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West End News: August 22

Once on the lips, forever on the hips
Once on the lips, forever on the hips

WEN_20130822_finalcut.mp37.15 MB

Construction has begun on the rebuilding of Highway 61 in the east end of Lake County.  The Minnesota Department of Transportation is resurfacing 5.3 miles of the highway between the Manitou River and Kennedy’s Landing.
We should expect intermittent delays and single lane flagger-controlled traffic.  There is a temporary single lane bypass that will be used from Sept. 3 until Nov. 1 while a new bridge is built over the Little Marais River.
This week, there will be a detour up County Road 6 to Finland and down Highway 1 while they replace culverts and construct a retaining wall.  This will add a half hour or so to the trip to and from Duluth, so plan accordingly.
The project will not be finished this fall, so we can expect a slower than normal trips up and down the shore until it wraps up early next summer.  This is inconvenient, but that stretch of road is in truly horrible shape right now.  Part of the reconstruction is to expand the shoulders to a 5-foot width, which will be a significant safety improvement.
The Sawbill Trail is in tough shape these days.  In the last few days we’ve had two people report broken brake lines, several people have lost all four of their hubcaps, a couple of roof racks have fallen apart and a camping trailer broke its springs. This is all due to brutal washboard that forms when the traffic exceeds the capability of a gravel road.
Wherever people accelerate or put on the brakes, washboard patterns form on the road.  Once they start, they deepen quickly and pretty soon they cause your vehicle to pound itself into teeth shattering oblivion.  Back in the day, the county used to grade the road every two weeks or so, which kept the washboard to a reasonable level.  I guess budget cuts must be taking their toll because we only see the grader once or twice a summer now.
Last winter, the county engineer told me that he was planning to pave another 14 miles or so of the Sawbill Trail next year.  There was a time when I thought it would be nice to keep the Trail gravel, but with the reduced maintenance schedule, paving is clearly the way to go.  According to the Cook County News Herald, the plan for paving of the Sawbill Trail has been delayed and reduced, so I don’t know what will happen now. 
Meanwhile, the current state of the road is keeping local mechanics very busy, so I guess there is a silver lining in everything.
Are you wondering how climate change will affect the forests of the North Shore?  Will there still be white pine?  Will the weather be wetter or drier, colder or warmer? Hilarie Sorensen, Minnesota Sea Grant climate change educator, will be at Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center Saturday, Aug. 31 from 10 a.m. until noon, talking about what scientists think the impact of climate change will be here in the West End.  The program is free. Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center is located at milepost 73 on Highway 61, about 6 miles south of Schroeder.
Congratulations to Taylor Baham of Lutsen on his recent graduation from UMD and commission as an officer in the U. S. Air Force.  Taylor is a graduate of Birch Grove Elementary School and Cook County High School.  He was a popular kid and a standout athlete all through his formative years here in the West End.  He is currently enrolled in flight school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.  Taylor’s parents are Jeff and Christy Baham of Lutsen.
The most dramatic nature moment of the last week here at Sawbill was the discovery of a large garter snake in the act of swallowing a big toad – head first.  By the time a camera arrived to document the grisly, yet fascinating scene, a much smaller garter snake had arrived and was intently watching the larger snake slowly swallow the toad.  I have no clue what that behavior was about – jealousy, hoping for scraps, moral support? – who knows what a snake ponders as it watches its species-mate devour a good meal?
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News. 

{photo courtesy of Cindy Hansen}