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West End News

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

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.

What's On:
The Lutsen music scene makes statewide waves

West End News: February 12

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The Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Cook and Lake counties are sponsoring a community conversation on water quality priorities for Lake Superior’s North Shore.  I guess that would be a conservation conversation.  Try saying that 10 times fast.
All joking aside, Minnesota’s North Shore is sitting on the most concentrated supply of clean, fresh water in the world.  Policies that affect the both the Lake Superior and Arctic watersheds are crucial for the future of our children and grandchildren. Fresh water is in short supply in most of the world, so we have to be very mindful and strategic about the fresh water treasure that is all around us.
The community conversation is being held at the Devil’s Track Landing Restaurant Monday, Feb. 23 starting at 5 p.m.  The program will include a brief background session, dinner and then the community conversation.  The whole thing winds up at 7:30 p.m.
RSVPs are appreciated, which you can do by visiting or call Ilena Berg at 387-3648.  As always, you can contact WTIP for that contact information.
Cook County Higher Education is holding a financial aid information night, designed to help you figure out how to pay for college. This is not just for high school seniors, but for anyone who would like access to higher education to improve their lot in life. 
In my opinion, college loans have been allowed to become a bit of scam over the last couple of decades.  Bad policy made student loans way too expensive and some unscrupulous operators offered bogus coursework in order to hook unsuspecting people into years of unnecessary debt and worry.
Lucky for us, Cook County Higher Education’s information is the real deal. In recent years, new federally guaranteed loans have become available with low interest rates and a payment schedule that is tailored to your income. Also, the good people at Higher Ed are experts at helping you find the right education path, that provides real benefit, and will guide you to success.
The financial aid information night is at the Higher Ed campus in Grand Marais Wednesday, Feb. 18 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.  They will provide information, and are also willing to provide hands-on help with the various forms.  The session is free and open to all.  You can get more information by calling 387-3411 or online at  If you missed that contact info, you can always contact WTIP.
The bloodmobile will be back in Tofte at Zoar Lutheran Church Monday, March 2, from 2:30 to 6 p.m.  I will be there, along with many other community members, so stop by for some good chatting and complimentary snacks.  The process is quick and painless.  Filling the blood bank is very important for the health and security of our region, so please donate if you possibly can.  Call Carla at 663-0179 for make an appointment.
Lutsen’s own Jim Vick got a very complimentary mention on the statewide news website MinnPost.  The article was touting the music scene at Papa Charlie’s nightclub located at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area.  Jim Vick is the marketing manager for the ski area and does the music booking for Papa Charlie’s as one part of his job.
Journalist Jim Walsh said, “… there are still music lovers and listeners out there like Jim Vick, whose vision as booker/manager of Papa Charlie’s has made the chalet at the foot of Lutsen Mountain a model for all other clubs looking to create and cultivate a true listening scene.”
He was referring to the Monday and Wednesday night songwriter series that Papa Charlie’s has been hosting for the last several years.  The audience and staff are politely asked to refrain from conversation during the musical numbers, which creates a magical atmosphere where the music can be truly and deeply felt and appreciated.
This is part of a national movement of clubs and cafes that are known as “listening rooms” and allow musicians and music lovers to connect on a whole different level than the usual semi-chaotic bar scene.
Upcoming songwriter shows include Boston-based Meg Hutchinson, Low front man Alan Sparhawk, former Cook County resident and now big-time musician Barbara Jean, and the nationally popular Moors and McCumber. 
I know they are school nights, but it is worth the effort for locals and visitors alike to attend these marvelous shows. The music starts at 8 p.m. and is over at 10, so you can still get a good night’s sleep while catching some of the best songwriters and performers in America, right here in little old Lutsen.
For a full schedule of music in Cook County, go to or stay tuned to WTIP for frequent announcements of live music all over the county.
Last but not least, don’t forget the boot hockey tournament at Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte, Friday, Feb. 20 from 5 until 9 p.m.  The Minnesota Wild have nothing compared to the excitement generated by these local athletes as they vie to swat the volleyball into the net for another year of bragging rights here in the beautiful West End.

