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West End News

Bill Hansen

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Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

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West End News: July 21

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

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Trout fishing, same time, next year...

West End News: July 14

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

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Sawbill Canoe Outfitters

West End News: July 7

Earlier this week, I went to Duluth for a long list of mundane errands.  Among the chores was stopping at the sign store to pick up a banner for the front of the Sawbill Outfitters’ store.  I unfurled the banner and was suddenly struck by its message: “Sawbill Canoe Outfitters - Celebrating 60 Years!” 
 
I’ve seen this coming for a while, of course, but the reality strikes home this weekend when many of the Sawbill Outfitters crew members from the last 60 years return for a grand reunion.
 
I have been extraordinarily blessed to spend my life in such a sweet little corner of the world.  There is no paradise on earth, but Sawbill is close.  People tell me all the time that I have the best job in the world and I’m hard pressed to disagree with them. 
 
I believe there are three reasons that Sawbill Canoe Outfitters is a special place for so many people.  They are - the vision of the founders, Frank and Mary Alice Hansen; the wilderness; and the Sawbill Crew.
 
My parents started and operated the business in an generous, friendly and joyful way.  They definitely made it “success” in the narrow business sense of the word, but they also created an atmosphere of cooperation and congeniality that defined a much broader definition of success over the last six decades.  It has created what can only be described as a very extended family crewmembers and visitors.  My folks’ ability to build community, whether here at Sawbill, or around the county and beyond, is the key ingredient to the magic at Sawbill.  It has been a pleasure for us to try our best to continue in their tradition.
 
The wilderness, both big W and little w, are what makes Sawbill such a unique spot.  Sigurd Olson said it much better than I can, and I quote: “In wilderness people can find the silence and the solitude and the non-civilized surroundings that can connect them once again to their evolutionary heritage, and through an experience of the eternal mystery, can give them a sense of the sacredness of all creation.” Close quote.
 
Olson’s description is familiar to anyone who spends more than three days in a wilderness setting. The vast canoe country, with its awkward alphabet of a name, and the surrounding forest, are a well-proven source of refreshment, relaxation, renewal and self-confidence.  What a gift to be able to live in the midst of profound beauty every single day.
 
And finally, I’ve been privileged to know a cast of hundreds who have worked at Sawbill over the long years.  Due to our remote location, all of our crew live on-site.  When you live and work – hard – with people for a full season, or as is often the case, many seasons, you get to know them as true and beloved friends.  They are an amazing cast of vivid characters - each contributing in her or his own unique way - to the rich history of this place.
 
So, my life at Sawbill has taught me that those three ingredients: a vision of a better future; healthy natural surroundings; and true friendships; are really the secret to success in any human life.   They are surely the formula for success all over the wonderful West End.
 
And, I’d like to add, they are also the secret of success for a community radio station, like this one, WTIP. While it surely has vision and surrounding beauty in abundance, we all need to occasionally think about how WTIP is a true friend and deserving of our friendship in return. 
 
There are many ways to demonstrate friendship for this great radio station, but one of the crucial ways is to help, as you are able, with the financial demands of keeping the station up and running.  Please, if you are a listener, call or go online right now and show your support. It’s what friends do.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

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Tofte 4th of July Parade

West End News: June 30

As we dive into the heart of summer here in the West End community events are happening thick and fast. 
 
The Tofte 4th of July celebration, which is a wonderful cooperative community event for the whole West End, residents and visitors alike, is just around the corner.  The fireworks are certainly the big draw at dusk on Monday, July 4th.  The whole day is packed with fun, starting with the umteenth annual Tofte Trek foot race, fun run, walk and, this year, mud slog.  You can register at the start, which is at Birch Grove Community Center, starting at 8 am.  Racing starts at 9 am and there is something for everybody.  Live music, bingo, food, beer and visiting continue through the day, highlighted by the good old fashioned, small town parade starting at 2 pm.
 
