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West End News: November 1

Canoeing in the BWCA Wilderness in November
Canoeing in the BWCA Wilderness in November

WEN_20121101_Finalcut.mp36.99 MB

The late Senator Paul Wellstone was in the news last week as his family, friends, the state and the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that took the lives of eight people. I was a friend of the Wellstones, albeit one of several thousand other people. Although they were very, very busy people, they had an amazing capacity for caring and friendship and I treasured the time I was able to spend with them.
What many people don’t know is that Paul and Sheila Wellstone were honorary West Enders.  During the 12 years that he served in the Senate, they vacationed regularly in Tofte at the home of a family friend.  Sheila’s idea for their time in Tofte was to have it be a real disconnect from their otherwise hectic schedules – a time for reading, reflection, deep relaxation and taking time to be a couple. Paul was on board with the plan, but his natural tendency to seek out contact with people couldn’t be completely denied. 
His routine was to grab a borrowed overcoat that was several sizes too big for him and hike the half mile to the North Shore Market. There he read the daily newspapers, visited with store patrons and enjoyed the company of Henry and Florence Wehseler, who owned the store at the time. Paul led discussions with the customers on the issues of the day, often failing to mention that he was a U. S. Senator. He told me that he particularly enjoyed debating with Henry.  Although they were both life-long Democrats, they didn’t agree on every issue, but Paul told me more than once that he respected Henry’s insight and principles.
The Wellstones were scheduled to be in Tofte for a week beginning the day after the 2002 election. They invited Cindy and me to dinner on the second day after the election and when he made the invitation, Paul said that we would spend the entire evening at Bluefin, enjoy hours of conversation and would not mention politics even once. I agreed, but thought to myself, “Fat chance of that!”
West End residents Dave and Amy Freeman are on the home stretch of their epic multi-year journey by kayak, dog sled and canoe around most of North America.  Last year, they had a huge forest fire burn right past them in northern Canada. This week they were paddling down the east coast in New Jersey, just in time for Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, they had plenty of warning and were able to take themselves to safety in the home of a friend about five miles inland. The day after the storm, they reported that they were kayaking over to the friend’s place of business to assess storm damage. They are scheduled to end their trip at Key West in a couple of months although, knowing them, I don’t expect they’ll let the grass grow under their feet for long.
The Memorial Blood Center bloodmobile is scheduled to be a Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte Monday, Nov. 12 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. The recent accident at the Taconite Harbor Energy Center and the disaster on the East Coast are just the most recent reminders that having an adequate supply of blood on hand is important.  If you are in good health, give Polly Erickson a call at 663-7398 for an appointment.  You can find more information and fill out the health questionnaire online at
Here is the rundown of upcoming activities at Birch Grove:
As always, Senior Lunch is on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. On Nov. 7, Ginny Danfelt will be there to give a brief presentation about the Residential Energy Efficiency Project.  If you are not a regular, please call ahead so they know how many to expect. You can just leave a message at 663-7977 or drop an email to
There is a lot of interest in a senior exercise class this winter, but a teacher is needed, so contact Patty at Birch Grove if you are interested. The seniors are also planning a lunch at Bluefin in December and possibly a trip to Gunflint Lodge in the spring to try out their new zip line nature tour.
Did you know that you can swim in the AmericInn – Tofte swimming pool for a small fee and the money is donated back to Birch Grove School?  Well, it’s true.
The weekly open gym for pre-schoolers, their parents and/or caregivers starts next week on Friday, Nov. 9 from 9:30 until 10:30 a.m.  This is a little later than advertised in the Birchbarker newsletter, so be advised.
Two dates have been chosen for the ever-popular boot hockey tournaments at the new Birch Grove skating rink and warming house facility this winter: Jan. 25 and Feb. 9. Get your team together and sign up by calling Patty at 66-37977 or email at
Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at Birch Grove will be open Nov. 5 and Nov. 28.  Contact the clinic in Grand Marais for appointments.
My friend and customer from Hayward, Wisconsin, Tom Heinrich, is a frequent visitor to the West End.  Tom is a teacher and a fanatic wilderness canoeist, spending several weeks each year in canoe country.  He was on Brule Lake in the BWCA Wilderness last week and sent me some interesting observations when he got home:
“.....noticed these things happening along the North Shore in the last two months....
more businesses seem more friendly to canoers...not only the owners, but the help...lots more questions about we're I/we've been, what's it like, and please stop attendant at a Holiday Gas Station explained the dynamics of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and how warm air will get pulled into the area next weekend, in time to canoe...genuine discussion and this happens at a lot of places that I stop in. It wasn't always that way. I have gained some much needed winter weight snapping down those good sandwiches now created at the Tofte General Store....

Second, WTIP is probably the best station right now in the world...lots of things that focus on being in northern Minnesota without the glitz...WOJB in Reserve, Wisconsin rates a close second...

Third, despite all the traffic that the BWCA gets, the campsites are amazingly clean. Granted I don't paddle here in the summer, but hanging out surfing the waves on Brule, which gets some good fall use, I find little if any debris in the camps...opposite of camps in the busier spots in the Woodland Caribou which usually have a fire ring with lots of tin foil and instant soup 
packages half burnt....

....and there is an advantage to global warming, which is being able to canoe longer. Never dreamed of paddling in November in the BWCA like I have the last few years and hopefully will this year also with the mild warm up...”
While it may be true that climate change is extending the canoeing season, I worry that phenomena like the July 4th blow down, the Ham Lake and Pagami Creek fires, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and other extreme weather will cause larger problems that will affect the economy in the West End.  Time will tell, I guess.

(Photo by Bill Hansen)