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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 - December 14

West End News 12/14/17  by Clare Shirley
 
The Birch Grove kiddos will be putting their seasonal cheer on display in the annual winter musical this Tuesday, December 19th. The performance, entitled a Bear-y Merry Holiday, will run twice. Once at 1pm and again at 6pm. After each performance you can squeeze in some last minute holiday shopping at the Scholastic Holiday Book Fair, also at Birch Grove.

Former Birch Grover Joshua Schmidt is coming home for the holidays. While that might not seem all that newsworthy, it is worth noting that he will be playing music at the Poplar River Pub at Lutsen Resort while he is back. Josh is part of the successful Twin Cities based band The Step Rockets and he will be bringing an arrangement of classic folk rock with a modern flavor to the north woods. He’s playing on Tuesday, December 19 from 6-8pm. If you can’t make it then, don’t worry, he’ll be back at the Pub again on Thursday December 21 also from 6-8pm.

We’ve had quite a bit of snow this past week in the West End, especially up over the hill. There are roughly 18 inches on the ground up here, with about six inches of new sparkly snow covering the trees. The inland lakes are more frozen every day. Jessica Hemmer drilled a hole in Sawbill Lake just yesterday to measure the ice. She reports that there are 12 inches of clear, solid, ice. We ventured out on the lake not 2 hours after her report and found that the hole she had drilled was already frozen over, enough that we couldn’t break through it. Brr! All the recent snow brings an end to ice skating season. However, the high winds have created a nice firm wind-packed snow on the lakes making for a fast start to cross country ski skating season.

Lutsen Mountains is making good use of the cold temperatures and fast falling snow. As of this Friday December 15, the ski hill will be open daily. Daily lift ticket rates are still pre-season, meaning a little cheaper, until December 21st so now is the time to go if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Whatever your winter activity, I hope you are out and about enjoying the glittery landscape and soaking up the last sunsets of 2017. I can’t think of a better way to close out one year and begin the next here in the beautiful West End. 
 

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Zoar Lutheran Church

West End News - December 7

West End News 12/7/2017
 
While many of us don’t find much to celebrate about the long dark nights of winter, especially as the shortest day of the year creeps closer, the fine folks at the North Shore Winery in Lutsen are helping to ease the cabin fever. They have released a new white wine blend named Borealis. Made with Minnesota grapes, it is a nod to the dazzling night skies we sometimes get here on the North Shore. On Thursday, Friday and Saturdays during December, the you can enjoy a glass of the new release by firelight at the winery and even if the real lights aren’t out, you can still enjoy some new art pieces by Anna Hess.
 
For the under 21 crowd, you can still enjoy a night out in Lutsen. On December Lutsen Mountains is hosting Family Fun Night up at the summit chalet. It starts with a gondola ride up to the chalet on top of Moose Mountain. At the chalet, there will be a dinner, magic show, kid friendly music, art and face painting, all culminating with some fireworks. Tickets are 20 dollars per adult and 12 dollars per child (that applies to ages 6 through 12). It’s an even better deal if you have a ski pass! Visit lutsen.com for more info.
 
Zoar Lutheran church of Tofte is once again hosting their winter season Wednesday evening soup dinners. Each Wednesday from 5:30 til 7 soup is provided and served by Zoar church members and friends, often accompanied by music. It is just one of many ways Zoar contributes to the fellowship of the West End.
 
I was particularly disheartened to hear that Zoar has been the target of a series of threatening notes recently. The Cook County Sheriff is of course investigating the threat, but as of yet has not much information has surfaced. In the meantime, Pastor Daren Blanck and the church congregation have taken several steps to increase the safety and security of the church and its worshipers.
 
It’s hard to come up with words that accurately describe how disappointed I am that this kind of insidious fear and animosity has reared its ugly head in such a way here in our little corner of paradise. We should not spend too long being bewildered, though. We need to continue to talk to our neighbors, especially those we disagree with. We can’t continue to let hateful comments go under the guise of humor.
 
Along with Sunday service and Wednesday soup suppers, the church is planning caroling at the Veterans Home in Silver Bay and the Care Center in Grand Marais, as well as around the Tofte-Schroeder area.  Let’s all take their lead and make time to spread some Christmas cheer and maybe a little extra dose of love this holiday season.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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West End News November 16

West End News 11/16/2017
 
While I’m pretty familiar with the onset of winter in the West End, having grown up here, this year I’m experiencing my first winter season with a toddler in tow. Our adventurous 18 month old is pretty used to spending lots of time outside, but is still adjusting to the boots and hat routine, not to mention walking through snow that comes up to her thighs already. Moving through deep snow in 6 layers of puffy clothing has certainly slowed her, and therefore me, down quite a bit. This has actually been a welcome change. While standing around the woods we’ve seen flocks of grosbeaks, many a chickadee, one friendly pine-marten, and several snowshoe hares. The hares are mostly sporting white bellies and ears, with some brown spots remaining along their backs.
 