(Photo courtesy of Visit Cook County)


Where in the world is Tofte’s Noah Horak and his motorcycle?

West End News: February 5

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It was great to hear a recording of my dad, Frank Hansen, on the radio again during the Beargrease sled dog race a couple of weeks ago.  Frank authored the West End News for many years, first in the Cook County News Herald and then here on WTIP, right up until his brief illness and death in 2010.  It is, of course, bittersweet for me to hear his voice again, but the pleasure definitely outweighs the sadness. 
It got me to thinking how family histories might be more accessible in the future.  I heard last week that most people can only name two of their eight great-grandparents.  However, Frank’s great-grandchildren will be able to listen to hours of his actual voice telling stories, giving them a good sense for him as a person. Most of our great grandchildren will be able to look us up on Facebook and YouTube to watch us age through decades of selfies and funny videos.
I’ve recently heard a recommendation for leaving a written memoir for our heirs.  Maybe we just need to be more mindful of the future as we document our lives online.
I was very pleased to read about the grand opening of Birch Tree Center in Duluth. The Center will provide mental health crisis services for all of northeastern Minnesota, including Cook County.  Services are many and include a safe place for people experiencing a mental health crisis to be housed, kept safe and connected with treatment. The program is designed to be welcoming to many cultures.
In the past, services for people experiencing a mental health crisis in Cook County were not necessarily tightly organized. Part of the program will include a paid coordinator in Cook County who will help organize law enforcement, health care providers and social services into a cohesive response team.
You can find information at, or if you need immediate help with a mental health crisis for yourself or others you can simply dial 2-1-1 from any phone.
I think the cell tower installation in Tofte is finally working. The tower was erected a couple of years ago and the cell antennas appeared several months ago.  Then, just a few weeks ago a crew appeared and buried the ubiquitous orange fiber optic conduit to the tower, cutting a main fiber line in the process that took most of Cook County Internet and telephone down for a full day.
A few days ago, I noticed five bars on my phone while in Tofte. The most I’d ever seen in the past was one bar.  Shortly after that, I stopped to buy a new phone at the Verizon store in Duluth.  The salesman looked online and confirmed that the Tofte cell site is now shown as “on the air.”  However, it will only work for phones that receive 4G signals and the service is for data only. The salesman explained that Verizon is in the process of converting all their cells to data-only high speed 4G.  Your voice calls will be carried as data in what is called “voice over Internet protocol.”  So if you’re still rocking that old 3G flip phone, the Tofte tower won’t do you any good.  You’ll need to upgrade to a sleek new smart phone in order to make phone calls.  The salesman did say that the newer 4G phones should have a significantly better range than the older phones, so that’s good news.
As reported here previously, world traveler Noah Horak has been home in Tofte since before Christmas. Noah spent the last two and a half years riding his motorcycle around the world. He is famous in the sport of adventure motorcycling, which is made up of people traveling on specially built motorcycles that are designed to travel the world on back roads, goat tracks or just cross country.
Noah is presenting a slide show travelogue of his many adventures at North House Folk School  Tuesday, Feb. 10 starting at 7 p.m.  The talk is free and open to the public. 
Noah is a natural born storyteller and he has some incredible stories to tell.  You can get a gist for his experiences at his blog: or just Google “round the world with Noah.”