This year, the Tofte Commercial Fishing Museum is inviting all descendants of North Shore fishing families to march with their fishing skiff float.  You can just show up at the parade starting area, near the Sugar Beach Resort, at 1:30 PM.  I doubt that there will be any blood tests or family tree documentation demanded, so you are on your honor to declare your connection to a fishing family.  You will probably have to run through the litany of who are your second cousins twice removed and explain why your uncle is also your grandpa – so be prepared.
 
You know what I’m going to say… Be there or be square.
 
The Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder is hosting its annual Lundie Vacation Home Tour on July 9th.  Edwin Lundie was a celebrated architect that set the standard for Scandinavian design of classic cabins and homes on the North Shore.  The annual tour supports the Schroeder Area Historical Society when owners are generous enough to open their properties to the tour, which is hosted by a Lundie design expert.  Contact the Cross River Heritage Center at 663-7706 for information and registration.
 
Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder is bringing back their popular Lake Superior cruise on Saturday, July 23, 5-7:30 pm.  They invite you to join other Nature Center supporters for a leisurely evening on the tour boat Wenona.  Boarding begins at 5 pm at the Silver Bay Marina with departure is at 5:30 pm. The tour includes beer, wine, hors d’ oeuvres and live music by the THUGS, also known as the Two Harbors Ukulele Group. Reserve your tickets online or call 218-525-0001.
 
The Memorial Blood Center Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte on July 19th from 2 pm until 6 pm.  Please donate blood if you can and you will be rewarded with witty comments from the nurses, gentle gossip from your neighbors and cookie with juice when you are done.  Call Polly at 663-7398 to schedule your appointment.
 
There is good news from the ongoing study of moose mortality that is being sponsored by the Minnesota DNR. This year, only three of the collared moose have died, which represents a mortality rate that would lead to a rebound in the moose numbers if it continues.  Anecdotally, it seems like more moose are being seen on the roads and canoe routes this year, but I know that anecdotal sightings are not good data.  Even the documented mortality figures aren’t a large or long enough sample to establish a trend, but at least it has things going in the right direction. 
 
And, keeping things going in the right direction is how we like to roll here in the beautiful West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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Moose down

West End News: June 23

The annual Gala For The Grove was a smashing success again last week, bringing the West End Community together to raise a solid nest egg for the Birch Grove Community School. The generosity of the community is truly a wonder to behold, even if it does happen reliably year after year. Dozens and dozens of raffle and auction items were donated from businesses and individuals from Grand Portage to Silver Bay. The bidding was reckless and occasionally hilarious, with some people bidding against their spouses or even themselves.

It's all for a good cause though, as Birch Grove Community School is the heartbeat of the West End. If we can't support our children, then what good are we?

In the midst of the auction, Charles VanDoren, from Schroeder, offered an interesting auction item. He had four tickets to an alumni football game on July 2nd at Cook County High School in Grand Marais. I think this means that the former Cook County football players will suit up and play against the current football team. While this makes me profoundly grateful that I am not eligible to play, it does mean that Charley VanDoren has agreed to play. He will be the oldest player on the field, representing the alumni as a current three-time and soon to be five-time grandfather. I wish him the most sincere luck and best wishes for not getting hurt. The proceeds from the fun will go to support the girl's basketball and volleyball teams, along with the boy's football team.

A few years ago, my girlfriend, Cindy Hansen, participated in the much less risky alumni cheerleading exhibition. While she did avoid any serious injury, I did notice that the Advil bottle was in active use for a couple of weeks afterward.

While it is great to see Birch Grove thriving, we will soon need to turn our attention to a couple of levy referendum questions that Cook County School District 166 will place on the ballot this November. While I disagree with the system of funding public schools through periodic referendum, I do recognize that it is how things are done now and we should wholeheartedly support the District 166 in their request. Most of our Birch Grove graduates end up attending 166 for their middle and high school years, so we need to keep the system strong for the sake of future generations and the future of Cook County - in my humble opinion.

The Lutsen 99er mountain bike race booked every room and many campsites in the West End for the weekend of June 25th. The race started with 80 riders five year ago and registered nearly 2,000 riders this year and that's with registrations being cut off at 1,800 - all this on a June weekend that didn't come close to selling out in the past. It's just one example of the growth in the tourism industry since the Visit Cook County organization was formed and funded. It's amazing what we can accomplish when we all work together.

