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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:

Superior National Forest Update - April 27, 2018

National Forest Update – April 26, 2018.
 
Hi.  I’m Chris Beal, a wildlife biologist on the Gunflint Ranger District, with this week’s National Forest Update, everything, or at least a reasonable amount, of what you need to know when you are visiting the Superior this week. 

It is nearly May, and winter is, hopefully, maybe, cross your fingers, over.  After some truly spectacular storms, the lake has calmed down, the snow has quit, and it seems spring is actually here to stay.  With spring comes the migrating birds.  Robins went from some sporadic sightings to large numbers in people’s yards over the past week.  Most of the robins are males right now, arriving early to set up territories.  You can observe a lot of fighting and other territorial behavior as they settle disputes over who owns which patch of grass, which can be pretty entertaining for us.  Sparrows have also started to trickle in, and the clear plaintive whistle of the white-throated sparrows can be heard welcoming the warmth to the north woods.  Their song is supposed to sound like ‘Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody’, or if you learned it north of the border, they sing ‘Dear sweet Canada, Canada, Canada’.  Mixed in with the white throats are white-crowned, tree, and other sparrows.  These birds all love seeds, so it is a good time to keep the feeders full and sprinkle some millet on the ground as well.  Yellow-rumped warblers are the leading edge of warbler migration, and they’ve been seen in Duluth.  They’ll be working their way north along with the rest of the warbler tribe as our insect population increases.  Speaking of insects, butterflies are back. Mourning cloak butterflies with dark wings trimmed in cream are fluttering along roadsides.  These hardy insects actually hibernate through winter, so they are some of the first butterflies to appear.

If you do have bird feeders, you need to start taking them in at night because butterflies aren’t the only hibernators awakening.  Bears are starting to roam, and they are pretty hungry right now.  We heard one description of someone who had taken in the feeders but had the bear come up to the deck to lick the grate on their grill.  So, plan on hiding in the garage anything that could even remotely be thought of as tasty to a hungry bear.  Remember that bears are after food, and not particularly interested in you.  So long as you don’t put yourself in a situation where you are a threat to them, they are going to leave you alone.  It is in their nature though to chase dogs, so keeping your dog leashed and under control when outside is a good plan.  While you’re at it, with the birds returning and starting to nest soon, it is also a good time of year to keep Kitty indoors. 

There’s no logging traffic on the roads right now, but that it because the roads are very treacherous.  Our timber crews are really recommending staying off the back roads for a while unless you really need to be out there.  It is a mix of soft roadways, ice, and still deep slush in some places, so until it all melts and dries up, roads are hazardous.  If you have to be driving, leave word on where you are and when you are expected to return.  Take it slow, and expect the road conditions to change around every bend.

Most snowmobile trails in the area are closed or in poor condition according to the DNR website, and off-trail use of snowmobiles is not allowed if snow cover is less than four inches.  The trails are not in good condition for ATV use either.  It is easy for ATVs to create ruts and damage trails in the spring, which will ruin good riding for the rest of the year.  Don’t ride on closed trails or roads, but also use good sense and don’t ride when your machine will dig ruts even if the trail is theoretically open.  Check the Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use map to see if your route is open: some routes open mid-April, but some won’t be open for use until later.  You should also check for any posted temporary closures due to seasonal conditions.  Use of ATVs off of designated routes is not allowed on the Forest.

The remaining snow and the damp conditions reduce fire danger, so over the next few weeks, the Forest will try to conduct some spring prescribed burns.  Most of these are to maintain wildlife openings near the shore.  These openings are used by migrating birds and help keep the diversity of habitat available in the forest.  We can’t tell you the exact times of these burns because they are weather dependent, but you can check our website or Boreal for more information. 

Starting next week, May 1st, issued permits will be required for overnight trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  You can reserve these online at Recreation.gov, and pick them up at Forest Service offices and cooperating businesses after watching our Leave No Trace video.  To accommodate wilderness explorers, our offices also start our summer schedule of being open seven days a week, 8 to 4:30. 
Enjoy the return of birds, butterflies, and life to the Forest while you wait out mud season.  While you wait, this a probably the week to put away your snow blower and winter toys, and unearth the lawn mower and summer toys.  You might even look a little at the boat and canoe, but there’s no rush on that yet.  Until next time, this has been Chris Beal with the National Forest Update.
 

