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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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Vistors Center at Tettegouche

West End News: January 23

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The permanent Tofte Post Office job has finally been posted.  The postmaster in Tofte has been temporary since Priscilla Revier retired a number of years ago.  The job is now part time, consisting of a split shift which totals six and a half hours per day with a two-hour break around lunchtime.  The pay is $12.94 per hour with limited benefits including paid vacation days and access to health care after the first year of employment.
 
The Lutsen and Schroeder post offices also have positions open for postmaster relief and replacement clerks. This means being the substitute postmaster on Saturdays and whenever the postmaster is gone for vacation or sick days. The sub position pays $11.76 per hour.
 
Applications can only be made online.  Just go to usps.com and click on the “Careers” link at the bottom of the page.  From there you can just type Tofte, Lutsen or Schroeder into the search field and get the job description and application form.
 
It’s a shame that these jobs don’t pay a higher wage.  In Cook County, even a full-time job that pays less than $13 per hour without benefits is not a living wage.  It used to be that post office jobs were considered good paying jobs.  However, the modern reality is that many locals work several part-time jobs to make ends meet.  Hopefully, these jobs will fit into someone’s schedule and provide a good chunk of the income they need to prosper.
 
I’m a big fan of free enterprise and allowing market forces to work, but over the last 20 years, the inequality between very richest people and the rest of us has gotten out of hand. The richest 85 individuals in the world now have the same amount of money as do the 3.5 billion people in the lower earning half of the world’s population.  This is not the result of free markets, but the result of the very rich buying the political clout they need to ensure that they continue to pile up unimaginable wealth.  This is not a good way to organize the world, to put it mildly.
 
I was pleased to read that the beautiful visitor center at Tettegouche State Park is finally nearing completion. Construction began back in July 2012 and was supposed to be completed last fall.  Apparently, bad weather and some other complications delayed the construction, but the 11,000-square-foot building is expected to open sometime in March.
 
By all accounts it will be a beautiful and welcoming facility with the latest energy-saving and green construction features.  The park management is excited about having many more interpretive displays and opportunities for visitors to enhance their visit to the magnificent Tettegouche State Park.
 
I won’t lie, though. I’m most looking forward to having the bathroom facilities available again.  Tettegouche seems to be in a very strategic location between Duluth and Cook County for bathroom convenience – at least for this coffee drinker.
 
The Birch Grove Foundation and the Town of Tofte are holding a community conversation concerning the future of the Birch Grove Community Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19.  As with most Birch Grove events, it will begin with wood fired pizza from 5:15 until 6 p.m and then structured conversation from 6:15 until 8 p.m.  The goal is to get input from all West End residents on how the Community Center should prioritize their goals and objectives.  They ask that you RSVP if you plan to attend by emailing bfg@boreal.org or calling 663-7977.
 
I highly recommend that everyone attend this important meeting to help make Birch Grove all that it can be for the West End.
 
Last week, I mentioned my memories of cold Januarys in the past.  The latest cold snap led me to page through my dad’s old weather diaries, and I found that in January of 1982 every single night was below zero.  Thirteen nights were 30 below or colder. Five nights were minus 40 or colder.  On the night of Jan. 10, 1982, the low temperature was 44 below, 2 inches of snow fell and the peak wind gust was 48 mph.  My dad made a note next to that entry commenting that the wind chill was minus 120 degrees.  Jan. 16, 1982, the high for the day was minus 30 and the low was 53 degrees below zero.  Mercifully, the winds were recorded as calm.
 
I don’t want to sound callous, but our recent weather is just a normal chilly January in the West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

Program: 

 
Mesabi Miner

West End News: January 16

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The 30th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is coming up January 24th through January 30th.  Tofte is a great place to be a spectator for this unique race that celebrates the history and culture of the North Shore.
 
The racers participating in the full 384 mile marathon race are required to rest of at least four hours at the Sawbill checkpoint, which is located on the Sawbill Trail six miles north of downtown Tofte.  The first teams should arrive there on Monday, January 27th at around 7 am. There should be teams at the checkpoint until about 2 that afternoon.
 
