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News & Information

News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!


What's On:
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.



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.



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)



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)



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)



West End News: December 10

Congratulations to Rob Ecklund from International Falls who will be sworn in soon as our new state representative. State House District 3A is one of the largest legislative districts in the United States, extending from Grand Portage down to the outskirts of Duluth and back up to the western edge of Koochiching County, which is closer to North Dakota than it is to Grand Marais. Any representative from 3A would be challenged to have a presence everywhere in the District, but I'm confident Rob will make the effort and be a frequent visitor to the West End, which ironically, is in the far eastern end of his district.

I join the rest of the community in expressing shock and deep sadness on the tragic fatal shooting in Tofte. Violence can and does happen anywhere, but of course we all hope and pray that is won't happen in our little town. The last shooting that I can remember in the West End was in 1973 when Minnesota Highway Patrolman Don Ziesmer was shot to death during a routine traffic stop on Highway 61 in Tofte.

I am recording this in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. where fatal shootings are nearly a daily occurrence and the threat of a terrorist attack is a constant worry. Since my last visit to Washington in the mid-1990s, security has, of course, increased dramatically. I can't say if this is unusual, but everyday that I've been here the police have been racing around, shutting down city blocks and diverting traffic. Even the genial cop who used to direct traffic in front of one of the congressional office buildings has been replaced by a tense, alert and business-like officer in a flak jacket toting an automatic rifle. Traffic is, needless to say, very obedient when he blows his whistle.

The tight security just adds another level of bewildering urban culture shock for a woods bunny like me. Even in this era of smart phones, I have to check the location of the sun periodically to orient myself to the points of the compass or I will quickly get lost. One of my lobbying partners, who also lives in the woods, stopped to intently watch some small birds in a large hedge. A few moments later a policeman appeared at his elbow, drawn by his abnormal behavior.

I'm out here in our nation's capital lobbying Congress and government agencies on behalf of sustainable and sensible economic development in northeastern Minnesota. It's encouraging to be able to meet directly with members of Congress and the administration. Frankly though, it's a little discouraging to feel like such a tiny cog in an unimaginably humongous machine. Every little effort plays a part though, so it's important to keep trying. I will say while it's very fun to visit Washington, D.C., it's always great relief to arrive back in the West End.

Coincidentally, Congress actually passed a couple of pieces of bipartisan legislation while I've been here, which has members of Congress positively giddy with joy. Apparently, that almost never happens here.

The Cook County Local Energy Project has published a booklet called "Going Solar: A Cook County Guide." You can get more information by emailing Solar panels that produce hot water or electricity are now low enough in price that it pays for anyone to install them on their home, assuming they have access to sunshine. At this time of year, it feels like sunshine is in short supply, but in the long run, Cook County is an excellent place for solar systems.

Cook County Higher Education's semi-regular networking luncheon will feature the business case for social responsibility. Social responsibility for business is often defined as the triple bottom line: profits, customer and employee satisfaction, and care for the environment. Erick Block is an expert on this philosophy and will spell out why it benefits the business overall well beyond just making money. The luncheon is at the Higher Ed's North Shore Campus in Grand Marais on Thursday, December 17, from 11:30 until 1 pm. There is a modest charge and you should RSVP at 387-3411 or email As always, you can call WTIP if you missed that contact information.

Well, it's time to wrap this up and head back out into the urban jungle. As I dodge traffic and gawk at the national landmarks today, part of my mind will be, as always, in the beautiful West End.



North Woods Naturalist: Fall turnover

In the fall inland lakes experience a turnover event. What is it and how does it affect fish? WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the fall turnover.

(Photo by Mathias Liebing on Flickr)



A Year in the Wilderness: December 7 - Thanksgiving on Knife Lake

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 enjoy a Thanksgiving meal at their campsite.