The storm of Sunday, June 19, exacted a tragic toll in the BWCA Wilderness, with the death of a fine teacher from Rochester and the serious injury of his 14 year old son. The property damage from the storm, although substantial, paled in comparison to the loss and grief for the Walz family and their larger community in southeastern Minnesota. Our hearts go out to them.

In Lutsen, many trees went down, including a few that fell on renowned sculptor Tom Christianson's Last Chance Gallery. To add insult to the injury to Tom's roof, his larger than life, multi-colored steel moose sculpture was blown over. On the following Tuesday, Tom was surprised to see the moose spontaneously back on its feet. This bordered on a miracle, because the moose weighs a ton, so putting it upright was no small task. After an incredulous posting on Facebook, it came to light that the Good Samaritan was Mike MacMillan and his merry crew at MacMillan's Tree Service. They had been called to remove the trees from the gallery roof and while they were at it, they used their heavy equipment and considerable skills to upright the giant steel moose. It's not only a story of neighborliness, but also an apt metaphor for how the West End community takes care of each other in the practical matters of food and housing and also in attending to our artistic and culture needs. It's just a part of what makes the wonderful West End a great place to live.

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

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Proposed mining projects near the BWCA Wilderness

West End News: June 16

 
Every West End resident feels pain in their heart when the word comes down that another person is missing and presumed drowned near the mouth of the Temperance River. We can only imagine the shock and horror of knowing that a loved one has gone from relaxing and recreating - to leaving this world - in the blink of an eye. Disbelief quickly turns to grief and the entire West End feels it. Our little community extends our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Alec Lawrenz, who they lost at the Temperance River last week.
 
It's been a tough week for the nation in light of the tragedy in Orlando. In my humble opinion, it's well past time that we enact common-sense gun safety laws that allow hunters and collectors to enjoy their hobby, while making it difficult for deranged shooters to get their hands on military grade weapons that are expressly manufactured to kill a lot of people fast. Believe me, I know this is a politically sensitive subject, but other countries have done it and we can do it, too.
 
On a cheerier note, after several years of anticipation, North Shore Winery and Sawtooth Mountain Cider House are opening for business on the Ski Hill Road in Lutsen. Owners Chuck Corliss and Kim Schroeder have hired Rob Grubb, from Tofte, to manage the new business. The grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, July 16th from 2 until 5 pm. I admit to being pretty ignorant about wine, so I look forward to learning more from the experts at North Shore Winery. 
 
It cheers my heart to see another new and entrepreneurial business starting up in the West End. Starting a business from scratch is a labor of love and an incredible amount of work, so I urge everyone to patronize the new businesses early and often. I'm also pleased to hear that the Winery and Cider House will be a new venue for acoustic music in the West End, adding to the already rich music scene that we all enjoy.
 
I mentioned the new FIKA Coffee location in Lutsen last week. I saw that the sign went up this week, so I'm guessing that the soft opening is underway. Stop by and check it out.
 
Speaking of jobs, the creation of jobs is the most talked about reason for opening up a new form of mining in northeastern Minnesota that extracts precious and strategic metals from sulfide bearing ore. No one wants economic development in northeastern Minnesota more than I do, but I am part of the majority of people in the region who are deeply skeptical about the motives and reliability of the companies that are behind these mining proposals. In a nutshell, mining from sulfide bearing ore has been done all over the world and has, in every single case, caused serious pollution flowing downstream from the mine waste.
 
The second mine in the permitting queue, known as the Twin Metals project, was dealt a serious blow this week when the Forest Service indicated that they have serious reservations about locating a huge sulfide type mine directly upstream from the BWCA Wilderness. The issue is complicated, but the Forest Service is the landowner of the surface rights above two federal mining leases that Twin Metals obtained back in the 1960s. Twin Metals let the leases expire, but now wants to renew them with no environmental review. The leases have never been reviewed because they were leased before all the pertinent environmental protection laws even existed.
 