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West End News - April 25, 2018

West End News   by   Clare Shirley    4/26/18

The Tofte township is still accepting applications for the Town Treasurer position. The Treasurer is a paid position, with minimal time commitments. There’s a bit of bookkeeping that you do from home, and you attend the monthly meetings with the Supervisors. It’s also a wonderful way to contribute and stay connected to the current events in the township. Outgoing treasurer Nancy Iverson is available to help guide you through your first couple of months, so don’t be nervous about bankrupting the town your first day on the job! If it sounds like a good fit for you, let the town clerk Barb Quade know. You can reach Barb via email at TofteMN@boreal.org.

Spring is still springing over the hill in the West End. Sawbill lake is sporting 15 inches of solid ice with about 9 inches of rotten ice on top of that. On Wednesday we attempted to drive in to check on the status of Brule and Homer Lakes but had to turn around about halfway down the Brule Lake Road due to deep drifts of melty snow. I can only assume this means those lakes are frozen in for a while yet.

The snow is starting to recede, leaving great deep puddles in its wake. It’s sort of like a small scale glacial melt, leaving puddles behind instead of lakes.

Our 2-year discovered one such lake-like puddle just today. She is sporting a new pair of rain boots and is thrilled when the temps rise above freezing and the puddles magically turn from slippery ice rinks into splashy, muddy, wading pools. Her personal mission each afternoon seems to be to leave no puddle un-stomped. This afternoon, she got a little more than she bargained for when the puddle turned out to be a washed out corner of the Sawbill Lake canoe landing. Instead of standing in inches of water she found herself submerged up to her shoulders. Luckily her daddy was close at hand to pluck her from the slush and rush her back up to the house where a warm bath made everything better.

This should serve as a cautionary tale for all of us this time of year. Even ice that is a foot thick can be unsafe as it honeycombs in the warm weather. Ditches are deceptively soft. Puddles might turn into accidental polar plunges. So be safe out there and keep thinking warm thoughts!

Another happier spring surprise is that Lutsen Mountain is open for skiing on the weekends, through May sixth! The snow is silky corn in the morning and soft bumps in the afternoon. If you don’t know what that means, then you don’t know what your missing and you better go check it out! Season passes for next year are already available and on sale with a special early bird rate. If you buy one now, it will also cover the rest of the weekends this season, bonus! As if that wasn’t enough, on Saturday, April 28th Papa Charlie’s is hosting the Beer Lover’s Dinner. For $75 you can enjoy a four-course dinner paired with local Voyageur beer.
 
 For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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Ella and Greta

Great Expectations School News - April 27, 2018

Great Expectations School News with Ella and Greta.
April 27, 2018

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Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North - April 25, 2018

Magnetic North 4/23/18
Of Mud and Memories
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where memories trickle, then rush through our minds like the thousand streams returning to Mother Superior.

While away last week, I planted flowers in my California daughter’s garden, even as I shivered knowing that soon I would be in for another month of frozen ground and maybe even a snowstorm before I could do the same at the farm back home. From six to twelve inches of snow fell hereabouts as I basked in sunny warm weather.

Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the car at the end of my road and sank into, not snow, but a good five inches of wet clay. Worse than mud, clay fastens to our feet, as gravity weren’t enough to bind us to the earth. Ordinary shoes turn into clay platforms on which to teeter around on. Still, I was thrilled. This meant that the stream surrounding the meadow and running into the pond would soon be roaring under and then over the ice. The little spring under the tamarack tree on the driveway would open it’s arms to my remaining mallard ducks and drakes, with new ducklings sure to follow. Best of all, the fence I’ve been dreaming of all the long winter nights can now be staked out. After 27 years of suffering goats eating my roses and the small crops I plant in raised beds, I think I’ve got them licked.

Chuckling at my brilliance and the goat’s chagrin, this weekend, I stomped through the soggy grass around the house with lengths of orange baling twine - saved in my ‘string too short to be saved’ box  - tied end to end. And as I went, I found the usual assortment of flotsam, small hints of lives lived and lost, even as I sat inside by the fire, snug and unaware.
There was the expensive monogrammed dog collar for Jethro, worn only once after Christmas, then gone, forever I thought. But no, there it was just off the south deck, intact with tags, where his sister dog, Zoey must have gnawed it off his skinny neck. 
Nearby, the evidence of a less funny encounter. Tufts of deer tail, hunks really, with bits of hide, the edges ragged. As I paced off the fence line farther into the yard, more deer hair and hide. Enough to fill one pocket of my barn coat. Did the dogs bring these trophies in from the meadow and was the carcass still near  -  near enough to attract predators close enough to endanger the goats?

