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North Shore Weekend


  • Saturday 7-10am
Host CJ Heithoff brings you this Saturday morning show, created at the request of WTIP listeners.  North Shore Weekend features three hours of community information, features, interviews, and music. It's truly a great way to start your weekend on the North Shore. Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP’s North Shore Weekend are made possible with funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.



What's On:
Lake County trail

Sunny's Back Yard: End of a roller coaster winter

Sunny tells us about the final end of what's been a roller coaster winter in her Back Yard.

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.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 22

Spring has finally won out here in the North Country. It has taken over intensely since our last visit over the air waves.

Going from jackets, furry hats and gloves to shirt-sleeves in a matter of a few days has many of us in shock. How warm has it been, it was so warm that my first outdoor activities subsequent to snow shoveling drew perspiration not seen since last October.

Taking the warm weather wrinkles a step farther, the copious snows piling up from mid-March to mid-April have shrunk to no more than plowed roadside windrows and shoveled heaps. “Old Sol” gulped this northern snow cone like a thirsty kid at the state fair.

Border country streams and rivers are gushing wildly on their way to frozen lakes. But at the time of this recording, lake ice remains intact out this way.

Ice on the Gunflint Gal has barely broken away from our Wildersmith shoreline. With nothing scientific to base my prediction on, it is my best guess the ice here will last another week to ten days. If this prediction plays out, it will put us into the first few days of May which is near average for our ice-out.

Spring is popping out all along the Trail. Pussy willows are purring their fuzzy arrival, while trees of the forest are trying to straighten themselves up following winter's trunk bending-stress of several unusual wet heavy snows.

On back woods roads, we “mudders” are slogging through a second siege of meltdown ooze. The tepid winter gave us hope of an early “mud season” in late February and early March. However, the recent thirty day surge of snow and cold stopped all that and now we are experiencing “mud season” number two. Any desire of maintaining a clean vehicle should be put to rest at least for another couple weeks.

The forest is alive with “tweeters” and I don’t mean of the cyber variety. Robins are rampant and flickers are flocking from whence they spent the past cold season. Both seem to hang out in goodly numbers along area byways at this time of year for some reason. I get a kick out of flickers zipping up from the roadsides with their white feathered bottoms making for easy identification.

Bears have yet to make their grand entry in this neighborhood, but yours truly is taking no chances at tempting a visit. I have removed deck-side feeding stations that could be an attraction.

This of course causes issue for the area pine martens. There is no longer a facility where morsels can be placed for securing their goodies from the birds and squirrels. That in mind, marten visitors have been grudgingly scrounging through an open tray of oiled sunflower seeds.

Sharing the cafeteria line amongst martens, squirrels, jaybirds and other winged folk obviously causes many uncomfortable dining experiences. In fact, a few mornings ago, two martens wisely arrived in the twilight hour to apparently avoid the after-sunrise breakfast rush.

Sadly, this dining opportunity is soon to end as I’ll have to stop the seed distribution as bears like them, too. However, with snow cover waning, bare ground will once again provide nourishment fortunes although not accessed as easy. To all my dependent critters, see you again when the snow flies.

Martens aren’t the only meat eating critters to turn omnivorous at times. Protein can be scarce in these parts with members of the Canid family often caught hanging out under bird feeders to scarf up seed scatterings of the feathered folk.

With venison fortunes hard to come by up this way, a gal in the mid-Trail area recently shared a great video capturing a hungry wolf lapping up seeds off the avian tray near her deck.

Without question, every species on the planet, including billions of malnourished human beings, is in an on-going quest for nutritional elements at one time or another. We all need to help whenever prudent and practical!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, watching the rebirth of our natural world!