West End News: January 29

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Boot Hockey is back at Birch Grove again this year.  The popular tournament is still open for team sign-ups. There is a limit of eight teams with five to seven people on each team.  The date is Friday, February 20th, with registration starting at 4 pm and boot hockey action starting at 4:30.  Call Birch Grove at 663-7977 or email for more information or to sign up your team.
In the past few years, the Forest Service team seems to have dominated the tourney, so it would be nice to bring in some stiffer competition for them so they don’t get cocky.  Business sponsorships are encouraged, by the way, so don’t be shy about recruiting a team. 
As if the boot hockey tournament isn’t too much fun in itself, Birch Grove is also having a movie night that same night with two features, the first starting at 5 pm and the second at 7 pm.  Movie fans can arrive early to catch some exciting broomball battles and broomball players can unwind with a movie after the game.
I ran into Barb Merritt at the Tofte General Store the other day as she was checking out the groceries for the Senior Lunch at Birch Grove.  It made me hungry just seeing the ingredients for a delicious beef stew.  Barb enjoys the highest reputation as the Senior Lunch chef.  I told her that I would be there every week if I didn’t live so far away.  It is definitely on my list of things to do when I retire.
Remember that the Senior Lunch is nearly every Wednesday at Birch Grove in Tofte.  If you aren’t a regular participant, give Birch Grove a call to let them know you’re coming so Barb can plan you in.  The few time that I’ve been able to go I’ve learned a ton of history and did a lot of laughing.
The Birch Grove Foundation is also planning a Spring Blossom bus tour to Door County, Wisconsin, May 3rd through May 8th.  The tour is designed for people 55 and older, but everyone is welcome to participate.  That number again at Birch Grove is 663-7977 or email
I’ve been following, with interest, the news about a pending decision to stop planned births at the North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais.  I have a fair amount of experience in the birthing room at the hospital as all four of my children were born there.  It was sure a wonderful thing to experience such an intense and emotional time in a familiar setting with talented nurses and doctors who were friends and neighbors.
As I understand it, the intersection of insurance and medical standards is causing the reluctant decision to stop planned births at the hospital.  That is too bad, but it’s important to remember that the hospital plays a relatively brief role in the whole experience of childbirth.  Our wonderful Sawtooth Mountain Clinic will be providing the same pre and post-natal services that they have been all along.  Childbirth education will still be happening locally.  Even though the birth-day is a big event, everything that comes before and after is vitally important, too.  It looks like the clinic will be working with prospective parents to make their birth experience as personal and unique as they like.
Also, the hospital will still be providing birthing services for babies that won’t wait for a ride to Duluth.  Two of my children would have been born in Little Marais if we had tried to drive to Duluth after labor started.
The whole situation is just one symptom of the ongoing semi-chaos that is the American health care system.  My experience has been that the people who provide our health care are universally caring, smart and very, very good at what they do.  However, the way that the health care system is organized - especially around the money part - is a confusing, and nearly incomprehensible mess. 
It isn’t realistic to think that we can suddenly scrap the entire system and start over.  But, we can hope for finding the political will to start fixing the most obvious problems and get to a health care system that works for everyone.
Come to think of it, if the entire system ran a little more like it does here in Cook County, the whole country would be better off.


Higher education for everyone who wants it?

West End News: January 22

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Live musical performance has become a routine, almost nightly, event in Cook County.  The West End is a particular hotbed of live music, including a variety of local acts and big-name artists who appear most often at the Papa Charlie’s nightclub at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area.
This growth in local live music is not by accident, as the tourism businesses countywide have decided to make Cook County a music destination.  If I say, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans or Branson, you know right away that those are music destinations with deep traditions and culture.  The goal is to put Cook County in that same category. The effort is paying off as the word spreads. 
Recently, a public television program based in Duluth called “The PlayList” decided to highlight the music scene in the West End by filming a whole show of Cook County musicians in live performance from the stage at Papa Charlie’s.  You can join the audience for the filming session by showing up at Papa Charlie’s on Tuesday, January 27th.  The show runs from 8 until 11 pm and features Tofte singer/songwriter Eric Frost, Bump Blomberg and Adam Moe, known as “Pushing Chain” and the “Splintertones,” a 7-piece high energy dance band from Grand Marais.  The event is free and open to the public.  They also promise PlayList swag at the door.
Another notable music event is the “Century of Jazz” program being presented by the Sky Blue Jazz Ensemble.  This show is in the beautiful William Kelley High School Auditorium in Silver Bay on Monday, January 26th, starting at 7 pm.  The William Kelley High School Jazz Band will also perform.  Several members of the Sky Blue Jazz Ensemble hail from Cook County. 
“Century of Jazz” is co-sponsored by the Northern Lake County Arts Board.  They have a spiffy new website, so go to: for more information.  The Arts Board sponsors a lot of great things in Silver Bay all the year around, so you probably want to put their website in your bookmarks.
I have been pleased to hear the call for providing two free years of community college for anyone who is interested that has been coming from the leadership in the Minnesota Legislature and from President Obama.  The “free” part, of course, refers to the cost to the student, not implying that there is no cost.  In my opinion, it’s a clear winner to make a public investment in the future of our communities that will return the cost many times over.
That said, I also agree with some critics of the idea who point out that there are more impediments to higher education than the cost of tuition.  Tuition is only about a fifth of the actual cost of college, with living expenses, books, transportation and childcare making up the bulk of the costs.  I would like to see a comprehensive program that supports students across the board for the first two years of community college.
The experience of our own Cook County Higher Education has clearly shown that highly engaged student support is critical to successful graduation and job placement.  Cook County Higher Ed, whose main mission is providing student support, has a higher graduation rate than Harvard.
There is a lot of scholarship money already available for Cook County residents.  My dream has always been to create the situation where any Cook County resident could attend college, regardless of their financial situation. 
I like to dream big, so why not have the same goal for whole country?  The payoff would be spectacular and our humble West End would be an even better place to live.



