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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)

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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:

West End News: August 4

I am very sorry to hear that Caroline Wood has resigned as Director of the Birch Grove Community School and is leaving the area. Caroline was a strong asset for the community as the school director and in her previous role running the Birch Grove Foundation. She will be missed and hers will be large shoes to fill.
 
It seems crazy to me that no one can give us a straight answer about whether or not the townships are legally allowed to contribute to a community school. This is exactly the kind of situation where our legislators should be able to get a definitive answer fast. If it is deemed that current statute does not allow the townships to contribute, our representatives should be able to quickly pass legislation that will allow the townships to follow the will of the community. The whole point of government is to organize the community the way the voters want it organized.
 
The ongoing uncertainty is very damaging to the school. It discourages young families from committing to living in the West End and has a chilling effect on foundations who don’t want to spend their money on a program with and uncertain future. It also makes it difficult to attract and retain staff, who very correctly wonder if they will have secure employment at Birch Grove.
 
I encourage all West End residents to contact Senator Tom Bakk and Representative Rob Ecklund and urge them to apply their energy and influence to a speedy resolution of this frustrating issue. There really is no more important issue on the front burner in the West End.
 
The Plucked Up String Band, of which I am a member, had the honor of playing on the statewide public television show, Almanac, last week.  Almanac is the sassy political show that has been on the air for more than 30 years, hosted by Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola.
 
It was really fun to watch the live hour long show being put together. Almanac is famous for its casual attitude and we sure found that to be the case. The whole crew was very professional, but very relaxed. Live television could easily cause anxiety, but after 30 years they seem to take it in stride.
 
The highlight for me was meeting, and being interviewed by, Jearlyn Steele, the legendary gospel and pop singer. She is a force of nature, both in her phenomenal singing talent and her intelligence, wit and good nature. I invited her to be a member of the Plucked Up String Band, but she graciously declined, citing her busy schedule. She was genuinely complimentary about our music, which I took as a huge compliment, considering the source.
 
You can see the clip of our performance on FaceBook, both at the Plucked Up String Band page and the Twin Cities Public Television Almanac page.
 
Now, if we could only get a guest spot on the Red Green Show…
 
The Sawbill Trail is now sporting a little over ten miles of asphalt pavement on its southern half. Northland Contractors laid down the first layer of paving in just two days. Now, they are working on the finishing layer and will soon be painting lines. 
 
Northland and the Cook County Highway Department have done a very good job on this project. Not only has the Trail been extensively repaired, but also the pavement is as smooth as a baby’s cheek. County Engineer Dave Betts designed nice wide shoulders for biking, roller blading and roller skiing, which will be a great community asset for residents and visitors alike.
 
It’s just another reason to love the wonderful West End.
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Bloodroot

North Woods Naturalist: Flowers that open and close

Some flowers close at night, others stay open. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about how they do it and a bit about what we know why they do it.

(Photo courtesy of Forest Farming on Flickr)
 

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A Year in the Wilderness: August 1 - Storms

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 antti_nannimus on Flickr)

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Taconite Harbor "back in the day"

West End News: July 28

The project to pave eight miles of the Sawbill Trail, which has been undergoing prep-work all summer, is finally underway. Mechanical breakdowns and storm damage elsewhere in the region had caused some delays, but as of this week, there is actual pavement on the Sawbill Trail where there has never been pavement before. Cook County Engineer, Dave Betts, says that the remainder of the project should take about three weeks if the weather cooperates.

The project makes me think often of Jean Raiken, who lived on the Sawbill Trail from the early 1930s until the 1980s. Jean was a county commissioner and an influential community activist  during those years. She would have been delighted to see the Sawbill Trail being paved. She often talked longingly about that possibility, as far back as the 1960s. Jean was also a prime force in getting the original hospital and care center built in Grand Marais, so she would be pleased to see that project as well. I guess the lesson is to be patient and persistent when advocating for community improvements and they will come eventually, even if you don't live to see them.

We are coming up on the fifth year since my dad and former author of this commentary, Frank Hansen, passed away. Among his many community contributions was working to get a hospice established in Cook County. It was quite a struggle, but Frank, along with many others, finally succeeded in establishing a hospice in Grand Marais. As it turned out, Frank was the very first person to use the new hospice. As he was wheeled through the door, he was smiling and celebrating being the first hospice patient in Grand Marais. I told him that he may also be the last person to be cheerfully celebrating their entrance into hospice.