West End News: April 21

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune issued their annual “Best of Minnesota” article last week and the West End made the list twice. The Lutsen 99er was named as Minnesota’s best mountain bike race.  Minnesota’s best resort spa was awarded to the Waves of Lake Superior Spa at Surfside Resort in Tofte. Neither of these are a surprise to West Enders. Of course, almost everything we have is the best in Minnesota, but we’re too cool to be conceited about it.
For instance, we have Minnesota’s best community school, in my humble opinion, at Birch Grove School in Tofte. At the moment, Birch Grove Community School is looking for three new school board members. Current board members Sarah Somnis and Rae Piepho were recently elected township supervisors in Tofte and Lutsen, so they are required to resign from the school board to avoid a conflict of interest. The third opening is to replace Jessica Cameron who moved away when her husband was transferred by the Forest Service.
The Birch Grove School Board has nine members and meets monthly on the fourth Tuesday. The board expects that members attend at least 80% of the meetings. There is a simple application form that is available from school director Caroline Wood. Stop by the school or give Caroline a call if you would like more information.
There is a fun, informal social gathering of dog owners in the Lutsen township park every Sunday at 3 pm. There is nothing organized about this, but it is a chance for some of the outstanding community dogs to spend some time playing and getting to know one another. I suppose there might be some socializing among the owners, too.
Matt and Mary Beth Farley, of Lutsen, will be traveling soon to visit their son Andy, who is now stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Andy has completed his basic training and is now training as a combat engineer for the 82nd Airborne Division. Matt said that Andy recently broke his collarbone, which put a short glitch in his training, but will soon be back to full speed. Andy is, of course, a proud graduate of Cook County High School.
I was sorry to hear about the dust-up that occurred when the Cook County Board of Commissioners proposed a resolution recommending that the BWCA Wilderness watershed be protected from the pollution that inevitably follows the mining of sulfide-bearing ores.
Like the silly banning of Bent Paddle Beer from the Silver Bay Municipal Liquor Store, it strikes me as a misguided attempt to intimidate people who want to express their honestly held political opinions.
The threat to remove Cook County from the Taconite Assistance Area strikes me as a particularly empty and unnecessary threat. The rail line between Taconite Harbor and Hoyt Lakes is still owned by a mining company. That railroad and the Taconite Harbor power plant may well end up being key parts of Minnesota’s mining efforts in the future.
Details aside, I believe that open and honest political discussion is always a good thing and coercion and threats are always a bad thing. Talking important issues through will ultimately result in a more vibrant and prosperous West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



Northern Sky: April 16 - 29

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.

In the second half of April, we get a visit from Mercury and also a full moon; look for Saturn and Mars rising before midnight; and the ancient Celtic holiday beginning at sundown April 30, also known as the Witches' Sabbath.

(Photo by Kabsik Park on Flickr)



A Year in the Wilderness: April 15 - Saganaga at last

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)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 15

There’s hope for serious spring-like temperatures as this week’s Gunflint scoop comes your way. However, while my scribing hits the keyboard, it’s snowing once more in the Wildersmith neighborhood.

For winter worshippers, things have been glorious over the past month with snow, snow and more snow. I suppose some in these parts are beginning to wonder if this recent siege will ever end.

Up to the moment, around this place we’ve now totaled slightly over 102 inches, and we’re still counting. It’s been exactly 30 days since the snow-maker slipped into high gear, giving us one-third of our seasonal total. Guess one should never count the season down and out until the “gal” (Mother Nature) in charge of things says it’s so! In the immortal words of NY Yankee great, Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.”

With spring out there somewhere, energies are at a high pitch for the leadership of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. The focus of course is another Chik-Wauk Museum season and the anticipated opening of their new Nature Center building.

Finishing touches are being made on the facility as the GTHS awaits delivery of exhibits from the design “pros” at Split Rock Studios. Arrival and installation of the displays is hoped for some time next week assuming road bans allow such.

After several years of visioning, planning, jumping through hoops and fundraising, the thought of this project being opened for family friendly viewing and learning is exciting beyond the organizations wildest dreams. The Nature Center will be open daily along with the museum beginning on the Memorial Day weekend.

In addition to completion of the Nature Center building, work is being wrapped up on a small administrative/archival storage unit. Both of these Chik-Wauk additions are being fit onto the footprints of where buildings were located during the days of resort operations. In each case these structures are simple rehabilitations, not actual restorations.

Telling more of the Chik-Wauk story does not end here. Planning is already underway for the construction of an open-air structure which will display, and further tell the stories about life on the lakes along the Gunflint. It too will be located on the footprint of the original shoreline dock (across the driveway from the Nature Center, on the northeast bay) where the first resort operators had theirs.