West End News: January 15

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Piano lessons for children and adults are being offered at Birch Grove Community School in Tofte. Community Education is sponsoring the lessons from piano teacher Lavonna Czaplicki.  If you’re interested in arranging lessons, contact Sara Silence from Community Ed at 663-0170, extension 28. As always you can contact WTIP or Birch Grove Community School for more contact info.
Birch Grove Community School is also offering enrollment in their excellent Saplings Pre-school Program.  In recent years, research has clearly established that pre-school participants do better in kindergarten and all the way through college. 
The Saplings Program is known for its rich program of early learning skills for pre-schoolers and for being a ton of fun. The staff is highly qualified and the activities include a lot of individual attention and hands-on projects. You can access the program according to your own schedule and free transportation may be available.
There is much more detail on the web at The phone contact for more information is again Sara Silence at 663-0170.
The skating rink at Birch Grove Community Center is up and running. Volunteers have been flooding this week and expect the ice to be in great shape. There are also nice rinks at Bluefin Bay and Surfside Resort in Tofte. All the rinks have new tools that act like small Zambonis, making for extra smooth ice.
I attended a meeting in Tofte last week and from where I was sitting I could see the Bluefin ice rink. A teenaged girl arrived at the rink, took off her skate guards and glided out on the ice. I was pleasantly surprised when she started through a routine that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Olympic trials, including toe loops, Salchows, flips and spins. I was all the more impressed because it was about 15 below zero at the time. She did retreat to the guest services building after about 15 minutes, presumably to warm up her toes and fingers.
Last week’s cold snap provoked the usual joking comments. My favorite was a Facebook post that said, “the air makes my face hurt.  Why do I live in a place where the air makes my face hurt?”
That said, the talk among my fellow old-timers was how much colder it was back in the old days. Not only did we walk three mile to school, uphill both ways through six-foot snowdrifts, but also we had to tolerate temperatures that regularly went south of 40 degrees below zero.
Seriously though, I remember multiple occasions in the 1960s when our propane stopped flowing, which only happens when the temperature reaches about 42 below. As recently as February of 1996 we recorded an unofficial 62 below here at Sawbill. 
Back in 1979, I went for a night ski up Sawbill Lake when the thermometer stood at 57 below.  I overdressed and had to open my Air Force surplus parka to cool off. When I stopped for a stargazing break, the snaps on the parka would not re-snap.
So I guess the consensus among us old-timers is “buck up! Things could be worse.”
While on the subject of climate, a group of researchers is working along the North Shore to catalog the changes that are occurring due to climate change and make recommendations on what can be done to accommodate those changes in the future.
I recently participated in a focus group where residents up and down the shore were asked to list changes that are already happening due to a warming climate. 
The list was surprisingly long, including, among others, changing forest types, low and high water levels, hundred year floods happening every few years, increased snow-making requirements at the ski hill, new designs for highway and storm sewer drainage, longer boating and canoeing seasons, disappearing moose, invasions by raccoons and wood ticks, and the list goes on.
Like the frog in the gradually heated pot of water, I hadn’t realized how much has already changed. Unlike the metaphoric frog, we don’t really have the choice of hopping out of our pot, so we better start thinking hard about how we turn down the heat.



