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North Shore Digest

North Shore Digest airs on WTIP Monday-Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. (hankoss/Flickr)

News & Information
North Shore Digest airs from 5-6 p.m. weekdays and is the place to get caught up with what’s happening in your backyard and beyond, with international and national news from the Associated Press and local news from WTIP's News Department. The program always incorporates local announcements and events, significant interviews with local people and newsmakers, a mix of music, and features like National Native News, School News, and the Minnesota News Connection. 

What's On:
Keep an eye out for this guy and his friends if you are driving the West End back roads in search of fall colors

West End News: September 29

Congratulations to Dave and Amy Freeman for completing their “Year in the Wilderness” project this week. In case you’ve been living in Siberia, I’ll tell you that Dave and Amy spent the last twelve months traveling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness without coming out, even once. They accomplished this feat to call attention to the great value of the BWCA Wilderness in the face of a massive proposed mining project that is almost certain to damage the wilderness.
I used to refer to Dave and Amy as Lutsen residents – and it is true that they own a piece of land in Lutsen – but their reality is that they live in the wilderness. I say this not because of their literally living in a designated wilderness for the last year, but because they have chosen a unique lifestyle that takes them from one huge wilderness trip to the next. One or both of them have circumnavigated North America by kayak, canoe and dog team, paddled the length of the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Rio Roosevelt rivers. They’ve explored the jungles of Central America, circumnavigated Lake Superior and paddled from Ely to Washington, D.C., just for a partial list of their wildland journeys. 
In fact, they flew to Washington, D.C., the next day after emerging from their wilderness year, where they are lobbying congress and the Obama administration to find the wisdom to protect the BWCA Wilderness. Talk about culture shock. But, they are no strangers to re-entering civilization after long trips, so I’m sure they will cope just fine. Hopefully, they’ll find their way back to their estwhile home, the West End, soon to visit their many friends here.
Birch Grove Community School took the upper classman on a field trip to the Forest Service Tofte District compound, which is right next door to the school. The kids stopped first in the office where they got their Junior Ranger stickers and admired the stuffed animals and historic photos. Then, they walked over to the historic Ranger’s Dwelling where they learned about log cabin construction, more history of the Forest Service in the West End and historic preservation techniques.
According to Birch Grove School Board member, Skip Lamb, a good time was had by all. Skip also reported that Birch Grove is very close to hiring a new Director, the position that is now held on an interim basis by the founding director, Diane Blanchett. Skip expressed confidence in the future of the school, citing legislation in the works to make it clearly legal for the three West End townships to provide financial support. He said the school is running strong this fall and invites everyone to stop by any time to see what excellence in education looks like, right here in the West End.
The upcoming Presidential election is hard to avoid these days. With that in mind, I recently read an interesting book entitled “Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam.” It tells the story of John Brinkley, who was the most successful medical quack in American history. Brinkley was world famous in the early part of the 20th century. He made and lost several fortunes and ran a variety of very successful, but completely unethical scams. At the height of his popularity, he ran twice for Governor of Kansas and nearly won.
The most interesting part of the book was the description of Brinkley’s personality. Even though he was a complete fake and a dangerous criminal, he got by for many years by steadfastly proclaiming that he was the greatest at whatever he did and launching bitter personal attacks on any who dared question him. When the book, which was written in 2009, quoted Brinkley’s statements verbatim, they sounded eerily similar to statements made by the current Republican candidate for President. 
The good news is that Brinkley was eventually exposed and discredited by science and logic in the form of the then rather new American Medical Association. Once he was exposed by impartial investigation, from both journalists and prosecutors, Brinkley’s elaborate house of cards collapsed quickly and irretrievably. In my humble opinion, the same dramatic fall from grace awaits the great charlatan of our own time, as hard truth overwhelms the flim-flam.
The fall colors have been appearing very slowly this year. The reason is the wet weather and the startling fact that we will not have a single real frost event in the month of September. It is really pretty back in the woods, but we are still a week or two away from the peak. The high winds this week brought down mass quantities of white pine needles, but left the vast majority of leaves still on the trees.
If you head out for a color tour in the West End this week, I recommend the Honeymoon trail that runs east/west between the Caribou Trail and Sawbill Trail. It is a narrow winding road that follows the glacial eskers through a forest that is heavy with maples. I like it best when the maples are about half red and still half green, which will be the case this week. Watch out for rutting bull moose though.  I barely dodged a giant bull on the Sawbill Trail just last night. All’s well that ends well, but let’s just say it was a little close for comfort. It’s all part of the fun here in the wild, West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.