The timber-frame constructed “marine equipment” display unit is set to be built by GTHS volunteers under the guidance of professionals at the North House Folk School, on the Folk School Campus in Grand Marais, this coming August. Installation of this facility is scheduled for the summer of 2017.

And last but not least, on the drawing board now is a rehab of one Chik-Wauk Resort guest cabin. Target for this addition is uncertain, but hopefully, as soon as design approval is procured and additional funding is raised. This too will be located on a historic cabin site.

It’s hoped all will mark their calendars for another visit this summer to share in some new Chik-Wauk magic!

Speaking of those just mentioned GTHS volunteers, as we near the end of National Volunteer Week, I would like to express my thanks to all the good folks both around the Cook County area, in Grand Marais and up the Trail for all they do to make this place on the northern Riviera the special attraction it is!

Since I reside out this way, I am especially conscious of the people of the Gunflint Community who always answer the call for whatever and whenever, without fail. Not only are you wonderful friends and neighbors, your commitment is uniquely remarkable, in making sure this byway through paradise remains an unequaled natural, cultural and historical resource.

As a volunteer myself on many community tasks, I’m rewarded by gaining far more satisfaction from serving than I actually provide in services. I would guess this attitude is shared by all along the Gunflint who continually pitch in…thank you so much!

On a closing note, as I was finalizing the first draft of this Gunflint report, we had a deck-side visit from a “real” big bird. Following a dinner of roasted chicken, I set carcass remains out on the feeding tray for the pine martens. In no time at all, a “piney” was here, feasting to its content. In a short time, it disappeared with a mouthful to be stockpiled somewhere in the woods.

Soon after, out of the heavens, a bald eagle swooped down to an unprecedented landing at our gourmet trough. Having never had this happen before, it remains a mystery whether the “great American symbol” had its eye on the poultry remains or the pine marten.

The “awesome avian” didn’t hang around long, departing without a chicken dinner. Guess it might have preferred our offering in the uncooked state, as opposed to our tasty processed gourmet version.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, enjoying what may be the last moments of winter!

(Photo courtesy of Marie Hale on Flickr)



West End News: April 14

I’m reporting the West End News this week from the far west end, all the way out in Bozeman, Montana. I’m here on tour with the Plucked Up String Band.

Everyone knows that touring bands live a life filled with wild parties fueled by crazy substance abuse and excesses of every kind. Well, I’m happy to report that is not the case for our current tour.

We chose Montana for our tour because my son, Carl Hansen, a proud West Ender, lives in Bozeman, where he is a freelance filmmaker. Carl’s boyhood friend, Beau Larson, originally from Lutsen, also lives in Bozeman, making his living as a wildlife photographer. So, this is really more of a combination band tour and family visit.

The band has been warmly received in Montana, with appreciative crowds at every show and many invitations to return. In our down time, our activities have tended more toward hiking, disc golf and many hours of playing music while soaking up the unseasonable 70-degree sunshine that Montana has been experiencing. Other than a pleasant overall tiredness and some sore fingers, the tour has been fulfilling and fun.

We’re ending the tour in Ashland, Wisconsin, where we’ll be headlining the Ashland Folk Festival, the oldest folk festival in Wisconsin.

I’ve been reading, with interest, all the recent news about economic diversification on the Iron Range. Although the West End is not generally considered part of the Iron Range, we are directly affected by what happens in our greater region.

I’m no expert on the mining industry, but it seems that the experts are thinking that mining may be in a more serious decline that just the normal ups and downs of a commodity-based industry. Long story short, the situation is a symptom of the global market place.

Just in the last few weeks, the conversation around economic development in northeastern Minnesota has changed. Governor Dayton came out with a strong message about protecting our wilderness. The IRRRB held a conference on how the region can attract young residents by being “cool and creative.” The IRRRB also announced plans to reform their governance and move their grant and loan programs more toward quality of life projects and away from trying to attract smoke-stack industries. Minnesota Public Radio has hosted an event focused exclusively on diversifying the Iron Range economy and the Minneapolis Star Tribune is running a series of articles on the same subject. Aaron Brown has continued his well-written efforts to inspire economic diversification on his popular blog, “Minnesota Brown.”