Maybelle Skou

West End News: January 8

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The Friends of the Finland Community are starting a process to improve the economic vitality of the greater Finland area.  The group is gathering ideas from the community on what is working now, what more could be done, and what would you do if money were no object?
On Friday, January 9th, a facilitated community conversation is taking place at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.  If you miss the event, you can submit your ideas and concerns about the future of Finland to Honor Schauland at 353-0300 or email
Storytelling and business are not usually mentioned in the same breath.  We think of stories as being told around the campfire, and business as involving banks and boardrooms. 
Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux is a professional storyteller and businessperson from Grand Marais and she will be presenting the case for using storytelling as a business tool at the January business-networking luncheon hosted by Cook County Higher Education.
Rose argues that successful business is built on effective communication with customers and employees.  The same skills required to tell a good story are useful in sales, social media, customer service and innovation.
Rose’s presentation, which I guarantee will be useful and entertaining, will be at Higher Ed’s North Shore Campus in Grand Marais on Thursday, January 22nd, from 11:30 to 1 pm.  Lunch is provided and there is a modest fee.  RSVPs are required at 387-3411 or email
If live or own land in the West End within three miles of Lake Superior, the North Shore Forest Collaborative wants your opinion on restoring the forest along the shore. 
The North Shore Forest Collaborative is a partnership of federal and state agencies, private land owners and nonprofits that has embarked on an ambitious, long-range project to restore the forest of the North Shore, from Duluth to the Canadian border, to its natural condition, or at least as close as they can get.  Of course, this is easier said than done, but the first step is determining what the residents and landowners think the restored forest should look like.  For more information, go to:
I’m delighted with Governor Mark Dayton’s choice of Mark Phillips to be the new commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.  I know Mark to be a walking encyclopedia of the history, people and potential of northeastern Minnesota.  He also has a good heart and has a long history of working to make our communities better for everyone.  The IRRRB has done a lot for the West End over the years, including quite a few significant projects quite recently.  It’s always heartening to see an appointed position filled by the most qualified candidate, rather than the most politically expedient.
The entire West End community was saddened this week by the news that Maybelle Skou of Schroeder had passed away at the remarkable age of 103.  Maybelle was born in Wisconsin, but moved to Schroeder with her husband, Ed, in 1946.  The Skous made their home in the big red house near the Cross River until Maybelle moved to Carefree Assisted Living in Silver Bay last September.
Maybelle has always been one of the most popular people in the West End.  She may have been small in stature, but she made up for it with a big personality.  She was sharp, plain spoken, funny and down to earth right up until the end.  I had lunch with her a few weeks ago and she said, “I don’t want to live forever, but I feel great, so I’m just going to go for it.” 
She died in her sleep at the North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais after a very short illness.  She led a long, full and meaningful life and will be missed by many, many people.  I’m sure the whole West End joins me in offering condolences to her family and friends.


A new, high speed gondola is just one of the many good things coming to the West End in 2015

