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West End News

Bill Hansen

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Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

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April Knight celebrates her arrival at York Factory on Hudson Bay

West End News: August 14

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On Tuesday, August 11th, April Knight walked into the Sawbill store.  April had paddled away from the Sawbill Lake canoe landing on May 17th and made her way to York Factory on Hudson Bay. 
 
April was fit, tanned and happy to be back in the West End after her epic solo canoe adventure.
 
She reported that her two favorite parts of the trip were the BWCA Wilderness at the beginning of her trip and the Hayes River at the end.  She enjoyed the solitude and beauty of the formally protected BWCA Wilderness and the same attributes on the remote and unpopulated Hayes River.
 
Her least favorite part of the trip was the large bear that appeared, as if by magic, uncomfortably close to her in camp.
 
Judging from her attitude, I have the feeling that more long distance wilderness trips are in April’s future.
 
Wayside rests are popping up all over the West End.  The beautiful Tettegouche Interpretive Center is now fully open in Little Marais after more than two years of construction.  It’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside and will host a variety of programming related to the stunning Tettegouche State Park.
 
The Ray Berglund State Wayside is now open at the Onion River in Tofte.  Although it’s tiny compared to the Tettegouche complex, it has its own beauty and will be much appreciated by travelers, hikers, bikers and trout fisherpersons alike.
 
Last, but not least, ground has been broken on a new wayside rest and Gitchi-Gami trailhead in Beaver Bay.  This wayside will have natural and human history interpretive displays, restroom facilities and parking.  It is expected to open mid-summer next year.
 
The opening of the new wayside rest areas is especially welcome this summer, when the travel time from Cook County to Two Harbors has been significantly increased by the various highway construction projects.
 
For the next three weeks or so, north shore travelers will be detoured up through Finland via Highway 1 and Lake County 6.  The good news is that both those roads have wide, smooth pavement and the scenery is outstanding.
 
I have just two words for this week’s blueberry report: pick now!  This is the best blueberry crop in the last 20 years.  We are right in the peak of the season now, so don’t miss this golden opportunity to sock away some sweet taste of summer for the upcoming winter.
 
Congratulations to Bruce Martinson and Ginny Storlie for their success in the recent primary election for West End County Commissioner.  Many thanks to Stan Tull and Tim Goettl for offering to serve their community.
 
I was pleased that the campaign was civil, subtantial and focused on the issues.  This is how democracy should work everwhere.  Knowing Ginny and Bruce as I do, I expect the civility will continue through the general election in November.
 
At the risk of stating the obvious, Holy Cow has it been busy for the last few weeks!  This is always the high season, but it seems even a little busier than usual.  My theory is that there is pent-up demand for North Shore goodness after the tough winter, spring and early summer weather.  Blue skies and blueberries aren’t hurting things either.  This should be the last week of craziness until the fall color season starts, so hang in there and enjoy the rest of this beautiful West End summer.
 

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West End News: August 1

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April Knight, the adventurous nurse from North Carolina, arrived in York Factory on Hudson Bay on Tuesday, August 5th.  April left Sawbill Lake in Tofte on May 17th
 
She paddled solo to Winnipeg.  From there, she rode on a supply barge to Norway House on the north end of Lake Winnipeg. From Norway House, she joined another group of paddlers on the Mackenzie and Hayes Rivers for safety in the big rapids on those remote rivers.
 
April will be hanging around Cook County for awhile after she travels back from York Factory, so hopefully she will schedule a public slide show of her adventure.
 
I had the pleasure of guiding two rock stars for a paddle on Sawbill Lake this week.  Dessa is a hip hop performer with the Doomtree Collaborative based in Minneapolis.  She is not only internationally famous for her music, but is also a published author, newspaper columnist and radio host. 
 
Ben Burwell is a well known songwriter, performer, guitarist and member of the popular Twin Cities band Taj Raj.
 
The two were in the West End for a performance at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen, where they play at least twice a year.  They’ve become big fans of the West End and are slowly sampling all the outdoor activities that we have to offer up here.
 
I must say that they are delightful people to hang out with.  They asked good questions, are sparkling conversationalists and just genuinely nice people.  Hopefully, they’ll be regular visitors for many years to come.
 
