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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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Throwing for the spare under the disco lights at the Silver Bowl in Silver Bay

West End News: October 23

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The West End resorts are all reporting that the fall color season was gangbusters this year.  This makes the annual tourism slow-down of late October and November a welcome respite before the busy winter season kicks into gear.
 
Although many of our visitors have temporarily deserted us, there is still a lot going on in the West End. 
 
Don’t forget about the two events I mentioned last week: The bluegrass music gathering at Lutsen Resort from October 31st through November 2nd; and the bloodmobile at Zoar Lutheran Church on the afternoon of November 11th…but those are just the tip of the iceberg.
 
The umteenth annual Birch Grove Halloween party is happening again this year from 6 to 9 pm on Friday, October 31st, at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.  I don’t have many details, but it’s always a good time for kids of all ages.
 
The Lutsen Lutheran Church is reaching out to engage the West End in helping with the Ebola epidemic West Africa.  The church is generously offering to match any community donations, dollar for dollar, up to $5000.  The gifts will go to Lutheran Disaster Response where 100% will be directed to Ebola relief. 
 
Donations can be sent to the Lutsen Lutheran Church at Box 145 in Lutsen, 55612.  Make your checks payable to the church with Ebola Relief written in the memo line.  If the community is as generous as it usually is, this will mean $10,000 in much-needed aid to the hard hit communities in West Africa.
 
The University of Minnesota Press has just published the second book in a murder mystery trilogy that is set here in the West End.  Norwegian mystery writer, Vidar Sundstol, lived in Lutsen at one time and wrote much of the series while living here.  They were published several years ago in Norway, but are just now being released in English translation. 
 
The main character in the series is a fictional Forest Service law enforcement officer named Lance Hansen.  The tense, psychological novels revolve around a bloody murder discovered at Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder.
 
Many of the characters in the novels are clearly based on real people from Cook County.  All have fictional names that are similar to their real names, except for Sid Backlund, from Grand Marais, who randomly has a small part using his real name and occupation.
 
I have a bone to pick with the author because he based a character on me, who the protagonist suspects of having an inappropriate love affair with a young female employee.  The suspicion is based on rather flimsy grounds, in my opinion. The worst part is that he never resolves whether or not there actually is an affair and that branch of the story line is never mentioned again in the rest of the series.  I would at least like to know definitively if my character is a scumbag or just a guy who is unusually friendly with his employees.  Sheesh!
 
That aside, the books are great fun for West Enders to read.  The first book is titled “Land of Dreams” and the second, available now, is called “Only the Dead.”  The third and final book of the series, titled “The Raven,” has been published in Norwegian for some time, but will be available in English this April.
 
I’m happy to report that Logan and Jolene Fischer have purchased the “Silver Bowl” bowling alley in Silver Bay. The Fischers are young entrepreneurs with deep roots in Silver Bay.  They’ve made a bunch of improvements already to the facility that was built, along with the rest of the town, in the late 1950s.
 
In addition to remodeling and equipment upgrades, they’re offering deep discounts on Tuesdays and Sundays in an effort to reacquaint people to this area landmark.
 
We took the Sawbill crew bowling this week and found the Fischers and their two young children to be friendly and competent hosts.  I urge everyone to support local business by stopping in to enjoy some great bowling, pizza, pop and beer. 
 
I don’t know if it was the new ownership, but I actually bowled a score that broke triple digits, a rare experience for me.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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West End News: October 16

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If you have even a passing interest in music, there is an event coming up at Lutsen Resort that you should know about.
 
Historic Lutsen Resort will host the 24th Annual Bluegrass Masters Weekend the weekend of Oct. 31 through Nov. 2.  This long-running event, sponsored by the North Shore Music Association, passes under the radar of many local people.
 
