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West End News: May 15

George Nelson
George Nelson

WEN_20140515.mp34.05 MB

Sawbill Lake officially became ice-free on May 14 this year.  We started monitoring the ice depth on a daily basis during the brief warm spell in the first week of April, only to have winter return with a vengeance and hold the ice in place for well over a month.
I’ve filed my report with Ken Stewart, a professor in the New York State University system, who has been monitoring the comings and goings of lake ice for at least the last 40 years. Ken keeps track of roughly 2,000 lakes across North America. He catalogs the data within the university system, but the whole thing is basically a hobby for him.
According to Ken, ice-in dates have been trending later and ice-out dates trending earlier for the last 20 years, in spite of our local experience in the last two years. Just for the record, the latest ice-out in modern history for Sawbill Lake was May 24 back in the mid-‘70s.  The earliest ice-out was March 27 and that was just two years ago. That record skews the average dramatically.
As in past years, within minutes of a path opening up through the ice, canoeists were on our doorstep, looking for their permits and canoes so they could launch into the wilderness.
As we are all grousing about the long and bitter winter, it’s important that we remember that the devastating Ham Lake Fire began on May 4 back in 2007. Personally, I’d rather endure a cold, gray, wet spring, than a fast moving wall of flame.
Wildfire, of course, is never far from our minds here in the north woods.  If you are interested in learning more about wildfire, North House Folk School is offering a class called “Fire Ecology in the Field.”  The instructor is our own Patty Johnson, who an acknowledged expert in the complex and interesting field. 
The class is offered as a part of North House’s Northern Landscapes Festival in the last week of May. Patty is a great teacher and it would be good for all of us to have a better grasp on the role that fire plays in our region, because like it or not, we have to live with it.  You can go to the North House Folk School website for more information and registration.
It’s been a very sad week in the West End this week with the passing of George “Bub” Nelson at the age of 88. George was probably best known as the founder of the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area, as well as the longtime owner of historic Lutsen Resort. 
It was George’s military service in the famous 10th Mountain Division that gave him the vision of a ski area in the hills above Lutsen Resort.  He started with a rope tow and two runs in 1948 and built it into one of the finest ski resorts in the Midwest.
West Enders know that the ski hill and resort were just part of what George did for his community.  He was an intelligent, calm, friendly and wise presence in nearly every good thing that has happened in the West End in the last 60 years. 
My favorite memory of George was the long cross-country ski I did with him back in the late ‘80s from Bally Creek down to Cascade Lodge.  It was everything I could do to keep up with a man nearly 30 years my senior.  While I was catching my breath at each rest stop, he was telling another colorful story from the history of Lutsen. We ended the day with blueberry pie and ice cream at Cascade, while the stories continued to flow. We parted that day with traditional Scandinavian affirmation of a shared skiing adventure and I left with a precious memory of quality time spent with a great man.
He will be greatly missed by his many friends and family.  He leaves behind a wonderful legacy and big shoes to fill.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.