There are a couple of fun upcoming events at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland.  On August 20th, the next cooking class with Tracy Jacobsen will be held.  This class will feature red meat entrees.  There is a small charge for the class.
 
On August 29th, there is an Asian Dinner fundraiser at the Clair Nelson Center.  It will include, among other things, peanut steak stir fry, Asian barbeque pork, jasmine rice, manchow soup and five spice chocolate cake.  It makes me hungry just talking about it.
 
Sign-up for both events can be done by calling the Clair Nelson Center at 218-353-0300.
 
This week’s blueberry report is that the blueberries are ripe, plump, plentiful and can be found everywhere.  The picking season is now fully underway and the yields have been among the best I’ve seen in my 58 years in the West End.  Everyone’s secret spot is producing, but if you are a beginner, just go to any of the areas that experienced forest fire in the last ten years and you can’t go wrong.
 
We are at the front end of the prime season, so you have at least two – and probably closer to three – weeks to get your annual supply of delicious fruit.  I have learned from experience though that the early berries are the sweetest, so I give you permisson to leave work right now and go picking.
 
There are two teenage sisters who are staying in the Sawbill Campground this week.  They’ve been camping at Sawbill every year since they were born, as their mother did before them and their grandparents before them.
 
The entire family is nuts for fishing and have become acknowleged experts on all the lakes in the Sawbill area.  The sisters are very serious about fishing and are carrying the family expertise into the next generation with aplomb. 
 
I was chatting with them last year and they volunteered one reason they enjoy fishing so much.  They admitted that they tend to argue with each other almost continuously, but they never fight when they are fishing.  When I asked why, they looked at me like I was dim witted and said, “We can’t argue while we’re fishing because it would scare the fish!”
 
That is the best argument for world peace that I’ve ever heard.
 

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West End News: July 31

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The hot news from the West End this week is the ripening of the blueberries. We’re still at least a week from the peak, but ripe berries can be found now on south-facing slopes.  There is an anonymous couple from Duluth who stay in the Sawbill Campground and are the world’s leading experts on blueberries in the West End of Cook County.  They picked four quarts in a couple of hours last Saturday.  Based on the number of green berries, they are predicting one of the best berry crops in history this year, thanks to the plentiful moisture and abundant black flies earlier in the season.
 
The Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder is having its annual meeting and ice cream social Saturday, Aug. 9, beginning at 1 p.m.  The festivities will also include a presentation from Andrea Crouse, aquatic ecologist from UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute.  Andrea will cover the health of North Shore streams and what you can do to help monitor, maintain or improve their quality.
 
Mark you calendar now for John Schroeder Lumberjack Day in Schroeder Saturday, Aug. 16, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  As usual, this fun event celebrates the rich timber harvesting history of Schroeder, with sawmill tours, kid activities, vendors, brats and the always popular history walks with Skip Lamb.
 
The next day, Sunday, Aug. 17, the Schroeder Area Historical Society will host a book signing with Carl Gawboy and Ron Morton, authors of “Talking Sky,” the fascinating book about Ojibway stories connected to the night sky.
 
The primary election ballots for the West End county commissioner race, and several statewide races, have been mailed and need to be returned by election day, which is Aug. 12.  This will determine which two candidates advance to the general election in November.  Primary elections can easily be won or lost by one or two votes, so it is critical that you exercise your democratic right to vote.
 
If you aren’t registered to vote, you can register at the Cook County  courthouse in Grand Marais.  To be eligible to vote in this election you must be a U.S. citizen and have lived in the West End for more than 20 days prior to the election.  You also have to be 18 years old by election day and not be a convicted felon.  You can register with a valid ID that shows an address in the precinct where you plan to vote, or you can bring along a registered voter from the precinct who can vouch that you’ve lived here for more than 20 days.  In Minnesota, you can register up to and on election day.
 
Thanks again to everyone who is running for office and keeping our democracy vital and relevant.
 
One of my favorite parts of working in a tourism business is never knowing who might walk in the door.
 
Last week, a gentleman approached me at the store counter and asked if there used to be a lodge at Sawbill.  When I told him that Sawbill Lodge existed here until the early 1980s, he told me that his father worked there when he was a young teenager in the 1950s.  When he said his father’s name was Don Sunde, I surprised him by telling him that I not only knew his father, but he had saved my life in 1957.
 