The irony of these thoughts wasn’t lost on me. Here I am fencing the goats out, while worry nagged at my mother’s gut imagining slavering wolves in the night feasting on goat meat after polishing off the poor deer they’d taken down. So far, twenty-seven years of having goats and not one lost to a predator. Still......
 
As I made my way around the corner of the deck, a bath towel sized shadow on the steps down to the basement entry caught my eye So that’s where that throw rug I hung out last November got to! Next to reappear. a carved bit of deck railing winked at me from beneath the spent hay by the woodshed. And so it went. Found objects and memories of other spring thaws showed themselves, one by one. 

The most unpleasant discovery this year is the sinkhole over an old dug well is caving in again, despite the load of rocks piled into it last summer. I know Paul would never allow such a hazard to exist and probably would build some structure over the depression before tackling anything so optional as a fence. He also would have replaced the fallen clothesline poles, big cedar jobs that surrendered to the pull of the clay beneath two years ago. And that old outhouse by the coop? Set originally on two cedar skids, it now lists crazily to one side, making for a precarious perch inside, to say the least. He would never have tolerated such a wanton waste of a good biffy. And then there are the shards of green rolled roofing that left the roof of the coop last month on a wild night of even wilder wind. Wasn’t the roof red when we bought the place? Paul and his friend Art put the green on in an afternoon. Or was it his friend, BJ?

By the time I’d rounded the house, tying the last length of twine between the coop and dog kennel, I was ready for a large mug of coffee and spring. The stream was, as hoped for, growling awake across the road, promising the pond breakup within the week and spring peepers serenade perhaps by month’s end. All in all, a Sunday very unlike my last, planting flowers in Los Angeles. Still, just as fine in its harvest of found objects and fond memories.
I found this little poem by one of my favorites, Edna St. Vincent Millay, that captures the essence of such a simple day in early spring. And while it’s too soon for butterflies and flowers here, the same vivid sense of what is coming and what is past shines in her words. Here ’tis.
 
Song of a Second April
April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.
There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.
The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively,—only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 20, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       April 20.2018   
 
Starting this weeks’ Gunflint scoop, one would think “old man winter” must have forgotten to turn-out the lights and/or left the door ajar as he departed for his spring/summer vacation.  As I’m keying this weeks’ news, the “grizzly geezer” made an about turn and returned to take care of matters.       
                                                                                                                                                              
He has resurfaced with a blustery vengeance, although not hitting the Gunflint with the same snow maker fury as places farther south of border country. Nevertheless, howling winds and horizontal snow brings back memories of January.    
                                                                                    
In spite of the late season madness, there’s still something magic about falling flakes. Once again the Smiths’ were captured in beautiful white fantasia while returning from the village last Sunday afternoon. At almost the same moment, both of us spoke to the romance of driving through our pine halls as boughs were being re-decked, even knowing it’s likely just for a short time. Call us a little nutty but “ya can’t help but love it!”    
                                                                                                  
During my daily runs down the Mile O Pine, and prior to the latest dropping, I appraised the Mile O Pine landscape as perhaps reflecting a “tale of two seasons.” Such is perceived as the rays of sunlight have been beaming at the southern exposure of windrowed snow along the north side of the road, providing a declaration of spring. Day after day since March, those white mounds have been gnawed away to almost nothing a good distance back into the woods.  
        
Whereas looking one hundred eighty degrees in the opposite direction, one finds the plowed banks in the coniferous shade, protected from “Sols’ power, still pure white and frozen waist high and more. 

Some might proclaim my appraisal as a bit of a stretch, but “a tale of two seasons” is a natural reality in this time of our struggling weather transition. It is snow today gone tomorrow just wait twenty-four hours.

Reports of “wild neighborhood” critters moving about come from several sources over the past few days. Three species of the canid variety have made impromptu arrivals in the Gunflint Lake area. A wolf darted in front of my vehicle one evening, while a coyote or coyotes have been making any number of visits along the south shore.  