In a slightly more cheerful historical vein, the Schroeder Area Historical Society is hosting a reunion of the former residents and friends of Taconite Harbor residential area. The housing development was built in the 1950s primarily to house workers at the Taconite Harbor power plant.  It was beautiful little 22-home suburban style housing development just south of the existing power plant. Erie Mining Company evicted the residents and sold the houses for removal in 1986. To this day, no one really knows why they removed such a valuable housing resource when affordable housing for working people was - and is - so difficult to come by. The site is now a ghost town feel to it, with overgrown curbs and gutters punctuated by surviving lawn shrubs and ornamental trees among the thick native brush that is slowly talking over.

The tight-knit community of Taconite Harbor still survives in the memories of the people who lived there, especially among those who were children in a time and place where kids experienced real outdoor adventure almost every day of the year. The reunion starts at 1 pm on August 6 at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder. There will be plenty of time for conversation about living and growing up in Taconite Harbor, along with the usual North Shore refreshments of cookies, bars and coffee. This year's featured exhibit at the Heritage Center is the Tac Harbor community, so there will be plenty pictures and artifacts to trigger old memories. The festivities will also include a tour of Birch Grove School in Tofte where the community's children all attended elementary school.

My most vivid memories of Taconite Harbor are of visiting the house that had been converted to a doctor's office and staffed by Dr. MacDonald one or two days a week. Roger MacDonald saved my life several times by treating routine - but potentially deadly - childhood illnesses. I can still vividly recall the smell, which was a not-unpleasant combination of disinfectant, the receptionist's perfume and the developing chemicals from the truly antique x-ray machine. These are good memories of a bygone era in rural medicine.

As predicted, the blueberry season is in full swing and it's a good one. The Duluth couple who camp at Sawbill and pick more than 30 gallons of blueberries per year, are telling me that this may be the best year in a couple of decades. They've been doing their early picking in places that everyone knows about and getting a couple of gallons every time out. They'll be back next week for the heart of the season and will move to their secret spots (cough, cough Pagami Creek Fire) for the main harvest. So even if you're in the three quart and not the 30 gallon league, get out there an pick while the picking is good.

 

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A Year in the Wilderness: July 26 - South 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 traveling the BWCAW.

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

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Traveling by canoe with Maggie, the dog

Gus' Wild Side: Bugs, dogs and bears

Camping and traveling by canoe can have its own set of rewards...and challenges. We'll hear about Gus' wilderness experiences with bugs, dogs and bears.

Gus’ Wild Side is a regular feature on WTIP. Gus writes about our connections to Nature as he explores wildness from the High Arctic to his own backyard along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

(Photo courtesy of Gus)

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West End News: July 21

The Forest Service wants people know that the Fourmile Grade Road will be closed off and on this week while a contractor replaces culverts. The Fourmile Grade is Forest Road 170 that follows the old railroad grade from the Sawbill Trail west to the Wanless Road over by the Trestle Inn.
 
The Grade Road running east from the Sawbill Trail to the Ball Club Road is also slated for a major upgrade soon. I see markers for a gravel overlay and perhaps culvert work, too.  I’m told that this work is being done by the Forest Service, who owns the road, as part of an agreement to fix up the road and then give it to Cook County. The county already plows the Grade Road and, somewhat ironically, is eligible for federal funds that the Forest Service is not. I don’t know if the Fourmile Grade is included in the gift to the county or not, but perhaps the culvert replacement project hints that it is.
 
The back roads of the West End are getting major attention this summer. In addition to the projects I’ve mentioned, 8.4 miles of the Sawbill Trail is being paved as I speak. And, incredibly, power lines and fiberoptic cable will soon be laid in the ditch of the Grade Road from a few miles east of Gust Lake to the new ARMER tower near Lichen Lake.
 
Civilization is slowly growing along the back roads here in the West End, but it still isn’t very civilized back here - thank goodness.
 
I was charmed to see a recent call for volunteers from Finland resident Amy Gardner to help trap crayfish for an ongoing academic study. The call was particularly directed toward kids, who are, I happen to know, excellent crayfish wranglers. If you want to help out, get a hold of Amy directly or call the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland and they will put you in touch.
 
The venerable West End Garden Show is Saturday, July 23, from 1 until 5 pm at the Schroeder Town Hall. This year’s theme is “Everything Under the Sun… and Shade.” This is a truly beautiful event that also includes cookies, bars and lemonade.
 
This is the time of year when many West Enders put their heads down and work like demons. That is certainly true for those of us that work in the tourism industry as well as the construction trades.  Given the train wrecks that are passing for national political conventions, the low expectations for the summer Olympics and a dismal win/loss record for Twins, perhaps this a good year to focus on the local and stay busy. 
 