Bluegrass is a uniquely American music that features fiddle, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar and standup bass fiddle.  Many of the songs are rooted in traditional music from the Appalachian Mountains.  Similar to jazz, the song is sung or played through once in a straightforward manner.  After that, each instrument takes a turn through the melody, improvising as they go.  It is also common for the group to sing in three-part harmony.  The shared musical vocabulary of bluegrass makes it very accessible to amateur musicians, both to learn and to play together.
 
The Masters of Bluegrass Weekend brings together avid bluegrass musicians from all over the Midwestern U.S. and northwestern Ontario. From the moment they start arriving on Friday afternoon until they depart on Sunday morning, every nook and cranny of the resort is filled with groups of people playing music.  Anyone can drop in to experience this amazing musical smorgasbord by just wandering around the main lodge building.  Even if you aren’t a Bluegrass fan, I recommend a visit just to witness the phenomenon. I guarantee that you will be entertained.
 
Many of the participants are very serious amateur or professional musicians with incredible talent and skill. On the other hand, they warmly welcome beginners and encourage them to learn and practice by joining the jam sessions, so if you’re a closet or wannabe player, don’t be shy about joining in.
 
By the way, there are organized workshops and a formal concert on Saturday night that features some of the best bluegrass musicians in the world.  This year, mandolin virtuoso Emory Lester will be the featured performer.  There is a modest cost for the workshops and concert. You can get more information online at the North Shore Music Association website or by contacting Lutsen Resort. 
 
The bloodmobile will be returning to the Zoar Lutheran Church parking lot in Tofte Tuesday, Nov. 11 from 2:30 until 6 p.m.  You can search online for Memorial Blood Centers to find out if you are qualified to give blood.  Or call Julie at 663-7111 for information or to schedule an appointment.
 
I completely missed it, but Oct. 9 was officially Louise Trachta Day in Tofte.  I’m not too upset about missing it though, because in my book every day is Louise Trachta Day. 
 
Louise has headed up the Tofte Rescue Squad for 15 years and is a true hero in our community.  She not only has come to our aid in our hours of greatest need, but she’s built the rescue squad into a professional and well-staffed unit.  She’s kept up with the latest trends in emergency care, trained the squad to state standards and done a ton of paperwork.
 
All of this was done strictly as a volunteer, so the next time you see Louise, give her a hug and a big thank you. She is the best of the best.

(Photo courtesy of Tofte Township)
 

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West End News: October 9

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‘Tis the season for your annual flu shot and, as usual, the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic is making it convenient for West Enders to get their shot without driving all the way to Grand Marais.
 
The flu shot clinic will be in the West End Wednesday, Oct. 22 – at the Moondance Coffee Shop in Lutsen from 9 until 10:30 a.m. and at the Birch Grove Community Center from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
 
There is a reasonable charge for the shot, which is payable by cash or check only. If you want to charge the shot to your insurance, bring your information and card along.
 
I’m sorry to say that I’ll be missing the flu clinics this year because I got my flu shot at my recent “every-eight-year” annual physical. The flu shot clinics are a great place to catch up with your neighbors and personally thank the wonderful caregivers from the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.
 
I was interested to read in the Duluth News Tribune that the taconite industry is having a hard time shipping their product to the steel mills due to a lack of railroad capacity, among other reasons.  Apparently, the coal and oil industries are using up so much rail capacity that some other industries are experiencing a shipping bottleneck.
 
This makes me wonder why the railroad line that terminates at Taconite Harbor in Schroeder is still in mothballs and not being used? 
 
When the Taconite Harbor power plant was sold to Minnesota Power, Cliffs Natural Resources, the former Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company, retained ownership of the rail line that runs between Hoyt Lakes and Tac Harbor. At the time, there was speculation that Cliffs would use the line to ship taconite from the Iron Range, reducing both the distance traveled by rail and the distance traveled by Great Lakes ore boats, saving time and money over the existing shipping routes.
 
