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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:

West End News: December 29

Here's Clare Shirley -- the new voice of West End News.

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Fisher at the feeder

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 30

This week's commentary finds everyone in the waning hours of the 16th year of this youthful century. Most anyone you would talk with has an opinion of the year we have endured. It would seem the good old USA has gone through some perilous downs with few ups to be marked on the ledger.

With the greediness of a populous opting for more and more personal wealth instead of the health and well-being of all its citizens, one has to wonder how much longer it will be before we just ravage ourselves into oblivion.

The good old “red, white and blue” are surely not so “united” as our name would infer, and our pledge of being “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” are words with little to no substance after the year we have witnessed.

2016 passes into the books with such bickering, back-biting, name-calling and struggling for power, that I for one am happy to have it pass on. 2017 just has to be better!

The question yet to be answered is, can we come to our senses and make it better, or continue down this path of divisive demise.

Getting off my “high horse” with happier tidings find we border country folks have moved on from the madness of holiday spending, traveling nightmares, family gatherings and over-eating. The peaceful north woods seemed so far away from urban commotion as we celebrated. About the only din has come from the neighborhood critters gathering for sustenance at the Wildersmith outdoor eatery during this Holy observance.

Residents in the Gunflint north spent last weekend on pins and needles in anticipation of another weather service “dooms-day” snow storm forecast, only to see one more “prognostication bust” along the international border. Out this way, light showers of white were all we mustered, counting to barely an inch and one-half. We have extended the ice making process on the Loon and Gunflint Gals, however.

A report from over on Loon Lake tells of otters enjoying some hillside sliding and then dipping into a hole in the ice for some fishing fun. Kind of mirrors some humans who do the sauna thing, and then wallow in snow or dip in the drink, if an ice opening permits. In either case, both species are reveling in this winter playground.

While our snow pack is less than ideal for power sledding, cross country skiing opportunities are readily available. Depending upon the upper Gunflint location, trails range from just packed, to groomed with skate lane and classic track. A call to Poplar Creek Guest House B &B, Golden Eagle, Bearskin, and/or Gunflint Lodge can render up to date ski trail conditions.

Last week's mention of the fisher visit to our deck has increased to more stops in the interim. The animal's range is known to be quite extensive, but apparently access to an easy hand-out has kept this gal/guy stretching its stay into a winter vacation.

While there’s considerable banter of our nation “going to the dogs,” such negative connotation doesn’t exist out this way. Dogs positively have been a way of life for information exchange and survival service for ages, prior to a surfaced byway.

With this in mind, celebrating this aspect of wilderness living in yesteryear is being marked for another year with the Gunflint Mail Run sled dog races. The sledding teams will be hitting the trails next weekend, January 7 & 8.

Two race distances will be featured, a 12 dog—110 mile run and an 8 dog—70 mile event. Headquarters and the start are located in the mid-Trail area near Trail Center restaurant.

Organizers remain in need of volunteers. Locals are being sought to lend a hand. Please make a contact with Cathy Quinn, gunflintmailrunvolunteer@gmail.com, or give Sarah a call at Trail Center, 388-2214.

Activities get underway Saturday, with a “blessing of the dogs” at 7:00 am. The first race (for the 12-dog sleds) heads off at 8:00am, to be followed by the 8-dog teams at 9:00am. For a complete scheduling of both days, go to gunflintmailrun.com.

The colorful barking event reflects the spirit and energy of Gunflint pioneer history so come on out and support this neat community happening. It’ll be a yelping good time!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with back country adventures always in the offing! Happy New Year!

 

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Orion setting

Northern Sky: December 24 - January 6

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

Venus will be bright in the southwest sky - not to be confused with a UFO! Jupiter will be high in the sky just before dawn, bright winter constellations will dominate the eastern sky, and on New Year's Day a young crescent moon will be close to Venus.

(Photo by Richard Droker on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 23

As the northland awaits the big Christmas day, the discussion is all about cold. Baby. it’s been cold outside. Beginning this week's Gunflint report, the “great spirit of the Arctic” has spent a good many days in the northwoods. For some folks in our territory, “his coldness” may be wearing out his welcome.

In the Wildersmith neighborhood, up through last Sunday when I started this keyboard exercise, we have not seen the plus side of zero in eight straight days. The mid-December trek toward the shortest daylight minutes of the year has felt much like January, but in the past few 24 hour segments, it has warmed some and snowed a little.

While temps to this point haven’t measured down to those of decades ago, the bitter cold has roughed us up a bit due to the warmth of just a few weeks ago. Our adjustment to real winter character has been rather harsh. 