While the shore is relatively snow-free at this point, there is about a foot on the ground most places over the hill. So if you want to get a jump on some Christmas photos, head on up. Many inland lakes have frozen over at this point, with rumors of some wild ice in a few places. Many lakes, though, are still too thin to travel on.
 
If all the snow is leaving you and your little with some excess energy to burn, you can head on over to the Clair Nelson Center in Finland for their Toddler Playtime. On Tuesdays from 2-4 in the afternoon their doors are open to parents, toddlers and older siblings for an unstructured playdate.
 
Snow and ice also means I’m spending much more of my time stoking our wood boiler to keep the house nice and toasty. While I busily build the biggest hottest fire I can in the center of our log home, my mind often wanders to the good work of our local volunteer fire departments. We are so very fortunate to have such dedicated individuals who serve on our fire, ems and rescue squads.
 
 One easy way to support these fine folks is to attend the annual Lutsen Fireman’s Ball. This event is a fabulous excuse to get dressed up, enjoy a three course dinner, up-bid your neighbor in the great silent auction, and dance the night away with Big Wave Dave and the Ripples. And it’s all for a good cause! The Ball will be on December 2nd this year and there are still a few tickets available. Tickets are only available until this Sunday, November 19, so if you’re interested, now is the time! You can get a ticket by emailing Danielle Fortin. Her email is Danielle@kahneetah.com. That’s Danielle at kahneetah.com.
 
One last minute reminder that Birch Grove’s annual benefit silent-auction event is happening on Friday, November 17th  starting at 5pm at Papa Charlies. See you there!
 
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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West End News November 2

West End News 11/2/2017
 
A big thank you to all the volunteers who made this year’s Birch Grove Halloween carnival such a success. The rooms and hallways were packed full of costumed kids playing games, doing crafts, and even building bat houses thanks to the US Forest Service. I hadn’t been to the carnival since I was a costumed kid, and it was fun to see that it really is just as big and fun as I remember it.
 
There’s no rest for these industrious volunteers though, as the annual Birch Grove benefit at Papa Charlies is coming right up! The event will be on Friday, November 17th. There is a lasagna dinner and silent auction that will run from 5 to 8pm. Music by Mysterious Ways will be happening from 7:30 to 9:30. This event isn’t limited to Birch Grove families, everyone is welcome to come check out the great silent auction items and enjoy some socializing with your neighbors.
 
I must tell you that the rumors are true, we do in fact have quite the blanket of white fluffy snow up here in the woods. We got almost 7 inches overnight last week and have had about another inch since then. I’d say we were about 95% ready for the snow, the canoes are in storage and the water drained from our summer buildings. Of course, there were a few odd ladders and other things that did get buried. We’d been telling ourselves that we’d finish the last round up of outdoor things once this first snowfall inevitably melts. After waiting a week and closely watching the forecast though, we resorted to winter jackets and shovels. The lakes are not yet frozen, of course, so we have a somewhat unique window where there is open water but very wintery woods. The trees are covered in white and the water is a dark grey. It’s beautiful, but not particularly inviting.
 
All this snow, and the passing of Halloween, has got me in the mood for the holidays. Don’t hold it against me, but I’m ready for twinkly lights, cookies, caroles, the whole bit! Lucky for me, I can get some Christmas shopping in at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland this weekend. The Finland Community Bazaar will be on Saturday, November 4th from 10am to 3pm. The Bazaar features many local vendors and crafters, as well as food and music.
 
Speaking of Finland, we had a lovely couple from the actual country visit the outfitter recently. They were staying on the shore for a portion of their US vacation. I of course asked if they had heard of Finland, Minnesota. In fact, they had! They had visited the town just the day before, purely because they saw the name on a map and had to see it for themselves. They said they very much enjoyed their visit and got a real kick out of all the, quote unquote, “Finnish” wording used around town. They reported that while the spelling and grammar were creative, they were able to understand the meaning most of the time.
 