The recent rail shipping bottlenecks are being blamed on a shortage of locomotives, which again makes me wonder what happened to the cool old locomotives that used to serve Taconite Harbor?
 
It seems a shame to leave such an important piece of railroad infrastructure left to slowly deteriorate. Also, the jobs associated with an active shipping conduit would be welcome here in the West End.
 
I’m always distressed to read about the decline in voting in the United States. For a long time, low voter turnout was blamed on confusing and awkward registration and voting systems, along with changing demographics.
 
Recently, voting experts are learning that the real reason voter turnout is declining is a lack of motivation.  Determining people’s motivations is always a tricky business, but some causes seem self-evident.
 
The two major political parties used to focus on grass roots organizing and large get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. Increasingly, both parties have become fundraising machines that use the money to fund television ads, especially in the last couple of weeks before the election.  Most of the ads are negative in tone and specifically designed to dampen enthusiasm for a particular candidate.
 
Another effect of the negative tone in political advertising is to give the impression that voting is choice between bad and worse. I certainly notice that attitude in many conversations that I have and, to be honest, I often feel that way myself
 
The Republican Party has spent the last few decades campaigning on the premise that we need less government. Voting is perceived as a government function, so it’s possible that the anti-government message is contributing to voter discouragement.
 
However, I’m an optimist at heart and I still think democracy is the best thing going in this country and around the world. I strongly urge you to exercise your right to vote in the election that’s just around the corner.
 
Here in the West End, our voting is done by mail, so the election really starts next week. The ballots go out early next week, so you should be receiving yours around Oct. 15.  You have until Election Day to return it, but I urge you to vote as soon as your mind is made up so you don’t forget.
 
This year, you can complete your voter registration online. It’s easy to find the site with a simple web search. You need to provide a valid Minnesota driver’s license or I.D. number, or the last four digits of your social security number. 
 
You can also register and vote anytime between now and Nov. 4 at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais.
 
To be eligible to vote you must be 18 years old by Election Day and have resided in your local precinct for more than 20 days. You also can’t be a convicted felon or otherwise had your voting rights revoked by a court of law.
 
As discouraging as the current political climate is, the right to vote is still the basis of our civil society. All the outside money and influence in the world can’t stop us if we use our vote to make our local community – and the rest of the world – an even better place to live.
 

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Alex Boostrom

West End News: October 2

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The West End was saddened recently on receipt of the news that longtime Schroeder resident, Joyce Kehoe, had passed away at the age of 85.
 
Joyce lived in Schroeder for 50 years, where she raised her children and was a strong thread in the fabric of the community.
 
When my parents started business here at Sawbill in 1957, Joyce and her husband Danny were the suppliers of gas and oil for the West End.  Our families became close friends with connections on many levels.
 
When they were little kids, Jeff and Joanne Kehoe in particular were eager to ride along with their father when he made his deliveries to Sawbill.  My dad would invariably treat them to a candy bar and a bottle of orange pop while their dad pumped the diesel and gasoline tanks full. Those are great memories for both families.
 
Joyce Kehoe will always have a special place in our hearts here at Sawbill, as she does in the entire West End. 
 
Jack Blackwell is a native son of Grand Marais, who is the grandson of Alex Boostrom, a renowned Cook County pioneer, trapper and woodsman.  When Jack was young, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, trapping, hunting and traveling through what eventually became the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
 
Jack left Grand Marais for a distinguished career in the Forest Service.  He retired several years ago and now lives in Idaho.
 
He was back in Grand Marais last week and I was thrilled to get a preview of a book he is writing about his grandfather’s colorful life in Cook County.  
 
Although Alex lived most of his life in Grand Marais and on the Gunflint Trail, his main trapping territory was in the northern reaches of the Tofte and Lutsen townships.  Jack’s detailed memories of Alex’s stories about trapping and hunting in the area around Long Island and Frost Lakes bring that whole era vividly back to life.
 