Winds during the early days of this sub-zero stretch were not only biting to us two-legged beings, but the cold blasts also had waters on the big lakes out this way in turmoil. As waves bashed our shore lines, ice build-up has smoothed the jagged granite shards into velvety mounds of cupcake frosting.

In a continuance of last week's discussion of our vaporous lake surface, the decorating has been enhanced into the thickest forest flocking during my eighteen winters living in border country. Relentless west-northwest currents have made this wonderland more winter-like than one might ever imagine. This rocking and rolling water came about in cooling readiness for the big freeze.

Bound to subside eventually, the raucous air calmed last weekend allowing the Gunflint Gal to start slipping on her winter coat. By Sunday morning, the “Zamboni” finished the job. With the official ice-on date of December 18, this lake is already complaining about the fit, with some screeching conversation and a couple thunderous belches after less than 24 hours.

Thinking about how difficult extreme cold affects members of the “wild neighborhood,” I’m intrigued observing animals coming through the yard with frost accumulations on some of their body extremities. It’s hard to imagine them surviving when I see one draped with frost on its back, ear tips, forehead, eyelashes and whiskers. Some probably don’t endure, but most do, and it makes me shiver at the thought of how cold they must get. Obviously, “Mother Nature” has blessed them with amazing adaptive capabilities.

A few mornings ago, one of those red squirrels came to the feed tray with a fascinating set of white whiskers and a frosted tip on its tail. Moments later, our regular pair of “whiskey jacks” showed up with distinguished icing around their beaks and eyelashes. How cool was this!

Since our last meeting on the radio, a couple not-seen-so-often-visitors appeared at Wildersmith. First, was a fisher coming to the deck for a little dark hours scavenging. This pine marten on steroids was sizeable, perhaps large as spaniel like dog. Lush and healthy looking, it made short work of its small cousin's poultry treats, and then was off into the night.

The other visitor was a total surprise considering the brutal cold. Perhaps due to the still open Gunflint Lake water at the time, maybe I should have realized this could be possible in the waning migratory season. I’m talking about a mallard duck.

The “quacker” arrived in the midday hours, somehow getting up to ground level in front of our deck (around 125 feet from the shore). It was discovered slurping up spilled sunflower seeds as if there were no tomorrow, and shivering almost uncontrollably. Thinking it should be left alone, and not knowing what I would do with it if a rescue was attempted, I dropped more seeds which it consumed before waddling back toward the lake.

One would think it may not have survived another cold night. I wondered what or who might celebrate a duck dinner. Much to my surprise, the next morning it was back, nestled in a snowy crater scraping up more left-overs.

I had fleeting thoughts that this “lonesome duck” might become a regular when “old Piney” who had been dining on the mezzanine discovered this feathered visitor. The carnivorous fur ball snuck part way down a deck support post to check it out. The duck apparently sensed impending danger, found the marten leering at him and took flight toward the lake. The last I saw of this obviously “Cold Duck,” it landed and scooted down into the icy H2O. Meanwhile the marten decided against a chase and came back to the fast food tray.

By Sunday, with open water no longer available, only two possible outcomes remained in this frigid drama, this “Donald” (and I don’t mean Trump) went airborne to the south, or it sadly became a “ducksicle” treat on the wildland menu.

A somber note came to me reporting the loss of a bull moose along the Trail last Saturday night. A couple coming up the Trail found the animal being removed from the shoulder of the road just beyond the South Brule River bridge. Details of the situation are not known, but it is disheartening to hear. If the death involved a vehicle, the hope is none of the passengers were injured and their mode of transportation was not damaged totally. I might have more info by next time we meet.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, wishing everyone safe travels, and happy holidays to all, and to all, a great day! 

 

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North Woods Naturalist: Christmas balsam firs

Balsam fir are popular Christmas trees, but they do have male and female flowers on the larger ones. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about problems you could have with trees sporting male buds.

(Photo by Kent McFarland)

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Bill and his daughter Clare found this freshly shed moose antler while out grooming the ski trail at Sawbill

West End News: An interview with Bill Hansen and Clare Shirley

Bill Hansen has been the voice of the West End News for the past 5 years. Bill’s daughter, Clare, will be taking over this weekly report, and Jay Andersen recently spoke with both Bill and Clare about this transition.

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winter trees

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 16

Excitement is building as the birthday of all birthdays nears. Our holiday season is officially in the books for 2016 as the lonesome pine sentinel along the Trail has been lit for yet another year.