I was four years old and spent all day, every day at the Sawbill Lodge dock, where my dad was dock boy, in charge of renting boats and motors, dispensing bait and cleaning fish.  I spent my time exploring the dock area, especially the shoreline and Sawbill Creek.  I was fishing continuously, with a line in the water from dawn to dusk.  I fell in the lake at least twice a day.
 
I was pulled from the lake by my collar more times than I can remember, but one day I fell into the flooded creek when no one was around to see me.  I was washed down the creek and was unable to save myself.  Don Sunde just happened to be walking by and saw me go.  He ran through the woods and intercepted me as I was swept by.
 
I don’t actually remember the incident, but according to my parents, I was about three-quarters drowned by the time he got to me.  I can only remember waking up, sick and battered, with my parents’ very worried faces hovering over me.
 
So, 58 years later, in the midst of an ordinary working day, the son of the man who saved my life pointed his phone at me and said, “Say something to my dad.”  Across time and space I was able to say, “Thanks for saving my life.”
 

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West End News: July 24

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As Cindy and I stood at our patio doors at 3:30 in the morning on Tuesday, I thought, “Here we go again.” 
 
The 100-foot-tall red and white pines in our backyard were bent halfway to the ground and the rain was whipped into a white, sideways froth filled with branches, leaves and needles flying by at 60 miles per hour.  Massive lightning bolts were creating a disorienting strobe effect, brilliantly lighting the landscape one second and plunging into cave-like blackness in the next.
 
As I was lost in a flashback to the catastrophic 1999 blow-down, Cindy’s voice brought me back to the present by announcing that someone was at the door. 
 
We opened the door to the bedraggled Bagnato family, Greg and Ellen, along with their young children, Mia and Taj.  Ellen was a Sawbill crew member 15 years ago and they were camping on the Sawbill Campground for the night before beginning a canoe trip.
 
As we hustled the bedraggled family into dry towels, they informed us that a tree had fallen on their tent, landing on Mia’s legs.  Although the tent is a total loss, x-rays at the emergency room in the morning revealed that Mia did not have any fractures, just large, colorful bruises to show for her frightening experience.
 
We ended up with nine large trees down in the campground, including some huge white and red pines.  Four of them fell within feet of people sleeping in tents. 
 
Mia’s bruises turned out to be the only injuries from the storm in the Sawbill area, and the blow-down didn’t materialize, but both were very close calls.
 
Weather disaster was already on my mind, as earlier in the day I had attended a workshop on climate change hosted by the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.  The University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University and Carleton College have teamed up to study how Minnesota’s North Shore can adapt to climate change.
 
The workshop was attended by representatives from government, non-profits, tourism business and academics.  The project will study how climate change will affect the North Shore and what strategies will help us deal with those changes as they come.
 
Ironically, one of the prime topics of conversation at workshop was increasing frequency of extreme weather, in the form of floods, droughts, wind storms, and wild variations in seasonal temperatures.  The examples are too numerous to ignore, including the ’99 blowdown, the Ham Lake and Pagami Creek fires, the Duluth flood, the record early ice-out in 2012 and the polar vortex last winter, just to name a few.
 
The climate change adaptation project will be active on the North Shore over the next year, interviewing stakeholders and collecting data of all kinds.  I applaud their efforts, but I also think we are far past the time for the world to come to grips with this important issue. 
 
I often hear the argument that our economy can’t afford to slow down climate change, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, here on the West End, that we can’t afford not to deal with climate change.


 

West End News: July 17

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Pastor Deborah Lunde has announced her resignation as minister of Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte.  She has served as pastor at Zoar for six years and has guided the church to a strong position in terms of having an active program with robust membership.  She plans to take a break from ministry for a while for some personal reflection and time with her family.  She won’t be leaving until the end of the busy summer season, which gives the church leadership plenty of time to make transition plans.  I’m sure the whole West End joins me in thanking Pastor Deb for her service to our community.
 