All this news is very encouraging, with the obvious caveat that it must lead to some substantial progress and not just exist as a flash in the pan. It is also encouraging because it is driven by community members who are rolling up their sleeves and asking themselves what kind of community they would like to live in and leave to their children.

Unfortunately, it’s a case of the people getting out ahead of at least some of their leaders, who seem to be stuck in the old thinking that economic development will come from giant industrial development. I’m also afraid the influence of money in our politics is moving our leadership away from the wishes of the actual voters. I hope our political leaders are paying close attention to this new regional spirit and will get on board before the train leaves the station without them.

I am proud to say that Cook County is providing leadership in this new regional mood. In my opinion, the West End is in a particularly good position to take advantage.

As we toured around Montana this week and told people we were from the North Shore of Minnesota, the most common response was along the lines of “Oh, I love the North Shore” or, “I’ve been to the Boundary Waters” or, “Grand Marais is a great town.” I believe this is because Montana and the North Shore share a quality of life based on outstanding natural beauty and a largely unspoiled environment. But, for whatever reason, the wonderful West End seems to be well thought of, right across this great United States.





North Woods Naturalist: Snowshoe Hares

As spring gets closer the woods and the creatures in the woods start to change. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about snowshoe hares.

(Photo courtesy of Samuel George on Flickr)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 8

It appears “old man winter” might have been in Florida with the college kids on spring break back in early March, and now he’s back. It’s a week into April and there’s no foolin’ around as the “frosty fellow” has turned up the volume, putting some dandy finishing touches on his ’15-‘16 winter inventory.

Who knows what will be on the atmospheric menu by the time this scribing airs, but the scene as of this past weekend would have one believe the “grand old ruler” of cold and snow is trying to make up for lost time. For weeks my commentary has lamented on what a meek winter this area has experienced. However, since the middle of March the snow machines have been cranked up.

More snow was added to the border country total last Sunday as another eight to nine inches fell on the Wildersmith neighborhood. Added to the late March deposits, the most recent coating brings us to somewhere over two feet during the past three weeks. And the seasonal total to above 90 inches.

I’m not complaining because any snow is good snow. Yet it would have been nice if more of these late season happenings could have occurred in November and December when the timing would have better accented holiday decorating. Nonetheless, the heavy-laden boughs of April are spectacular for one more time. And I’ll contend with the “mud season” being extended while bug season is delayed.

There’s a possibility I could be getting blamed for the last snowy occurrence, as I had the winter wheels taken off my vehicle in favor of summertime treads. My wife said I should wait a while longer, but it’s a little late now! Happily, I still have the snow blade on my Kubota machine.

Snow was not the only order of business recently. It was downright cold too! It is not impossible to have single digit to below zero readings this time of year, but we’ve been spoiled up until recently with some swell light-jacket to shirt-sleeve weather. The temp actually dipped slightly below the nothing mark around here on the eve before our weekend blitz, and then bottomed out at -21 this past Monday morning.

For folks put out about this winter resurgence, this too will pass. On a recent run to Grand Marais, my wife observed what she thought were pussy willow buds along the Trail. While in another spring thing, the announcement has been made of a “robin red-breast” sighting. So in spite of this setback, the calendar says we’re headed in the warmer direction. We might even be wallowing in the slop again as I bring you this week's Gunflint scoop.

It’s interesting how big atmospheric turn-arounds seem to energize the winged critters. With our landscape blanketed in cold white once more, there’s excitement beyond description at our deck-side feeding station. We’ve been inundated by droves of redpolls, chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. At the other end of the spectrum, when things warm up, the same gang can be found flitting about tweeting a happy note in celebration. How awesome are the critters of creation.

It’s near birthing time for the wild canine critters in these parts with wolf and coyote pups and fox kits soon to join our “wild neighborhood.” And although bear sightings have not been reported, hungry moms and new cubs cannot be far away from ravaging our neighborhoods.

So although life in Gunflint Country is pretty much in the “slow lane” by human measure, the natural world is executing drama with every blink of an eye.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, just keepin’ on, keepin on!

(Photo courtesy of Sue on Flickr)



A Year in the Wilderness: April 8 - Ready for Breakup

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)