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North Shore Weekend

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  • Saturday 7-10am
Genre: 
Variety
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:

North Woods Naturalist: Snow crust

There may be snow accumulating on a frequent basis, but it’s accumulating on a thick crust that has advantages and disadvantages for some animals. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the snow crust.

(Photo courtesy of JLS Photography on Flickr)

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The Gunflint area is bathed in the light of the full moon.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 10

The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. After a swell visit with family and friends from border to border in Iowa, it’s great to be home in the quiet of Gunflint country. The greatness of unorganized territory is never more cherished than when one is absent for several days after being caught up in the hubbub of civilization.                                                                                        

While logging some 1,600 miles of windshield time, extremes of upper Midwest weather made we travelers relish the security of hanging out in our wildland abode. Treacherous roads through southern Minnesota and northwest Iowa had us white-knuckling it for a third of the trip. Then bare pavement eased the return until reaching icy Trail patches leading us back to white reality.

Although our Gunflint winter to date has been fairly wimpy, we can be grateful as surprisingly most areas traveled south of the Minnesota line were largely devoid of snow and temps along our stops seemed prematurely spring like.

Happily a few inches of snow were added shortly before we commenced down the Mile O Pine, and then fluffed things up in the first February weekend, along with temps hovering about the zero mark. The now cold, dried snow has allowed me to regain use of my driveway for more than a slippery walking path. Hope it stays this way until mud season arrives.                                                  

Sure is nice to have recaptured seasonal conditions after a terrible warm siege last half of January. Some of us are not ready for spring in spite of seed and gardening catalogs luring us toward a new growing season. We have more winter yet to enjoy and “Mother Nature” has turned on the snowmaking machine since I commenced with this weeks’ commentary.  

Heading into this weekend, borderland greets the second big moon of year 17 as the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon” will light up our lives in this land of enchantment. The monthly lunar experience is one to behold most anywhere in the universe, but probably not as lustrous as it can be in the snow covered north land.

It’s hard to figure how critters react to the Smith’s not being around with daily nutritional hand-outs. One thing for sure is the woodland chatter doesn’t take long to be passed along when we get home. Our homecoming finds enthusiasm around the feed trough is delirious amongst the wild returnees, and it’s catching for us viewers too.

In the midst of the usual gang has been a raven. It came in and took over the chow line on “Super Sunday” keeping all others at bay until a tap on the window glass sent the ebony beauty flapping off into the pines. I’m wondering if it might be the one with whom I conversed a couple weeks ago. If so, perhaps it could be that my “awking” exchange back then was taken as an invitation to dine here at the “McSmith” eatery.

It seems as though tragedies often occur in segments of three. Such is the case once again for the Gunflint Trail community. Following the deaths of two friends and neighbors since first of the year, word has been received of yet another loss. The family of Jean Schmidt-Smith, (no relation), has sent word of her passing in early January.

Jean lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina, but resided seasonally at her cabin (“Grand Portage”) on the north shore of Loon Lake with her late husband Frank. She so loved the Gunflint territory and so many loved her, she was a really nice lady! Trail condolences are extended to her surviving family and friends.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is exceptional, and great to be shared with the “wild neighborhood.” Happy hearts and chocolates day!
 

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The 1982 Cook County Board of Commissioners, with the County Attorney and Auditor - Frank is far left

West End News: February 9

This is Bill Hansen. I’m best known for being the father of Clare Shirley, who is the normal author of the West End News, but she is on vacation this week.
 
When Clare’s grandfather, Frank Hansen, was a Cook County Commissioner back in the 1980s, I remember that much of the discussion at board meetings revolved around the shortage of housing for people who live and work in Cook County. The housing shortage was hurting economic development because people who were solidly in the middle class, like those who worked for the Forest Service, the clinic, the schools, the sheriff’s department, and so on, literally could not find an affordable place to live. At one county board meeting in that era the commissioners all agreed that the problem was so serious that it had to be addressed that year.
 
Frank, if he were alive, would have turned 95 last week and would have been delighted that the “project of the year” for 1983 was finally coming to fruition in 2017. After years of hard work by a lot of people, the first of a series of housing developments - targeted toward people who live and work here – is about become a reality. 
 
One Roof Community Housing, a non-profit housing developer based in Duluth, is planning to build 16 units of housing in Lutsen, starting construction this spring. One Roof has a long and successful track record of developing housing for working people, including hundreds of housing units in Duluth. I’ve been a supporter of One Roof for years and have been hoping they would do a project in Cook County. They are the right people for the job.
 
In an ideal world, private developers would just build houses and sell them to us for a reasonable profit and all would be well. Unfortunately, geography and market forces keep that from being a viable option here - and in many, many communities around the country. One Roof, along with an impressive list of partners, including the Cook County Economic Development Authority, the I.R.R.R.B. and the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, are finally cracking this tough nut and we will all benefit.
 