West End News: January 1

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The popular shuttle bus is up and running between all the major resort destinations in the West End.  While the service is geared toward visitors, locals can take advantage of it too. You can call the front desk of any West End resort to get the schedule and details.
Cook County Higher Education has another health-related course coming up soon. This course will certify you to be a Health Unit Coordinator.  I think we used to call this a station secretary back in the day, but things are a little more complex in the medical world now.  In any case, this course, held right here in Cook County, will prepare you to run a nursing station in a hospital or extended care facility, or be a patient services assistant, registration interviewer, or patient care coordinator, all jobs that are in high demand now and in the future.
As always, the wonderful people at Cook County Higher Ed will do whatever it takes to make you successful.  Just give them a call at 387-3411 or email
As we hang the new calendars here in the West End, the local news is almost overwhelmingly good.
Lutsen Mountains, the largest private employer in Cook County, announced a huge new investment in equipment and an ambitious expansion of ski runs.  This welcome announcement comes right on the heels of the completion of the new water pipeline that dramatically expands the snow-making capacity at the hill.
The pipeline also protects the Poplar River, which just received a large grant of its own to continue the improvement of the river’s water quality.  The grant should allow the Poplar River to be removed from the list of impaired rivers in Minnesota, hopefully within the next few years. 
And the list goes on: The IRRRB just provided key funding for Tofte’s senior housing project, an education initiative that includes Cook County, the continuing upgrade of the Superior National golf course in Lutsen and the expansion of the Cook County Airport.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a list of land available to build affordable housing is being drawn up along with a concrete action plan to finally ease the severe housing crunch for young working people.
If you venture out and about at this time of year, you can’t help but notice how busy it is at the businesses that provide services to visitors.
And, just for fun, gas prices are lower than they’ve been for a long, long time and the economy is finally picking up speed after the great recession.
There are so many other good things happening in the West End, that I don’t have time to mention them all here.
All of this good news reminds me of the situation in Duluth, where optimism and positive future plans also abound. Duluth is currently the darling of the media, touting its economic vitality and especially the high quality of life.  Duluth’s photogenic and articulate young mayor isn’t hurting them either.
It’s interesting to me how Duluth’s Mayor Don Ness characterizes Duluth’s turnaround from aging rustbelt failure to a hip and exciting growth center.  Instead of the tired political rhetoric about raising taxes versus cutting taxes or growing government versus shrinking government, he talks about having the courage to tackle serious problems, even when they’re painful, and seizing opportunities as they present themselves. 
The mayor’s overriding political philosophy is to do the best job possible, never stop striving for consensus on making the community better for everyone, and trust that the voters will reward sincere effort.  It sure seems to be working for him and the City of Duluth.
I sense the same spirit alive here in Cook County and I hope it will spread quickly to the rest of the country and world.
So here’s hoping for another year of optimism, growth, fun and community spirit here in the beautiful West End.

(Lutsen Mountains Corporation)



West End News: December 24

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Sandi Furlow of Lutsen had a big week last week. 
On December 19th she retired from her job as a bus driver for the Cook County School Distict and on December 22nd she celebrated her birthday. 
I wasn’t able to find out how many years Sandi drove the school bus, but it was certainly more than 30 years. She was beloved by her young riders and had a perfect safety record.  Sandi knows almost everybody’s car by sight and is by far the most cheerful and enthusiastic waver in the West End.
I’m also not sure which birthday Sandi celebrated, but given her retirement, we can easily make a good guess.  That said, if someone were meeting Sandi for the first time, they would invariably guess her to be much younger than she is.
Congratulations to Sandi and from the bottom or our hearts the West End thanks you for taking such good care of our children over the years.
A federal court ruling last week put our West End timber wolves back on the endangered species list.  This means that recreational hunting and trapping of wolves will no longer be allowed, probably for at least two years and maybe for much longer.
The history of interaction between wolves and humans is ancient and often fraught with emotion.  From experienced wolf biologists to people who have never seen one, most people seem to have strong opinions about wolves.
With all due respect to people who enjoy hunting and trapping wolves, I am happy that our West End wolves will no longer be hunted or trapped. 
I have nothing against hunting or trapping in itself. However, from my perspective as a person who makes a living in wilderness tourism, my hunch is that wolves contribute much more to the West End economy when they are alive and roaming the woods.
I can personally attest that visitors and locals alike are thrilled when the see or hear a wolf.  For many people it occupies an important spot on their bucket list.  I often meet people who have traveled here from all over the world with the hope of seeing a wolf or even a sign of a wolf.
The wildlife biologists correctly point out that new pups born each spring easily replace the wolves killed during the hunting season.  However, for the six months in between, the wolf numbers are reduced. 
Even more important is the fact that hunting and trapping plays havoc with the complex social structure within a wolf pack.  It is a hard thing to quantify, but some recent studies have indicated that killing wolves may create more problems than it solves when it comes to wolves preying on pets and livestock.  It is at the least an interesting theory that deserves further study.
The whole subject of wolves is complicated and nuanced, so it behooves all of us to keep an open mind and consider all the arguments.  Everyone has a legitimate claim to their own relationship with wolves no matter what the circumstances.  Public policy should try to strike a balance that best serves the wishes of the whole society.
All of this reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a Tofte native who absolutely hated wolves.  He must have known that I liked wolves because he confronted me one day, out of the blue, and demanded that I give him a single good reason why wolves shouldn’t be wiped off the face of the earth. 
I drew a breath to answer, but before I could say a word he interrupted, saying: “Don’t give me any of that BS about predator/prey relationships providing balance in nature.”  All I could do was shrug and lamely say that I kind of liked having the wolves around.  I’m pretty sure he went to his grave without changing his mind.
Trails are opening all over the West End just in time for the big holiday tourist season.  I notice that the state snowmobile trail has been groomed and ski trails over the hill are also being groomed.  Lutsen Mountains is fully open with truly excellent downhill skiing.  The lakes are safe for foot and snowmobile travel and ice fishing has been good, by all reports.
The snowy woods in the hills above the big lake are just like a classic Norman Rockwell painting at the moment, so get out and enjoy the wonderful West End when you have the time.