The Sawbill checkpoint has a fabulous atmosphere.  It’s right on the Temperance River and is doesn’t have any buildings, electricity or even cell service, so it’s a true wilderness experience.  It’s entirely possible to visit directly with the racers and their support teams around the bonfire there. 
 
Many years ago, when my daughter Clare was about five years old, she shyly approached the late Iditarod legend, Susan Butcher, at the checkpoint.  Susan was kind enough to really engage with Clare. She took her by the hand and introduced her to the dogs, one by one, telling Clare about each dog’s personality and racing history.  It was a highlight of Clare’s young life and we still have the picture posted that she drew when she got home that day, with each dog’s name laboriously labeled in her childish printing.
 
 The 112 mile mid-distance race has its exciting finish right in Tofte.  The winner should break the tape at about 8:30 on Monday morning, January 27th.  The last place finisher should cross the line around 1:30 that afternoon.
 
The awards banquet for the mid-distance race is being held at the Birch Grove Community Center, Monday evening starting at 6 pm and the community is welcome to attend.
 
Our wonderful local internet service, Boreal Access, has recently added a very fun feature to their website that allows West Enders to get real time information on the ships that are passing on Lake Superior.  The website displays a map, with the passing vessels showing up in their current location.  If you click on the ship icon, it brings up its name, a detailed description, photos, current speed, destination, with estimated time of arrival, what cargo it carries and where it came from most recently.  There are several other features, for the truly shipping obsessed.
 
It’s fun to track the ships as they pass, but in light of the recent reporting by WTIP’s Program Director Kelly Shoenfelder concerning human trafficking on great lakes vessels, I’ve started looking at the ships with a different eye.  I sincerely hope that her excellent reporting, along with the efforts by police and victim advocates, will lead to the permanent end of this sordid practice.
 
Speaking of Lake Superior, the water level in the big lake is back to nearly its average height, thanks to a relatively wet year.  According to the Lake Superior Board of Control, the lake level declined less this year than it normally does in the month of December.  It is now just one inch lower than the long-term average for the beginning of January and a full foot higher than it was at this time last year.  The lake level will continue to drop until spring runoff, which is normal. 
 
As predicted, snowmobile, cross-country ski, downhill ski and snowshoe trails are all in perfect trim at the moment, so now is the time to enjoy outdoor fun in the beautiful West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

{photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard}
 
 


 
January rainbow in a clear sky

West End News: January 9

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West End News 1/9/2014
 
Longtime Schroeder and Tofte resident, Dave Carlson, moved to Silver Bay a few years ago to take advantage of senior housing there.  Dave is the father of Diane Norman and the grandfather of Tyler Norman, who both live in Tofte.
 
Before he moved, Dave was the most dedicated user of the Sugarbush cross-country ski trails in Tofte.  For decades, Dave would grind out 15 to 20 kilometers a day, no matter what the weather or trail conditions were.  He was never much for speed, but he made up for it with endurance and tenacity.
 
Over the recent holiday season, Dave stayed a few days with the Normans in Tofte and used that opportunity to return to his old ski trail haunts at Sugarbush.  While on the trail, Dave, who is in his 80s, ran into Charlie Nelson of Lutsen.  Charlie is the other West-ender with the most Sugarbush miles under his belt.  I honestly can’t say which man has skied the farthest, but it sure was fun that they are still out there logging the miles together.
 
The ski trails haven’t been getting much use for the last week, due to the slightly chillier than normal weather. That should change now that warmer temperatures have returned. Certainly, there is enough snow for all the trails and downhill slopes to be in perfect condition.
 
Speaking of the cold snap, I looked back at my weather records and in the last 30 days all but two nights have been below zero.  One of those warm nights was 2 degrees and the other was a sweltering 12 degrees.  The coldest night was 31 below, with four nights at 30 below or colder.  Last year, the same 30 days only had seven nights below zero and the coldest of those nights was a wimpy 14 below.
 
That said, I have personally witnessed 58 below zero here at Sawbill, on the night when the state record was set at 62 below in Tower.  I also have childhood memories of two occasions when our propane stopped flowing over the Christmas holidays, which I believe happens at around 45 below.  Of course, I also used to walk to school uphill both ways through 6-foot snowdrifts back in those days.
 