If you do find a spare hour or two, by all means, head for the blueberry patch. It is going to be an epic year and even though the vast majority of berries are still green, people are getting quarts of the early season berries with very little effort. The early season berries are the sweetest, so the next couple of weeks are prime time for stocking your freezer with a little taste of West End summer.

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Twinflowers

North Woods Naturalist: Twinflower

This flower has three ways to reproduce – pollen, seeds and cloning. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about twinflower.

(Photo courtesy of Charles Wohlers on Flickr)

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A Year in the Wilderness: July 20 - Day 290

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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Trout fishing, same time, next year...

West End News: July 14

The theme for this year’s exhibit at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder is “Boom Town to Ghost Town: Taconite Harbor.” In keeping with the theme, the Schroeder Area Historical Society is convening a panel of former Taconite Harbor residents and workers that includes Bud Buckman, Gary Hansen, Charlie Nelson, Charlie Tice and Steve Quaife.  It is a great pleasure to have all of these experienced and respected men together to discuss the fascinating history of Tac Harbor. The panel discussion is at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder on Saturday, July 16, at 11 a.m.  All are welcome and I’ll be surprised if cookies and coffee are not served.
 
On the same Saturday, July 16, the new North Shore Winery and Sawtooth Mountain Cider House are celebrating their grand opening with wine and cider tasting, tours, neighborly visiting and live music. The winery is just a little way up the Ski Hill Road in Lutsen on the right hand side. The celebration runs from 2 until 5 p.m., so it’s the perfect destination after catching the Taconite Harbor panel in Schroeder. Be there, or be square.
 
The U.S. Forest Service has scheduled a listening session to collect public opinion about the renewal of public mineral leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely. The session is scheduled from 5 until 7:30 p.m. at the Ely Memorial High School in Ely.
 
The issue at stake is a little arcane, as it revolves around the renewal of expired public mineral leases that were purchased by Twin Metals’ predecessor in the 1960s. The leases have been renewed more-or-less automatically in the past. The original leases were purchased before the passage of federal laws that protect water, air and land against industrial pollution.
 
The Twin Metals mining project abuts immediately up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and water flows downhill from the proposed mine into Voyageurs National Park and Quetico Park in Canada. If built, it would be the largest mine in the history of North America.
 
The long and short of it is that the mining company has captured the hearts of most local political leadership up to and including the Congressional level. However, the vast majority of Minnesotans, including a solid majority of the people in northeastern Minnesota, strongly oppose the mine.
 
The pros and cons of large scale sulfide mining aside, Twin Metals presents a very interesting political situation where many of our elected leaders whole-heartedly support the mining, while the majority of their constituents do not. This says a lot about modern American politics and begs the question of just whom our elected officials feel beholden to.
 
It is fair to say that a significant minority of Minnesotans do support the mine, usually citing the jobs that it will create. On the other hand, much evidence points to the job creation being counter productive and unsustainable over the long term.
 
In any case, I urge everyone to educate themselves on this crucial issue and make your opinion known to the Forest Service and your elected officials at all levels of government. The very nature of our region hinges on it.
 
There is a famous play and movie called “Same Time, Next Year.”  It tells the story of a couple who carry on an intimate relationship for a few days each year for 26 years. I have had this same kind of relationship for going on for nearly 40 years. The big difference is that my annual liaison is not an affair, but a trout fishing date.
 
My friend, Dale Kauffman, has been staying at the Baker Lake campground since 1955. He remembers the first year because his family traveled from Iowa in their brand new 1955 Chevy station wagon.
 
At some point in dim history, Dale and I began trout fishing the same stretch of a local river for a single day each year. Other than an occasional phone call around the holidays, our relationship has been based on this singular annual event. 
 
After Dale married, his wife, Priscilla, joined us on our visit to the stream. Priscilla liked to fish, but she didn’t like to trout fish for some reason, so she would sit on the riverbank and write poetry while Dale and I enticed brook trout with our size “OO” Mepps spinners.
 
Sadly, Priscilla suddenly and unexpectedly passed away a few years ago, but Dale and I have fished on. The bond between the three of us had become so strong that I was invited to participate in the spreading of Priscilla’s ashes near her favorite campsite. After the ashes were spread, Dale and I went trout fishing, with Priscilla never far from our minds.
 
Although our friendship goes back more than 40 years, we’ve only spent a few dozen days together. But, I treasure Dale’s friendship and the memory of Priscilla as much as anything in my life – well, except maybe for his corny jokes. This week, Dale and I will be back on the river, and with the good Lord willing, we’ll be back there --- same time, next year.
 

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