One day when I was a small child Alex stopped by Sawbill to chat with my dad on his way out of the woods from his latest trapping trip.  My dad had just purchased a new brand of aluminum canoe and he asked Alex if he would like to try one out.  I think my dad meant for Alex to take the canoe down to the lake for a short paddle, but instead Alex put the canoe in his pickup and drove away.
 
A year went by with no contact from Alex until he stopped in the following spring after another round of wilderness trapping. After a few minutes of chewing the general fat with my dad, Alex gave his review of the canoe, which he liked very much.  But, with a little chagrin, he said that he no longer had the canoe.  He never explained what happened to it, but he quickly offered to trade some items that he thought would easily cover the value of the canoe.  He went to his pickup and pulled out five hand-carved cedar paddles – one for each member of our family.  He also gave us five raw wolf hides, which were legal to trap at that time.
 
My dad sold the hides immediately and their price easily made up the cost of the canoe. The paddles became prized possessions of our family, which we used for many, many canoe trips. I quickly grew out of my small paddle, but I used the paddle made for my dad on every canoe trip I took for 35 years, including a trip to James Bay. 
 
The two child-sized paddles eventually disappeared, but the three larger paddles have survived, although one is broken.
 
The paddles are wonders of craftsmanship, made entirely with hand tools out in the wilderness.  They show a deep understanding of how the material and the form are shaped to maximize strength, efficiency and usefulness.
 
They are an apt metaphor for the life of Alex Boostrom, who was well-known for his good humor, competency and deep skills in everything he did.  I can’t wait for Jack’s book to be published, hopefully within the next six months or so.
 

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West End News: September 25

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I’m happy to report that the Highway 61 construction projects that have been plaguing travel both ways from the West End are finally nearing completion. 
 
The 5-mile construction site centered on Little Marais is now completely paved with the first layer of asphalt.  The detour up through Finland and the bone-jarring stretches of potholed gravel are now just fading, unpleasant memories. The flag-person stops are now quite a bit shorter in duration.
 
The Lutsen resurfacing project is also making nice progress. It also seems to have its first layer of asphalt.  The bridge and culvert repairs are done and the traffic stops are quite a bit shorter.
 
Both projects are due to be completed in October.  Even though the construction has been a major pain in the neck for West End residents and visitors alike, there is no doubt the highway desperately needed repair. The smooth ride will make all the hassle well worth it.
 
A few days ago, I found the time to play hooky from work and ride my vintage motorcycle up Highway 1 to Ely. It was a glorious 70-degree day with no wind, a deep blue sky and fall colors at their peak. 
 
Nearly half of Highway 1 has been either rebuilt or resurfaced in recent years. The design engineers wisely kept the wonderfully curvy nature of the road, while making sure the curves are predictable and safe. It is a peak experience for any motorcycle rider, which was evidenced by the dozens of other bikers I saw during my ride.
 
I returned to Sawbill via the Tomahawk Trail and all the other gravel roads that follow the southern edge of the BWCA Wilderness. These roads have recently become popular with a group who identify themselves as adventure motorcyclists. They ride bikes that are for use on trails, gravel roads and paved highways.The riders who stop at Sawbill tell me that the back roads of Cook and Lake counties are listed as great riding destinations for this subset of the motorcycle world. 
 
All of this is good for our tourism industry, of course.  I personally contributed to the success of the Ely Dairy Queen in the middle of my recent ride.
 
In just two days last week, we enjoyed contacts with four of the most glamorous animals found in the West End.
 
After almost five years of zero bear problems, we had a funny visit from one local bruin. Our crew left a case of beer out on the back deck of the crew quarters.  In the morning, the case was discovered broken open and the cans strewn in a trail into the woods. Several of the cans had large caliber bite marks in them and had been drained of beer.
 
That same morning, a large bull moose strolled down the Sawbill Trail and straight through the Sawbill Lake Campground, much to the delight of the campers. The bulls are in the rut right now and not quite in their right minds.
 