As usual, there is a lot going on at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte:
 
The “Second Sunday Fun Day” series continues to provide some indoor winter recreation for West End families.  It starts at 3:30 p.m. every second Sunday with activities, games, Zumba and open gym.  In January, there will also be a hands-on activity called ‘planning through play” sponsored by Cook County Moving Matters, starting at 4:30 p.m. The first 25 participants in this fun planning process will get free pizza from the outdoor pizza oven. At 6:30 on the same evening the Birch Grove greenhouse committee will meet with Jake Davis, who is a recent horticulture graduate, and Diane Booth from the County Extension Service.  Everyone is welcome to attend the greenhouse meeting too.
 
On Jan. 27, the community is invited to the mid-distance Beargrease sled-dog race banquet. You can meet the mushers and their dogs.  There is a charge for the banquet, but the menu includes the famous Cross River Café chili, along with other delicious dishes. 
 
As always, you can get more information about all Birch Grove activities by emailing bgf@boreal.org or calling 663-7977. Otherwise, feel free to contact WTIP for complete contact information.
 
On a recent cold early morning trip down the Sawbill Trail, I observed a weather phenomenon that I’ve never seen before. Although the sky was clear, it seems that tiny ice crystals were condensing directly out of the air.  As the sun broke over the Sawtooth Mountains, it created a full rainbow, completely contained in the valley in front of the hills.  Not only was it incredibly beautiful, but I can’t remember ever seeing a rainbow in January.
 
It’s just another perk of living in the beautiful West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

{photo by Bill Hansen}

Program: 

 
trusty Sorel pac boot

West End News: January 2

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I was sorry to hear that the Birch Grove skating rink has not opened yet, in spite of this being one of the earliest and coldest winters in decades. At least one skating party has been cancelled already. It also would have been good to have the rink ready for the many visitors that were here over the holidays. Skating is also a good sub-zero outdoor activity, because you can skate until the frost starts to nip and then step into the warming house for a quick toe thaw.
 
Last year, the fire department was complaining that water was running out of the rink, rather than freezing in place. Apparently, similar problems are being encountered this year.  The solution, although counterintuitive, may be to apply less water to the rink.
 
When I was in high school, I lived only a block away from my school. The school had an outdoor skating rink that was used for phy ed classes and by the B-squad hockey team, of which I was a member.  My coach was Jerry Peterson, an Iron Range native who became a pretty famous prep-school hockey coach in later years.  Coach Peterson recruited me to flood the rink, because I lived conveniently close by.
 
Coach was a precise and exacting leader. He was also much more interested in my rink flooding abilities than in my hockey skills. I vividly remember him admonishing me not to put too much water down in any single flooding session. He had me set the hose to a wide spray and just cover the ground, not even attempting to have the water pool up anywhere. He taught me that you get much better ice by frequent light flooding than a few heavier floods.
 
Of course, being a teenager, I ignored his advice and tried to add more water to speed up the process.  When Coach made his inspection the next day, I learned two things: It’s better to use less water with more frequent applications; and it’s a really bad idea to second guess Coach Peterson’s instructions.
 
You may have noticed some news stories this week about the U. S. Forest Service plan to restore the forest along the North Shore. The effort is just one part of a more ambitious restoration plan known as the North Shore Forest Collaborative, which includes private landowners, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, county and tribal forestry agencies.
 
The most obvious and visible problem with the forest along the shore is all the dead and dying birch trees.  No one knows for sure, but the birches are thought to be dying from a combination of age, drought stress, disease, climate change and pollution. The birches are only a part of what some ecologists call “the accidental forest,” meaning that the forest we have today is the result of historic large scale logging, fires, invasive species, and all the change agents already mentioned.
 
The ambitious goal of the collaborative is to bring the forest back to some approximation of what it would have been today without all the human disruption.  This is, of course, an impossible task, but in my opinion an important step toward protecting the ecosystem for the long-term benefit of all.  Although commercial interests are important, it is a good thing that foresters are beginning to plan for long-term sustainability.
 
The recent cold snaps have made me grateful for my trusty Sorel pac boots. I’m just old enough to remember the days before pac boots were available. I was reminded of those days recently when I went for a run in the sub-zero temperatures and thoroughly frostbit my big toe. The agony of the thawing brought me right back to childhood when my feet froze almost every time I played outside in the winter.
 