Meanwhile, a fox was digitally captured by the lady of the Wildersmith house in the beautiful woods to our east. The scene was recorded following a successful predator/prey episode with one of the neighborhood squirrels. She didn’t actually observe the stalk/chase and catch, just the aftermath, as the fox stood over its’ late day snack. Foxy eventually carried the prize off into the woods.   
                                                                                                                    
Obviously, the rodent didn’t realize hunting season for its species is open year around. See the fox and its catch alongside my Wildersmith website posting on wtip.org, scrolling down on the Community Voices column.   

Over the past several days, I’ve seen several of those “Minnesota Chicken birds” officially known as Grouse. Guess the winter and predators have not ravaged all of them.   
                                          
On a closing note from animal kingdom around Wildersmith, the Smiths’ were delighted on a recent afternoon with an extended visit from a pine marten. The roan fur ball dined at the feeder, then succumbed to some warm sunshine and curled up on the threshold of its’ dining quarters for what turned out to be a long nap. This is highly unusual as their skittish nature has them spooked by even the slightest wilderness commotion.    
                                                                      
After snoozing and lounging around for the better part of a couple hours, even allowing a couple photo ops, it headed off into the treetops. Our furry friend returned later for a poultry dinner treat as the sun settled in the west. Every day can dish up an un-expected “wild woods treat”, one just has to be in the right place at the right time.                                                                                                                                                                      
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we close out the first month of our winter/spring theatrics. 
 

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West End News - April 19, 2018

West End News by Clare Shirley           April 19, 2018

Ice out seems to be the hot topic right now. Specifically, will it ever happen? My guess is yes, but maybe not in time for fishing opener on the bigger lakes. Sawbill lake is still sporting about 2 feet of ice with a foot of dense snow on top of that. Days just above freezing, with nights dipping into the low 20s, aren’t doing anything to help. It looks like spring will make a tentative reappearance next week so I remain hopeful that this is not, in fact, the beginning of the next ice age.

Our dear loons have started their migration north, only to find that their summer homes are still iced in. Loons farther south in the state have been found hypothermic and starving. If you see a loon or another waterfowl, in distress there are resource centers that can help them through the tough spring. Just be mindful, if you’re going to rescue a loon, toss a towel over its head first. They are bigger and faster than you might think and nobody wants a loon beak poking them in the eye. The rescue centers recommend placing these birds in a large cardboard box with a towel and keeping them warm. Some centers even have volunteer drivers who will come pick the birds up. Google is a good way to find the bird rescue center nearest you.

One benefit of this late coming spring is excellent snowy conditions for this weekend’s Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge at Lutsen Mountains. This is the fourth annual event, taking place on April 21st and 22nd at Lusten. Saturday will feature the Hillcross and Hillclimb, from 9 am to 6 pm. Then you can dance off the chill with DJ Beavstar at Papa Charlie’s starting at 9. Sunday’s event is the Cross Country series, from 9 am to 4 pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling Lutsen. Spectator tickets include all-day access to the fancy Summit Express gondola. The viewing deck, food, and beverage service at the Summit Chalet will be open and ready. This is always a well-attended event, and a fun way to cap off your winter sports.

You should also mark your calendars for the annual Gala for the Grove. This lively event takes place each spring and is a wonderful night out in Tofte, supporting the Birch Grove Community School. This year the gala will be on Saturday, May 19. The champagne social starts at 5:30, a dinner and wine are served at 6:30, a live auction starts at 7:30, and the dance party starts at 9. For more information or to get your tickets, call the school at 663-0170. I’ll give some more details as the event draws near, but be warned that tickets are limited!

The Tofte township is reluctantly accepting the retirement of longtime Treasurer, Nancy Iverson. Nancy has done a great job keeping the township’s books on track and we are sad to see her go! Nancy hopes to make the May meeting her last as Treasurer so the supervisors are seeking applicants for the position. The Treasurer is a paid position, with minimal time commitments. It’s also a great way to stay connected to the current events in the township. Serving as treasurer is just one way you can help serve your community, if it sounds like a good fit for you, let the town clerk Barb Quade know. You can email her at TofteMN@boreal.org.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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April Sky

Northern Sky: April 14 - 27, 2018

Northern Sky by Deane Morrison for  April 14-27 2018
 
If April can just let up on the rain and snow a bit, there are bright planets in both morning and evening for us to enjoy.
 
