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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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A carefully built cairn shows the way to last week's Rainbow Gathering in Tofte

West End News: September 22

The Rainbow Gathering on the Sawbill Trail has come and gone. Most West End residents and visitors were probably not even aware that it happened. It was deep in the woods about two miles beyond the “Dog Tired” gravel pit, which is about ten miles up the Trail from Tofte.
 
Before the gathering started, some authorities were advising us that we would be inundated with Rainbow people, as Sawbill Outfitters had been designated as their “official” store for supplies and drinking water.
 
A few days before the start of the gathering, a couple of people did stop in to fill water jugs and buy firewood. After that, we seemed to have almost no traffic from the event, except for a few genial young people who had missed the turn and were lost.
 
One couple I talked to was looking for Forest Road #350, but of course, being a local, I don’t know the roads by their numbers. I know them by their local names, like Kawishiwi Lake Road, Rhino Road, Pancore Lake Road or Raspberry Road. When I asked them what their destination was, they were shy about revealing that they were looking for the Rainbow Gathering. They finally said they were looking for “a gathering of people” and I was able to give them directions with no problem.
 
When I drove into the gathering site to see what was going on, the most remarkable thing I saw was a giant bull moose about half a mile before seeing any Rainbows.
 
I doubt this will be the last that the West End will see of the Rainbow People. Like almost everyone else, they seem to like it here. I’m glad that they are able to have their peaceful gatherings without controversy or even much comment from locals.
 
There are a couple of cool events coming up that you should put on your calendar now. The first is a performance of the “Music and Magic of Patsy Cline” featuring Cassie and the Bobs at William Kelley High School in Silver Bay. The show is scheduled for 7pm on Saturday, October 8. Northern Lake County Arts Board is the show’s sponsor, so you know it will be great. Who doesn’t like Patsy Cline… and if you don’t know who Patsy Cline is, then you are required to attend – no exceptions.
 
The second fun event is the annual Birch Grove Community School Halloween Carnival, scheduled for Sunday, October 30, from 2 until 4pm. The carnival is not only fun and a great tradition, it’s also an important fundraiser for the school. So be there, or be square.
 
Tofte garderner extrodinaire, Jessa Frost, was proud to announce that she has successfully raised black beans in her gardern in the heart of the infamous Zone 3. She posted a picture on Facebook holding seven ripe beans in her hand, with mightly Lake Superior in the background. Under questioning, she admitted that the seven beans are a third of the total harvest so far, but did say that there will be many more if we can hold off the first frost for another week or two. This is ironic, coming from a gardener named Frost.
 
The fall colors have really popped up in the high country in the last few days. You have to get at least 10 miles away from the big lake for the best viewing, but nature’s big show should be coming soon to a hillside near you. If you’re looking for good color this week, I recommend the Eagle Mountain Trail, which is not only colorful right now, but is also the highest point in Minnesota.. and just one of the high points in the wonderful West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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West End News: September 15

Last week I mentioned that Heath Ekstrom, Superior National Golf Pro and longtime Lutsen resident, was attempting to play 100 holes of golf on a single day. He was doing it to raise money for the charity called “Folds of Honor” that provides scholarships for children and spouses of military personnel who have been killed or disabled while serving our nation.
 
Well, he did it. In fact, he ended up shooting 122 holes of golf before daylight faded. Although Heath’s accomplishment was amazing, he was quick to point out that it was just golf, while being a member of the armed services was truly public service. Heath did raise $3500 for the charity, which will go a long way in providing someone with a quality education.
 
Although I’ve been in the outfitting business my whole life, a week seldom goes by that I don’t learn or see something new. Last week, we had a situation that I have never seen before.
 
Last Sunday afternoon, a solo canoeist stopped into the store and reported that he had talked to a camper on Polly Lake, deep in the wilderness, who had been abandoned by his canoeing partner. The marooned camper, who was named Pete, wanted word passed to the authorities that he would like someone to paddle in and bring him out of the wilderness.
 
