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West End News

Clare Shirley

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Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

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: June 22

With the solstice comes the true arrival of summer. And with summer comes an array of outdoor activities here in the west end. If you need an excuse to get out and explore our collective backyard, you could attend one of the nature walks at Oberg Mountain in Lutsen this summer. Every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to noon from June 22 and running to August 24 there will be a naturalist at the Oberg trailhead with something interesting to share. There are no guided hikes and no fees so feel free to just drop on by.
 
If biking is your scene, be sure to join the Superior Cycling Association in their grand opening and subsequent ride of the new Flume mountain bike trail in Tofte. The opening is on Saturday, July 1 at 3 p.m. Riders can meet at the Britton Peak parking lot and the group will ride to the start of the Flume Trail and beyond. All riding abilities are welcome.
 
If you’re a runner I hope you’re planning to attend the annual Tofte Trek 10K trail Run on the fourth of July. Sponsored by the Sugarbush Trail Association, you can register on their website, sugarbushtrail.org. Pre-registration closes on July 2, although you procrastinators can still register on the Fourth starting at 7:45 in the morning at Birch Grove. The first 200 registrants are guaranteed a t-shirt. The races begin at Birch Grove at 9a.m. This is always a fun event, that also includes children’s sprinting races, a youth one-mile run, and the main muddy event, the 10K. It’s a wonderful way to kick off your big Tofte Fourth of July celebration.
 
If you’re not a runner, you are still welcome to participate in the fun atmosphere and the Birch Grove Foundation will be selling breakfast pizza from the wood-fired oven from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. After the race, head over to festival at Tofte Town Park. There will be the ever-popular dunk tank, live music, food, beer garden, bingo, art and craft show, and minnow races. The evening ends with a spectacular fireworks show over Lake Superior that is not to be missed. 
 
The woods update this week is more wildlife. Bear cub sightings, moose with babies swimming across lakes, and loons galore have all been reported this week from the wilderness travelers. The no-see-ums have also made their presence known, but rumor has it that even just a few lakes to the north of us here and the bugs are much less nuisance. Fishing has picked up a little, and the frequent bouts of rain interspersed with sunshine have made for some lush green growth and an abundance of wild flowers.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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West End News: June 15

Clare Shirley's West End News is a weekly feature on WTIP. Clare is a fifth-generation local, and third-generation canoe outfitter from Cook County's West End.

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Loren Acton

West End News: June 8

Meeting new people is one of my favorite parts of the summer visitor season. With a wide array of things to do and see in the most popular Wilderness area right in our backyard, people from all walks of life are drawn to Cook County. You just never know who is going to walk through the door, and I love it.

This week a nice fellow stopped by my office to inquire whether I, or someone I knew, would like to buy is his old Kevlar canoe. Now, he is not the first person to ask me this, nor is it really something I usually do. I have plenty of my own canoes to deal with. This man was so nice, however, that I thought I’d at least take a shot at finding a new home for his canoe. He and his wife were hitting the road for Montana the next morning. Fellow Sawbillian Jessica Hemmer sent out a few texts and lo and behold, Adrian Hess of Lutsen was in the market for a new-to-him canoe. The next morning, the gentleman came back to our store and while Jessica was helping him get the canoe off his car he casually mentioned “well, something kind of interesting you can tell your friend, he just bought this canoe from an astronaut.”

Sure enough, our kind visitor turned out to be none other than Loren Acton, a physicist who specializes in solar physics. Loren flew on STS-51-F/Spacelab-2 Challenger in 1985. It took seven years of training to prepare and at the end of the mission he had spent just over a week in space, and traveled over 2.8 million miles in 126 Earth orbits. Currently, he is a research professor of physics at Montana State University. Loren and his wife Evelyn are two of the nicest people I’ve met, which would’ve been great in and of itself, but it’s not everyday that an astronaut strolls into your office - that’s for sure!

