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West End News

Bill Hansen

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.


What's On:
Bob Dylan, in his early days out on Highway 61

West End News: October 20

Although he’s only an honorary West Ender, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Bob Dylan, on his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Our enigmatic and talented native son is the first musician to win the Noble for literature, but it should came as no surprise to anyone who has been moved by the profound poetry of his song lyrics. 
I’m sure Mr. Dylan is a regular visitor to the West End, but just keeps his usual low profile.  If not, we still have a strong connection to him, if only through his iconic album and song, “Highway 61 Revisited.”
If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to look up the aerial drone footage of the Manitou River Falls on the Internet.  There are two large sets of falls that are rarely seen by the public.  They are out of view from the highway and are surrounded by private land, so the only way to see them all is from the air.  The last drop is a 50-foot falls directly into Lake Superior, making it a fairly rare phenomenon on the big lake. 
The footage is the work of a company called Liftoff Aerials.  Thanks to them for sharing this spectacular footage with their North Shore neighbors.  You can find it by Googling Manitou Falls drone footage.
Sugarloaf Nature Center, in Schroeder, is hosting a program next month on historic bark-peeled pine. Apparantly, during the era of birch bark canoe, in what is now the BWCA Wilderness, the canoe builders peeled red pine bark to collect the sap that was used to seal the seams.  Some of the trees, in use during the fur trade circa 1700 to 1900, still exist.  By studying their location, archeologists can shed new light on the economy and travel patterns of people in that distant time.
Lee Johnson, the Superior National Forest Archeologist, will be presenting on this discovery at Sugarloaf on Saturday, November 12th from 10 to 11 am.  He will be describing how to identify the bark-peeled pine and is asking wilderness travelers to report any that they find back to him.
Given the deep, deep history of canoe travel in the West End, and all of northeastern Minnesota, this is a significant archeological find and really interesting for canoe nerds like me.  I think I’ve read every word ever written about birch bark canoes and I’ve always been told that the sealing pitch was a mixture of black spruce sap and animal fat.  History is always fascinating and surprising.
I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of local voices supporting the two referendum questions that Cook County School District #166 has placed on this year’s election ballot.  One question asks for approval of a new Capital Bond to make repairs and improvements to school facilities.  The other question asks for an Operating Levy that virtually all Minnesota Public Schools need to fund themselves.
I’ve carefully studied both proposals and listened closely to the arguments – both for and against.  In my opinion, both are excellent investments for the future of Cook County and will pay us back many times over in the future.  Don’t take my word for it, though.  Go to and read the material there for yourself.  I was also influenced by the carefully thought out support from the Cook County Chamber of Commerce.  I plan to vote “yes” and “yes” on the questions and urge you to do so too.
Just a quick reminder of two important events coming up in support of Birch Grove Community School in Tofte.  The Barbeque Rib Feast is at the Schroeder Town Hall on Thursday, October 27th from 4:30 to 7 pm. Also, the umteenth annual PTO Halloween Carnival at Birch Grove on Sunday, October 30th from 2 until 4 pm.  Be there, or be you-know-what.
The leaves are mostly down back over the hill and even the Shore is past its prime.  That is no reason to avoid the back roads.  The tamaracks are still beautiful and some of the underbrush, especially the willows, is still vivid. Plus, it’s fun to be able to see a reasonable distance into the woods. You might spot a moose, a partridge or a bark-peeled pine that have been hiding for the last five months.  Every season is a good season here in the ol’ West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



