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West End News: August 2

Songwriters gather at Sawbill for a jam sesson: photo by Jessica Hemmer
Songwriters gather at Sawbill for a jam sesson: photo by Jessica Hemmer

WEN_finalcut_20120802.mp35.48 MB

A couple of weeks ago, West End seniors took at trip to Grand Portage. They enjoyed a picnic and fellowship at Elderly Nutrition Services, and then toured the new visitor’s center at Grand Portage State Park. Some of the items in the interpretive display were contributed by avid Birch Grove supporter Iola Wojtysiak. The new, critically acclaimed historical documentary about Grand Portage was screened and enjoyed by all.

On Wednesday August 8, the West End Seniors are once again taking advantage of Grand Marais State Bank's generous gift of the AEOA bus for a trip to Finland Community Center for lunch and music. There is a small charge for lunch. The bus leaves around 10:45 from Birch Grove, and will probably have extra spaces, so feel free to join in for a fun day. There will be no senior lunch at Birch Grove that day.

Senior lunch will continue to be every Wednesday after that with a delicious menu prepared by Barb Merritt. Everyone is welcome, but give a call ahead if you are not a regular to make sure enough food is prepared.

Keep in mind the annual fall color tour to Trestle Inn in September. Details will be announced as the date draws nearer. As always, you can call Patty at 663-7977 for details about activities at Birch Grove. Or, stop by for a visit and a look at all the construction that is underway this summer.

The renovation of Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder is now nearly complete. Volunteer Ginny Storlie from Lutsen quipped that it is an ecumenical project as the Lutherans did most of the work to spruce up a memorial to a Catholic priest. Stop by to see the results of all the recent labor.

I was pleased to read that the new cell phone tower in Tofte is moving ahead. Another cell tower is reportedly scheduled to go up in Schroeder this summer. It is long past time that the entire West End had reliable cell service. When I was traveling in rural Kenya in 2010, I mentioned to my hosts that my community didn’t have reliable cell service. The folks I was talking to are subsistence farmers, in their 70's, who have never had electricity or running water, and they were appalled to hear about our lack of cell service. They not only had good service on their farm, but they had a choice of three providers. Granted, they had to take their phones to a shop in the village to be charged by a small generator, but once charged, they used their phones routinely. The patriarch of the family, a lovely man named Dixon Oolu, remarked that he was under the impression that the United States was a well-developed country and he couldn’t imagine how we got along without cell service. I’m glad that we’ll soon be catching up to rural Kenya technologically.

Shelby Gonzalez, marketing manager for the Cook County Visitors Bureau, wants people to know that there is a new resource available for information about bicycling on the Bureau’s website, found at Along with general information about all the wonderful biking opportunities in Cook County and especially the West End, the website allows you to print out detailed maps and descriptions of bike routes that are customized to your, or your customers, personal preferences. Call Shelby at 387-2788 if you have questions or suggestions.

Last week, a friendly and outgoing fellow named Jerry Vandiver paid a visit to Sawbill. Jerry is an avid canoeist and a frequent and well-known visitor to the county, especially around Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail. When he’s not canoeing, Jerry is a professional songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee. He basically goes to the office every day and writes songs for country music stars. His name is on tens of millions of recordings, including some major hits for country music legend Tim McGraw, among others.

While visiting here at Sawbill, Jerry invited local songwriters Bump Blomberg and Eric Frost to a jam session around the campfire. The Sawbill crew and lucky campers were treated to hours of top quality music from three accomplished songwriters. Jerry, the consummate professional, was highly complimentary of our local songwriters skills. Jerry is planning to return next year, for another songwriter’s jam here at Sawbill. He is also working with North House Folk School to explore teaching a songwriting class there in the future.