Marco Good, sleigh driver extraordinaire

West End News: December 18

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Visit Cook County is organizing sleigh rides at Cascade Lodge again this year. Although targeted at our tourist population, this is a fun event for locals and their visitors too. 
The horse-drawn sleigh ride begins at Cascade Lodge between Lutsen and Grand Marais.  Parking is at the lodge and you should arrive at least 10 minutes before the ride begins. The ride is roughly 45 minutes in an open hay wagon, so you should dress very warmly and wear insulated boots.
Marco Good is the sleigh ride operator. Marco brings a wealth of knowledge to his work. He is a walking encyclopedia of the history of horse logging in Minnesota in addition to being a perceptive naturalist.  He is also well-known for his friendly and outgoing personality and - how can I put this delicately – having a colorful vocabulary with a unique ability to turn a phrase.
The regular schedule is Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings, from Jan. 16 through the end of March.  During holiday times, there will be more rides available. 
In the past, bookings for the sleigh rides were made through Cascade Lodge; now reservations are made through Visit Cook County. The easiest way to make a reservation is online at You can also reserve by calling VCC at 387-2524.
A few weeks ago, I talked about the purchase and remodeling of the venerable Northwoods Café at the shopping center in Silver Bay.  Word has it that the new establishment has commenced their “soft opening” under the new name of Northwoods Family Grille.  The reviews I’ve received have been glowing, with both the remodeling and the food drawing enthusiastic praise.  I urge everyone to stop by to check out and support this new/old local business.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a community square dance at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.  It was a really good time, with a great turn out of more than 50 people.  Based on that success, there is discussion of making it a monthly event.
The Clair Nelson Center has become the vibrant heartbeat of the Finland area community, featuring many regular and one-off events. Coming events include the monthly communitywide potluck dinner, which is happening on Dec. 28, starting at 5 p.m. Bingo, featuring cash prizes, is on Jan. 4 at 2 p.m.  The North Shore Area Partners senior lunch and program is Jan. 6 from 10 until 2.
Lake Superior School District Community Education will start offering classes at the Clair Nelson Center for the first time.  The first classes will include Powering Your Home with Renewable Energy, Organic Gardening Basics, Basic Genealogy and Family History, Community Acupuncture, and the Core4 Business Plan course. 
For more information and registration, go to the Lake County School District, ISD 381 website.
Last week our dogs spent the better part of an afternoon barking at our dumpster.  An investigation revealed that a pine marten had taken up residence, thanks to a lid that was ajar.  I corralled the dogs and left the lid open for an hour, allowing the marten to escape - or so I thought. I closed and latched the lids carefully so the marten couldn’t get back in.
I left town early the next morning for three days.  When I got back, Cindy mentioned that the dogs were still barking at the dumpster every day.  I reopened the dumpster and dug through the fragrant contents.  I could see many signs of marten habitation, but no sign of the marten in the dumpster. Guessing that the marten was quietly hiding under the garbage, I propped the lid open again and retreated to the house. Sure enough, about an hour later I witnessed a very bedraggled marten hop out and run up a nearby tree. 
The dogs took up their positions at the base of the tree and after a few good shakes and some quick grooming the marten returned to its pre-dumpster good looks.  It soon departed through the forest canopy and the dumpster is now marten-less, much to the disappointment of the dogs.
As usual at this time of year, there is more snow over the hill than down in the banana belt along the shore.  After the most recent storm, we have 11 inches of snow here at Sawbill. It’s all the better because the 4 or 5 inches of old snow in the bottom layer is solid as a rock, which goes a long way toward covering up the rocks on the ski trail.
Speaking of which, I need to sign off so I can fire up the snowmobile and start grooming the ski trail!