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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Bill Sarah Adam

West End News October 5

West End News 10/5/2017  
 
If you haven’t had a chance to sneak out and take part in the Art Along the Lake Fall Studio Tour, this weekend is your last chance. The fall studio tour is a fabulous time for locals and visitors alike to meet artists in their studios. Stops on the tour include home studios as well as galleries, and some are featuring guest artists. The locations are all open daily from 10am to 5pm until Sunday, October 8th. Of particular note is the tour stop at Mary Jane Huggins’ place in Tofte. She has many demonstrations going on each day, including bracelet weaving and scarf dying workshops as well as basket weaving and spinning demonstrations. If you haven’t yet spent some hours chatting with Mary Jane, don’t miss your opportunity this weekend!
 
Birch Grove Community School is off to a running start this fall. The new curriculum has arrived, purchased thanks to funds provided by the Lloyd K Johnson Foundation. The school also just received a $500 donation from the Library Friends of Cook County, thanks friends! Community lunches have also started up again, with the next one this Tuesday October 10. Come on down to Birch Grove for a delicious lunch and a chance to chat with the west end’s youngest residents. A reminder that there is no school on Friday October 6th, and the school board meeting will be taking place on Tuesday October 17 at 6pm.
 
While I know the Gunflint Trail has had more than its fair share of bear trouble this year, up here on the Sawbill Trail we are having a different kind of wild life issue. Every fall the red squirrels go into overdrive it seems, storing up food for the impending snow storms. This year though, instead of simply collecting seeds out of the towering white pines, the little buggers are using us for target practice with their pinecones. There is a constant barrage of banging with the cones dropping out of the trees onto our metal roofs. Walking between buildings almost requires a hard hat at this point. Some folks in our campground had a particularly vindictive squirrel that they swore was dropping cones on them on purpose. When they mentioned it to their neighbors, they fessed up that they had originally set up in that same site but moved after they realized the squirrel was out to get them! I wonder if filling our bird feeders will ease the squirrels aggressive fall actions?
 
Honorary west ender, Bill Hansen, and his son Adam are currently vacationing in Kenya. Adam studied abroad in Nairobi in college and this is the second time the pair have travelled back to visit Adam’s old friends and host family. This visit, they have decided to forego the dog and pony show of public transportation and have rented a car, allowing them some freedom to visit out of the way places. One such place, was the home of Barack Obama’s grandmother, Sarah. On a whim, the guys looked her up and drove to her house. Outside was a security guard, on an even crazier whim, they asked him if they could say hello and pay their respects. The guard called the 95 year old woman up and she promptly invited them in for a visit. Bill reports that they had a wonderful chat about her life as a farmer. Her main concern now, though, is the importance of promoting education for all. It’s a good reminder how, even a world away, peoples’ values and goals can be so very similar.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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Pickle Ball

West End News September 28

West End News 9/28/2017
 
Let me start with a hearty thank you to Bill Hansen, aka Dad, for filling in last week while I had a rare September vacation to Denver, Colorado. While being away this time of year can be difficult for a number of reasons, I was especially worried that we would miss out on the best of the fall colors as this is shaping up to be a stellar year. The maples lead the charge a couple of weeks ago, with some brilliant reds just hinting at the show to come. Luckily, we don’t appear to have missed the lovely golds and oranges of the birch and aspen. It seems the farther inland you go from Lake Superior, the more the trees have changed, so up here at the end of the Sawbill trail it is quite lovely right now. As we begin to say goodbye to our summer visitors, the wildlife has started moving back in. A large whitetail buck has been frequenting our back yard and the wolves have been heard howling out in the Wilderness. Grouse hunting has been a little slow, but it is challenging while the leaves are still on the trees, at least that’s what the unlucky hunters tell me.
 
The Schroeder Area Historical Society will be hosting Marcia Anderson at the Cross River Heritage Center on Saturday, September 30 at 11am. Marcia will be discussing her book, A Bag Worth a Pony, a history of bandolier bags. These heavily beaded shoulder bags are made and worn by several North American Indian tribes around the Great Lakes. From the 1870s to the present day, Ojibwe bead artists in Minnesota have been especially well known for there lively, creative designs. Often, the Ojibwe would trade a beaded bandolier bag for a pony from neighboring Dakota people, hence the name of Marcia’s book.
 
The West End Pickle Ball players would like to share that they will be playing every Thursday and Saturday from 9am to 11am at Birch Grove Community Center. All levels are welcome, even those who have never heard of pickle ball before! If you are interested, call Carroll Peterson at 612-377-8748 for more information. Pickle Ball is basically a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. You play on a badminton sized court with a paddle and plastic ball with holes. It’s a great sport with simple rules and a fun way to stay active through the winter.
 