This project is not for seasonal workers. The large resorts in the West End are already housing their seasonal workers in housing they built at their own expense to the tune of millions of dollars.
 
Every piece of this housing puzzle has been fitted with the other pieces to provide well built, energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing housing that middle-income people can afford. This isn’t cheap housing by any means, but it is decent, dignified, and reasonable. I’ve been a little amused by the people who suggest that the rents are too high. Of course, the rents are too high! It would be great if those who think the rents are too high would suggest ways to lower them. Every part of this effort has been undertaken with the intent to keep rents – and costs - within reason. That is the whole point.
 
The really good news is that a similar, probably larger, project is coming soon to Grand Marais and another to Tofte. Once those are done, if there is still need - and there probably will be - projects can be done where they are needed. Thank you to all who have worked so hard to craft a real-world solution to the serious shortage of housing in Cook County!
 
It is always heart warming to see how our community rallies to solve problems and help those in need. Angela Cook, who works at the courthouse, has been dealing with very serious and costly health issues for two years. Her co-workers, the congregation at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte, and West End community members are holding a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Birch Grove Community Center on Saturday, February 25, from 5 to 7 pm. There is a related raffle in progress, with many cool and valuable prizes donated by local businesses. You can buy tickets from the gals at the courthouse, at Tofte Holiday Station, and at Zoar Church.
 
As I always say about great events like this, be there, or be square.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen, filling in for Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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North Woods Naturalist: Winter to date

For a while the weather was up and down, cold to snowy to unseasonably warm. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about January weather.

(Photo by Marilylle Soveran on Flickr)

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Witch Head Nebula

Northern Sky: February 4 - 17

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

Venus starts its drop into the sunset with February 17 being one of the best times for viewing. Mars can be seen to the upper left of Venus.

A full moon can be seen on February 10 with a penumbral eclipse at 5:12 pm.

 

(Photo by Stuart Rankin on Flickr)

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Clare Shirley

West End News: February 2

Clare Shirley is the voice of the West End News. Clare is a fifth-generation local, and third-generation canoe outfitter, from Cook County's West End.

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Raven in Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 27

Hard to believe month one is almost history. It’s fading as fast as our winter has over the past several days. The weather outside’s been frightfully warm.

Things are melting away like it was March/April, pretty sad for the north woods mood of hearty folks enduring grizzly conditions in January. But it is what it is.  With roof tops dripping and ground level slush, we’re covered from top to bottom in extreme climate evolution.

This trend we’ve been experiencing in recent days makes for many hardships. Most of which surely involve complications for business owners who depend upon our usual winter to enable activities for sustaining their operations.

It would appear cross country ski trails might be taking the biggest hit. Considerable manpower and time will be needed to bring them back to acceptable status when cold normalcy returns. Meanwhile, I hear power sledders mucking through the slop on Gunflint Lake as they traverse to ice fishing spots or to the next shoreline trail access. It’s a real mess!

Personally, moving about our place has required enhanced caution on slippery surfaces to maintain the vertical.

And, for the second time this year vehicle use of my driveway incline has been stymied for fear of being stuck at the bottom in an unenviable position until spring.

This untimely thawing couldn’t have come at a worse time for organizers of the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon traveling into the territory this weekend. Unless a turn-around should bring some cold and new snow, one has to feel for the stars of the show as they journey on what will likely be difficult trail conditions. Further, should temps be way above zero, like they’ve been lately, the difficulty rating is made even worse?

Let’s hope “old man winter” gets a grip and shows his true stuff for this great event.

One could guess the warm spell might have the “wild neighborhood” critters confused. However, they probably adapt better than we two legged invasives. So the beat goes on in the animal kingdom,

The less than bitter weather enabled yours truly to venture out for a brush burning exercise last week. During the time, my activity must have summoned the curiosity of a raven. The jet black bird settled into the tree tops not far from the ascending puffs of smoke.

It proceeded to strike up a conversation which I soon believed must be directed at myself. After a few indiscernible “awks,” I sent back a few of my own. Obviously not knowing what I was “awking” about, the two of us exchanged small talk for a few minutes. The ebony creature must have tired of the chitchat because it eventually took off into the wild blue yonder.

I’m betting it probably wondered what kind of a “boob” could have been speaking in such meaningless jargon. Somehow, it was fun to imagine this gabby one might just have enjoyed sharing the afternoon goings-on with this old guy.

A story of another intriguing animal happening came my way recently. During the cold snap of mid-month, seemingly a distant memory now, an unusual visitor came down the chimney at a place near end of the Trail. This had nothing to do with the bearded, jolly old soul in a red suit as one might visualize.