In the past, mining leases were renewed more or less automatically with no public process. But this time, the Forest Service has announced a public input period from June 20th to July 20th for people to weigh in, both pro and con, about the wisdom of promoting sulfide mining right on the edge of the country's premier, water-based wilderness area. I applaud the Forest Service for getting the public involved. Opinion on this subject is changing fast and the decision makers need to know what people are thinking. These are, after all, our minerals.
 
I freely admit that my mind is firmly made up that this type of mining has no place in the region, but I urge everyone, no matter what your opinion, to let the Forest Service know how you feel about this important issue. You can google "Twin Metals public input" to find news stories with links to the comment process. Or, as always, contact WTIP for that information.
 
Fishing was excellent all over the West End last week. But after a big rain storm and the appearance of mayflies, it seems to have slowed down a little bit, especially for the walleyes. Walleyes are still being caught at dawn and dusk, but smallmouth and northerns are still being caught during the day. Lake trout are also biting well, but are now 30 feet deep or maybe even a little deeper.
 
You know that you may be a blueberry fanatic when you scout the berry patches at this time of year to see how the blossoms are coming along. I've come across several sets of locals, who wish to remain anonymous, that have been doing just that. They report that the blossoms are as thick and healthy as they've ever seen them, which bodes well for a bumper crop. A little warmth and sunshine will be required to make it happen and would be generally welcomed by most West Enders just for the fun of it. Rain or shine, it's still great to live, work in play in the wonderful West End.
 

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Sawbill Lake, looking peaceful after an efficient rescue

West End News: June 9

We had some excitement at Sawbill this week, but not the kind we like to see. A quiet afternoon in the store was interrupted when a frantic camper rushed in to report hearing cries for help and seeing a swamped canoe on Sawbill Lake. Three of our crew-members, Kevin Taralseth, Alyssa Dahle-Koch and Phil Lindgren, responded instantly by running to the lake with canoes and warm blankets. Kevin is a Wilderness First Responder and an active leader in the fine Outdoor Program at UMD. Alyssa is a college student who has been on dozens of wilderness trips with her pastor father. And Phil is a wilderness canoeist with more than 20 years of experience. Within minutes they had pulled an older couple from what is still pretty freezing water and brought them back to the store. 
 
The couple had been concentrating on fishing and both leaned the same way at the same time. The husband was recovering from recent surgery, so he reacted pretty strongly to the cold water and was in the early stages of hypothermia. The Sawbill crew had them warmed up and in dry clothes in no time. The couple gratefully returned to Bluefin Bay only slightly worse for wear. The whole unfortunate situation could not have gone better and we are extremely proud of our competent and calm Sawbill crew.
 
Congratulations to this year's Birch Grove Community School graduates! The June 3 ceremony marks a big turning point in the school careers of these scholars. Next year, they will be attending school in either Grand Marais or Silver Bay.
 
I remember well when our own kids graduated from Birch Grove. They talked a lot about their excitement and fear of moving up to the "big school" in Grand Marais. This caused Cindy and I some amusement, as we both had attended schools in the Minneapolis suburbs that really were big schools. In any case, our kids were well served by their school experience in Cook County and used their great early education to excel in college and beyond.
 
There is still time to purchase your tickets for the Gala For The Grove scheduled for the evening of June 18. Call Caroline at Birch Grove Community School or visit their website to purchase yours!
 
The new FIKA coffee location in the Clearview complex at Lutsen is coming together fast. I mention it because they will have a soft opening, probably within the week, so keep your eyes open and be among the first to sample freshly blended, roasted and brewed coffee in Lutsen. I will have much more to say about this once they are officially open, but I will say that I'm thrilled that young entrepreneurs are opening new businesses in the West End.
 
Construction on the Sawbill Trail is in full swing and I'd like to give a shout-out to Northland Constructors from Duluth who is the contractor for the eight mile paving project. They are still in the preparation stage, which means that they're replacing many culverts and strengthening the road in areas that are known to have problems.
 