We contacted the Forest Service and they determined that two Wilderness Rangers were just two lakes away. The next morning, the Rangers paddled down to Polly and picked up Pete. Pete told them that he and his friend had argued about the route and had mutually agreed that the friend would go on, leaving Pete to find a way to get himself out of the wilderness by going back the way they had come.
 
I got the call from the Forest Service to meet the rangers and Pete at the Kawishiwi Lake entry point and transport him back to Sawbill where his friend was due to arrive the next day. I must say, that Pete was very contrite and apologetic. He wasn’t really blaming his friend, as the decision to split up had been mutual. He did admit that he didn’t really think it through and was genuinely sorry to have caused the rangers to spend a full day rescuing him.
 
With my strong encouragement, Pete patched things up with his friend when they were reunited at Sawbill, at least enough so the friend would drive him back to southern Indiana. The friend reluctantly agreed and I feel like it was a pretty long and quiet road trip for both men.
 
As I was driving Pete back to Sawbill from Kawishiwi, he asked me how long I had been at Sawbill Outfitters. “Sixty years, this year.” I told him. “Has anyone ever been abandoned in the Boundary Waters before?” he asked. “Nope…” was my reply.  And hopefully it will never happen again.
 
Many West End residents will remember the huge national Rainbow Gathering near Barker Lake in Lutsen in 1990. Rainbow gatherings are a loosely knit community of people who gather in remote forest locations to celebrate their shared values of peace, harmony, freedom and respect.
 
There is a small Rainbow gathering going on just off the Sawbill Trail this week. As in 1990, the Rainbow people cause little or no trouble, just quietly camping and communing before going back to their regular lives. You would hardly know they were there except for seeing more than the usual number of colorfully dressed people in the grocery store.
 
The leaves have begun to change color in earnest over the hill. The trees are still about 90% green, but the occasional flash of yellow or red really stands out. As usual, the underbrush is farther along. I estimate it to be about 30% turned.
 
If you decide to go for a drive or a bike ride to view the leaves in the next couple of weeks, be sure to check out the new pavement on the Sawbill Trail.  The project is completely done now, making for the smoothest ride in the beautiful West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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A young person and a very young person embarking on a BWCA Wilderness canoe trip.

West End News: September 8

A picture in the Cook County News Herald really caught my eye last week. It was a shot of Superior National golf pro and Lutsen resident Heath Ekstrom in his graceful back swing. I read the photo caption before the headline and was startled to read that he was playing 100 rounds of golf on September 11 to raise money for the Folds of Honor Foundation. One hundred rounds of golf in a day would be quite a feat, so my eye jumped to the headline, where I was reassured to find that Heath was attempting one hundred holes of golf in a single day.
 
A hundred holes is no mean feat in itself and there is still time to call Heath to pledge your support for this worthy cause. The Folds of Honor Foundation provides education scholarships to the spouses and children of military members who have died or been disabled in the line of duty.
 
Heath reckons that he can play 9 holes of golf in about 45 minutes as long as he doesn’t have to wait for other golfers. The other golfers on the course will be informed of Heath’s attempt, so I’m sure they’ll be happy to let him play through. Heath has the advantage of being an excellent golfer, so he won’t have to spend as much time in the woods searching for his ball as the rest of us do. He’s confident that he can complete 100 holes and may actually play a few more if he has time.
 
You can make a pledge to support Heath’s effort right up until his tee time at 6:30 am on September 11. You can call 218-663-7195 or email snlproshop@gmail.com.
 
There are also some spots still available for the 2016 Rally For The Cure Women's Golf Scramble. The golf event is Sunday, September 18. The Women's 18 hole golf scramble will start at 10:00 am with registration and cart decoration starting at 8:00 am. Although you need to register for the event, your contribution-slash-event fee can be made at the start of the event.
 
