their stockholders.  In fact, they are required by law to make every reasonable effort to maximize shareholder profit.  Beyond their legal responsibility, ruthless competition forces outfits like Dollar General to cut their costs to the bone – and sometimes beyond the bone – in order to generate those profits. 
 
It’s easy to imagine mustachioed Dollar General executives in stovepipe hats scuttling around their dank offices plotting the destruction of small town America.  My hunch is that the reality is much more banal, and in some ways even more frightening. 
 
It is much more likely that there is a bland office full of highly educated financial experts who spend their days poring over spreadsheets in order to save a dime here, a nickel there and a penny over yonder.  In the corporate cubicle, the systems they devise for cost cutting and efficiency make perfect sense, especially to the bottom line. 
 
However, in the real world of rural America, their decisions have real impact on real people that cause real damage with distressing predictability.  Wages, work schedules, work rules and benefits are lowered to the point where employees can’t make a living, or worse, are actually hurt by their employment.  Control of the supply chain provides leverage to easily drive independent, locally owned stores out of business, which in turn creates more leverage, which allows the profits to flow more freely out of the community.
 
In my opinion, business has three responsibilities: first to their shareholders, second to their employees and other stakeholders and, last but not least, to the communities where they operate.  The latter two are lost if we organize our society completely on a corporate profit model.
 
Most of the existing businesses in Cook County – even the biggest – are owned by people who live in the community and understand the triple bottom line.  I think that situation is valuable and it’s in our own self-interest to protect it.
 
One last reminder that the precinct caucuses for the Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor Parties are being held on Tuesday, March 1st, with sign-in starting at 6:30 pm and the caucus process starting at 7 pm.  The Republican caucuses for Cook County are all being held at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais.  The DFL caucuses for all the West End precincts will be held at Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.
 
The caucuses can be kind of sleepy affairs sometimes, but this year there will be a lot of interest because you can cast a preferential ballot to nominate a presidential candidate to represent your party in the general election this November.
 
There are two things that are important to know about the party caucuses.  The first is that you don’t have be a “registered” member of the party to participate.  You can just show up at the caucus of the party that you think most closely represents your political inclination. The second thing to know is that you don’t have to stay for the evening to indicate your presidential choice.  In fact, you can show up, sign in, fill out your presidential candidate ballot and leave, if you want to.
 
If you, or a loved one, are planning or wishing to attend college anytime soon, Cook County Higher Education has an event coming up that you should not miss.  It is a brown bag lunch that will address financial aid and how you can pay for your college education.  It will focus on how to complete the dreaded FAFSA form. FAFSA is an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
 
Financial Aid Director LaNita Robinson will walk you through the FAFSA form, including the changes that are new for 2016 and 17.  You can bring a laptop and work on your form with coaching right after the lunch. Or, you can schedule an appointment for some private help later.
 
This is all happening from 11:30 until 1 pm on Friday, March 11th at the North Shore Campus in Grand Marais.  It is a free event and everyone is welcome.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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North Woods Naturalist: Snow drifting

There’s more to snow drifts than beautiful shapes.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the process of drifting snow.

(Photo by James Jordan on Flickr)
 

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: February 17

Deja, Kalina and Arlo report the latest School News.

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