I clearly remember the day that I was complaining about frozen feet to our neighbors, Ken and Vi Osman. The Osmans were Cook County residents for many years, living on Brule Lake during the summer and going south to Sawbill Lake in the winter.  That morning in the early 1960s, Vi offered me a trial loan of her brand new Sorel pac boots with felt linings.  My life changed forever in that moment.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

Program: 

 
San Francisco

West End News: December 26

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This is not the West End News from Cook County this week, but the West End News from the western United States, where I am visiting family for the holidays.  George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”  I agree with George, but probably for different reasons.
 
It is a genuine culture shock to travel directly from the end of the Sawbill Trail to San Francisco, California.  It is truly a case of a woods bunny lost and adrift on the mean streets of one of the world’s great cities.  It is fun though, to draw some comparisons between San Francisco and good old Cook County.
 
There are many more young people per capita in San Francisco than in Cook County.  Hosting the headquarters of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and thousands of other tech companies, combined with ridiculous housing prices, has made San Francisco the Mecca of well paid, smart, young people from all over the world.
 
Even the casual conversations overheard in public ranged from improving driverless cars, new ways of distributing music, how recent legal precedents are affecting the marketplace, to what will be the next big thing and who will get rich inventing it.  It is exciting, intimidating and a little frightening, all at the same time.  It is a given that if you have an amazing idea, you can apply the appropriate brainpower and change the world.  Big things are coming - the only question is, what are they and who will get rich inventing them?
 
San Francisco has fully embraced smart phone culture.  Almost every routine, daily activity involves the help of a smart phone.  It has changed the rhythm of life by making planning and organizing quick and easy. 
 
Two parts of the smart phone culture were very handy to this Cook County visitor on the big city.
 
The first was the mapping app that also provides exact directions to any destinations.  You can even ask it to tailor the directions for walking and public transportation.  This relieves the old anxiety of feeling lost half the time in the heart of the urban jungle.  Now, a pleasant voice gently and reassuringly guides you to your destination.  As a side benefit, you can instantly locate food, drink, public bathrooms and look up answers to any questions that may occur to you.
 
Another big difference of the San Francisco smart phone culture is that it is now considered bad manners to use your phone while in a social situation.  When people gather face-to-face, the phones are put away with their ringers silenced.  The only time a phone is taken out is to do something that serves the group – looking up disputed facts, making reservations, getting directions and so on. 
 
If you do take a call or text in a social setting, you are expected to apologize, explain why the call is necessary and leave the group to complete the conversation.  I’m told that this is a relatively new social convention and we can only hope that it spreads to the rest of the country quickly.
 
Another amazing development that began in San Francisco is the way that taxis and ridesharing work. 
 
Uber is smart phone app that allows you to just push a button on your phone when you want a taxi.  It automatically summons the nearest taxi, tells you where it is relative to you, how soon it will arrive, the driver’s name and his or her average rating from all previous clients.  The taxi pulls up, usually in a couple of minutes, and the driver greets you by name.  You climb in and tell the driver where you want to go.  You can watch your progress on your phone and it tells you when you will arrive based on your average speed.  When you get there, you just get out and walk away.  The app takes care of paying the fare including the tip.  Both the driver and customer provide ratings.  If the driver has a bad rating, he will soon be out of business.  If a rider gets a bad rating, he will soon find it difficult to summon a taxi.
 
Lyft is a similar service that does the same thing using private cars and drivers rather than licensed taxis.
 
Not only is this system incredibly efficient, easy and cost effective, it also develops a sense of trust and community, even in the heart of world class metropolis.
 
On the less positive side, San Francisco has many, many more homeless people than Cook County.  It seems that almost every block you see a person with their life’s possessions in a shopping cart.  Many are obviously mentally ill.
 
In the parks, which are beautiful, there are what appear to be semi-permanent encampments of people who sleep out in sleeping bags with scraps of plastic keeping off the rain.
 
It’s not clear to me if the relative lack of homeless people in Cook County is a function of our brutal winter weather or enlightened social policies.  It was shocking to see busy, purposeful, well dressed people passing the homeless routinely without a glance in their direction.  Even with California’s warm climate, it seems that as a society we could provide opportunities for people with mental illness to live a more dignified and comfortable life.
 
