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West End News: Aug. 11

It's blueberry season in the North Woods!
It's blueberry season in the North Woods!

Finalcut_WEN_20110811.mp39.88 MB

Dallas and Luanne Leier stopped at Sawbill for a visit the other day. Dallas is a retired telephone company employee and very active in the Telephone Pioneers organization. Exactly 20 years ago, Dallas led an effort to build handicapped accessible fishing piers on lakes around the Superior National Forest. The Leiers had a seriously handicapped son who loved to fish, but was not comfortable in a boat or canoe. Dallas put together a unique partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, the Telephone Pioneers and local businesses. The Forest Service provided engineering and site selection, the Pioneers provided the labor and the local businesses purchased the materials. Eventually, 13 accessible piers were constructed, including one here at Sawbill Lake and one at Crescent Lake. The Leiers’ son passed away in 2003, but the fishing piers that he inspired continue to serve thousands of delighted anglers, of every ability, year after year. It's a wonderful legacy and a testament to the important role of volunteers in our society.

Speaking of volunteers, the North Shore Stewardship Association at Sugarloaf Cove in Schroeder is hosting an information session on non-native invasive species in northeastern Minnesota, Friday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m. at the Sugarloaf Interpretive Center on Highway 61 just west of Schroeder. Mike Lynch, coordinator of the newly-formed Cook County Invasive Species Team, will talk about what species are a concern in this portion of the state, how to identify them, how to report new infestations and best management techniques for removing them. He will also talk about the coalition of local, state, federal, tribal and nonprofit organizations that form the Team, and are working together to limit the impact of non-native species in northeastern Minnesota, and how you can get involved. You can call Mike at 387-3237 for more information or to sign up as a volunteer in this important effort.

Sugarloaf will also be having their annual Ice Cream Social and membership meeting Saturday, Aug. 13. There is a very short annual membership meeting at 1 p.m., followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bridge. Then it’s ice cream sundaes for everyone and a presentation about North Shore spiders by local naturalist, author, and WTIP contributor, Larry Weber. Larry is a retired schoolteacher and author of numerous North Shore nature books including “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Butterflies of the North Woods.” Larry is a genius at getting people to appreciate and love spiders and is a highly entertaining and engaging speaker. The event is free and open to the public.

Blueberry and raspberry season is in full swing with many people cruising the back roads looking for good patches. The report from the field is that it's a good year, but not a great year. Most people are returning with their buckets full, but are saying that they have to work hard to get their berries. One woman told me that she had forbidden her boyfriend from giving away any berries this year because of the work they had to put in to gather them.
The only bear that has given campers any trouble this year, way up on Malberg Lake, hasn't been seen for the last couple of weeks. I'm guessing that he prefers blueberries to freeze-dried food. He is kind of an odd bear, though. Usually, when one bear shows up in a campsite somewhere looking for a handout, we soon start to hear bear stories from many other places. Basically, when the natural foods fail, all the bears become interested in picnic baskets at the same time. Last season, we didn't have a single bear report from anywhere in the BWCA Wilderness or the local drive-in campgrounds. This year is the same, except for this single bear on Malberg. He isn't a particularly aggressive bear, but was consistently visiting campsites nearly every day. A few careless campers lost their food, but everyone who took the basic precautions were able to discourage him easily. Maybe he is just a bear that has a particular liking for freeze-dried beef stroganoff - who knows?

All the tourism businesses in the West End seemed to be running at capacity recently. Once the tax revenues are compiled, we'll know for sure, but my hunch is that business is up significantly from last year. Some of the upturn is probably due to our streak of beautiful weather, combined with extremely hot weather almost everywhere else. Or perhaps it is the result of the new coordinated tourism promotion under the leadership of the Cook County Visitors Bureau that began more than a year ago. Whatever the reason, it beats a downturn any day.