In the evening, we have Venus, the brightest of planets. It’s hard to miss—a real beacon in the west after sunset. But its beauty obscures a rather different reality. Venus has a thick atmosphere that’s mostly carbon dioxide. The planet owes its brightness to very reflective clouds of sulfuric acid droplets and crystals. Its surface atmospheric pressure is more than 90 times that of Earth’—as high as the pressure 3,000 feet down in the ocean. And its surface temperature hovers above 850 degrees Fahrenheit. In short, Venus is a hellish place with a heavenly face.
 
For an even more heavenly sight, have a look on Tuesday, April 17, when the moon pays a visit. On that evening Venus and a young fingernail crescent moon will make a lovely pair.
 
If you go outside on or before the 17th, before the moon gets bright enough to interfere, try comparing Venus to Sirius, the brightest of stars, which will be rather low in the southwest. Spoiler alert: It's no contest; Venus easily outshines Sirius.
 
Sirius and the other winter stars are busy exiting the sky to the west. In their place is the spring constellation Leo the lion. It’s now high in the south during prime evening viewing hours. Look for a backward question mark of stars with a bright one--namely, Regulus--at the base. That question mark is known as the Sickle, and its stars represent Leo's head and heart. The hindquarters and tail are a triangle of stars just east of the Sickle.
 
In the morning sky, the best thing to see is Mars because it's getting really bright now as Earth gets closer and closer. It appears as a red dot low in the southeast for a couple of hours before dawn. West of Mars is Saturn, and even farther west is brilliant Jupiter.
 
In astronomy news, a University of Minnesota researcher--formerly at UC Berkeley--led a team that found the most distant individual star ever observed. Its light took nine billion years to reach Earth--or, more exactly, the Hubble Space Telescope. It's a large blue star, but it could never have been seen from, as NASA puts it, more than halfway across the universe if nature hadn't given us a cosmic magnifying glass. That magnifying glass is a cluster of galaxies that are between us and the star, which the team named Icarus.
 
It works like this. Massive objects like stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies act like lenses. Their gravity is so strong, it bends the space all around them, and light bends with it. Icarus is behind that cluster of galaxies, but when light from the star got near the cluster, it was bent by the cluster's gravity and curved around the cluster, then continued on toward us. The bending focused and magnified Icarus’s light by about 600 times. But that wasn't enough; the researchers hypothesize that Icarus only became visible—briefly—when a sun-sized star in the cluster of galaxies moved in front of Icarus. Then, that star took the light from Icarus-- already magnified 600 times--and focused it again, resulting in a total magnification of 2,000 times. Enough for Hubble to pick up. This work gives astronomers a way to study stars in very distant galaxies. We see them as they existed billions of years ago, when the universe was much younger.
 
The team named the star Icarus because it had a brief, you might say, moment in the sun, just like its namesake from Greek mythology. He made wings of feathers, held together with wax, but he flew too near the sun. The wax melted, and that was it for Icarus.  
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 13, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      April 13, 2018  
  

The promised land of April reaches the halfway point this weekend. Some folks out Gunflint way have been waiting all winter for month four. They’ve been holding high hopes for the harbinger of spring. Yet as I initiate this weeks’ Trail scoop, the fourth segment of ’18 has been less than “vernal” like.                                                                                                                                                   

It’s the middle of April with the Walleye fishing opener just a month away, and the territory remains locked in ice and snow. Last week was bitter cold again, as this neighborhood experienced more zero and below mornings.                                                                                                             
Just when I commented a while back we were likely done with the sub-zero stuff, “old man winter” delivered a curtain call for his long-running performance. In what should be his final act he left a subtle reminder of what it will be like again before we know it, “he will be back.”                                                                                                                                                                                

In the interim, the moisture drought continues in border country. No pun intended, but “hope springs eternal” as this broadcast finds it somewhat warmer and precip in the forecast.                                                                                                     

We’re in the month of the Ojibwe, “maple sugar moon”, and it makes me wonder if maple sugar makers around the county aren’t having a frustrated harvest in the absence of consistently warm days and light freezing nights. Then again, maybe they got it all done when it seemed spring-like in March.                                                                                                                                                       

Other than the winds in the pines, this is a time of stillness in the forest. Winter activities have ground to a halt. Notwithstanding the extended frostiness, we should be full bore into “mud season.” Nevertheless, not being in full-fledged slop, most up the Trail businesses are taking their annual pause from a hectic winter to catch their breath, and re-group for the coming of warmer times.                                                                                                                                                            