The much anticipated Lutsen 99er bike race is coming up on June 24 this year. While registration for the race itself is closed, there are still volunteer opportunities to be had. If you are interested, you can get a hold of Signe Larson by emailing her at signesummer@gmail.com. There are pre-race jobs on Thursday and Friday as well as places to help during the race itself. The race is quite the event, and something well worth checking out. The big start is at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday at Lutsen Mountain near Rosie’s Chalet and spectators are welcome. After the race there will be live music at Papa Charlie's.

Speaking of biking, the sun is shining and it’s time for me to hit the trail.

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

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West End News: June 1

For many west enders, summer means swimming in the Temperance River. While the river is unforgiving in many places, there are a few relatively safe spots where many a memory can be made. Kyle Puelston and his family were doing just that one summer day a year ago. Kyle had received a Go-Pro camera from his wife and was wearing it on his head, capturing thrilling footage of his family jumping into the river. What happened next probably didn’t surprise his wife much, but on one big jump, the camera slipped off Kyle’s head and was immediately carried off by the current. The family quickly resolved to never see it again.

A year later, Chris Flores and his brother were snorkeling downstream of the swimming hole when lo and behold, they came across a Go-Pro camera, still dry inside its waterproof case. Delighted with their find, the took it home and downloaded the footage. What they found were hours of family movies and adventures. Quickly realizing that this was more than just a cool river find, Chris dug in to find the camera’s owner. He was able to read a Chisago SWAT patch, worn by Kyle, the camera’s owner, in one particular video. A few quick phone calls later and they connected. Kyle was so touched by Chris’s efforts to return the camera, that he told him to keep it, just send along the video card.

You can see a short video about this story by going to the West End News tab on WTIP’s website. The video shows some of the footage taken after the camera fell into the river. You can briefly see Kyle swimming around above it, searching. Then some tumbling river rocks, and finally it comes to rest facing up, the outlines of fish passing back and forth overhead.

Here’s the link to the video: http://www.inspiremore.com/sunken-gopro-found-year-lost/

Next Saturday, June 10, Kah-Nee-Tah gallery in Lutsen is hosting a celebration of Anishinaabe Artists and their craft. The event is from 1:00 - 3:00 in the afternoon and features Author Colleen Balrica of the Pembina Band of Ojibwa, who will share stories and talk about her book, Tree Spirited Women. Also featured is artist Susan Zimmerman of the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwa, who will be introducing her new collection of handmade gourd drums. Weather permitting, Colleen Baldrica will lead a drum circle and folks are encouraged to bring their own hand-drum and join in.

Finally, high school graduation is upon us this Saturday. A special congratulations goes out to former Birch Grovers Madysen McKeever and Will Lamb of Schroeder and Erik Lawler of Lutsen. A job well done you three, we can’t wait to see what adventures you get up to next.

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

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West End News: May 25

Happy Memorial Day weekend! With holiday weekends, long days and sunshine, summer is upon us. If you have a West End kiddo still looking for summer activities, Birch Grove still has some openings for both Summer Saplings and Campfire Kids. Saplings is for kids ages 3 to 5 and is open June 12 to August 29, with the exception of the Fourth of July. The program runs Monday through Friday, 7am to 5pm. There are weekly nature themes, projects, activities and lots of time to play outdoors. If you have elementary aged kids, then they would enjoy the campfire kids program. It runs the same time as the Saplings and will include filed trips, bon fires, and cookouts, plus a fun overnight at Lamb’s Resort.

The qualified and caring staff at Birch Grove always put a lot of effort into these programs, so it’s worth checking them out. You can find out more information on the school’s website www.birchgroveschool.com under the Community Education tab, or by calling 663-0170, extension 26.

The Gala for the Grove is also coming right up on June 3. There are only a handful of tickets left to this wonderful event held in the Lakeside Ballroom at Surfside in Tofte. This event is a fun and spirited opportunity to socialize for a good cause. Dinner, drinks, and a live auction are all not to be missed. Call Birch Grove to snag one of the last tickets.