That evening, someone heard wolves howling in the distance. One of our employees had never heard wolves, so she asked Cindy Hansen to howl into the night in the hope of provoking a response from the wolves. Cindy has a well-earned reputation for her ability to get wolf packs howling. After a few attempts, a wolf cut loose with a classic set of howls from less than 100 feet from where we were standing.  It was a deep baritone howl from an obviously large wolf. 
 
The next morning a lynx wandered through the campground and was spotted by several campers. 
 
I don’t know if all this animal activity is just coincidence, or if the turning of the season or phase of the moon is causing a wildlife gathering around Sawbill. No matter what the case, it has been great fun.
 
The fall colors are now at or near their peak.  I like it best when there is still some green on the trees for contrast.  The change is happening very fast now, so if you plan to get out for a color drive, now is the time.
 
The Honeymoon Trail is in full, blazing glory right now. The 600 Road north of Tofte and Schroeder is also gorgeous, but the Forest Service will be permanently closing the old iron bridge across the Temperance River to vehicle traffic soon, so get over there soon.
 
The gondola ride at Lutsen Mountains is at its peak right now too and makes a great outing for residents and visitors.
 
This is a glorious season here in the West End, so get out in the woods before the arrival of the grey season.
 

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West End News: September 18

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Where would we be without Boreal Access over the last 15 years or so? 
 
It started up as a member owned cooperative back in the early days of the internet to provide dial-up service to Cook County residents and businesses.  At the time, the big providers couldn’t be bothered with our little bit of business.  Boreal became our crucial link to the amazing world-wide-web.
 
Boreal quickly became an indispensable community asset, providing news, classified ads, community calendars, the home page and the list-serves that we’ve all grown to depend upon.
 
Additionally, they provide web hosting, site design, technical advice, computer repair and many other services large and small.  In this day and age, it’s a rare treat to pick up the phone or send an email to a real person, someone you see at the grocery store, and have them respond immediately with expert advice and service.
 
Now, on the cusp of county-wide broadband internet service, Boreal’s role may be changing.  I sense a strong consensus in the community that Boreal continue to provide many of the services that we all rely upon.
 
As a result, Boreal Access is making a change in their tax-exempt status.  The change will allow them to apply for funds from foundations and make any personal or business donations they receive tax deductible.  This change is critical for Boreal to thrive into the future.
 
Boreal is a member owned entity, so to make the change they need the approval of 10% of their current members.  If you are a Boreal member, go to Boreal.org where you can cast your ballot in favor of the change.
 
Another great organization in Cook County is the North Shore Health Care Foundation.  They have, in recent years, organized the Oral Health Task Force in cooperation with Grand Marais Family Dentistry.
 
On Friday, October 3rd, any child between the ages of 18 months and 18 years can receive a free dental exam, cleaning, x-rays and a few other basic treatments.  To schedule an appointment, call the dental office at 387-2774.
 
Oral health is a surprisingly important part of life, so early dental exams and simple treatments can contribute to a lifetime of good health.
 
The goal of the program is to make sure that every Cook County child receives basic dental care and gets in the habit of regular dental visits.
 
If you missed the phone number, you can contact WTIP for more information.  Thanks to all who donate their time and money to this important project.
 
Well, after an incredible season of blueberries I’m sorry to report that they are finally done.  Several nights of frost finally ended what may have been the best blueberry crop in more than 50 years.
 
However, not all is lost, because we can enjoy a slice of blueberry pie and then head outside for what is shaping up to be a great fall color season.  So far, only the underbrush and an occasional splash of color are showing.  I would estimate that the Sawbill Trail and the other back roads are still about 90% green.  The shore, as always, is running a little behind that.  It’s my guess that by this time next week, we should be entering the peak season for colors.
 