It is easy to feel dazzled and envious of the fast paced life in San Francisco, but our clean air, abundant wildlife, pristine watersheds and small town friendliness would surely dazzle an urban visitor to our lovely corner of the world.
 
In other words, there is no place like home.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

Program: 

 
food shelf

West End News: December 19

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In the middle of this busy holiday season, it’s a good idea to stop a moment and think about the many hard working people who are struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy.
 
In northeastern Minnesota, there are many food shelves and non-profit groups that provide healthy, nutritious food to families. The Silver Bay Area Food Shelf is located at 99 Edison Boulevard #26, and is open form 8 am to 4 pm every weekday, except on holidays.  In Cook County, the Grand Marais Food Shelf is located in the lower level of the
First Congregational Church, located at 2nd Street and 3rd Avenue West.  It’s open on Mondays, 3 - 5pm and the first Wednesday of each month from 5 – 7 pm.
 
Both of the local food shelves are affiliated with the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth.  Second Harvest rescues food - that would otherwise go to waste - then redistributes it to hungry people.  They are responsible for providing more than 4 million meals a year in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.
 
In our region, 15% of the population lives in poverty. 12% of our population is “food insecure” or at risk for going hungry.  16% of our children are food insecure.  30% of those receiving food from a food shelf are children. Since the great recession of 2008, food shelf use has increased by 70%.  The number of seniors using a food shelf has quadrupled since 2008. 
 
Although, all the traditional indicators say economic recovery is well under way, food shelf use is not declining.  I doubt that this is news to most Americans, who have seen their wages stagnate or decline over the last ten years, as the recovery’s benefits have gone almost exclusively to the very wealthy.
 
Both local food shelves accept donations of food and cash.  Second Harvest also accepts cash donations.  $1 donated to Second Harvest buys $5 worth of food.  Such is the power of volunteers and careful program management. You can find the contact info for the food shelves or Second Harvest online or in the phone book.  As always, you can contact WTIP for full information.
 
We’ve certainly had our share of natural disasters in the last 20 years, including windstorms, forest fires and floods.  There is no doubt that we will face similar challenges in the future.  When a large-scale disaster strikes, police, fire fighters and rescues squads quickly become overwhelmed.  Typically, the first response to a disaster comes from neighbors helping each other.
 
Community Emergency Response Team training, known as CERT training, is designed to prepare regular community members to react effectively in a crisis.  CERT training is not fire fighter or first aid training.  It includes topics like disaster preparedness, disaster psychology, basic fire suppression, hazardous materials safety, simple search and rescue, and basic medical triage.
 
CERT training will be offered in both Silver Bay and Grand Marais this January. The classes start on January 11th and include six sessions ending early in February.  If you are interested, call BJ Kohlstedt at 218-226-4444.  Or contact WTIP to get full contact information.
 
For the first time in many years, there is more snow on the North Shore than there is back here in the woods.  Although we “only” have about 20 inches of snow on the ground here at Sawbill, it is plenty to put us in the holiday spirit.  The trees are heavily loaded with snow and the creeks are just narrow meanderings of dark water through great pillows of fluffy snow.  This makes a hike or ski in the woods a magical experience.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen, wishing you Happy Holidays from the West End News.

Program: 

 
NorthMet EIS

West End News: December 12

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Birch Grove Community School in Tofte wants you to know that they have beautiful Wolf Ridge Calendars available just in time for the Christmas gift season.  The calendars are available at the annual Birch Grove Holiday Book Sale that is open during the school day from now through Dec.17.  Proceeds from the calendar sales go to support the biannual trip for Birch Grove students to the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland.
 
Speaking of Wolf Ridge, I notice that they are looking for a new finance director.  The position is a full-time professional job with salary and benefits.  They are looking for someone with an accounting degree and three years of experience running a similar sized organization, preferably a non-profit.  Wolf Ridge has a roughly $3 million annual budget and employs 23 full-time and 13 part-time employees, as well as about 40 seasonal staff.  If you are interested, just search the web for Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center and click on the “Jobs” link at the bottom of the home page.  You can always call WTIP for complete contact information.
 