I often make mention of the great music opportunities here in the West End and this week is no exception. On Friday, June 2nd, there will be a unique show happening at Papa Charlie’s. Jeremy Messersmith is bringing his micro tour to the Papa Charlie’s deck. What’s a micro tour? As far as I can tell, it’s something Jeremy Messersmith made up. This summer he will be travelling around Minnesota performing 30 free, open to the public pop up shows. The shows will each be 15 minutes of unamplified music in a scenic and notable public place. All the songs can be found in his songbook titled 11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs for Ukelele. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own instruments and also to sing along. All the micro shows will be live streamed on the web. The view of Lake Superior and Lutsen Mountains from the Papa Charlie’s deck is nothing if not scenic and I’m sure the micro show will be a hoot. Again, it’s happening on Friday June 2nd at 6pm, don’t be late!

You can usually tell it’s Memorial Day because the blackflies and mosquitoes seem to arrive along with the visitors. Up in the woods here, the bugs aren’t quite out yet but a few have made their presence known here and there. The fish also seem to be waking up and the walleye are beginning to be enticed by a well-placed jig. For many of us, longer hours of sunlight each day mean a few more moments lingered in the woods or on the lake shore. Cheers to the season friends.

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

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West End News: May 18

The Forest Service took advantage of the recent wet weather and completed a couple of prescribed burns that have been on their to-do list for a little while. One burn was in our neck of the woods, just off The Grade road, otherwise known as Forest Road 170. This fire was used in timber harvest units where logging activities have been taking place. The prescribed fire was used as the method to consume residual slash from the timber sale and to remove hazardous fuels. It also served to prepare the area for seeding and planting, and restored fire to the ecosystem. This particular area hasn’t seen a wildfire in modern history, so what the agency is doing to help manage our Forest ecosystem is much, much needed. We drove by the burn while it was in progress, and the many firefighters on site appeared relaxed, which we were glad to see.

Coming up this weekend on May 20 is the Superior Trail Races in Lutsen. These races are for the foolhardy who enjoy running 25 or 50 kilometers through extremely hilly, rugged and technical out and back trails traversing the Sawtooth Mountain Range on the Superior Hiking Trail. The course parallels Lake Superior, climbs up to nearly 2000 foot heights, crosses rivers and streams - all while meandering through our boreal forest. The races start 7 and 8 a.m. on Saturday, and will be finished by 4 p.m. Which seems impossible. But I guess if you are familiar with the ultra-running world this doesn’t surprise you.

Spectators are welcome to visit the Oberg and Sawbill aid stations in Tofte. Please though, no parking in the trailhead parking lots. There will be signs and volunteers to direct you to safe parking areas at both locations. The races will begin and end at Caribou Highlands in Lutsen. There is a 4 p.m. finish cutoff time, after which is a free post-race event with food served. So come on down to cheer on some crazy runners.

If you’re one of the lucky few who gets some time off during Memorial Day weekend, be sure to check out the Art Along the Lake event. Various galleries and businesses along the North Shore from Schroeder to Grand Portage will be hosting demonstrations and events next weekend, Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 28. Of particular interest in the West End, the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder will be hosting demonstrations by Mary Jane Huggins, Kathy West, Orlene Fisher and many more starting at 10 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Kah Nee Tah Gallery in Lutsen will have demonstrations in precious metal clay and silver and raku with Judy Christensen and Maggie Anderson at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Kah Nee Tah has also recently had an update to the interior of their second gallery so if you haven’t been in a while, now is a great time to stop in. Other participating west end art stops worth a visit are the Last Chance Studio and Gallery in Lutsen and the Thompsonite Beach Jewelry Shop between Lutsen and Grand Marais.

If like me you don't get the holiday weekends off, I hope you will take some time for your own trail run or art. Maybe don't play with fire, though.