The fall colors basically do for the eye what the blueberries do for the taste buds – but with less calories.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

 
 

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West End News: September 11

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The Cook County Comprehensive Land Use Plan is an important set of guidelines that determines what kind of place Cook County will be in the future. The plan is updated every so often and the current update is happening now.
 
The committee charged with recommending a new plan is inviting all Cook County citizens to share their ideas for the future.  To that end, they have organized a community planning session that invites Cook County residents and landowners to share their ideas on future land use policy.  The session is scheduled for Wednesday, September 17th, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais.
 
Trained facilitators from outside the area will run the meeting.  They are asking participants to think about how they want Cook County to look in 20 years in the areas of land use, economic vitality and community life.
 
If you want some background on the process so far, you can find it on the Cook County website under the heading of “Desired Future Condition.”  If you can’t make the meeting, you are welcome to submit your comments and ideas by email to the Cook County Zoning Department.
 
Of course, you want to be careful not to submit your comments to the other Cook County, which contains the good-sized city of Chicago in Illinois.  The land use issues there and here in the “real” Cook County are likely to be a little different.
 
I applaud the thoughtful, sensitive and well-written editorial by Rhonda Silence of the Cook County News Herald last week.  She tackled the difficult and sensitive topic how a small town newspaper should cover news of a suicide.  Her piece wasn’t an abstract analysis, but a reaction to the suicide of Megan Bauer Stejskal, who was a resident of Lutsen.
 
Megan’s father, John Bauer, from Grand Rapids, is using the unimaginable grief he is suffering from his daughter’s death to raise the subject of mental health and suicide within communities.  Education, awareness and engagement are the keys to prevention.  It’s not an easy thing for any of us to talk about, but talk we must.
 
Thanks again to Rhonda for bringing it to our collective attention.
 
I was interested and pleased to note a news item from Silver Bay that publicized the plans to expand the existing greenhouse/fish farm to a commercial scale operation.  The new venture is called Mariner Farms and the West End’s own Bruce Carmen is the President.
 
The pilot project has obviously been a rousing success and I wish the expansion the same success. 
 
It would be great to see a similar facility in Cook County.  There was some talk of re-using the old pool building in Grand Marais for this purpose, but it was in too rough of shape to remodel.  I wonder if the old Moffatt building in Lutsen would be a suitable candidate?
 
An existing West End business was honored and highlighted by United States Senator Amy Klobuchar recently.  The Senator featured the wild blueberry muffins from Moondance Coffee House in Lutsen at her weekly “Minnesota Mornings” get-together at her office in Washington.
 
Congratulations to the great staff at Moondance and also congratulations to the prolific blueberry bushes of the West End.  Both are a big part of what makes life so sweet here in the West End.
 

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West End News: September 4

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A study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health has found that 10 percent of the babies in northeastern Minnesota have a higher level of mercury in their blood than is considered safe.
 
This is a very alarming statistic because, according to the National Institutes of Health, mercury poisoning in infants can cause permanent damage to the brain.
 
Mercury is introduced into the environment from a variety of sources, including coal burning power plants, fluorescent light bulbs, and even some food processing systems.
 
In response to finding mercury in the blood of our infants, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais is coordinating a study of women who are 16 to 50 years old and live in or near Cook County.
 
The study strives to interview and test at least 500 women. The interview lasts for an hour and is free and totally confidential. You will be asked about your fish eating habits and will have your blood tested for mercury. You will receive the results of the tests and will get information on how to get the positive health benefits of eating fish while avoiding exposure to mercury.
 
Better yet, all study participants who complete the process receive a $50 Visa gift card.
 
Registered nurse, Joyce Klees, is holding an enrollment event at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte Wednesday, Sept. 10 from 3 until 7 p.m.
 
If you can’t make the Birch Grove date, there is another all day enrollment opportunity at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Saturday, Sept. 13, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.
 
This is a very important study for the future health of our children and I strongly urge every eligible woman to participate.
 