At the same time, numbers of upper Trail winter neighbors have been heading to places where they can thaw out, free their vehicles from the seasonal sludge and keep 'em that way. Meanwhile, north woods silence remains supreme for those of us choosing to see the “cool” of this six-month stint through to the end.                                                                                                                

Challenges to maneuver in the upright position have not improved much around here. In fact, they may be worse than last week as the power of “Sol” seems to polish my icy driveway and the Mile O Pine daily. In spite of my “senior” character, taking life at a little slower pace, I’ve even slowed from that mode to “barely moving” in many slippery places. It seems ice grippers on my boots will be the order longer than anticipated, while bug netting on my head will have to wait.                                                                                                                                                                     
Other than our regular visiting critters, I’m not seeing or hearing of any larger “wild neighborhood” animal episodes. Even the bears may have turned over for a few more zzzzz with our early April downtick in the thermometer.                                                                                                            

Enthusiasm for an easy meal at the Wildersmith eatery never wanes regardless of the seasonal atmosphere. The Smith’s continue entertained by countless red squirrels, with up to as many as five or six at any one time on the various feeding nooks. It’s an on-going battle among the red rodents to maintain position until the Pine Marten arrives, when a mad squirrel scramble ensues, to avoid becoming a menu supplement.                                                                                      

While I log many wintertime facts, a startling trivia really pops out when I recount the sunflower seeds consumed to date. There may be other north woods folk who feed more, but to date, I have gone through a record seven, fifty-pound bags, yes, three hundred fifty pounds! It’s a wonder there aren’t some fifty-pound squirrels and blue jays. Wish I had a nickel for every shell lying on the snow below my deck!                                                                                                                              

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, while we look for first buds of the re-birth!
 

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Superior National Forest Update - April 13, 2018

National Forest Update – April 13, 2018.

Hi.  I’m Michael Crotteau, district ranger on the Gunflint Ranger District, with this week’s National Forest Update, a round-up of everything that may affect your visit to the Superior.  It is a Friday the 13th edition, and there may be more April snow on the way, but we’ll try to help you get through the next two weeks at least.  Hopefully, the next time we talk to you, there will be blue skies, greening grass, and short sleeves - but it is northern Minnesota, so don’t count on it.

Road conditions continue to vary mile by mile and hour by hour.  Shady spots where the ground is still frozen are solid and easy to travel, but low lying areas in the sun may not be up to holding the weight of large heavy vehicles.  With this in mind, there are weight restrictions in place for gravel surfaced Forest and county roads, but be alert for soft spots and washouts even if your rig is well below the weight limits. 

You should also be alert for deer.  If you have been out driving at all, you are probably well aware that this is the season that deer are on the roads.  Grassy berms along Highway 61 and other roads provide some of the earliest grazing opportunities, and deer seem to all agree that the grass is greener on the other side of the road.  You should never text while driving, but this is a good time to try to minimize all distractions and really watch for animals in and alongside the road.  As you watch while one deer crosses, don’t forget about all of its friends who are likely to cross right afterward.  It only costs you a few seconds to really slow down or even stop and wait to make sure the whole herd is across.  Of course, it’s not only deer you have to watch for, it is all the scavengers feeding on the deer that didn’t make it to the other side of the road.  When your car scares birds off a dead deer, the crows, ravens, and gulls can usually get enough altitude to make it over the roadway, but startled eagles (and turkey vultures) are often only at windshield height as they cross. (in fact, I saw a turkey vulture earlier this week between Tofte and Grand Marais – a sign that spring is indeed here as they are returning to their summer breeding grounds from their winter vacation homes in the southern and southeastern US).  Other than when they are flying across in front of you, it is a great time of year to watch our eagles.  Most eagles should be into laying and incubating eggs, but you can still see some carrying sticks around and doing courtship flights where the pair lock talons in flight.  For some great close up views, visit the Minnesota DNR’s bald eagle cam on the web.  Or, of course, you could be a pitcher at a Twins game….

Because of soft roads, there is very little logging activity right now.  Trucks may be found on the Trappers Lake Road in the Tofte District, and on the Greenwood and Firebox Roads on the Gunflint.  Otherwise, things are waiting until the roads firm up again in summer.