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

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West End News: May 11

Clare Shirley's West End News is a weekly feature on WTIP. Clare is a fifth-generation local, and third-generation canoe outfitter from Cook County's West End.

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West End News: April 27

Shortly after last week’s West End News, the paddling season officially began. The ice went out up here at Sawbill on April 21. Although we were having an unseasonably warm spring, the ice out is only four days earlier than last year. True to form, some die-hards have already arrived to head into the Wilderness.

Lest we get too ahead of ourselves, sprinter came back with a vengeance in the form of a lovely storm of wintry mix. Over the hill in the west end we got some ice, but mostly we ended up with a fresh new layer of snow. Things are looking more like November than April right now.

As soon as this last vestige of winter melts, keep your eyes peeled for the delicious wild edibles that grow abundant in our west end woods. A few little birds have already mentioned to me that the ramps have started coming up. Ramps are a wild vegetable that is something of a cross between onions, garlic, and leeks. Fiddle head ferns will be making an appearance soon, too. As always, it’s best to go on your first harvesting trip with someone who is experienced with wild edibles. Armed with a little knowledge, the right tools, and an appetite for adventure, you can come up with some delicious spring treats. North House Folk School offers wild edible classes, check out their website if you’re interested in learning more.

The Northwoods Volunteer Connection held its volunteer pint night last week and announced their 2017 volunteer opportunities. There are three overnight projects in the Boundary Waters, one in June, one in July, and one in August. Volunteers will have the opportunity to work on the Angleworm Hiking Trail, the Granite River portage, and the Ramshead Lake portage, respectively. NVC provides most of the gear needed for the volunteers, and cost is only $50 for these trips. Check out their website for more information.

They also have some opportunities for wilderness visitor use monitors. Monitors report visitor use back to the Forest Service, which helps the agency determine the patterns of use in the Boundary Waters. If you’re interested, contact the volunteer connection and a travel route and date will be assigned to you. There are several day long volunteer opportunities coming up as well, if you have a tight schedule.

A new opportunity this year is the Adopt-an-Entry point program. Much like adopting a section of highway, you can adopt a Boundary Waters entry point. An individual, group or business can adopt the entry point, which means you’ll help keep the area clean and open for use. Mainly, it will consist of a couple of days clearing brush and litter each year. There are a number of entry points available here on the west end, including Kawishiwi, Hog Creek, Brule, Baker, and Homer Lakes, to name a few. The Sawbill entry point has been claimed by our intrepid Sawbill crew.

The loons have made their annual journey back north, and can be heard wailing their excitement as they fly overhead. The cattails are sporting their yellow dusting of pollen and hungry fish can be seen rising in the newly opened waters. Fishing opener is May 13, hope to see you out there.

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

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Northwoods Volunteer Connection

West End News: April 20

April always feels a bit like the calm before the storm in the West End of Cook County. While we slowly wake up from our winter hygge and begin going about the task of sprucing things up for summer, we seem to keep one eye looking south down Highway 61, anticipating the crowds of visitors headed our way in a few short weeks. It feels like such a privilege to be able to watch the wilderness here shake off winter. The transition seasons seem especially reserved for the locals.

This year, many local west enders have been kept busy with their backyard maple syruping endeavors. The sap started flowing a few weeks ago, and by all accounts it just won’t quit! Many folks are on their third or even fourth sap boils already. Boiling sap down to syrup is a very labor intensive project, so a big sap year like this can really turn into quite the time commitment. It’s hard to say no though when you are granted such a prolific batch of sweet maple syrup in the end.

I’ve been remiss in extending a warm welcome to the new Acting Tofte District Ranger with the Forest Service, Lenore Lamb. Lenore is on loan to us from Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She will be here for a few months, filling in for Kurt Steele who has moved on to the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Lenore on a couple of occasions now and she is certainly a wonderful person who is thoroughly enjoying her time here in our corner of paradise.