What a joy it is coming around the curve and down the hill beside Birch Lake to be greeted by the towering spruce all a glow with hundreds of twinkling bobbles to break up the darkest of darkness. Thanks to those folks on Birch for lighting up our wilderness lives. 

Another kick-off for our season’s greetings is recognized with the annual Borealis Holiday Concert of last weekend. A number of our Gunflint Trail neighbors lent their voices and instrumental talents to this “joy to the world” spectacle. Congrats to all participants and organizers.    

Add to these humankind happenings, the arrival of the full Ojibwe, “little spirit moon” within the last few days, and one could not ask for a brighter time in the final stanza of the year.

Conditions for winter time fanciers have been given a boost over the past seven with our first extended cold spell, better late than never. While new snow accumulations to date have been minimal, what’s on the landscape currently has been secured by Arctic cold.   

How cold was it? Not too terrible compared to days of old, but enough to get one’s attention when stepping out the door in-route to the wood shed for an armload of fire wood. An expectation of more sub-nothing temps by this scoop’s air time, might make our Wildersmith low temp of minus twelve last Sunday morning pale in frigidity.  
                  
The arrival of zero and below temps finds the yet to be frozen Gunflint Lake a steamy caldron. While waters are warm in comparison to the air above, this yearly occurrence has ghostly plumes drifting ashore from this warm/cold interaction. Accordingly, every appendage up into the shoreline forest is coated in delicate crystal frosting.  

The magnificence of this nature-made artistry is almost beyond comprehension. The frosted elegance is the subject of which Hallmark cards are made. The only stopping of this “Jack Frost” decorating show will occur when the winds calm, allowing the Gunflint Gal to put on her winter coat. 
                                                                                                              
Meanwhile, our winter advance is peaceful and quiet. With exception of chattering critters and snapping tree bark, our snowy landscape is still, in and of itself. Flakes are profoundly quiet as they accumulate, but once on the ground, the buildup can become somewhat vocal, as we humans disturb the covering by stepping in it.  

Such has become evident with the decline in temperatures during recent days. I find walking through the marshmallow mass to be fascinating, as each step meets the crystal surface compressing our fluff. Perhaps listeners, too, have noted a difference in tonal quality from warm soft snow to the crispy dry cold stuff. 
                                                                                                                         
Whereas, our earlier precipitation descended barely in a solid state and landed on warm earth, trekking in such happened in mere quiet, then to a slight “squoosh.” Over the past few days, a discernable change is noted while tromping in the drier crystal add-ons. As temps declined, it might be said each step caused the snow to mildly “bark” back at me. As the temp neared zero, each imprint then seemed to “squeak”, and on Sunday morning, when it was well below zero, the squeaking became a deeper, hollow resonance. 

I’ve read of such tonal exchanges while walking in the snow from a weather observer in Iowa, and sure enough, he seems to be right on. So, if you ever see me walking down the road on a winter day, seemingly talking to myself, I might be just visiting with the white majesty beneath my boots.     
                                                                                                                                                                    
On another subject, as this territory is in the flyway for many migratory birds, I came upon an informative article in the December/January Nature Conservancy publication. If such interests you, I’d recommend finding a copy and looking at the scribing, “Safe Flight—100 Years Of Protecting Birds.” The content is interesting commentary for digesting on a cold winter night. 
                                                                                                                                                 
For a final note, since this is also bear country, another thought provoking article appears in the recent Sierra magazine for January/February of ’17. Although this reading is focused on brown bears of the Northern Rockies, it has relevance to those of us who live in black bear territory. “The Return Of The Grizzly” by Aaron Teasdale relates to human/bear interactions, much like we experience here in border country. Again, if listeners can get a copy, the author relates an insightful look at how we should be living in close proximity with Ursine.    
                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in a superbly natural way.
 

(Photo courtesy of Tom on Flickr)
 

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The new West End News commentator, Clare Shirley

West End News: December 15

I was very happy to hear the news that the effort to build rental housing in Lutsen that is targeted toward people who live and work in the West End took a big step forward this week. A $325,000 grant was awarded by the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development to the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority. This is a key piece of financing for a 2.7 million dollar plan to build 16 market-rate rental apartments in Lutsen.

The housing shortage in all of Cook County is severe, so this project, along with one planned for Grand Marais and one for Tofte, will be a big step toward easing the shortage. One Roof Community Housing, based in Duluth, is bringing their vast experience as a key partner, hopefully to all three projects. This is not the complete solution to the problem, but is a giant step in the right direction. We owe a debt of gratitude to the many people who have been working on this for so long.