At both events snacks and childcare will be provided.  Call the clinic at 218-387-2330 and ask for the FISH coordinator if you want more information.
 
On a lighter note, the semi-regular card-making get-together is scheduled for the Birch Grove Community Center on Sunday, Sept. 14 from 3 to 7:30 p.m.  There is a small charge and you are asked to bring a dish to share, potluck style, for dinner.
 
If you are new to card making, you can just show up and the veterans will share their supplies and expertise.  Just think about how satisfying it would be to have all your cards made for the year – and to have them be cool, handmade and thoughtful.
 
Call Penny at 475-2432 for more information. You can always contact Birch Grove or WTIP for information as well.
 
I thought the blueberry report would be history by this point in the season. However, Duluth’s most avid blueberry harvest team, Jim and Teresa Warren, managed to pick 25 quarts of sweet berries in the Sawbill area over the Labor Day weekend. 
 
They report that the bushes are still loaded and due to the cool, wet weather, the berries are unusually plump and sweet.
 
The Warrens admit to being obsessive about their picking habit, but I’m estimating that they have picked at least 30 gallons of blueberries this year.  You’ll recognize them if you see them because they are the people with blue stains on their clothes, hands and faces.  If they keep this up, they may start growing black fur and hibernating in the winter.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.


 
Rose Hips

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 29

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The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. After a swell time with our daughter in Iowa, we’re happily home in the wilderness quiet.
           
For 57 years the Smiths were citizens of what most would call organized civilization. Having been away from urban America’s hubbub for 15 years, it’s culture shock to go back after being graced with the serenity of border country living. Our unorganized territory is oh so sweet!
           
August 2014 is a near has been. How could it have slipped away so quietly? As America takes another monthly break for the Labor Day holiday, summer’s gone, in spite of the calendar still calling for another three weeks. And for many, parting with warm season elements is difficult to accept.
           
One can sense our warm season demise;  in whispering winds, browning tangles of roadside weeds, the apprehension of ripening tomatoes and maturing garden produce,  aspen hills and valleys turning to gold, dwindling daylight minutes with hurried sunsets and the early fall animal rituals.
             
The fading of this short season should not be taken with too much alarm. More good things are just over the borderland horizon. We year-round residents welcome the renewing of solitude after a busy summer, with the upper Gunflint at the threshold of autumn’s Technicolor explosion.
           
Tinges of yellow, orange and red are fringing some of the maple leaves along the Mile O Pine. While the last flowery blooms twinkle with their final hurrahs, rose hips and high bush cranberries are aglow like scarlet holiday ornaments. The area will be a leaf peeper’s enchantment in a couple weeks.
           
Speaking of rose hips, many find them a tea drinker’s delight following a frosty end to their time of maturation. The quaint fruit of the rose is rich in vitamin C, but don’t attempt eating one; I’m told the fuzzy innards could bring on some gastric distress.
           
Although I wasn’t present to observe such, I find the Wildersmith neighborhood received some valuable moisture during my absence. The frequency and duration are a mystery but proof was in the rain gauge where 1 inch was captured.
           
However, at this scribing, the area is moderately dry once more. So care should be exercised with any burning activities.
           
The Gunflint Lake water temp at the dock has slipped to the high 60s (68 degrees) and is probably following suit on other area bodies. Such would indicate that atmospheric conditions during my time away were certainly not like the muggy heat experienced in southeast Iowa. Living up here for a decade and a half kind of has me forgetting the miserable sticky corn growing times of my previous life.
           
The area looks to be busy for the next few days as several families and property owners gather to commence a beginning of the end for cabin days throughout the Gunflint forest. 
           
Another memorable sweet happening will be held on Sunday. The annual Gunflint Trail Historical Society pie and ice cream social will take place on the grounds of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The craft of area pie-making artisans and frozen sweet cream will be served from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. along with coffee and lemonade.
           