The Forest Service, in particular the Tofte District office, has been working closely with the nonprofit Northwoods Volunteer Connection. This organization, based out of Tofte, partners to create connections to recruit, train and supervise volunteers. They work to help put boots on the ground and tools in the hands of people that care about the northwoods of northeastern Minnesota. The group organizes several volunteer trips throughout the summer, often led by Forest Service wilderness rangers. These trips are a wonderful opportunity to learn some new skills, spend some time outdoors, and help maintain our public lands. The Volunteer Connection is holding an open house this Monday, April 24, at 5 pm at Voyageur Brewing in Grand Marais. Many community groups, like the Superior Hiking Trail Association and Kekekabic Trail Club, will be at the open house to answer questions about what they do and how you can be involved. There are door prizes, a featured speaker, and best of all the Volunteer Connection will be unveiling this year’s volunteer trip opportunities. If none of that entices you, at least come to share a good beer with some new friends. For more information you can log onto http://www.mnnvc.org/.

Last, but not least, as a part of this writing (which is occurring at an embarrassingly late hour on Wednesday night, April 19) the ice on Sawbill is still not out. It has detached from shore, floated up, and turned a dark, dark grey so really this is it, and it should be out in the next couple of days.

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

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Star-nosed mole

West End News: April 13

Happy Easter from the West End. We’ve had lots of seasonally appropriate rabbit visitors around our place this week. None of them have come bearing chocolate yet, but we remain hopeful. Along with the surplus of bunnies comes more frequent lynx sightings. If you are hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Canada lynx, a drive on the Sawbill Trail is a good bet.

If you’re on the hunt for Easter candy, then Lutsen is the place to be this Easter Sunday. On Sunday, April 16, at 9 am Lutsen Mountains is hosting a Giant Easter Egg Hunt. Kids of all ages are invited to search for 500 eggs hidden all over the slopes. You do need a lift ticket to get out there, where eggs filled with candy and prizes await you.

Next weekend is the 7th Annual Fingerstyle Guitar Masters Weekend, featuring Richard Smith. This year, the music and workshops will take place at Bluefin Bay in Tofte. There’s something for everyone at these weekends, as long as you’re either a music lover or player, but in Cook County, who isn’t? Friday, April 21, at 8 pm is the free informal evening of listening. On Saturday, April 22, at 7:30 Richard Smith will be playing and tickets are $20. Saturday at 10 am, there are two workshops. Gordon Thorne and Richard Smith will be leading the Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop. Tom Shaefer will be leading the fiddle workshop. Both cost $60 and are open to all ages. If you’re under 18 you’re in luck as there’s no cost. Lunch is included and preregistration is requested. For tickets to the concert or to register for a workshop, call Gordon Thorne at 218-353-7308. So come on down to Tofte, enjoy the atmosphere of camaraderie and treat yourself to some good tunes at Bluefin next weekend.

Also next weekend, the third annual Midwest Extreme snowmobile event will take place at Lutsen Mountains. There’s hillcross on Saturday, April 22, from 9 am - 6 pm and cross-country on Sunday from 9 - 4. Both nights will have an after-party at Papa Charlie’s, but if you go on Saturday night you can catch my personal favorite Cook County band, The Plucked Up String Band. Tickets to the event are $20 for one day or $30 for both.

The ice on Sawbill is eight inches thick but no longer safe to travel on. This lesson was learned the hard way by one unlucky star-nosed mole this week. Our ice technicians found the frozen fella floating just offshore in between the landing and the ice. These curious little creatures often run amok in the spring, enthused by the thaw and in search of a partner, but often bumbling since their eyesight is poor. One year Bill even had one run up his pant leg. So keep your eyes open for the funny looking moles while you're out driving the backroads, and don’t be like the Hungry Jack moose or the Sawbill mole - stay off the lakes for now and spend that time digging out your paddles and PFD’s from their winter storage instead.

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

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