They seem to be very good at their jobs, even drawing praise from local contractor, Mike Rose. Mike said they are almost as good as his crew of Brett Hansen, Dave Rude and Charlie Nelson who are currently working on a septic system here at Sawbill. Coming from Mike, this is high praise… and is also probably true. 
 
Charlie Nelson, from Lutsen, turns an incredible 86 years young this week. When Mike told me that they were going to dig some test holes with the excavator, I commented that I thought Charlie would dig them by hand. Mike replied that Charlie could probably dig them faster than Brett could with the excavator. He then turned to Brett, the North Shore's best equipment operator, and said "no offense." Brett quickly replied, "none taken."
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
(Photo by Bruce Rubinstein)

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Common Nighthawk

West End News: June 2

The best piece of news I’ve heard in awhile is the announcement by Cook County Attorney, Molly Hicken, that drug court is coming to Cook County. 
Drug court has been around in Minnesota since the mid-1990s and has been slowly expanding around the state since then.  Drug courts are problem solving courts that bring together judges, prosecuters, defense attorneys, probation and law enforcement officers, social workers and addiction counselors to help non-violent offenders find restoration through recovery. 
Not only do the drug courts help people turn around their lives, but numerous studies have carefully documented tremendous savings, both direct and indirect, for taxpayers. I am not the first to say it: drug court is not being soft on crime – it’s being smart on crime. 
Kudos to County Attorney Hicken and the Cook County Board of Commissioners for establishing and supporting this important program here in Cook County.  There are numerous ways that individuals and businesses can get involved in this program, so give Molly Hicken a call at her office in the courthouse if you would like to help out. 
We can only hope that our national policy on addictive drugs can continue to move away from the clearly failed war on drugs toward the public health model that has enjoyed relative success in other countries. 
There is still time to get your tickets for this year’s “Gala For The Grove,” Birch Grove Community School’s biggest annual fundraiser.  The gala is a fun social event, even if it wasn’t held in support of the ultimate good cause: our children.  This sixth annual “Gala For The Grove” is on Saturday, June 18th.  You can reserve your tickets online this year at the Birch Grove School website or give Caroline a call at 663-0170.  
Also coming up soon is the now famous Lutsen 99er mountain bike race.  From humble beginnings in 2011, when just a handful of riders raced, the 99er has grown to one of the midwest’s premiere mountain bike races, with nearly 2,000 racers. 
This year’s event ramps up on Friday, June 24th with check-in and a barbeque at Rosie’s Chalet at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area. Saturday is the big day with breakfast starting at the brisk hour of 5 am, followed by more check-ins and the race start at 7:30. 
The term 99er refers, of course, to the distance – in miles – of the main race.  A single day of racing at the famous Tour De France averages around 100 miles, but that is on paved roads.  The 99er is a little bit on paved roads, but mostly on gravel roads, logging roads, single track bike trails and, frankly, muddy sloughs that have little in common with anything resembling a road. 
There are races of 69, 39 and 19 miles for the mere mortals among us.  There are also kids races, activities and fun for families, friends and fans.  
The Lutsen 99er, co-sponsored by Visit Cook County and Lifetime Fitness, has grown into one of the biggest and best annual events in the little old West End.  As I’ve been know to say, be there, or be square. 
This week’s nature note is the arrival of the common nighthawks. Their graceful, acrobatic flights at twilight are strongly evocative of the beginning of summer. The common nighthawk is a medium sized bird that is a crepuscular, or nocturnal, member of the nightjar family. They are usually first noticed by their distinctive “peenting” call, before they are observed swooping and dodging over lakes and fields in pursuit of insects.  They also seem fairly unafraid of humans, sometimes letting you approach within a couple feet before taking flight.  This may also be a defense mechanism, because they are wonderfully camoflauged when they aren’t flying. 
Back in the day, some of the old timers called them “goatsuckers” due to a myth that they drank milk from sleeping nanny goat, which led to their milk drying up or even going blind. 
The Nighthawks’ cousin, the European Nightjar, has long inspired poets, including this line from George Meredith: “Lone on the fir-branch, his rattle-notes unvaried/Brooding o'er the gloom, spins the brown eve-jar.” 
In any case, they are a creature that makes it more interesting to live in the mysterious and fascinating West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

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Kevlarus Canoeum Exclusivei

West End News: May 26

When the Minnesota State Legislature adjourned this week, it became obvious to even the casual observer that Minnesota's governing body has gone the way of our national governing body, the U.S. Congress, by descending into ineffective chaos. For the last two sessions, most of the important work of the legislature was not finished and the people of Minnesota were not well served.