In the local jobs department, it seems like the permanent postmaster position at the Tofte Post Office will not be offered until next summer.  We’ve had a series of friendly and competent temporary postmasters since Priscilla Revere retired a number of years ago.  The U. S. Postal Service has been conducting a national review of their rural offices, which apparently held up the appointment at Tofte.  As a result of the review, the hours have been reduced at Tofte to six and a half hours per day, but it also cleared the way to hire a permanent postmaster.  The ways of the Post Office can seem a little mysterious sometimes, but the latest word is no job posting until summer.
 
The Cook County Visitor’s Bureau is offering customer service training Dec. 18 and 19.  Linda Kratt, the new executive director of the Visitor’s Bureau, will teach the training. 
 
Linda is a Cook County native with extensive customer service experience.  Most recently, she was director of member retention for the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. She also owns a restaurant and bar in the Duluth area. 
 
Maggie Barnard, who is the events manager at the Visitor’s Bureau, will show off the new VisitCookCounty.com website and run through a tour of the many upcoming winter events. 
 
The training runs from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 at the Cook County Higher Education Campus in Grand Marais, and from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 19 in the Nelson Suite at Lutsen Resort in Lutsen.  Make your reservations with Anna at the Visitor’s Bureau by calling 387-2788 or by emailing anna@visitcookcounty.com.
 
It was big news this week when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed NorthMet Mine near Babbitt was released for public comment.  The public has 90 days to submit comments on the document, which is over 2,000 pages long.
 
The NorthMet mine is a project of the PolyMet Mining Company and proposes to mine copper, nickel and other precious metals.  This type of mining is new to Minnesota and is much riskier than the iron mining that we are used to.  The risk of disastrous and long-term pollution is very high in this type of mining. 
 
In my opinion, the new mining, as proposed by PolyMet, is a bad deal for Minnesotans.  Even if you set aside the almost certain environmental destruction and the need to treat the mine’s wastewater for 500 year or more, this is still just a bad deal on its face value.  These rich mineral deposits are owned by us - the people of Minnesota.  The current mining proposals allow very wealthy foreign investors to get the lion’s share of profit from selling our minerals to China.  I don’t think we should sell our treasure so cheaply.
 
It’s easy to be tempted by the offer of jobs, but we really have to ask ourselves if we are doing this in the smartest way possible.  You can find the Draft EIS on the Minnesota DNR website.  You can find PolyMet’s company website with the obvious web search.  Arguments opposed to the mining can be found at MiningTruth.org.
 
I urge everyone to educate themselves on this important subject and submit your comments to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  This complicated issue has the potential to profoundly change our community and way of life - forever. 
 
Everyone on the West End is very sad to receive the news that Carol Gervais has died.  Carol was born in Hovland, but moved to Tofte when she married her high school sweetheart, Ron Gervais.
 
Carol was a fixture in the West End, raising three sons, working at several area businesses and watching more curling matches than anyone else in the world.  She was an expert curler herself, with a mixed national championship to her credit. 
 
Her friends and family will sorely miss her constant presence and dry sense of humor here in the West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

Program: 

 
Sugarloaf pulpwood rafting

West End News: December 5

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The new Cook County Community YMCA in Grand Marais will open next month, with many programs and opportunities for all county residents.  Of course, the distance from the West End communities to the new Y makes is a little less attractive for us, but nonetheless, it is there and we should all use it as much as is practical.
 
One of the Y’s programs may be helpful for the home schooling families in the West End.  Apparently, YMCAs across the country have a niche offering physical education programs to home-schooled children.  Emily Marshall, the director of the Cook County Y, would like to offer that service here.
 
Emily is asking for input from home schoolers, so the program can be designed to best fit their needs. You can find Emily’s contact information by searching for the Cook County YMCA on the web, or contact WTIP for full information.
 
Back when my daughter Ruthie was home schooling here at Sawbill, we tried to schedule several town activities on the same day each week to cut down on the driving.  She volunteered at Birch Grove School as a teacher’s aide, which we tried to combine with dance and piano lessons.  These opportunities not only gave her valuable education, it also provided important social contact.
 
The Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder is once again offering a Master Naturalist class this winter.  I can’t imagine a better place to become a skilled naturalist than on the shores of Lake Superior at Sugarloaf.
 