All funds raised will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research and can be directed to Minnesota and local chapters. Call 218-663-7195 for more details and to register your team.
 
Also in Lutsen, eight homes belonging to people of low or moderate income will receive substantial repairs compliments of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. To qualify, you must live in your single family home or live in one side of a duplex that you own. The grant can be used for roofing, siding, doors, windows, weatherproofing or other repairs that make the home more energy efficient. It cannot be used to increase the square footage of your home.
 
Local, licensed contractors will be sought out to complete the work. If you live in the home for another ten years, the total cost of the project will be forgiven. If you sell your home anytime in the next ten years, you have to pay back a portion of the loan that decreases by ten percent each year.
 
To get more information and to check if you qualify, call 1-800-662-5711. If you missed that number, you can call WTIP and they will cheerfully provide it. This is a great deal and many, if not most, local families would meet the income guidelines, so if you have any interest at all – make the call.
 
There have been several stories in the news lately about the aging of BWCA Wilderness users. The statistics make it look like only old people are using the wilderness and when they become too infirm for wilderness canoe trips the use of the wilderness will plunge.
 
I think the statistics might be a little misleading in this case. A significant part of the aging statistic for the wilderness is just sheer demographics. Almost every general public activity in the United States is showing an aging population because the baby boom bubble is now moving into their senior years.
 
Also, back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s backpacking and wilderness camping was a tremendous fad. Like all fads it died out after a few years, but many of the young people who were hooked by the fad stayed hooked for life. That fad could and probably will repeat itself at some point, hooking a whole new generation of wilderness campers.
 
After accounting for those two factors, the statistics don’t look nearly so grim, although there is some truth in the fact that young people have many more demands on their time than the youngsters of 40 or 50 years ago. This is a legitimate concern, but I see many very enthusiastic young wilderness campers every day here at Sawbill. As the size of the general population grows and the pressures of urban life increase, I predict that the BWCA Wilderness will remain very popular, providing a significant boost to the West End Economy over the long, long term.
 
After all, the wilderness is just another one of the things that makes the West End great!
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 

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Former Cook County Sheriff, John Lyght

West End News: September 1

I was surprised to hear that Tom Spence, from Schroeder, has resigned as the West End representative to the board of directors of North Shore Health, also known until recently, as North Shore Hospital and Care Center.
 
I encourage any West End resident that has an interest, to apply to fill out Tom’s term of service. We are blessed with excellent health care facilities here in Cook County, with North Shore Health covering inpatient services and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic providing a wide array of outpatient services. The governance of both of these organizations has a long history of excellence and is critically important to the well being of the whole county. Contact hospital adminstrator Kimber Wraalstad if you are interested in serving.
 
Over 100 former residents of the Taconite Harbor housing development gathered last week in a reunion organized by the Schroeder Area Historical Society. I wish the reunion hadn’t fallen on such a busy weekend, so I could have attended. Nevertheless, it was fun to hear all the familiar names from my youth. Sadly, two of my best friends from Tac Harbor, Floyd and Roger Maxfield, have already passed on. 
 
The decision to close and dismantle Taconite Harbor was made right after my dad, Frank Hansen, became the county commissioner for the West End. He fought hard to convince the company, LTV Mining, to reconsider removing the houses from Taconite Harbor. He even arranged a meeting with the President of LTV, but his efforts, and the best efforts of many other politicians and community members, came to nothing. He always felt the company had a hidden agenda when it came to closing down the housing site. Indeed, their stated goal of using the area to store bulk materials never came to pass. I guess we’ll never know now, but the good memories of the good people who lived there are still very much alive.
 
The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a nice historical piece last week about former Cook County Sheriff, John Lyght. It was, of course, a complimentary piece about a remarkable man. As with most of John’s press over the years, the article emphasized John’s niche in history as the first African American sheriff in Minnesota. John, and indeed most county residents, never really paid much attention to that particular accomplishment. Instead, most of us who knew John well, remember him for his honesty, good humor and no nonsense air of authority. He was truly a peace officer, using his judgment and common sense to keep Cook County a peaceful community. Some of his methods were unconventional, but the proof of his success was in his popularity with the voters.
 