Not only did the most important bills of the year, bonding, transportation, RealID and the managing of the budget surplus, fail to pass, but much of the negotiation and horse trading went on behind closed doors in the final days of the session, without the scrutiny or participation of the voters, the news media, or even most of the sitting legislators. A 32 million dollar tax cut for the tobacco industry is this year's poster child of baffling legislation snuck into law without the knowledge or consent of the voters or most of the lawmakers themselves. This makes the legislature resemble a dictatorship more than a "small d" democratic institution.

In my opinion, the troubles besetting the Minnesota Legislature flow from the same source as those that afflict the Congress, the unbelievable amount and influence of money in politics. If we don't move swiftly and decisively to correct campaign finance and lobbying policy, we risk the permanent loss of our democratic traditions. There are two relatively bright spots in this mess. First, it seems like unlimited and unaccountable money mostly bring the political process to a halt, at least so far, rather than just selling laws to the highest bidders.  Second, our system still, mostly, allows for one vote for each of us, giving us the option of changing this crazy system at the ballot box.

This year the Governor almost has to call a special session to complete the huge pile of work left undone, but a part of me wants him to let the leadership of both parties suffer the natural consequences of their misbehavior.

The blackflies are out in the West End if you travel up over the hill. They aren't bad as compared to many years in the past, although this is my 60th blackfly season and in every one of them I've heard many people declare that this is the worst year ever. I discovered about 59 years ago that the most effective way to enjoy the woods during the black fly season lies in the judicious use of the DEET based repellents. If you apply a very small amount of the repellents to your exposed skin and the adjacent clothing you can walk blissfully through the woods for up to eight hours without a single bite.  

Thanks to the Zika virus, Consumer Reports just did a thorough study of spray-on insect repellents. Long story short, they found DEET and similar chemical repellents to be amazingly effective and the natural repellents, like citronella, eucalyptus, cedar, rosemary and lemongrass to be amazingly ineffective.

The kerfuffle surrounding the building of a Dollar General store in Grand Marais seems to have died down for the moment. In Silver Bay, however, plans have been moving ahead for Dollar General to open a store in the business park along Highway 61 near the AmericInn. According to the Lake County Chronicle, the agreement between Dollar General and the city, which owns the land, included a clause that would forbid the city from selling land to a Dollar General competitor. After much discussion, the Silver Bay City Council voted to strike the no-complete clause from the purchase agreement, which may well kill the sale. The Dollar General spokesperson said the decision was too new for them to react to, but I suppose they would have the option of looking for private land in the same area. 

One of the joys of living in the West End, of course, is the ever-changing entertainment provided by good old Mother Nature. Most of the glory goes to the large animals, but there are many critters that go almost unnoticed most of the time, even though they are quite common.  

About a month ago, here at Sawbill, we took delivery of 41 brand new Kevlar canoes. We stacked them on the ground in the canoe yard, tipped up on their sides, one leaning against the other. This week we found the time to bring each canoe to the shop, install the carrying yoke pads and put on the licenses and company stickers. After doing the first six, I noticed that each canoe had one resident spider. There was one, and only one, small, nondescript brown spider in each new canoe – with no exceptions. Once I noticed this, I started keeping track and it held true for every single one of the 41 canoes, except for two that had two spiders, but each in the far opposite end of the canoe.

I looked them up online and as best I can tell they are Cheiracanthium mildei (ky-ruh-KAN-thee-um MILL-dee-eye), also known as the long-legged sac spider. I could be totally wrong about that, of course. Apparently, the overturned canoes must mimic their ideal habitat, but also encompass exactly one Cheiracanthium mildei territory.  