The course will give you deep knowledge of the natural systems of Lake Superior, the North Shore and the inland forest.  The timing of the course includes the fascinating northland transition from winter to spring.  Classes are scheduled for all day on alternating Saturdays beginning Feb. 22 through May 10.
 
There is a charge for the course, but scholarships are available. Class size is limited and does tend to sell out, so if you’re interested contact Molly at 218-525-0001 or through the www.sugarloafnorthshore.org.
 
Speaking of Sugarloaf, the West End community was saddened by the death of Don Ingram last week.  Don was a prominent and well-respected member of the West End community when he managed the pulpwood rafting operation at Sugarloaf Cove for the Consolidated Paper Company.   He moved back to Cook County after retiring from Consolidated, although he spent his winters in Arizona.  I’m sure the entire West End joins me in offering condolences to Don’s family and many friends for their loss.
 
I noticed an article in the Ely Timberjay newspaper this week about a proposal to convert an old community center there into a fresh food production center.  Although the article didn’t mention it, I’m sure they are inspired by the successful Victus Farm project in Silver Bay.
 
This got me to thinking about how a similar project would make sense here in the West End.  With the number of restaurants around here, locally grown food and fish would find a large and steady market.  In fact, several local entrepreneurs have already started down this path.  I’m wondering if the old Moffat Industrial building in Lutsen could be converted to a closed loop food production facility?  I know that it is a large and solidly built building that has been underutilized ever since Moffat Products moved away.  It’s food for thought – pun intended.
 
The huge and wonderful West End winter recreation trail system is now up and running, thanks to the timely snowstorm.  If you aren’t already a regular trail user, I highly recommend that you try out the local snowmobile and cross-country ski trails.  They really are among the best in the world and a great resource to have here in our backyards.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

{photo of the former Sugarloaf pulpwood rafting operation in Schoreder, courtesy of the North Shore Stewardship Association}

Program: 

 
Jessa Frost, para-skating on Deeryard Lake in Lutsen

West End News: November 28

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There is a lot to be thankful for in the West End these days.
 
Down in Beaver Bay, a new business has started up.  The Blue Anchor Restaurant, which has been closed for two years, has reopened with new owners and new energy.  Tim and Nicole Joyce met while attending Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.  They opened their doors on October 15th and have already become a favorite stopping place for locals.  They are open every day from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., offering an extensive breakfast menu, soups, burgers and sandwiches.  You can enjoy your meal near the fireplace in the dining room, or order food to go.  Everyone who has stopped there comments on the friendly atmosphere.
 
The Cook County High School alpine ski team, which trains at Lutsen Mountains, is experiencing a change of coaching leadership this year.  Jim Vick, of Lutsen, was the coach for nearly 15 years, along with able assistance from Jim Elverhoy from Tofte and Mike Larson from Lutsen.  The new head coach is Charles Lamb, of Schroeder.  Charles is a veteran of the popular Lutsen Junior Alpine Club, where he has coached, organized and generally slaved away for a number of years, so his transition to high school coach is a natural one.
 
Speaking of which, the Lutsen Junior Alpine Club is gearing up for the upcoming ski season.  The club is a development effort to get kids hooked on a lifetime of downhill skiing.  It is open to all kids under the age of 15.  A parent must accompany children under 6 years old.  Kids 16 and older can participate if there is space available.  Of course, there are many opportunities for older kids to help out as volunteers.
 
The club provides junior racing skis to the kids who choose to compete in races.  The participants have to provide their own boots, poles, and season pass.  The club strives to make sure that every child can participate, so if you’re interested, get in touch and they’ll find a way to get you skiing.
 
Registration for the Lutsen Junior Alpine Club is Dec. 3 at the Lutsen Mountains rental shop.  Contact Charles Lamb at 663-8017 or Rick Backstrom at 387-9789 to get more detailed information.  As always, you can contact WTIP for complete contact info.
 
The Annual Birch Grove Holiday Book Fair is scheduled for the week starting Tuesday, Dec. 10.  The sale is open during school hours at the Birch Grove School and features books for children and adults, Wolf Ridge calendars, computer games, cookbooks, puzzles and more.  There will be special shopping hours Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 1:30 until 6:30 p.m. during the always-entertaining Birch Grove Winter Program. 
 