Another branch of the extended Lundie family has been on the minds of Schroeder residents recently, surrounding the 10th annual Lundie cabin tour sponsored by the Schroeder Area Historical Society.  The tour this year consisted exclusively of cabins and homes designed by celebrated architect Edwin Lundie.   For the first time in ten years, the tour included the incredible Slade mansion.  One hundred and ten tour participants made this the most successful tour in history. A big thanks to the private owners of Lundie cabins and homes, who graciously share their beautiful properties with 110 strangers. The tour is a major fundraiser for the Schroeder Historical Society.
 
Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder continues their wonderful summer lecture series next week with a program entitled “The Evolution of North Shore Streams” by Dr. Karen Gran from UMD.
 
Dr. Gran will cover the geologic history of western Lake Superior, with a focus on how this history affects the rivers today.  The Cross River in Schroeder will be highlighted, including its history as a log-driving conduit during the horse-logging era.  She will also demonstrate a virtual tour of the river using high definition lidar topographic data.
 
The lecture is free and starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 26. The Sugarloaf Nature Center is located at Milepost 73, just west of Schroeder on Highway 61.
 
This is the week when we will receive our mail-in ballots for the District 5 Cook County Commissioner primary election.  I strongly urge everyone to exercise their right to vote in both the primary election and the general election in November. 
 
In my opinion, the election process on the national level in now broken. A series of disastrous Supreme Court decisions have not only disenfranchised the ordinary citizen in favor of the rich and powerful, but have led directly to the inability of Congress to take meaningful action on any of the pressing issues facing the nation.
 
This is a serious problem with no easy fix.  I’m an optimist by nature, but I fear greatly for the future of our democracy if we can’t find our way back to the system of one person, one vote. The Canadians, as usual, can teach us a few things, with their strict limits on both the duration of the election season and on campaign contributions.  In Canada, only real people are allowed to contribute to campaigns.
 
On the local level here in Cook County, elections are still a reflection of true democracy.  It’s a healthy and meaningful process that has a direct impact on all of our lives.  By casting an informed ballot, you are doing your part to make this West End an even better community than it already is.

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West End News: July 10

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Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder is offering a fascinating lecture next week.  Award-winning author Ron Morton will guide you into the world of the night sky as seen through the lens of traditional Ojibwe culture.  In his book “Talking Sky,” cowritten with Carl Gawboy from the Bois Forte Band, Morton explores contellations of wandering wolves and brave fishers, as well as explanations for comets and meteors.
 
Ojibwe people not only had explainations for what was happening in the night sky, but also used it to created marvelous stories of great cultural and practical importance. 
 
Talking Sky will be presented at Sugarloaf Cove at 10 a.m.  Saturday, July 19.  The Cove is located at milepost 73, a little way west of downtown Schoeder.  Call 218-525-0001 for details.
 
Tofte native Bjorn Tofte was back in town over the Fourth  of July holiday with his lovely wife Andrea and his newborn son, Vincent.  Vincent is the latest of the fifth generation of the Tofte family to gather in Tofte each Independence Day for a family reunion.  Everyone was glad to see Bjorn and Andrea, who now live in Portland, but Vincent was clearly the man of the hour.
 
Noah Horak, who is a contemporary of Bjorn’s and also a Tofte native, is now more than two years into his around-the-world tour by motocycle.  This week he finally left Asia for Australia. 
 
Noah’s adventures are far too many to recount here, but he’s spent the last six months in southeast Asia, riding around Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.  Noah shuns the highways and rides his specially designed motorcycle on the most remote back roads he can find.
 
Australia forbids the import of even a tiny amount of foreign soil, so Noah spent four solid days disassembling his motorcycle and cleaning every tiny nook and cranny.  After two years of seeking out the muddiest roads he can find, it was, needless to say, quite a project.
 
After Australia and New Zealand, Noah plans to ride around South America and then, possibly, return home.
 
I follow Noah’s adventure on his blog, which you can easily find by googling “RTW with Noah.”  “RTW” is short for ‘round the world.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I am pretty much been living my life vicariously through Noah for the last couple of years.  For someone like me, who is rooted to one spot on earth through numerous commitments and responsibilities, Noah’s life is like a siren call of adventure and glamor.  Ride on, Noah!
 
While not strictly a West End event, I highly recommend Tim Cochrane’s upcoming presentation at Cook County Higher Education in Grand Marais titled: “Most of Everything You Think about Early Grand Marais is Well -- Wrong: The American Fur Company in the 1820s.”
 