With snow and damp, it may seem strange to think about fire, but that’s just what is on the minds of our fire crews at Tofte and Gunflint.  The fire weather outlook calls for near normal temperatures and precipitation through June, which means the prediction for the spring fire season is that most days would only have the potential for small fires, but there may be a day here and there with the potential for larger fires.  Either way, a large number of our wildfires are started by people, so as the woods dry up in the spring, it is time to get your Smokey on and be careful with fire.  You can actually start this now by getting acquainted with the Firewise program and doing some yard work to make your yard area surrounding your home Firewise.

When writing these updates, we ask for input from everyone working at the Forest Service locally.  The best response we received this week was a terse two-word reply:  “Still winter”.  Hopefully, by the time of our next update in two weeks, that won’t be the case, and we will be undeniably moving into spring.  In the meantime, take the time to visit the Forest and enjoy the changing seasons. 

Until next time, this has been Michael Crotteau with the National Forest Update.
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     April 6, 2018    

As one might expect, “old man winter” was playing “April Fools” with us during March. Since right around the “Blue Moon” as month three gave way, spring hit a snag with a return to ice making conditions. In this neighborhood, the thermometer has even dipped below the zero mark a few mornings while daytime highs have hovered in the teens and twenties. It was cold, “no foolin’” as the Easter Bunny greeted April with a minus-four at Wildersmith along with a skiff of white.                                                                                                                                                           
While it’s been cold, the area continues to miss significant precipitation deliveries, leaving our snow in the woods having neither increased nor diminished to any extent.       
                                                                     
My opinion of winter to date is it’s been fairly wimpy. Some Trail folks relate to the season being too long and terrible. While we’ve had snow on the ground in this neighborhood since October 27, the Wildersmith total stands at only 73 inches, some 30 inches below last years’ total.     
                                                                                                                                                             
Thinking of Gunflint neighbors’ notions on severity, perhaps theirs is based on the deep ice accumulation in area lakes. Yet my viewpoint lends itself to observing a good deal of winter burn on juvenile white pines along the Trail. I base this theory on the inconsistency of temps tricking the whites into not staying frozen in solidarity. So maybe both thoughts have some credibility. Guess wimpy or harsh is in the eyes of the beholder.       
                                                                                                                                   
Regardless of what it’s like outside, gardening enthusiasts up the Trail have seeds germinating indoors in anticipation of getting their hands in outside dirt ASAP. I know of a couple serious “green thumbs” on Loon Lake that have their greenhouses at a summer setting.      
                                                                                                                                                                    
On another hand, while many are thinking green, others are talking around the coffee table about when lake ice will go out. Conjecture is, it will easily take until May. However, there is open water at the confluence of one lake to another in some areas.                                              
For the record, the latest ice out data, since 1982, on Gunflint Lake is May 19, 2014, while two years before, the earliest ice-out ever was March 25, 2012. So it’s anyone’s guess to this point. There are probably many dates from which to pick if one is in an ice out guessing pool.    
                                                                                                                                                        
Taking planting beyond the usual edible garden varieties, “2018 is the year of the bird.” This in mind, gardeners can do a lot of good if thought is given to planting species to improve healthy bird habitat. So as “Earth Day” approaches and many get fired up about growing things, why not explore sowing the right varieties around your yard to attract and sustain our winged folk. To learn what bird species and even butterflies need to thrive where you live, enter your zip code at audubon.org/native-plants.    
                                                                                                                                                   
In spite of the renewed cold, I’ve discovered a couple creepy crawlers emerging from winter quarters. Within the last week, two of those eight-legged web makers caught my attention while I was making woodshop sawdust. While this is a passing ritual of Arachnids, it also signals the inevitable, biting insect season is not far off.                                                                                                                                                                
And finally, it seems hard to believe, but it’s been ten years since volunteers gathered along the Trail to begin the process of helping the forest heal from the horrendous Ham Lake Fire. The “Gunflint Green-up” brought together hundreds of volunteers who in turn planted up to 75,000 coniferous seedlings in many ravaged areas near the end of the Trail. Those baby trees are now juveniles standing stately as a reminder of tragedy and triumph!     
                                               
A Green-up reunion/celebration is being organized for May 5th up at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Look for more details as they become finalized.    
                                                                                                                                                           
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of a renewed nip in the air!
 

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