The Birch Grove Foundation is advertising a business opportunity for an entrepreneur to manage the Lake Superior Youth Hostel at the Birch Grove Community Center.  The hostel has been operating as a successful private business for many years.  Recently, the Birch Grove Foundation acquired the hostel. 
 
The job includes working with large school and church groups who stay at the hostel while skiing at Lutsen Mountains on winter weekends.  However, the foundation would like to expand the youth hostel, so the job could grow as time goes on.  There is certainly a demand for youth hostel services year around in the West End.
 
The “wild ice” skating season has come and probably gone for another season.  Great skating was reported on Dyers, Caribou, Deeryard and Fourmile lakes over the last week.  High winds and cold temperatures held down the skating enthusiasm a little bit, but the folks who braved the elements reported having a sublime experience.  Jessa Frost from Tofte took advantage of the wind by flying a para-foil kite while skating on Deeryard Lake.
 
With the 3 inches of snow already on the ground over the hill – and more on the way – it’s time to hang up the skates and pull out the skis and snowshoes.


 
"The only real outdoor work going on around here is continued winter planning by the red squirrels..." (Robert Engberg/Flickr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 22

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Life in the north woods continues to fly by. Here we are rounding the last curve of November with the final segment of year 2013 and the holiday season barreling down on us once again.

After a brief serving of winter early in the month, the past week has seen the great northern express step back in wimpy favor of some gusty warmth from the south.  Our beautiful white decorations have succumbed to dripping ooze, slush and mud.  Guess we’ll have to start all over again when the old man of the north decides to show some courage.

Speaking of gloomy days in month 11 at this end of the Trail, we’ve had more than enough for many folks. Our daily conditions seem to be quite Seattle-like.

The gloom managed to hang over the territory so that we didn’t get much of a look at the full “freezing over” moon last weekend. So the drama of a full “man in the moon” gleaming down on our crystal white forest was pretty much a bust! Perhaps as we turn the corner into December, month 12 will favor us with a brighter opportunity.

Silence is golden throughout the neighborhood now that the installers of our soon-to-be fiber optic opportunity have called it a construction season. The last broadband worker here at Wildersmith said he believed we’d be up and buzzing sometime in the spring. I’ll be surprised if that happens with many connections yet to be completed.  I’d bet on maybe a year from now!

The only real outdoor work going on around here is continued winter planning by the red squirrels. The mini rodents have spent weeks cutting literally thousands of seed cluster fronds out of the white cedar tree tops.

Now they are in the business of collecting and stockpiling them in various locations about the yard. I’ve found three different caches that look like they have been raked up by some human, all neatly bunched in a heap. I know for sure there has been no such raking conducted by yours truly, so it’s their work!

I haven’t noticed this warehousing mode previously from the rodent gang. They surely have been doing it before, or perhaps have had some in-service workshop on new squirreling-away methodology.

Whatever the case, there seems to be enough in readiness to feed an army of the little red beings. Come to think of it, there IS an army of them, based on the declining level of my sunflower seed barrel.

I’m seeing little sign of deer activity in this neighborhood thus far. However, deer hunters tell of increasing movement into the area late in week one. The first few days of the firearms season apparently provided almost no sightings.

 It sure makes me wonder where they go during the summer when one sees few if any. Guess “they’re gone to meadows, every one.” Then again, how do they know when it’s time to come back? It sure would seem they might want to rethink the scheduled return until after the close of the shooting season, hmmmm…

With bare ground reappearing from the snow meltdown and plenty of natural feeding opportunities for the avian crowd, it is intriguing that the little winged folk are so excited to see me when I venture outside. 

Several chickadees and red breasted nuthatches have flocked to land on my head and/or hands looking for a seed handout. Maybe they find me less threatening than the blue jay bullies of the feed trough. Whatever their motive, it’s so energizing to be wanted!

Meanwhile a couple of those Minnesota chicken birds evoked a startled shock for yours truly a few days ago. They flushed from a late afternoon perch in an apple tree near the path to my upper storage building, momentarily scaring the devil out of me!

I don’t know who was surprised the most, but after my heart returned to normal beating it was something of a laugher.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the season of giving thanks around the northland!