Among many other historical myths, Tim makes a compelling argument that the common belief that Grand Marais means “big swamp” in French is probably not correct.  You’ll have to attend to find out why.
 
The program is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 22 at the North Shore campus of Higher Education in Grand Marais.  The lecture is free, but goodwill donations are encouraged. You can contact Higher Ed at 387-3411 for more details.
 
Animal sightings have been very good along the Sawbill Trail and in the BWCA wilderness this week.  Moose sightings have been almost routine.  I hope this means that the moose population is rebounding, but I know that anecdotal sightings are not an accurate measure of population. 
 
Many bears are also being seen too, but not in the usual way.  Historically, most bear sightings are unwelcome visits to a campsite with the bear casting a hungry eye on the cooler or food pack.  This year, people are seeing the bears in the wild.  A bear even walked through the Crescent Lake Campground, where many unattended coolers were sitting on picnic tables, and were left unmolested by the passing bruin.
 
This is the fifth season since the last time bears were causing significant problems in campsites, barring a couple of individual problem bears here and there.  With the plentiful rain and the lush vegetation this summer, I’m relatively confident that the bears will be content with their natural foods again this year.
 
I know the bears aren’t much of a problem when I start being asked by visitors if we still have bears up here.  I always assure them that we still have plenty of bears and they are a big part of what makes the West End a wonderful place to live.
 

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West End News: July 3

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Commentator Bill Hansen reports on the latest West End News.

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Temperance River Bridge

West End News: June 26

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Farmers markets are popping up all across the country as Americans rediscover the joys of eating farm-fresh food.
 
A brand new farmers market begins this week in Finland.  The new market will offer a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, eggs, wild jams, homemade baked goods and maple syrup.  It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it.
 
The Finland farmers market will be held every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Clair Nelson Community Center on the Cramer Road in Finland, from now through the end of September.
 
If you would like to be a vendor at the market, you can purchase booth space for the season or for an individual day.  To reserve a spot, or for more information, contact Marc Smith at 353-7536.  As always, you can contact WTIP for more information.
 
The Fourth of July should be big this year as it falls on a Friday, which is the ideal day for a weekend of patriotic celebration. Tofte will be the center of the universe again this Fourth of July with a full slate of fun for everyone.
 
The day will begin with the umpteenth annual Tofte Trek.  This year’s footrace will be epically muddy, so it’s not to be missed. Races begin at 9 a.m.  You can register at www.sugarbushtrail.org or you can arrive early and register on site.
 
The main festivities are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Tofte Town Hall, right by the post office in Tofte.  All day there will be lots of good food, a beer garden, an arts and crafts show and minnow races.  The parade will start at 2 p.m. and all are encouraged to participate - just line up at the west end of Tofte Park Road beginning at 1:30.
Cook County's Most Wanted, the hottest band in the land, will be providing live music.  In addition, for the first time, the Cook County Vikings Band will make a special appearance at noon and will participate in the parade.
 
The daytime festivities wind up with a delicious spaghetti dinner at Zoar Lutheran Church served from 5 until 7 p.m.
 
If you’re like me, you’ll catch a quick nap so you can be rested and alert for the always-popular fireworks show over the big lake starting at 10 p.m.
 
I’ve been interested in the recent news about the declining maintenance of Forest Service roads due to budget constraints.  As a result, the Forest Service is planning to close the old iron bridge across the Temperance River on the 600 Road just west of the Sawbill Trail.
 
I can’t imagine that this will actually happen, as the bridge is a vital link in the popular North Shore Snowmobile Trail.  If the bridge were closed, it would tempt snowmobilers to attempt crossing the river on the ice, which would be an unacceptable safety risk.  I know the bridge is old, but I can’t imagine that it will collapse any time soon under the weight of a few snowmobiles.
 
In my opinion, we are seeing the effect of the popular political rhetoric of the last couple of decades that called for no new taxes.  Nobody wants to pay unnecessary taxes, but taxes do tremendous good when they are applied to construction and maintenance of community infrastructure like roads and bridges.  The payback in terms of jobs created and economic activity supported makes those tax dollars the best deal going.
 
