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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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A Year in the Wilderness: January 1 - Freeze-up, finally

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.

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

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 1

Happy New Year everyone! We’re off into the 16th year of this 21st century. And, the Smiths are back in the woods following a Christmas holiday with kids, grandkids, and friends in Iowa. Hope your time together with family and friends was as special as ours.   

Our return to the Gunflint found “Santa” had left us a surprising gift of white during our absence. I’m told by neighbors his delivery couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, Christmas Eve, and then more on the next day.  

As we departed for Iowa, the forest around this neighborhood was already somewhat flocked. The additional fluff has left the area with thousands of immature trees on the brink of snapping under the weight of monstrous marshmallow puffs. Meanwhile, many brittle elder forest kin succumbed to the stress and are laying across roads, driveways, cross country ski trails, and utility lines.      

Along the snow covered Trail, I’m amazed at the number of downed trees hanging on telephone lines. It’s unexplainable how these overhead lines have flexed but not given way. A big secret is why telephone service has not been interrupted under this stress. Guess those installations are stronger than what they appear.       

There’s a lot of clean-up work to be done, and to this point, our service provider seems in no hurry to get after this sizeable task. Guess they might be on hold until a break in the communication link occurs. Then workers may start their chain saws.     

With over 20 inches of snow on the ground in many areas out this way, the scenery is stunning and winter sports enthusiasts are delighted. Trails for cross country skiers look to be groomed into fine shape. However, with the draping of snow laden brush and branches, clear sailing might be spotty until groomers can get things trimmed back. Users might consider putting a nipper in their pocket to help clear their way.   

Trails for snowmobilers face the same issue, with added concern for safe ice on lakes connecting any number of points on the sledding network. While several smaller lakes show ice, it may not be safe, what with the newest application of snowy insulation. And the larger water bodies, like Gunflint, remain very much in a rolling liquid state for yet another week.    

Whereas a lack of early snow had organizers nervous, that issue was taken care of as December ended. Excitement is mounting for the upcoming Gunflint Mail Run dogsledding adventure. Plans are being finalized for the event which gets under way one week from tomorrow (Saturday, January ninth).    

The run, which was started in the 1970’s, waned until recently, but has been revived over the past few years and is growing with enthusiasm for dogs, mushers, and handlers. For several of the entries, GMR will be a tune-up for the John Beargrease 400 mile dog sledding trek coming out of Duluth at the end of the month.

This two race event commences in the mid-trail area at Trail Center at 8 am. A 12 dog (long) race of 110 miles runs from Trail Center to Blankenberg Pit up the Trail, loops back, and then repeats after a mandatory lay-over. While the eight dog (short) race runs to King’s Road above Gunflint Lake looping back to Trail Center for its finish at about 70 miles. Award ceremonies will be held at Trail Center on Sunday afternoon where a purse of $6,000 will be presented to the two race winners.  

Both races use snowmobile trails, so work is going on at a feverish pace to have the race course cleared of snow storm-related obstructions.  Many fun activities are planned in conjunction with the race. Go to the Gunflint Mail Run website for special event details.     

Visitors and residents are encouraged to make a point of getting out to enjoy our now winter wonderland and show your support of this historical mail delivery enactment of yesteryear. Volunteers are still needed; if you can help, find more info on the same GMR website.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Come on out the Trail for a true winter adventure.

(photo courtesy of Bob Pranis)
 

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Superior National Forest Update: January 1

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.
We have finally gotten what most of us have been wishing for:  a good helping of snow!  But, it was wet and heavy, and brought down a lot of trees across trails and roadways, which wasn’t something any of us were wishing for.  Since the last edition of this update, there has been a lot of work done clearing Forest Service roads and by our trail partners clearing ski and snowmobile trails.  For the most part, plowed Forest Service roads are now cleared, but there are still a few spots being worked on.  Unplowed roads are not cleared yet, and it may be a while before all of them are.  Great headway has been made on trails, with an estimate of 75% of our ski trails now open.  Pincushion is mostly groomed, George Washington Pines is groomed, and trails at upper and central Gunflint are mostly there as well.  The trails at Flathorn/Gegoka near Isabella are partly groomed, but most of the trails are cleared and packed and good to ski on.
Winter conditions change more often than our radio updates, so for up to the minute information, go to our website, www.fs.usda.gov/superior and check the links from our recreation section to the people who are doing the grooming. 
On the roads going to your trail, you might encounter some logging traffic.  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.   Portions of Old Greenwood Road, Greenwood Road, and Firebox Road are also snowmobile trails, so be aware that there will be log trucks on segments of these trails when snowmobiling in this area.   There will also be log hauling on the Trapper’s Lake Road and Forest Road 170. 
The other traffic you might encounter on January 2 is from the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  This is an international volunteer effort to count winter birds and track their numbers.  It is one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects, and the results are used in many scientific papers.  One ‘count circle’ is centered on Isabella, and there will be people with binoculars walking, skiing, snowshoeing, and driving in that area on the second, counting all the birds they can find.  It is a great project to be a part of, though it seems as though it always falls on the absolute coldest day of the year.
If you are already planning for the Boundary Waters next summer, be aware that the BWCAW limited entry points lottery opened December 16 and closes on January 12.  Reservations for BWCAW entry opens January 27.  If you can’t wait until summer, you can do some winter wilderness exploration with a self-issued permit available at most entry points, or at our offices, but make sure you do have a permit with you.  Our offices will be closed on January 1st, and then again on January 18, so plan accordingly
Take advantage of our snow while we have it, and get out on the trails.  Happy New Year to all, and until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.   
 