Everyone who had more than a passing acquaintance with John, has a story of some remarkable deed, usually involving John’s ability to quietly command respect in any situation. He was truly a West End original and will be remembered after most of us have been long forgotten.
 
Speaking of West End originals, a memorial service to celebrate the life of Rob McCampbell will be held at Pancore Lake on Saturday, September 17, at 11 am. Rob was a well known man-about-town in the West End. He had a keen wit and was a good friend to many, many people. To find his celebration, drive 12 miles up the Sawbill Trail, turn right on the Pancore Lake Road, go 3.5 miles and turn right on Erickson Trail. Knowing Rob as well as I did, I’m sure his memorial will include a lot of laughter along with the tears.
 
The interesting characters of the West End, both past and present, are a big part of what makes it such an interesting place to live.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

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Historic Ranger Dwelling, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the U. S. Forest Service Tofte District compound

West End News: August 25

The U.S. Forest Service is holding a public open house at the historic Ranger’s Dwelling on the Tofte Ranger District compound on Sunday, August 28, from 11 am until 1 pm.

The Ranger’s Dwelling was a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was part of the "New Deal" during the recovery from the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Recently, the beautiful log cabin has been undergoing extensive rehabilitation lead by the Superior National Forest and largely staffed by volunteers.

The open house also will serve as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, which has been responsible for saving and preserving so many historically significant buildings across our region. In addition to a guided tour of the cabin, there will be historical displays and historic photos of the West End.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was particularly active in Cook County during its existence from 1933 until 1942. It provided conservation jobs for unemployed men between the ages of 17 and 28. The goal was to provide immediate jobs, teach work skills, improve health and improve employability. The secondary goal was to complete long-term conservation projects and increase appreciation for the great outdoors and natural resources.

With the benefit of now considerable hindsight, it is clear that the CCC was one of most successful government relief programs ever. It provided work and dignity to 3 million young men who would have suffered without the program.

Up until about 20 years ago, we used to get a lot of former CCC members stopping in at Sawbill to reminisce about their days at the Sawbill CCC camp. Their praise for the program and the positive impact it had on their lives was universal. In fact, many respected Cook County families are the descendents of CCC workers who stayed on and made their lives in the area.

The CCC also ran separate programs for veterans and Native Americans, helping them to weather the Great Depression. Seventy percent of all the new enrollees in the CCC entered service either malnourished, poorly clothed, or both.

The scope of work done by the CCC is staggering. Enrollees planted 3 billion trees, some of which we now enjoy as mature forests right here in the West End. They constructed trails, portages, lodges and related facilities in more than 800 parks across the country. They built roads, did erosion control and upgraded most of America’s state parks. Many CCC projects, like the Tofte District Ranger Dwelling, are still in active use and benefiting America after all these years.

Many people, including me, are calling for a revival of the CCC, especially in times of economic downturn. It is truly a win, win, win concept in terms of human dignity, return on investment and national service. If Congress ever decides to start doing their jobs again, this would be a great place for them to start.

I should mention the existing Conservation Corps of Minnesota, which is a similar, if much more modest, program targeted at youth. This is a great program and another example of something that government can do exceptionally well.

This is the time of year when the tourism workers around the West End really kick it into high gear. Not only has this been a busy summer, but the seasonal workers who attend college are all leaving, so the remaining folks have to take up the slack. This means a lot of short-handedness at local resorts, retail and restaurants, so be patient and kind with the harried and overworked staffs. November will eventually arrive and we will all be able to draw a collective breath.