A carefully built cairn shows the way to last week's Rainbow Gathering in Tofte

West End News: September 22

The Rainbow Gathering on the Sawbill Trail has come and gone. Most West End residents and visitors were probably not even aware that it happened. It was deep in the woods about two miles beyond the “Dog Tired” gravel pit, which is about ten miles up the Trail from Tofte.
Before the gathering started, some authorities were advising us that we would be inundated with Rainbow people, as Sawbill Outfitters had been designated as their “official” store for supplies and drinking water.
A few days before the start of the gathering, a couple of people did stop in to fill water jugs and buy firewood. After that, we seemed to have almost no traffic from the event, except for a few genial young people who had missed the turn and were lost.
One couple I talked to was looking for Forest Road #350, but of course, being a local, I don’t know the roads by their numbers. I know them by their local names, like Kawishiwi Lake Road, Rhino Road, Pancore Lake Road or Raspberry Road. When I asked them what their destination was, they were shy about revealing that they were looking for the Rainbow Gathering. They finally said they were looking for “a gathering of people” and I was able to give them directions with no problem.
When I drove into the gathering site to see what was going on, the most remarkable thing I saw was a giant bull moose about half a mile before seeing any Rainbows.
I doubt this will be the last that the West End will see of the Rainbow People. Like almost everyone else, they seem to like it here. I’m glad that they are able to have their peaceful gatherings without controversy or even much comment from locals.
There are a couple of cool events coming up that you should put on your calendar now. The first is a performance of the “Music and Magic of Patsy Cline” featuring Cassie and the Bobs at William Kelley High School in Silver Bay. The show is scheduled for 7pm on Saturday, October 8. Northern Lake County Arts Board is the show’s sponsor, so you know it will be great. Who doesn’t like Patsy Cline… and if you don’t know who Patsy Cline is, then you are required to attend – no exceptions.
The second fun event is the annual Birch Grove Community School Halloween Carnival, scheduled for Sunday, October 30, from 2 until 4pm. The carnival is not only fun and a great tradition, it’s also an important fundraiser for the school. So be there, or be square.
Tofte garderner extrodinaire, Jessa Frost, was proud to announce that she has successfully raised black beans in her gardern in the heart of the infamous Zone 3. She posted a picture on Facebook holding seven ripe beans in her hand, with mightly Lake Superior in the background. Under questioning, she admitted that the seven beans are a third of the total harvest so far, but did say that there will be many more if we can hold off the first frost for another week or two. This is ironic, coming from a gardener named Frost.
The fall colors have really popped up in the high country in the last few days. You have to get at least 10 miles away from the big lake for the best viewing, but nature’s big show should be coming soon to a hillside near you. If you’re looking for good color this week, I recommend the Eagle Mountain Trail, which is not only colorful right now, but is also the highest point in Minnesota.. and just one of the high points in the wonderful West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.


Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: September 22

Kalina, Sophia and Tucker report the latest School News.



North Woods Naturalist: Autumn update

Autumn is slow in coming, but changes are being made in the natural world, just not as apparent as in some years. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about an autumn update.


The Lake Superior Project/Logo by Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: The Hovland plane crash

A Cessna 185 disappeared in the fall of 1971, and no trace of the plane or its three occupants was found until nearly 12 years later.

In this edition of The Lake Superior Project, we hear the story of the Hovland plane crash from Orvis Lunke - one of the four DNR forestry workers who discovered the remains of the plane in a remote section of forest, just inland from Lake Superior. 

(View slideshow for photos of the plaque and the crash site)