Seeing as how I'm not sure about the identification and I struggle to remember the pronunciation, I've decided to rename them Kevlarus Canoeum Exclusivie and hereby proclaim them the official spider of Cook County's interesting and unique West End.
 

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Intentional fire along the Sawbill Trail makes an eerie sight at night

West End News: May 19

The news is good in the West End this week, thanks to 400 employees returning to work at North Shore Mining in Silver Bay. It is a wrenching blow to the entire West End when the plant shuts down. Basically, when North Shore Mining sneezes, the West End gets a cold and Silver Bay gets pneumonia. 580 workers were laid off last winter, so a callback of 400 people is good, but hopefully the remaining layoffs will end soon.
 
I was chatting with some of the temporary fire-fighters at one of the local watering holes this week. There are many out of state crews in town these days, including these fine fellows from Whitefish, Montana. I was surprised when they told me that their tour here had just been extended for another two weeks. When we were chatting, it was raining, right after it had been snowing, so the fire danger did not seem so high. They said the forecast was dry, so they’re hanging around to keep an eye on things. The Forest Service is doing a lot of intentional burning while the conditions are good for that. Having the extra crews on hand is probably part of that process as well.
 
Cook County Higher Education is celebrating 20 years of operation this week. Although located in Grand Marais, Higher Ed has provided college level education for dozens and dozens of West Enders over the years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cook County Higher Education is the most efficient and cost effective social program in the county. They provide expertise, support, logistics and financial aid to students of all ages who want to pursue their educational dreams while living right here in Cook County. 
 
For instance, they are offering a Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide course starting in June.  This certification can qualify you for good jobs that are in demand, but is also are a good first step toward more advanced health care training, leading to better and better paying jobs. Higher Ed says that if you are interested, regardless of your financial situation, you should apply and they will work diligently to find a way to make it work for you. To find them, just google “Cook County Higher Education” or call WTIP for full contact information.
 
The Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland is looking for some volunteers this summer. They need window washing, weed pulling, landscaping and help painting the dugouts. I must confess, when I read about painting the dugouts, I pictured Finland residents painting dugout canoes and wondered to myself why on earth they had dugout canoes. Half a day later, it dawned on me that they meant the dugouts at the ball field – at least I think that’s a more reasonable guess. Call Joyce Yamamoto at 218-353-0300 and leave a message if you can spare some time.
 
Birch Grove School’s “Gala For the Grove” is scheduled for Saturday, June 18. Get your tickets early to this popular event. The elegant, multi-course meal is just the beginning of the fun that includes a silent auction, prize drawings and the always-popular live auction. The auctioneer is frankly terrible, but the donated auction items are spectacular and steer every dollar to serving the students at the award winning Birch Grove Community School. Contact Caroline at 663-0170 to reserve your tickets.
 
I have an ethical dilemma on my hands and would like the West End community to help me solve it. About a week ago, an unfamiliar bicycle appeared in the bike rack here at Sawbill. That is not an uncommon event, so I thought nothing of it. But, a few days later, a note appeared on the bike that said “Dibs – Bilbo.” Bilbo is my nickname among the Sawbill crew – don’t ask me why. Apparently, the crew decided that if it wasn’t claimed, the bike should be mine, as my bike is living in Montana with my youngest son.
 
When I made inquiries, it came to light that a customer had found the bike in the woods alongside the Sawbill Trail. They spotted it back in the woods, fished it out and delivered it to Sawbill.
 
It’s not an expensive or particularly new bike, but it’s nice enough that it certainly doesn’t look abandoned. I guessed that it maybe fell off a car-rack, but it doesn’t seem to have the kind of dents and scratches that would result from that kind of accident. My best guess is that someone stashed it, for whatever reason, with the idea of picking it up later. Of course, when they returned, they would jump to the conclusion that it had been stolen.
 
Before I can feel good about calling the bike my own, I’m putting out word that the bike is here. If you own and can even come close to describing it, then it should return to its rightful owner. You can email me at: bill@sawbill.com or contact me through WTIP. Let’s see what word of mouth can turn up.
 
It’s episodes like this that make be so glad to live in Cook County’s West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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