Speaking of good news, I recently saw a report from Visit Cook County, the group that markets Cook County as a tourist destination, that tourism dollars county-wide are up 25% in the last five years. This is significant because it was a little over five years ago that the four parts of Cook County -- Grand Portage, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail and the West End -- decided to pool their marketing budgets and promote the county as a whole. Elaborate financial safeguards were put in place to make sure that each area was treated fairly, but even so, it was hard to build trust among the parts of the county that had been in competition with each other for so many years.

In the ten years before Visit Cook County was created, tourism was declining each year, leading up to the recession, which really took a toll. It is now crystal clear that the decision to work together has paid off handsomely for all. In fact, in the last year, Grand Marais has shown the most growth, which is obvious if you spend any time at all in town.

Our local marketing expertise is getting better all the time and the tools available for targeted marketing are also improving fast, so barring any unforeseen disaster, we should see robust growth for at least a few more years, especially in the slow seasons. Congratulations to the hard working staff of Visit Cook County for their success.

Word is out that ice skating has begun on inland lakes. It's not ideal, as there is some snow on the ice, but if you're willing to skate through the snow or do a little shoveling, there is good lake skating to be had.

Be careful - and I speak from personal experience - to always check the ice depth before you skate. Never skate alone and always carry ice picks to pull yourself out if you do fall through. You should also have dry clothing in a waterproof backpack or at least have access to dry clothing and a warm car nearby.

With some wistfulness, I would like to announce that this will be the last time you will hear me as the regular voice of the West End News. I am delighted to report that my very capable daughter, Clare Shirley, will be taking over this commentary, just as I took it over from my dad many years ago. I may be substituting occasionally for Clare when she is busy or out of town, so I may get a chance again to talk about the bloodmobile or the Birch Grove Carnival in the future, which makes me happy.

Even though I'm now officially a "townie," my heart will always be in the warm and wonderful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Nosey Rosey

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 9

Full blown winter remains on hold along the Gunflint Trail. At the moment I begin this week's scoop, conditions have slipped back into semi-cold season character. The unseasonably warm temps and rain that ended November are, hopefully, in the rear view mirror.

It would seem our notorious frosty atmospheric bragging rights might not appear until the winter solstice rings in on the calendar. In the meantime, winter recreation activities are having a difficult time getting into full gear. I am told there has been enough snow left on the mid-Trail area, following the big meltdown, to enable Trail grooming and some CC skiing opportunities. Further up this way, and on to Trails end, scarcely a couple inches of white covers the ground, save for protected spots.

Ice making has re-upped over the rain soaked lakes and most of the smaller bodies along the byway are covered over once again. I heard of one anxious ice fisherman who ventured out onto a couple inches of hard water, on an unidentified lake, to try his luck. Sounds a bit dangerous to me, but it’s told he tied rope around his waist and then to a tree on shore as a safety precaution before trekking out. Guess luck was on his side in regard to not cracking through, but don’t know if catching found the same fortunes.

Moose are on the loose as indicated by scattered reports. One observation came from a couple who spotted a quartet hanging out for a road side salt lick near the mid-Trail fire hall; while another report came in from a fellow traveling the Trail between Swamper Lake and the Bearskin Road intersection.

In this case, the driver was headed up the Trail and became enveloped in a white-out snow squall, when suddenly, there they were. A couple of the big animals were right in his path. Fortunately speed was not a factor, due to the blinding snow. Nevertheless, the vehicle was unable to come to a complete stop and slid into moose number one, while moose number two lumbered off the road into the forest.

Number one was struck in the hind quarters and knocked off its hooves. It scrambled to its feet, apparently not seriously injured, and headed on up the Trail. Neither the driver nor his vehicle sustained injury or damage. It was a lucky day for both the “hitter and the hittee.”

To conclude the short-lived confrontation, the fray must have irritated the beast. It defiantly chose to keep the vehicle at bay by taking its half of the byway out of the middle, until reaching the turn-off onto Bearskin Road. Once again, confirming the critters of “Mother Nature's, wild neighborhood” have more control of things than we would like to admit.

In the Wildersmith neck of the woods, “brother wolf” has made yet another obscure visit during darkness hours. Would sure like to know more about this mysterious wildland icon, but assume it prefers to not be seen while making reconnaissance rounds.

Paraphrasing iconic northwoods naturalist, Sigurd Olson, “it's the simple things” that enrich life with meaning. With this in mind, residents living throughout Gunflint Territory are embellished by the mere presence of unadulterated life about us. Most outsiders probably wonder why we would choose to live in unorganized territory so far away from “so called,” civilized hub-bub. Furthermore, what do we do with ourselves deep in this natural paradise?