West End News: October 13

Congratulations to Gunnar Fraham, a senior at William Kelly High School in Silver Bay, on acheiving the rank of Eagle Scout.  For his Eagle Scout project, Gunnar constructed a pollinator garden at his high school, using native Minnesota pollinator plants. He did extensive research even before the hard work of constructing the garden.
Gunnar’s Eagle Scout ranking is all the more remarkable because there is no Boy Scout Troop in Silver Bay, so he completed all the requirements on his own.  He’s what the Boy Scouts call a “lone scout.”  Gunnar is also a top student, accomplished athlete and all around nice guy.
Gunnar’s mother is the well-loved West End girl, Renee Fraham, originally from Schroeder, who has kept the Tofte District Office of the U.S. Forest Service running smoothly for the last few decades. 
Lake Superior water levels, which were at record lows just a few years ago, are now at higher than normal levels.  Typically, the big lake drops about an inch during the month of September, but that didn’t happen this year. The lake actually rose slightly and is now seven inches above the long-term average for this time of year.
The 7th annual North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum Storytelling Dinner is scheduled for Friday, October 21st at Lutsen Resort.  This year’s story-tellers are Georgie Dunn, who was a photojournalist in the early 1980s and spent four years documenting the fishing way of life on the North Shore.
One of Georgie’s favorite subjects back in the ‘80s was Clint Maxwell, from Beaver Bay.  Clint will be joining Georgie at the dinner to tell stories from his lifetime of experience as a Lake Superior fisherman.
Call Lutsen Resort for reservations, 663-7212, by October 19. For more information, go to or call the museum at 218-663-7050.  Be there, or be square.
Also at Lutsen Resort, over the first weekend in November, the 26th Annual Bluegrass Masters event will return for three days of non-stop bluegrass music.  This year’s “master” is Nashville guitarist, Jim Hurst.  I could give you the long list of Jim’s performance and recording credits, but I’ll just say that if you make your living as a Nashville guitar player, then you better be damned good.
As always, Jim will teach workshops all day on Saturday, November 5th and then will present a concert at the Lutsen Resort Ballroom starting at 7 pm.  Tickets for the workshops and concert are sold at the Resort, starting Friday morning, November 4th.
Jim Hurst’s concert is certainly reason enough to plan on attending, but the real draw, in my opinion, is the continuous series of jam sessions that take over Lutsen Resort that whole weekend.  Bluegrass musicians converge from several states and provinces to play impromptu music with each other in every nook and cranny in the main lodge building.  Although there are beginners among the musicians, many are long established and respected musicans with an incredible level of skill.  Everyone is welcome to come to the Lutsen Resort and listen to these sessions.  There is no entry fee and you can literally stand right next to the musicians as they play.  Evenings are the busiest time for jamming, but literally anytime you stop by over the weekend, you will find musicians jamming.
After 27 years, the Masters Bluegrass Weekend is a significant regional cultural event that happens right under our noses here in the West End.  You owe it to yourself to stop by for a listen.
The fall colors are distinctly past their peak up here in the woods, but the tamaracks are starting to turn, which is a good consolation for the loss of some leaf color.  I look forward to the dropping of the tamarack needles that turn backwoods roads and trails into paths of gold.
My recommendation for good leaf looking this week is the 600 Road between Tofte and Schroeder. Not only a beautiful drive but you can check out the new wooden bridge over the Temperance River and new pavement on the Sawbill Trail, if you haven’t seen them yet.  Both are great additions to the wonderful West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



West End News: October 6

Just as summer inevitably turns to fall, everything in life comes to its natural conclusion. Earlier this year, Cindy and I sold Sawbill Canoe Outfitters to Clare and Dan Shirley, our daughter and son-in-law. This week, we packed up our home at Sawbill, the accumulation of 27 years of a happy and busy residence, and moved to our new homestead in Grand Marais.

It is, of course, bittersweet to leave the home containing so many good memories, but also wrenching to leave the West End to become Townies. Although we now officially live in Grand Marais, we plan to work at Sawbill for a long time, keeping a strong connection with the West End that we love.

The process of actually moving, filling the boxes, dismantling the beds, renting the U-haul and the hard work of lugging each thing from one place to another, is one of the most universal of human experiences. Family and friends are called on to help, usually with the memory of helping them at an earlier time, and the big job finally gets done.

As with all big transitions, there is a touch of sadness and a portion of joy. Clothing that hasn’t been worn for ten years is culled from the closet and donated. That weird knick-knack, received as a gift from a long dead great aunt, can be thrown away guilt-free. I found a pocketknife that I lost in the late ‘90s and a couple of nice shirts that I didn’t even know that I owned. As the family photos and mementos get picked up for packing a memory is triggered and laughter ensues.

In the beginning, each item is carefully fitted into the truck, like a real life Tetris game, strategizing to conserve space and minimize damage. By the end, things are being tossed in willy-nilly, as the forgotten closet shelf or the lingering lamp finally gets stowed and the urgency for completion sets in.

On the other end, the elaborate plan for unpacking quickly devolves into, “let’s just get everything inside and sort it out later.” Still, the excitement and possibilities of a new home, new memories and the fast-paced urban life of Grand Marais have us smiling and hopeful.

After a long day of moving and a few hours of playing music with my good West End friends, Eric Frost and Jim Elverhoy, at Bluefin Grille, I headed for a late night drive up the Sawbill Trail, anticipating an early shift the next morning. Halfway there I noticed two pairs of glowing eyes ahead. As I approached the eyes, they resolved into a small bear and a fox. The bear was chasing the fox in and out of the ditches and across the road. When I got near enough, they both stopped and looked at me.