West End News: September 15

Last week I mentioned that Heath Ekstrom, Superior National Golf Pro and longtime Lutsen resident, was attempting to play 100 holes of golf on a single day. He was doing it to raise money for the charity called “Folds of Honor” that provides scholarships for children and spouses of military personnel who have been killed or disabled while serving our nation.
Well, he did it. In fact, he ended up shooting 122 holes of golf before daylight faded. Although Heath’s accomplishment was amazing, he was quick to point out that it was just golf, while being a member of the armed services was truly public service. Heath did raise $3500 for the charity, which will go a long way in providing someone with a quality education.
Although I’ve been in the outfitting business my whole life, a week seldom goes by that I don’t learn or see something new. Last week, we had a situation that I have never seen before.
Last Sunday afternoon, a solo canoeist stopped into the store and reported that he had talked to a camper on Polly Lake, deep in the wilderness, who had been abandoned by his canoeing partner. The marooned camper, who was named Pete, wanted word passed to the authorities that he would like someone to paddle in and bring him out of the wilderness.
We contacted the Forest Service and they determined that two Wilderness Rangers were just two lakes away. The next morning, the Rangers paddled down to Polly and picked up Pete. Pete told them that he and his friend had argued about the route and had mutually agreed that the friend would go on, leaving Pete to find a way to get himself out of the wilderness by going back the way they had come.
I got the call from the Forest Service to meet the rangers and Pete at the Kawishiwi Lake entry point and transport him back to Sawbill where his friend was due to arrive the next day. I must say, that Pete was very contrite and apologetic. He wasn’t really blaming his friend, as the decision to split up had been mutual. He did admit that he didn’t really think it through and was genuinely sorry to have caused the rangers to spend a full day rescuing him.
With my strong encouragement, Pete patched things up with his friend when they were reunited at Sawbill, at least enough so the friend would drive him back to southern Indiana. The friend reluctantly agreed and I feel like it was a pretty long and quiet road trip for both men.
As I was driving Pete back to Sawbill from Kawishiwi, he asked me how long I had been at Sawbill Outfitters. “Sixty years, this year.” I told him. “Has anyone ever been abandoned in the Boundary Waters before?” he asked. “Nope…” was my reply.  And hopefully it will never happen again.
Many West End residents will remember the huge national Rainbow Gathering near Barker Lake in Lutsen in 1990. Rainbow gatherings are a loosely knit community of people who gather in remote forest locations to celebrate their shared values of peace, harmony, freedom and respect.
There is a small Rainbow gathering going on just off the Sawbill Trail this week. As in 1990, the Rainbow people cause little or no trouble, just quietly camping and communing before going back to their regular lives. You would hardly know they were there except for seeing more than the usual number of colorfully dressed people in the grocery store.
The leaves have begun to change color in earnest over the hill. The trees are still about 90% green, but the occasional flash of yellow or red really stands out. As usual, the underbrush is farther along. I estimate it to be about 30% turned.
If you decide to go for a drive or a bike ride to view the leaves in the next couple of weeks, be sure to check out the new pavement on the Sawbill Trail.  The project is completely done now, making for the smoothest ride in the beautiful West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



A Year in the Wilderness: September 13 - Winding down

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)


Belted kingfisher

North Woods Naturalist: Belted kingfishers

They’re blue and somewhat stocky and you’ll always see them around water. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about belted kingfishers and their strange nesting habit.

(Photo courtesy of Kim Seng on Flickr)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 9

One full September week is into the books for Gunflint Country, and all is well. The color of autumn is increasing with each passing day. Juvenile birch trees are beginning to light up the forest and the last flowering blossoms of our warm season add an accent to any trip along a back country path.

By the way, most tail-end blooms are asters, and they are the most vibrant lavender/purple tint I’ve seen in recent years. Makes me wonder if there is any atmospheric significance to this deep purplish hue; like it's been a great summer growing season, or could it mean a swell fall ahead, or could it be forecasting a mean winter. Regardless, the mini daisy-like flowers have month nine, “busting out all over.”

Shades of scarlet can be found twinkling in the September sun, too. Highbush cranberries, wild rose hips and mountain ash fruit are at their pigment pinnacle, shining like holly berries in December. Truly, Gunflint territory is on the verge of stained glass splendor. My advice, don’t miss it!

Caravans of vehicles paraded to Chik-Wauk last Sunday for not only a splendid time in the north woods but also the big pie/ice cream eat-a-thon. What a day for enjoying the sweetness of this special place, in addition to consuming several hundred pieces of home-made pie and dips of creamy frozen goodness. Thanks to GTHS organizer, Judy Edlund, and her great crew of pastry artisans and servers for dishing up a flavorful afternoon in border country.

Last week's commentary about minimal Ursus observations this summer had “bearly” passed over the radio/website waves when I was deluged with recent sighting reports. So bears are on the move. A number of folks along the Mile O Pine have reported “Brunos” in the past week, yours truly included. The one I observed was a medium sized critter while others have seen momma, poppa and/or cub examples.

Vandalism announcements are pretty quiet to date, although there has been one incident of a bruin breaking into and entering a guest cabin down at Gunflint Lodge. In this case guests found a bear sitting in the kitchen area munching on a plate of cookies. Guess the resident had left a batch near a window sill and this guy/gal just couldn’t resist, breaking the glass to get at the sweet morsels. One would suppose there were a few moments of commotion and the bear made a rapid exit by way of its entry. Other than broken glass and a lost batch of goodies, it was a no-harm, no-foul, ending, but surely a vacation to remember for those guests.

Speaking of pests, while sitting on the dock watching those magnificent “Canadian Sunsets” over the past week, it seems we’ve had a late hatching of mosquitoes. They are a bit smaller than cousins of the previous months, but are nonetheless just as pesky in terms of nipping, as the sun makes its daily descent.

As we have sailed past the Labor Day holiday, seasonal neighbors are starting to pack it up. A few have already headed to cold season digs southward. But then again, living at 48 degrees north, there are not many other ways to go.