It’s common to hear people saying that the mosquitoes are worse this year than they have ever been in previous history.  It may well be true, but at my advanced age I’ve started to notice that every year seems to be the worst year for biting insects in history.  This perennial observation my say more about the nature of human memory than it does about variation in insect population.
 
That said, the bugs have been truly bad in the last couple of weeks.  Here at Sawbill, the sales on headnets, bug shirts and repellent have been booming. 
 
Nobody likes applying insect repellent, but if you are planning any outdoor activity, you will need it, unless you plan to swath yourself in netting.  A good tip for DEET-based repellents is to use them thoroughly, but sparingly.  If you put a couple of drops in your palms, then rub it over every square millimeter of exposed skin, then wash your hands, you won’t even know that you have it on, but the bugs will not bite.
 
Years ago, I asked a Grand Portage elder, who had been born before 1900, how he coped with mosquitoes and black flies before the advent of chemical repellents.  Without any irony he replied, “You just have to learn to not let them bother you.”
 
There is wisdom in that statement, but I also notice in historical photo that people in that era have their pants tucked in their socks, their sleeves cinched tight around their wrists, clothes draped around their necks and they are often smoking pipes or standing in the smoke from a smudge fire.
 
Whatever your strategy is, don’t let the bugs keep you out of the woods and take heart that the dragonflies are out in full force.  Soon, the worst bug year in history will be a fading memory – at least until next year.
 

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Cook County Hospital Ambulance

West End News: June 19

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Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder has a few cool things happening soon.
 
Mysterious mushrooms will be explored in a free program Saturday, June 21, starting at 10 a.m.  Charlie Danielson from Up North Fungi will be presenting on our fascinating local mushroom population.  He will cover how they fit in a sustainable food system and how they function as protectors of the environment.  You will learn how mushrooms retain water, feed the soil, increase yields and create resiliency in your garden or woodland.
 
Sugarloaf Cove has also recently opened their Community Forest Restoration Shed.  The shed houses a variety of tools, including backpack sprayers and herbicides that you can use to control non-native species.  You can borrow the tools and receive the herbicides free of charge.  However, if you want to use the herbicides, you must take a two-hour training on herbicide application, safety and invasive plant identification.  The training will be held once a week throughout the summer, so call Sugarloaf for times.
 
If you are a Minnesota Master Naturalist, Woodland Advisor, Forest Pest First Detector, or Master Gardener, or just really interested in the north woods, there is an advanced invasive species training that will also be held at Sugarloaf Cove Friday, June 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The training will qualify you to identify and remove or treat selected problem species, as well as learning follow-up management and monitoring techniques.
 
This is an intensive course and qualifies for continuing education credits.  There is a tuition fee, but scholarships are available.  Registration is required through www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.
 
Sugarloaf Cove is located near Schroeder, at milepost 73.3 on Highway 61. You can contact them through their website, sugarloafnorthshore.org or call 218-663-7679.  As always you can contact WTIP for more information.
 
The big annual Schroeder rummage sale is coming up at Temperance Traders parking lot, just west of Temperance River State Park on the upper side of Highway 61, Saturday, June 28 from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m.  Pizza will be sold to benefit Birch Grove Community School.  There will also be a Birch Grove rummage table where all sales benefit the school.  You can bring donated items to the table if you would like to support the school.  Contact Peggy Anderson at 663-0111 or Sarah Somnis at 370-9884 for more info.
 
April Knight, the nurse from North Carolina who is paddling from Sawbill to Hudson Bay this summer, checked in from just north of Keewatin, Ontario a few days ago.  She should be well into Manitoba by now as she winds her way toward Lake Winnipeg on the Winnipeg River.
 
She reported departing Keewatin with a fully loaded canoe as she had just taken her stomach to visit the large grocery store in that town.  She strives to be on the water each morning by 4:15 a.m. to avoid the winds that often kick up later in the day.  She has been forced to modify her route a bit because of unprecedented high water on the Winnipeg River, which is a side effect of the flooding we’ve been hearing about in northwestern Minnesota.  She expects to reach Lake Winnipeg in time to celebrate the solstice there.
 
Her update concluded by saying,  “I cannot imagine being anywhere else but here and I feel made for this adventure.”
 