My first thought was that the bear was trying to catch the fox and eat it. I didn’t even reach for my camera, because I assumed both animals would run off into the woods. Instead, they resumed their chase, which gradually brought them closer and closer to the car. After watching them for a while, it dawned on me that they were playing with each other. At least, that’s how it looked to me. Both were a little smaller than normal adults of their species and they had the playfulness of large puppies. That’s when I grabbed the iPhone, fumbling to get the video camera rolling, but also not wanting to miss a second of a remarkable wildlife moment. Predictably, as soon as the video started rolling, they took their game into the woods and out of sight. I continued my journey up the trail and saw another, identical bear about a quarter of a mile further on.

This odd little experience reminds me that the West End is a rich web of complex life, churning along, day and night, through the ages and mostly out of our perception. It’s all part of what makes it great to work – and be a former resident – of the wonderful West End.

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




Keep an eye out for this guy and his friends if you are driving the West End back roads in search of fall colors

West End News: September 29

Congratulations to Dave and Amy Freeman for completing their “Year in the Wilderness” project this week. In case you’ve been living in Siberia, I’ll tell you that Dave and Amy spent the last twelve months traveling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness without coming out, even once. They accomplished this feat to call attention to the great value of the BWCA Wilderness in the face of a massive proposed mining project that is almost certain to damage the wilderness.
I used to refer to Dave and Amy as Lutsen residents – and it is true that they own a piece of land in Lutsen – but their reality is that they live in the wilderness. I say this not because of their literally living in a designated wilderness for the last year, but because they have chosen a unique lifestyle that takes them from one huge wilderness trip to the next. One or both of them have circumnavigated North America by kayak, canoe and dog team, paddled the length of the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Rio Roosevelt rivers. They’ve explored the jungles of Central America, circumnavigated Lake Superior and paddled from Ely to Washington, D.C., just for a partial list of their wildland journeys. 
In fact, they flew to Washington, D.C., the next day after emerging from their wilderness year, where they are lobbying congress and the Obama administration to find the wisdom to protect the BWCA Wilderness. Talk about culture shock. But, they are no strangers to re-entering civilization after long trips, so I’m sure they will cope just fine. Hopefully, they’ll find their way back to their estwhile home, the West End, soon to visit their many friends here.
Birch Grove Community School took the upper classman on a field trip to the Forest Service Tofte District compound, which is right next door to the school. The kids stopped first in the office where they got their Junior Ranger stickers and admired the stuffed animals and historic photos. Then, they walked over to the historic Ranger’s Dwelling where they learned about log cabin construction, more history of the Forest Service in the West End and historic preservation techniques.
According to Birch Grove School Board member, Skip Lamb, a good time was had by all. Skip also reported that Birch Grove is very close to hiring a new Director, the position that is now held on an interim basis by the founding director, Diane Blanchett. Skip expressed confidence in the future of the school, citing legislation in the works to make it clearly legal for the three West End townships to provide financial support. He said the school is running strong this fall and invites everyone to stop by any time to see what excellence in education looks like, right here in the West End.
The upcoming Presidential election is hard to avoid these days. With that in mind, I recently read an interesting book entitled “Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam.” It tells the story of John Brinkley, who was the most successful medical quack in American history. Brinkley was world famous in the early part of the 20th century. He made and lost several fortunes and ran a variety of very successful, but completely unethical scams. At the height of his popularity, he ran twice for Governor of Kansas and nearly won.
The most interesting part of the book was the description of Brinkley’s personality. Even though he was a complete fake and a dangerous criminal, he got by for many years by steadfastly proclaiming that he was the greatest at whatever he did and launching bitter personal attacks on any who dared question him. When the book, which was written in 2009, quoted Brinkley’s statements verbatim, they sounded eerily similar to statements made by the current Republican candidate for President. 
The good news is that Brinkley was eventually exposed and discredited by science and logic in the form of the then rather new American Medical Association. Once he was exposed by impartial investigation, from both journalists and prosecutors, Brinkley’s elaborate house of cards collapsed quickly and irretrievably. In my humble opinion, the same dramatic fall from grace awaits the great charlatan of our own time, as hard truth overwhelms the flim-flam.
The fall colors have been appearing very slowly this year. The reason is the wet weather and the startling fact that we will not have a single real frost event in the month of September. It is really pretty back in the woods, but we are still a week or two away from the peak. The high winds this week brought down mass quantities of white pine needles, but left the vast majority of leaves still on the trees.
If you head out for a color tour in the West End this week, I recommend the Honeymoon trail that runs east/west between the Caribou Trail and Sawbill Trail. It is a narrow winding road that follows the glacial eskers through a forest that is heavy with maples. I like it best when the maples are about half red and still half green, which will be the case this week. Watch out for rutting bull moose though.  I barely dodged a giant bull on the Sawbill Trail just last night. All’s well that ends well, but let’s just say it was a little close for comfort. It’s all part of the fun here in the wild, West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.


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.



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.


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
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.


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.


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.


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.