Birch Grove Community School was recently awarded a grant of $21,600 dollars from the Lloyd K Johnson Foundation for new math and reading curriculum. The curriculum arrived this week and the teachers and students are eager to begin exploring the new materials. Birch Grove is also gearing up for the annual Halloween Carnival, which is not to be missed! This year it will be on Sunday October 29, from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. The carnival features games, cookie decorating, bingo, prizes, food, and, my personal favorite, the cake walk. Costumes are welcome and there’s fun to be had for the whole family.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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Fall Colors by Bill via Flickr

West End News September 21

Clare Shirley is traveling this week, so she called in the second string to present the West End News. Clare is a tough act to follow, but I will do my best.
The U. S. Forest Service is asking for public comment on Lutsen Mountains Ski Area's proposal to expand onto 550 acres of public land adjacent to the existing ski hill.
You can see Lutsen Mountains' proposed master development plan online at lutsen.com. Basically, the ski area owners are saying, that given the state of the ski industry nation-wide, they need to grow dramatically in order to survive. Based on the statistics and Lutsen Mountains' long and deep involvement in the ski industry, it's hard to argue with their analysis.
Lutsen Mountains is the largest private employer in Cook County now.  Many other businesses rely on their existence, so it is very important to all of us that they survive and thrive.
The Forest Service is involved because terrain that is suitable for ski area expansion is on public land administered by the Forest Service.  It is actually very common for the Forest Service to make land available for ski areas.  Many, if not most, of the big western ski areas are located on federal land, which is leased by the businesses under an agreement called a special use permit. The process of applying for a special use permit is still in the early stages, so comments should address issues that you think the Forest Service should investigate.  The issues can be about social and community impacts, not just the obvious land-use and environmental impacts.
The deadline for these preliminary public comments is September 29th. You can find the physical and cyber addresses at the Superior National Forest website.
I saw long time Lutsen resident, Steve Dobbelmann a couple of weeks ago and immediately noticed that he is even thinner than usual.  It turns out that he was diagnosed with stage three dance in the tonsil and lymph node on the right side of his neck back in May.
He spent the summer receiving intense radiation and chemotherapy treatments. As with all cancer treatments, he was burned and sickened as a side effect to stopping the disease.  The good news is that Steve has now completed his treatments and the side effects are starting to recede.  The success rate for his type of cancer, treated in this way, is 85 to 90 per cent, so Steve and his family are feeling pretty upbeat.
This is good news, because we'd like to keep Steve around Lutsen for another 40 years if we can.
The county budget and property tax levy are much on people's minds now days.  The county is proposing a pretty substantial property tax increase this year. In past years, the county board, under pressure from tax payers, has elected to spend reserves and delay capital improvements to keep the levy low, which has now caught up with them, requiring a higher levy to get the budget back in balance.
While it is very easy to have the opinion that the county should spend less, the reality is much more complicated and nuanced than that.  My philosophy is that taxes should be raised and spent, efficiently for three reasons. The first is to provide services that are best handled by public entities.  Roads, law enforcement, education, public health are a few examples.  Second, are things that pay a handsome return on investment.  The YMCA, Cook County Higher Education, Child Protection Services, and community centers are good examples.  All prevent huge spending later by building community and preventing problems now.  This is the definition of wisdom, in my opinion.  The third category includes things that are simply the right thing to do.  A community is measured and respected according to how it takes care of its members who can't take care of themselves.  I, for one, don't want to abandon people with legitimate needs to their fate, like was done in the dark ages.  We are better than that.
The good news for taxpayers is that Minnesota has a number of ways to reduce your property tax bill if you are having trouble paying it.  The Cook County website has a helpful section that will allow you to easily determine if you are eligible.  I urge everyone to investigate, because it's surprising what is available.
Finally, I urge you to be polite and encouraging to our county commissioners, even if you disagree with them.  They have a very tough job and I know that don't want to do anything that hurts people.  However, they are elected to make decisions on our behalf and we should honor and respect that responsibility.  If you feel very strongly that they aren't representing you, than by all means stand for election the next time around.  Like everything in life, it isn't as easy as it looks from the outside.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with theWest End News.
 

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Northwoods Volunteer Connection

West End News: August 31

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.

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Abby Tofte and Sam Hedstrom with Aren and Freja

West End News: August 17

Congratulations are due to the Tofte family this week. Abby Tofte and Sam Hedstrom, along with their extended clans, have welcomed the newest addition to their family. Aren Andrew Tofte Hedstrom joins big sister Freja, and we couldn’t be happier for them. While Abby and Sam have not yet had the good sense to move back to Tofte and instead reside a bit further east in the county, they are both lifelong residents of the North Shore and it is wonderful to see another
generation coming along to carry on the great legacy of two such wonderful families.