We had an emergency in the Sawbill Lake Campground this week.  A family from was camping here all week with four of their children, including a set of 9-year-old twin girls.  The twins had an unfortunate head-on collision with each other on their bikes while riding pretty fast.  One of the girls got her leg caught in her bike frame and broke her leg.
 
It was hard to see a little girl in so much pain, but gratifying to see how people pitched in to help.  A group from Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit that specializes in leading wilderness trips for people of every ability, happened to be nearby, so one of their leaders with Wilderness First Responder certification pitched in to apply an air splint to the girl’s fracture.  Nearby campers ran to call 911, while others fetched the parents and reassured the very frightened twins.  Several volunteers stood for an hour holding a tarp to keep the girl out of the sun while waiting for the ambulance to arrive from Grand Marais.
 
Most of all, the members of the Tofte Rescue Squad and the Cook County Hospital Ambulance crew arrived as quickly as humanly possible and handled the serious situation with the utmost professional care and concern.  These people are the heroes of our community and help us all in our hour of most desperate need.  They renew my faith in humanity, especially here in the beautiful West End.
 

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BWCA Wilderness Artifact (Courtesy of the Superior National Forest)

West End News: June 12

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There has been a lot of action around the wayside rests that are located up and down the North Shore along Highway 61.
 
I can find no official word about the opening of the beautiful new wayside rest and park headquarters of Tettegouche State Park.  Last winter the Duluth News Tribune mentioned a March date for opening, but that obviously didn’t happen.  Based on how it looks from the highway, it seems like it will be open soon.  The number of construction worker vehicles has dwindled to a daily handful and last week on the way to Duluth I saw workers sweeping the parking lot. This is surely a sign that working is winding down.  It looks like it will be a spectacular facility and the restroom facilities will be welcomed back by all travelers to and from the West End.
 
The news also came last week that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving forward on a major redesign of the Caribou Falls wayside rest just west of the county line.  MN-DOT knows that the entrance to the wayside is not clearly defined, causing unsafe access to and from Highway 61. The sharp curve just to the east has always been a spot where accidents occur, so hopefully both problems will be solved with one fell swoop.  MN-DOT and the Department of Natural Resources are working together to improve the parking, trail access, and restroom facilities at the same time.  The planning process is happening now, with construction presumably to follow in a couple of years.
 
The Onion River wayside rest has been under construction for what seems like nearly a decade, but now seems close to completion.  An impressive new set of stairs provides access to the beautiful, but underused trail that parallels the Onion River.  The new outhouse that was constructed over the winter is surely one of the most beautiful outhouses ever built.  It is not only architecturally interesting, but looks sturdy enough to withstand everything but a direct nuclear attack.
 
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent retirement of Jill Schug from her long career with the Forest Service.  Jill was a well-respected employee who served most, if not all, of her career in the engineering division of the Forest Service.  Her husband, Steve, who retired a few years ago, also served his entire career in the Forest Service. Congratulations to Jill, even though she won’t hear this, because she and Steve packed up and left their West End home a few days ago to visit their daughter Michelle in Las Vegas.
 
We had an interesting visit this week from Superior National Forest East Zone Archeologist, Ryan Brown and Archeological Technician, Troy Price.  The two men had just spent five days in the BWCA Wilderness, surveying campsites for artifacts.  Their first stop was a site on a remote lake where the Forest Service is proposing to close an existing campsite and to build another one nearby.  It is standard practice for the archeologists to check the site of any new construction on the forest to make sure it doesn’t destroy any historical artifacts.
 
Although Ryan and Troy found no artifacts at the site of the new campsite, they did find many artifacts at the existing campsites that they surveyed.  Forest Service policy is that they only photograph any ancient artifacts that they find on the surface. However, they do document and take any artifacts that they dig up in what they call “shovel tests.”  Those pieces are carefully cataloged, curated and made available for research.
 
From this most recent trip, they brought back a beautiful little arrowhead, a piece of a broken stone tool and a large flake that was a byproduct of tool making.  I forgot to ask them for an estimate of the age, but it is likely that the age of the pieces is better measured in thousands rather than hundreds of years.
 
Ryan asked me remind everyone that if you find an artifact on the ground, please admire it, photograph it, but ultimately leave it where you found it.  This serves as a living reminder of those who enjoyed living in the beautiful West End so long ago.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News. 

 

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