 

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John Nelson

West End News: December 31

The end of the year is a significant point in time for the West End. There is the usual mixture of hope, tinged with sadness that everyone feels at the turn of the calendar.  It’s also when the hardest cold stretches of the winter season are just settling in for a good long stay.  But, the days are getting longer and it is, of course, peak season for visitors.
 
This year though, it’s hard to think about anything but the passing of John Nelson of Tofte.  I can’t even begin to list all the things that John did for the community of Tofte. I can say that over many years, John did more for Tofte than any living human being. His hand was in nearly every community and township enterprise.
 
John was instrumental in the re-formation of Tofte as a township in the late 1970s.  The last time I saw him, he was working on the front door of the Birch Grove Center, quietly and effectively making a key repair, as he had done so many times.  In between those two accomplishments he served as a supervisor, helped found the fire department, ran the cemetery, improved the Tofte town park, and worked on the Tofte 4th of July celebration – for just a brief sampling of everything that he accomplished. He was Tofte’s Citizen of the Year in 2009.
 
Mostly John was a leader.  He was the best kind of leader.  One who leads by example and inspires others to get involved.  John sometimes wanted people to think that he was a bit of a tough guy, but in reality, you couldn’t find a more sincere, sweet and perceptive human being.
 
Tofte will no doubt muddle through without him, but his legacy of civic generosity will be with us for a long time. 
 
Last week, I mentioned how tough the first pass through the area trails has been due to a high number of trees and brush bent over by heavy snow loads.  Well, it’s turned out to be worse than anyone thought and the amount of labor required to get the trails cleared has been huge.  Most trails are now cleared and trail riding and skiing should be excellent soon.
 
We were delighted to have Paul, Tom and Bill Jensen, brothers who grew up in Silver Bay, camping at Sawbill for a few days this week.  By my best reckoning, the Jensens have been regular Sawbill campers for close to 55 years.  Some West End old-timers might know the brothers better by their nicknames, bestowed upon them in Silver Bay so many years ago. Paul is “Friend,” Tom is “Hawk,” and Bill is “Grub.”  Friend and Hawk live elsewhere in Minnesota, but Grub still lives in Silver Bay.  Friend and Hawk are retired and Grub will be soon.
 
Their winter camping trip to Sawbill was mostly for companionship, but they did make a stab at ice fishing. They said the ice on Sawbill Lake was about 4” thick, with a layer of slush and then another couple of inches of frozen slush in most places.  All in all, still terrible conditions for lake travel.
 
 
While Hawk stopped by the office to say goodbye, a young woman climbed out of a car, clambered over the snow bank and waded through the knee-deep snow to the front of the store.  She turned out to be a Bluefin visitor who, with her husband, skis a 3-lake loop in the wilderness every year, right after Christmas, for the last six years.  It’s a cool tradition for them, as they rarely see another human being during their outing.
 
The young woman had a problem with her skis, which we were able to help with.  While she was waiting, she asked Hawk if he grew up around here.  Without hesitation Hawk replied, “Nooo… because I haven’t grown up.” 
 
This year, the slush turned the couple back pretty quickly, but they substituted a good ski on the Sawbill ski trails and left vowing to return next year.  They headed off down the trail for lunch at the Trestle Inn, so it was fun to see that they were getting a truly authentic West End experience.
 
(Photo courtesy of Cook County News Herald)

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Perihelion-Apehelion (via Wikimedia Commons)

Northern Sky: December 26

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.

Sirius in the evening sky; a busy morning sky with Jupiter, one of its moons, Mars, Spica, Venus, Saturn, and Antares; perihelion on January 2; and a fun fact about eliptical orbits.
 

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Sunny's road

Sunny's Back Yard: The solstice, Stonehenge and winter wind

It's the winter solstice: Sunny reflects on strange December weather and Stonehenge.

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 17 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she shares what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard.

(Photo by Martha Marnocha)

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Crane fly

North Woods Naturalist: Stone and crane flies

Not all insects swarm in summer. Some come out during the winter. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about stone flies and crane flies.

(Photo courtesy of Evan Finkle on Flickr)

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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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