I’m told a curious, and maybe cold pine marten found “up on the house top” access to an opening in a fire place chimney. Apparently exploring what this black hole was all about, it lost its grip and slid down the sooty chute landing with a plop in the firebox.

Luckily the residents’ had the firebox glass doors closed so the furry critter did not get loose into the house. Needless to say panic set in for both the animal and the gal of the house.

The frightened animal made all kinds of commotion but was in no way going to get out the way it came in. A connection with her spouse brought him to the rescue and eventually a friend.  Considering several options, it was decided to give live trapping a try. This had to be of concern as opening those glass doors to wide could have resulted in a disastrous chase around the house.

In the end, baiting up the trap at first didn’t work as the scared/angry critter would not make a complete entry. Eventually moving the bait to end of the trap enticed “piney” to enter fully and in so doing, bang, the trap door dropped close.

Much to the relief of all concerned it was incarcerated and escorted out doors where a release to the custody of “Mother Nature” ensued. All’s well that ends well, perhaps lessons learned by both man and a nosey beast!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and most any adventure is possible!
 
 
 

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Skijoring in Montana

West End News: January 26

I know I’m not the first to tell you but, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is all set to make its way through our lovely West End again this year, starting on Sunday, January 29. The race runs nearly 400 miles and is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states. It’s a qualifier for the famed Iditarod race in Alaska and as such draws some really world class mushers.

You can check out the mushers and their dog teams between 9am and 11am on Sunday, January 29, at the start point, the Highway 2 gravel pit in Two Harbors. You can park at the Lake County Fairgrounds and ride a free shuttle bus there. At 11am sharp, the race begins.

If you want to see some action a little closer to home, there is a checkpoint on the Sawbill Trail at the intersection with the 600 Road. For the uninitiated, that’s about 5-1/2 miles up the Sawbill Trail, which starts in Tofte right by the Tofte General Store. If you want to catch them, teams will probably be rolling into the checkpoint between 5pm and 10pm on Sunday, and leaving again starting around midnight.

When I was little, I don’t think there was anything more exciting than hanging out at the Sawbill checkpoint, watching the mushers feed and care for their dogs while they took some much needed rest time. I remember being particularly impressed with the famous musher Susan Butcher. My parents still have one of my childhood drawings of Susan and her team.

Perhaps it’s that fond childhood memory that got me interested in skijoring, as a fan if not a participant. In Minnesota, skijoring is the practice of cross-country skiing while being harnessed to a dog, who is hopefully pulling you in a nice straight line. If you’ve been up to Sawbill in the last year, you’ve likely met my favorite skijoring team, Huckleberry the springer spaniel, and my husband Dan. Huck is nothing if not enthusiastic, but after about a mile of pulling he suddenly finds every last twig on the side of the road irresistible, and needs to stop, frequently, to investigate.

If this were the Wild West End News, we’d be talking about a whole different kind of skijoring. In Montana, where we used to live, they take it to a whole other level. Those skijorers strap on downhill skis and are pulled behind horses, using the same kind of tow rope you’d see a water skier hang on to. The intrepid skier holds on for all their worth while their horseback riding partner pulls them through a course, complete with turns and jumps. It’s quite the spectacle that makes me sort of appreciate Huck’s laid back approach to the sport.

We’ve been resigned to mostly skiing on the road up here, as the lake is totally covered in a deep layer of slushy water, hovering dangerously underneath a few inches of snow. I discovered this the hard way, when Huck decided to head for the Alton portage against our better judgment. I marched out to retrieve him, and within seconds my boots were full of icy water. My dad Bill has made falling through the ice up here something of a yearly tradition. While I very much value lots of our family traditions, this is one that I’m willing to let go of. I hustled back to shore as quickly as I could, and sloshed home cursing the January thaw.

The thaw is right on time though to inspire dreams of open water and summer Boundary Waters trips. Permits to enter the Boundary Waters can now be reserved for this coming summer. Check out www.recreation.gov to snag a permit for your favorite West End entry point to our beloved canoe country Wilderness.

(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Connors)

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The Lake Superior Project/Logo by Lauryl Loberg

LSP: Cook County's "Operation Skywatch" during the Cold War era

During the 1950s Cook County participated in "Operation Skywatch" -- a nation-wide organization utilizing local citizens to watch the skies for possible Russian aircraft.

In this edition of The Lake Superior Project, WTIP's Martha Marnocha talks with Nona Smith and Gary Nelson about their memories of this Cold War-era volunteer organization.

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Northern Sky: January 21 - February 3

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

A waning moon in the morning sky late in January; Jupiter is brilliant and high in the south with Saturn low in the southeast. A crescent moon hangs above Mercury on January 25.

Venus is the brightest planet, seen in the southwest; Sirius - the brightest star - can be seen in the southeast.

(Photo by Michael Wilson on Flickr)

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