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

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Some of Ontario's finest junior cross country skiers, relaxing at the Tofte General Store after a 20 mile roller skiing workout

West End News: August 18

Earlier this week, I was on the town run from Sawbill to Tofte. I had been driving on the brand new pavement for a couple of miles, when I was pleased and surprised to see two cross-country skiers on roller skis coming toward me. As they drew near, I could see that they were extremely fit and skilled young skiers. Their technique was flawless and they were flying down the road.

As I continued toward town, I was thinking that roller skiing is a great new use for the flawless new pavement. As I crested the next hill, here were two more skiers, equally fit and skilled, also cruising along at top-speed. Behind them came four more, then six, then a pack of 20 and then more than I could count. They were all young, fit and fast. Just before I got to Tofte, I saw a van covered with skiing stickers, so I stopped to get the lowdown.

It turned out to be an elite junior training program from the Lappi Nordic Centre near Thunder Bay. It was a joint training camp, so it included members of the Nordic Loppet Club of Minneapolis. There were 57 teenaged skiers, including one Junior Olympian, and a handful of coaches and assistants. The group stayed in Lutsen and Grand Marais for the long weekend, before moving over to Marquette, Michigan, for more training.

The coach I talked to said that he had chosen the Sawbill Trail for its two miles of almost continuous upslope, but when he scouted it two weeks ago, he was disappointed to see the black top ended at the top of the hill. Imagine his surprise when he came back last week to find 8 more miles of perfect asphalt. Many of the skiers took full advantage, skiing the entire 20 mile round trip. Both coaches and skiers were enthusiastic about the terrain, asphalt and relative lack of traffic. I must say, they were very polite and careful not to interfere with traffic. They told me that they would be back for future training camps, adding a small, unexpected economic boost from the brand new paving job.

The skiers I talked to had never skied the fabulous Sugarbush Trail system, although they had been biking on the single-track mountain bike trails and were enthusiastic about that system. Maybe it’s time for the West End to start thinking about a Nordic training center of our own?

I’d like to put in a plug for the Facebook group called “North Shore Tribe.” It seems to be mostly current and past North Shore residents who post contemporary and historical photos. The historical photos usually trigger a bunch of mini-memoirs from the older members of the group. It’s not only entertaining, but also a good historical record of everyday life on the North Shore over the last 60 years or so. It’s a public group, so anyone can see it – just search North Shore Tribe on Facebook.

Mark your calendars now for the 20th anniversary celebration at the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte. The weekend of September 3rd will include a lot of fishy fun on the museum plaza to celebrate the museum’s opening just 20 short years ago. There will be songs, storytelling around a campfire, kids games, fishcakes, fish recipes, fish sales, and tours of the museum and outdoor exhibits. Call 663-7050 for more details and times.

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Camp Finland kids study rare dragonflies

West End News: August 11

Birch Grove Community School invites one and all to their annual open house. This year it is on Tuesday, August 23, from 5 pm until 8 pm. This event is open to everyone, but is especially geared to families that would like to have their children attend Birch Grove. The open house includes informal conversation with teachers and staff, a tour, a bouncy house in the gym and a free pizza bake in the outdoor wood-fired oven.
 
Birch Grove serves kids for pre-school, starting at the age of three, on up through the fifth grade. It is an award winning program and the opportunity to give your child an excellent education with a lot of personal attention from their teachers. I can vouch for this because I’m the proud parent of two Birch Grove graduates.
 
For more information, you can contact Diane Blanchette at 663-0170 or email birchgrove@boreal.org.
 
There is a great report out of Finland from the Camp Finland program that runs out of the Clair Nelson Community Center every summer. Among many other activities, the kids got to capture and identify dragonflies with DNR biologist, Kurt Mead. Kurt reports that there are about a hundred known species of dragon and damselflies in the Finland area.
 
Kurt expected that most of the captured insects would be the more common varieties, but was surprised by how many of netted flies were uncommon or rare. The predominant damselfly that the kids were catching was the Aurora damsel, which has only been documented in Lake County once before. Another exciting find was the Ski-tailed Emerald Dragonfly. The last time this species was found in Lake County was in 1920!
 