More often than we might realize, our satisfaction and enjoyment are derived from the unadorned activities seen, heard or smelled during a walk down a back country road or watching just outside our windows.

Such is the case for yours truly during twilight time, at either end of the day. One cannot help but be energized this time of year. Wild critters gather in feeding frenzy, either for a new day's readiness or bulking up on energy morsels in order to survive the long cold night ahead. The enthusiasm of these furry and feathered gals and guys is delightfully uplifting. Every daily segment provides chattering delirium, akin to kids on Christmas morning.

News in these northwoods can be exchanged by any means, often via the moccasin telegraph or by any number of “cub reporters” who volunteer with a nose and ear to the ground reporting tip of the Arrowhead happenings.

As one of those, sadly I report the loss of a member of the WTIP family, with the passing of “Rosie, our “pup reporter.” “Rosie” covered me with on-air commentary for many years when I was away from the keyboard. In ill-health for several months, she recently passed on to those heavenly kennels in the sky.

With her dad, she could snoop and scoop with dogged energy, giving a unique perspective of back country snippets from a canine's down to earth level. Fans of Gunflint territory news will never forget her “woof, woof” observations after sniffing out and digging up borderland headline accounts. Memories of WTIP’s wagging tail pooch from Hungry Jack Lake are etched in yet another chapter of Gunflint Trail history.

The Trail community is grieving the loss of two longtime residents. Condolences are extended to the family and friends of John Baumann, and Andrew “Drew” Schmid. John is remembered as a onetime owner of Golden Eagle Lodge along with his family, while “Drew” lived and loved the woods from his beloved spot along Seagull Lake. In their own ways, both had a special place in history of the Gunflint Trail. They will be missed, and forever remembered!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and can provide a wild country adventure at any moment!

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 Onion River Road Ski Trail, now open for early season skiing

West End News: December 8

Congratulations to the Silver Bay Police Department on reaching the august old age of 60 years. Most institutions in Silver Bay are in or near their 60th year because the town was created out of whole cloth when Reserve Mining built the taconite plant and power plant there in the late 1950s.

The current police officers and staff held an open house last week where they recognized all the former officers and administrators who have served in the last six decades. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need police forces, but in the real world it is crucial that communities have a method of enforcing behaviors that are agreed upon by civil society. The Silver Bay Police Department has always had a good reputation - both for their police work and for their strong connection to the community. If you see Chief Doug Frericks, or any of the current officers, be sure to thank them for their service.

I'm glad to hear that the Cook County Economic Development Authority is moving ahead quickly to help solve the severe housing shortage in Cook County. It looks like projects on the front burner include new housing in Grand Marais, Lutsen and Tofte, targeted toward the working person market. Tofte is already a ways down the road on their housing, but it makes sense for them to throw in with the EDA to finish the project. The EDA has the staff, resources, connections and expertise to make all three projects a success.

Once the current efforts are done, it will be time to see if more housing needs to be developed in other parts of the county. The need is so critical that now is not the time for parochial jealousies. Obviously, the problem can't be solved all at once, so let's get the get the baby walking and then move on to getting it running.

Although it came close, Sawbill Lake did not thaw out last week, so the official ice-in date for 2016 is November 23. This is late by historical standards, but pretty normal in recent years. The older snow didn't completely melt at Sawbill either, so with the recent additions, it really looks like Christmas back up in the woods.

Word has it that the Onion River Road Ski Trail in Lutsen is open for business. This is always the first trail to open in the West End and the avid early season skiers have become quite expert in providing a quality skiing experience with the bare minimum of snow.

Lutsen Mountains is also expert at getting the downhill skiing going as early as possible in the season. Between the natural snow and the snow-making made possible by colder weather, they should have most runs ready for schussing soon.

Mrs. Claus, who was featured on the front page of last week's Cook County News Herald, is a former Tofte resident who has recently moved to Grand Marais. Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Claus is not actually married to Santa Claus, but is married to me. Seeing as how she has moved to Grand Marais, I decided to do it too, mainly so she will have someone to wash the windows and take out the recycling.

Obviously, it is difficult to be the author of the West End News when I no longer live in the West End. I have notified WTIP of my pending retirement from radio commentary - probably no later than Christmas time. Stay tuned for an announcement of a new commentator soon. Extra points if you can guess who it is. You have three guesses and the first two don't count.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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