Volunteers Ginny Cooley and Nancy Koloski are joining forces with RSVP to offer bone builders exercise classes at Birch Grove. This is a very popular national program aimed at helping prevent and treat osteoperosis. The weight bearing
exercises focus on increasing bone density, gaining strength and improving balance. If you are interested in learning more, they will be having an information session on Wednesday, August 23, at 10:30 a.m. at Birch Grove. The class times are
not set yet so if you have any interest at all, come to the meeting and let them know what times work for you. Classes will begin the first week of September. Thanks Ginny and Nancy!

A soggy summer, with a hint of sun every now and again, has made for a lush and bountiful woods. The blueberries back in the west end woods are at their peak, right now. It sounds like they might be past their prime elsewhere, but our patches
are still full of plump blue delights. We’ve also been harvesting an abundance of lobster mushrooms this week. Lobster mushrooms are large, often fan shaped, bright orange mushrooms that grow in the duff on the forest floor. The color is
similar to cooked lobster meat, and they even have a faint seafood-like aroma. Interestingly, the odd shape and color are actually a result of a mold attacking a mushroom. The underlying mushroom is overtaken by the lobster mold and a
beautiful, weird, delicious fungus is created. You prepare them by cutting off any brown spots then sautéing them in a pan of butter. We stirred ours into a risotto. As always with mushroom hunting, it is best done the first time with someone
who knows what they are looking for. Eating the wrong fungus could have really nasty consequences.

Also found in the woods with great abundance this season are woodchucks. We have had a number of the cute little visitors waddling around our place for the last week. They are adorable, and they haven’t discovered my tomato plants yet, so for
now we are coexisting quite happily. I’ll take that arrangement anytime.

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

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West End News: August 10

If you spend time along the north shore of Lake Superior, chances are you’ve tried your hand at cairn making. Stacking the oblong lake rocks on top of each other in a tall, slender, stack is a time honored past-time on the beaches in our area. No does it better though, I’d venture to say, than Peter Juhl, professional stone balancer. He will be giving a presentation on his unique method of stacking of rocks at Sugarloaf Cove on August 12 during their annual ice cream social and membership meeting. Activities begin at 1pm with a short meeting followed by ice cream sundaes and a presentation by Peter. If you haven’t seen his work before, it is often recognizable by his unique ability to balance large rocks on tiny slender ones. His talk at Sugarloaf will begin with an on-screen presentation at the visitor center, then a short walk down to the Cove for some hands-on balancing practice.

A reminder that Birch Grove Community School is having their open house for the saplings program on Tuesday, August 15, from 4-7 p.m. Come find out about the great saplings program for kids ages 3-5. It runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. September through May. The program has flexible hours for busy families, a high quality staff, and focuses on kindergarten readiness. I tend to believe that an early childhood education like this program offered by Birch Grove is a key to a healthy start for any child. Come check out the school on August 15 and see what would be a good fit for your little one.

August 11 is the deadline to submit your comment to the US Forest Service regarding their proposed withdrawal of approximately 234,000 acres of National Forest lands from disposition under mineral leasing laws. Basically, the agency is looking at the whether these lands in the Rainy River watershed adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness should be protected from future mining projects for the next 20 years. The purpose of the withdrawal is the protection of the natural resources and waters located on the national forest lands and the potential for adverse environmental impacts that arise from mining exploration and development. This withdrawal would only apply to federal, public, national forest system lands, of course. Private land owners in the area are free to do as they wish.

This is a major proposal, and there are only a couple of times during the review process that the public has any input. Now is one of those times. You can submit a comment by mail or email, just Google Superior National Forest Application for Withdrawal and you’ll find the links from the Forest Service. Public comments are all taken into consideration. If you have a well supported comment, it is much more effective than simply signing your name to a petition. This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s a close, hard look at the potential impacts to our region. The deadline for comments is August 11, so don’t procrastinate any longer!

It should come as no surprise that I fully support the withdrawal. Public lands are here for all of us to enjoy. It might be our backyard, but it belongs to all Americans. All that protects these special places are some words on paper in Washington DC, and the hard work of people like us. It’s our turn now to take up the constant effort to educate others and preserve our greatest resource. I think we can all agree that we love our Wilderness area and the outdoor opportunities we are afforded here. Let’s keep the long view in sight and protect this way of life for our kids and grandkids.

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

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