Reports of the outing will be included in a national database and a few species have been donated to the University of Minnesota Insect Collection in St. Paul. Although the kids had a lot of fun chasing dragonflies around on a warm, windy day, they did real science that will advance everyone’s knowledge of these fascinating and beautiful creatures. If you want to see the full dragonfly report, go to the website: friendsoffinland.org.
 
While I’m thinking about the excellent Clair Nelson Community Center, let me remind you of the Finland Farmer’s Market that takes place every Thursday from 5 until 6:30 pm through the first Thursday in October. 
 
The entire West End community is saddened by the passing of Craig Spates, who was a long time resident of Lutsen. Craig was a true character in a community that isn’t short on characters. When my son, Carl, was about four, he used to call Craig “that really ugly guy.” That sounds sort of cruel, but Carl really, really liked Craig, and actually meant “that very interesting looking guy.”
 
Craig was a mainstay in the community, working for decades in almost every capacity at the ski hill among a host of other jobs. He was an intelligent man with many interests, two of which I shared with him - music and politics. Craig was a big music fan and a unique and original musician and songwriter. He was also a dyed in the wool Democrat who followed all levels of politics closely. He had a deep understanding of the issues and the complex political dynamics that surround them.
 
Craig was a friend to everyone he met and the West End is a less interesting place without him.

(Photo courtesy of Camp Finland)
 

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West End News: August 4

I am very sorry to hear that Caroline Wood has resigned as Director of the Birch Grove Community School and is leaving the area. Caroline was a strong asset for the community as the school director and in her previous role running the Birch Grove Foundation. She will be missed and hers will be large shoes to fill.
 
It seems crazy to me that no one can give us a straight answer about whether or not the townships are legally allowed to contribute to a community school. This is exactly the kind of situation where our legislators should be able to get a definitive answer fast. If it is deemed that current statute does not allow the townships to contribute, our representatives should be able to quickly pass legislation that will allow the townships to follow the will of the community. The whole point of government is to organize the community the way the voters want it organized.
 
The ongoing uncertainty is very damaging to the school. It discourages young families from committing to living in the West End and has a chilling effect on foundations who don’t want to spend their money on a program with and uncertain future. It also makes it difficult to attract and retain staff, who very correctly wonder if they will have secure employment at Birch Grove.
 
I encourage all West End residents to contact Senator Tom Bakk and Representative Rob Ecklund and urge them to apply their energy and influence to a speedy resolution of this frustrating issue. There really is no more important issue on the front burner in the West End.
 
The Plucked Up String Band, of which I am a member, had the honor of playing on the statewide public television show, Almanac, last week.  Almanac is the sassy political show that has been on the air for more than 30 years, hosted by Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola.
 
It was really fun to watch the live hour long show being put together. Almanac is famous for its casual attitude and we sure found that to be the case. The whole crew was very professional, but very relaxed. Live television could easily cause anxiety, but after 30 years they seem to take it in stride.
 
The highlight for me was meeting, and being interviewed by, Jearlyn Steele, the legendary gospel and pop singer. She is a force of nature, both in her phenomenal singing talent and her intelligence, wit and good nature. I invited her to be a member of the Plucked Up String Band, but she graciously declined, citing her busy schedule. She was genuinely complimentary about our music, which I took as a huge compliment, considering the source.
 
You can see the clip of our performance on FaceBook, both at the Plucked Up String Band page and the Twin Cities Public Television Almanac page.
 
Now, if we could only get a guest spot on the Red Green Show…
 
The Sawbill Trail is now sporting a little over ten miles of asphalt pavement on its southern half. Northland Contractors laid down the first layer of paving in just two days. Now, they are working on the finishing layer and will soon be painting lines. 
 