I see boats being brought in for winterizing while summer docking units are coming ashore. Meanwhile, those of us year-around folks are tending to firewood stacks for 2017 as this coming winter's fuel is already in the shed.

Yours truly has been putting off staining efforts on Wildersmith buildings until bug season lessened. So, for the most part, there are no more excuses for putting it off, one down and four to go with even more “getting ready for winter” chores looming.

A reminder is extended to area residents and visitors about the last Gunflint Trail Historical Society membership meeting of the season. The group will gather at the Schaap (mid-Trail) Community center this coming Monday, September 12, at 1:30 pm.

In addition to treats being served, a sweet program is in the offing with Nancy Waver from Trout Lake Lodge speaking of their facility's 70 years of operations. And frosting on the day's program cake will come in a video/slide presentation of the recent GTHS volunteers shaping timbers for our boat shelter project. As we wood chippers learned during our sawing adventure, be there or be square!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where Gunflint days are always great, and some, are even better!

(Photo courtesy of srf1957 on Flickr)


A young person and a very young person embarking on a BWCA Wilderness canoe trip.

West End News: September 8

A picture in the Cook County News Herald really caught my eye last week. It was a shot of Superior National golf pro and Lutsen resident Heath Ekstrom in his graceful back swing. I read the photo caption before the headline and was startled to read that he was playing 100 rounds of golf on September 11 to raise money for the Folds of Honor Foundation. One hundred rounds of golf in a day would be quite a feat, so my eye jumped to the headline, where I was reassured to find that Heath was attempting one hundred holes of golf in a single day.
A hundred holes is no mean feat in itself and there is still time to call Heath to pledge your support for this worthy cause. The Folds of Honor Foundation provides education scholarships to the spouses and children of military members who have died or been disabled in the line of duty.
Heath reckons that he can play 9 holes of golf in about 45 minutes as long as he doesn’t have to wait for other golfers. The other golfers on the course will be informed of Heath’s attempt, so I’m sure they’ll be happy to let him play through. Heath has the advantage of being an excellent golfer, so he won’t have to spend as much time in the woods searching for his ball as the rest of us do. He’s confident that he can complete 100 holes and may actually play a few more if he has time.
You can make a pledge to support Heath’s effort right up until his tee time at 6:30 am on September 11. You can call 218-663-7195 or email
There are also some spots still available for the 2016 Rally For The Cure Women's Golf Scramble. The golf event is Sunday, September 18. The Women's 18 hole golf scramble will start at 10:00 am with registration and cart decoration starting at 8:00 am. Although you need to register for the event, your contribution-slash-event fee can be made at the start of the event.
All funds raised will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research and can be directed to Minnesota and local chapters. Call 218-663-7195 for more details and to register your team.
Also in Lutsen, eight homes belonging to people of low or moderate income will receive substantial repairs compliments of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. To qualify, you must live in your single family home or live in one side of a duplex that you own. The grant can be used for roofing, siding, doors, windows, weatherproofing or other repairs that make the home more energy efficient. It cannot be used to increase the square footage of your home.
Local, licensed contractors will be sought out to complete the work. If you live in the home for another ten years, the total cost of the project will be forgiven. If you sell your home anytime in the next ten years, you have to pay back a portion of the loan that decreases by ten percent each year.
To get more information and to check if you qualify, call 1-800-662-5711. If you missed that number, you can call WTIP and they will cheerfully provide it. This is a great deal and many, if not most, local families would meet the income guidelines, so if you have any interest at all – make the call.
There have been several stories in the news lately about the aging of BWCA Wilderness users. The statistics make it look like only old people are using the wilderness and when they become too infirm for wilderness canoe trips the use of the wilderness will plunge.
I think the statistics might be a little misleading in this case. A significant part of the aging statistic for the wilderness is just sheer demographics. Almost every general public activity in the United States is showing an aging population because the baby boom bubble is now moving into their senior years.
Also, back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s backpacking and wilderness camping was a tremendous fad. Like all fads it died out after a few years, but many of the young people who were hooked by the fad stayed hooked for life. That fad could and probably will repeat itself at some point, hooking a whole new generation of wilderness campers.
After accounting for those two factors, the statistics don’t look nearly so grim, although there is some truth in the fact that young people have many more demands on their time than the youngsters of 40 or 50 years ago. This is a legitimate concern, but I see many very enthusiastic young wilderness campers every day here at Sawbill. As the size of the general population grows and the pressures of urban life increase, I predict that the BWCA Wilderness will remain very popular, providing a significant boost to the West End Economy over the long, long term.
After all, the wilderness is just another one of the things that makes the West End great!
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.