Everyone is invited to come up and enjoy not only the treats of the day, but also the magic of this special place at Trail’s End. The event is a fundraiser for the society in support of museum operations, with a free-will donation being appreciated.
           
Of course the museum will be open for viewing and several local authors will be on hand for book signings. The Chik-Wauk gift shop will also be holding an end of season parking lot sale. So it looks as though several bases can be touched by making this upper Gunflint journey a must do!
           
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the end of the summer song!
           
           
 
 

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West End News: August 28

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Fifty years ago, on Sept. 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act.  The law established a National Wilderness Preservation System, along with a process for Congress to identify and preserve more wilderness areas in the future. 
 
In my opinion, the Wilderness Act is one of most significant and beautiful legislative actions in the history of this country.  It ranks right up there with the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, The Social Security Act and the 19th Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote.
 
The act is unusually poetic for legal language, including this much quoted definition of wilderness:  “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
 
The use of the obscure word “untrammeled” was deliberate.  It has a precise definition of: “not deprived of freedom of action or expression; not restricted or hampered.”
 
The 1964 Wilderness Act included the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a big chunk of which is located right here in Cook County.  Interestingly, the act contains many management exceptions for the BWCA, including continued motor use and logging, reflecting the political climate in Minnesota at that time.
 
Since 1964, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown from 54 wilderness areas totaling 9.1 million acres to 758 wilderness areas comprising more than 109 million acres.  In 1978, the BWCA Wilderness Act removed all logging and most of the motorized use from our local wilderness.  
 
The Wilderness Act created a lot of controversy in the West End back in the day, but now it has become a welcome and treasured part of our local economy and lifestyle.
 
My hat is off to the men and women who early on recognized the need to protect wilderness areas and those who continue to work hard to protect and expand wilderness across this beautiful country of ours.
 
Speaking of modern day wilderness defenders, Lutsen’s own Amy and Dave Freeman are off on another big adventure in an effort to raise the public’s awareness of the value of wilderness.
 
They are paddling and sailing 2,000 miles from Ely to Washington, D. C. where they will present a petition to the Obama administration in opposition to the proposed mining projects near the BWCA Wilderness and the Lake Superior watershed.
 
The Freemans will be featured speakers at the Lake Superior Wilderness Conference in Duluth on Sept. 5 and 6.  The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland, Wisc. sponsors the conference, which will be held at the Inn on Lake Superior in Duluth.  The conference is dedicated to Sigurd Olson, who was one of Minnesota’s most prominent advocates for wilderness preservation.
 
You can find information and registration information on the web by searching for “wilderness conference in Duluth” or contact WTIP for full contact information.
 
Ted and Marcella Jensen were Silver Bay residents who came to the town when Reserve Mining built a taconite plant there in the 1950s.  They were active in the community, especially in the welfare of children.  They had many foster children as well as their own four children.  I knew them because they camped for many weeks each summer in the Sawbill Campground, especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Their son, Hawk, is one of my dearest friends to this day.
 
Ted died a number of years ago, but Marcella just passed away a couple of weeks ago.  Even though they were like second parents to me as I grew up, I have to think a moment to remember their first names.  The reason is that they were called “Ma” and “Pa” Jensen by virtually everyone. 
 
I spent many happy days at their house in Silver Bay, which was always a hub of activity for every kid in town.  Ma kept a freezer full of frozen pizzas, so when you arrived at her house you were immediately fed, made to feel loved, closely questioned and carefully steered to the straight and narrow.  She was one of those amazing people who accepted everyone as inherently good.  In her eyes only the behavior could be bad – never the person.
 
Her memorial wishes were that anyone who knew her should buy themselves flowers, a good mystery novel or a puzzle in her memory.  She also asked that her family gather at the Sawbill Lake Campground in a couple of weeks to share memories and honor the life of a woman who spent so many happy days here.
 
She was 91 years old when she died and will be missed by many, many people.
 

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