Northland and the Cook County Highway Department have done a very good job on this project. Not only has the Trail been extensively repaired, but also the pavement is as smooth as a baby’s cheek. County Engineer Dave Betts designed nice wide shoulders for biking, roller blading and roller skiing, which will be a great community asset for residents and visitors alike.
 
It’s just another reason to love the wonderful West End.
.
 

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Taconite Harbor "back in the day"

West End News: July 28

The project to pave eight miles of the Sawbill Trail, which has been undergoing prep-work all summer, is finally underway. Mechanical breakdowns and storm damage elsewhere in the region had caused some delays, but as of this week, there is actual pavement on the Sawbill Trail where there has never been pavement before. Cook County Engineer, Dave Betts, says that the remainder of the project should take about three weeks if the weather cooperates.

The project makes me think often of Jean Raiken, who lived on the Sawbill Trail from the early 1930s until the 1980s. Jean was a county commissioner and an influential community activist  during those years. She would have been delighted to see the Sawbill Trail being paved. She often talked longingly about that possibility, as far back as the 1960s. Jean was also a prime force in getting the original hospital and care center built in Grand Marais, so she would be pleased to see that project as well. I guess the lesson is to be patient and persistent when advocating for community improvements and they will come eventually, even if you don't live to see them.

We are coming up on the fifth year since my dad and former author of this commentary, Frank Hansen, passed away. Among his many community contributions was working to get a hospice established in Cook County. It was quite a struggle, but Frank, along with many others, finally succeeded in establishing a hospice in Grand Marais. As it turned out, Frank was the very first person to use the new hospice. As he was wheeled through the door, he was smiling and celebrating being the first hospice patient in Grand Marais. I told him that he may also be the last person to be cheerfully celebrating their entrance into hospice.

In a slightly more cheerful historical vein, the Schroeder Area Historical Society is hosting a reunion of the former residents and friends of Taconite Harbor residential area. The housing development was built in the 1950s primarily to house workers at the Taconite Harbor power plant.  It was beautiful little 22-home suburban style housing development just south of the existing power plant. Erie Mining Company evicted the residents and sold the houses for removal in 1986. To this day, no one really knows why they removed such a valuable housing resource when affordable housing for working people was - and is - so difficult to come by. The site is now a ghost town feel to it, with overgrown curbs and gutters punctuated by surviving lawn shrubs and ornamental trees among the thick native brush that is slowly talking over.

The tight-knit community of Taconite Harbor still survives in the memories of the people who lived there, especially among those who were children in a time and place where kids experienced real outdoor adventure almost every day of the year. The reunion starts at 1 pm on August 6 at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder. There will be plenty of time for conversation about living and growing up in Taconite Harbor, along with the usual North Shore refreshments of cookies, bars and coffee. This year's featured exhibit at the Heritage Center is the Tac Harbor community, so there will be plenty pictures and artifacts to trigger old memories. The festivities will also include a tour of Birch Grove School in Tofte where the community's children all attended elementary school.

My most vivid memories of Taconite Harbor are of visiting the house that had been converted to a doctor's office and staffed by Dr. MacDonald one or two days a week. Roger MacDonald saved my life several times by treating routine - but potentially deadly - childhood illnesses. I can still vividly recall the smell, which was a not-unpleasant combination of disinfectant, the receptionist's perfume and the developing chemicals from the truly antique x-ray machine. These are good memories of a bygone era in rural medicine.

As predicted, the blueberry season is in full swing and it's a good one. The Duluth couple who camp at Sawbill and pick more than 30 gallons of blueberries per year, are telling me that this may be the best year in a couple of decades. They've been doing their early picking in places that everyone knows about and getting a couple of gallons every time out. They'll be back next week for the heart of the season and will move to their secret spots (cough, cough Pagami Creek Fire) for the main harvest. So even if you're in the three quart and not the 30 gallon league, get out there an pick while the picking is good.

 

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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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