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


{Priya Saihgal via Flickr}

Wildersmith: December 4

In spite of our first sub-zero mercury reading here on the morning after Thanksgiving, winter continues pretty much a non-issue. A minor snow ushered in December, but is likely gone by this airing with October temperatures hot on its heels. So it’s back to slush and slop on back country roads.  
Except for the dropping late last Tuesday, our first few days of this new month are acting like the previous thirty. It’s beginning to look like the “cold Grinch of the north” is not going to be around much this season. And it could well be, some of the big lakes might not have suitable ice by the January trout fishing opener at the rate things are going.    
Being in a semi-winter mode, some critters of the “wild neighborhood” could be in a state of confusion.  Chipmunks residing about our yard are usually catching their first “Z”s of the season by now. In recent days both my wife and I have observed them scampering here and there still in the gathering mode.                                                                                                                                             
This activity being noticed makes me wonder if the temperate conditions have the bears experiencing sleeping disorders as well. At the very least, they surely can’t be into a deep slumber yet.                                                                                                                                                              
Thanksgiving at Wildersmith was special with some of the family members up from Iowa for the usual good times and chow-down. Its’ amusing how celebrating can continue in many homes after the big day as our menu bounty, remains in the giving order.                                         
If your place is like ours, we continue trying new ideas to use up leftovers. Our common sense frugality seems evoked in author/news commentator, Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” as we struggle to throw out our bounteous blessings. This is obviously a reflection of our up-bringing, during what were often, not the most affluent times. In all likelihood, my generations’ attitude is directly opposite of what most millennials have probably already done.          
Regardless of the circumstance around your house, Thanksgiving at the Smith’s just keeps on giving. Turns out, as opposed to adding more to the garbage dumpster, we’ve been sharing inedible scraps from our gathering with critters of the neighborhood, and they seem delighted with their opportunity at a holiday feast.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Many residents of our “wild wilderness” were not bashful about joining at the feed trough. Their spread was doled out over several days making this experience last considerably longer than that of we humans.                                                                                                                                         
About every species of birds from the north woods, plus red squirrels, flying squirrels (at night) and countless pine martens have gathered at one time or another. Most amazing was the intensity of cleaning up that turkey carcass (bones and all).                                                                               
If there was ever a reason for blue and Canadian jays, plus chickadees and nuthatches, to have indigestion, it was this occasion. Following an avian assault on softer tissue elements, I stopped counting after a pine marten made five successive trips to carry off the boney remains. In slightly over two hours on consecutive days, our “big bird character” was history!                                                          
One might question if the side dish dressing/stuffing (in particular) would also be appetizing to this insatiable crew, but answers were provided almost before I cleared the scene. The feeding frenzy did not diminish as more of our un-eaten items were served up.  The multi-day critter eat-a-thon has tapered off by now, but our giving mood sure provided a priceless educational experience and entertainment.     
A couple reports from neighbors along the Gunflint Lake south shore indicate an itinerant coyote. The canine cousins are not unusual to the Arrowhead, but seldom noted out this way. It would be my guess this one might serve up as a nice appetizer for the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack, sooner or later.  
Talking of the local pack, one member crossed my path during a recent MOP mail run. We made brief eye contact, from a short distance, before it vanished into the forest. It’s always a surprising privilege to intersect ways with such an iconic guy/gal. This mini rendezvous was another of those engaging, but untouchable, border country adventures.        
Gunflint folks are reminded once again of the holiday open house this Saturday afternoon. Festivities begin at 3:00 pm and run until 6:00pm at the Mid-Trail/ Schaap Community Center.  Although not required, the GTVFD is seeking donations to the area food shelf. Gunflint resident participation will be much appreciated!  Y'all come for the food and fun!                                                                                                                                                      
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Looking, looking and looking for a kick-start to our season of snow white!



Superior National Forest Update: December 4

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 early December, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.
While we haven’t yet gotten a lot of snow on the shore, you don’t need to go too far inland before things get a lot more December-ish.  We aren’t really up to conditions that will have our ski and snowmobile trails open, but hopefully nature will cooperate in the coming weeks and send us some more of the white stuff.  We really need a base of about six inches before grooming can start on most trails, and so far we don’t have that up here.
The lack of snow does make harvesting a Christmas tree and other holiday greenery easier this year, if a bit less scenic.  Christmas tree permits are for sale at both the Gunflint and Tofte offices.  Make sure to pick up the flyer with descriptions of where and how to cut trees.  The most important thing is to be sure you are on National Forest property before you cut anything.
This year, there is a national program called ‘Every Kid In A Park’.  Part of the program is a website,, where fourth grade students can register to get a free pass that will give them free admittance to all the national parks and forests across the country.  After registering online, and doing some activities to earn the pass, they will be able to print off a voucher that can be exchanged for an official card at our district offices, or at Grand Portage National Monument.  Our local national parks and monuments don’t actually charge entrance fees, but if your family is planning to travel out west, your fourth graders pass will get the whole family in free to Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon.  On the Superior, the pass will get you a free Christmas tree permit.  It might be a great year to start, or continue, a family tradition of heading out into the woods for a tree.
While driving into the woods, you’ll encounter some logging trucks that are harvesting a bit more than Christmas trees.  On the Tofte District, log trucks are hauling on FR 369 (Sawbill Landing or Trappers Lake Road) and FR 380, from Sawbill Landing to Isabella; on FR 348 (Whitefish Lake Road) and FR 170 (Fourmile Grade) from the Whitefish Lake area to Lake County 7; and on FR 1238 to Cook County 2 (Sawbill Trail) near Plouff Creek.   On the Gunflint District, log hauling is taking place on FR144 (Old Greenwood), Shoe Lake Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, South Brule River Road, and Lima Grade.  Our timber people on both districts included a warning about the road conditions, which due to rain and freezing temperatures are slick and icy.  Reduce your speeds, allow for increased stopping distance, and remember that a loaded truck will have even a harder time stopping than you on ice.  Give them plenty of space.
Nationally, the Forest Service is conducting visitor use surveys to help understand how the public is using our forests.  Locally, that means that you may encounter signs along the road reading “Survey Ahead”, and then be asked if you want to help us by filling out a quick survey.  We hope you can take the time to help us out by taking the survey so we can better serve the public. 
We hope you can make a visit to the forest part of your holiday plans this season.  Nothing says holidays like the smell of balsam fir and a drive through snow covered evergreens with a CD of holiday tunes in the radio.
Have a great weekend, and until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the Superior National Forest Update.