Tom Rider and Dave Carlson cutting Rosie the Golden Retriever out of the culvert where she was trapped.

West End News: December 12

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Here is some big news from Lutsen Mountains Ski Area. The Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge race is coming to Lutsen Mountains Apr. 18 and 19.  Somewhere between 400 and 900 racers will compete in hillclimb, hillcross and short course cross-country events.
The event is organized by Cor Powersports, one of the largest cross-country snowmobile racing circuits in the United States. The hill climb competitors in our event will be eligible to qualify for the 2016 Jackson Hole World Championship Hillclimb.
The racing will take place on Moose Mountain, while downhill skiing will still be happening on Eagle Mountain. This will add up to a spectacular setting for spectators to enjoy exciting race action.
One of the reasons that Lutsen Mountains was selected for this event is their incredible snowmaking capacity, which makes is certain that they will have snow on hand to run the event.  Congratulations to the local organizers for attracting a fun event that will fill hotel rooms during a normally slow weekend.
Also from Lutsen this week, comes a story of dramatic rescue. Ann and Tom Rider, who live at the ski area, have a well-known and socially active golden retriever named Rosie.  In the two years since Rosie arrived, she’s become a ski area favorite.  She’s a frequent visitor to the main chalet during the ski season where she is literally mobbed by small children. She is also known for her unauthorized trips to the bottom of the Bridge ski lift, where she is welcomed by the skiers, but not so much by the ski patrol. 
During the summer, Rosie likes to slide on the Alpine Slide. Not in a sled with a human companion, but by jumping on the track herself and sliding hundreds of feet on her own legs.  She also loves road culverts and never misses the chance to run through any culvert she comes across.
Last week, Ann took Rosie for a walk on the golf course and was surprised when Rosie discovered a black plastic culvert that was more than a hundred feet long. Of course Rosie dove in and scooted to the far end of the culvert that was barely big enough to allow her to belly crawl through.  At the far end, the culvert had flooded and then frozen, creating a sloped sheet of ice on the bottom.  The ice also blocked the exit of the culvert.  Rosie could not get a purchase on the ice to climb back to the entrance.
The situation became a “Rosie is trapped in the well” type of scenario.  Ann, just like Lassie did so many times, dutifully and efficiently notified Tom of Rosie’s predicament.  Tom responded with a large blowtorch, hoping to melt the ice from the culvert exit.  When that proved impractical, he called Dave Carlson to bring down a large rescue saw.  Together, Dave and Tom were able to dig out the top of the culvert and cut off a section behind Rosie until she was able to climb out.
All’s well that ends well, but I have a feeling that this won’t be the last adventure for Miss Rosie.  Tom’s comment was, “Just another day in the life with Rosie.” 
Not everyone is aware that you can become a nurse by attending school right here in Cook County.  Cook County Higher Education in Grand Marais has trained many nurses over the last 10 years or so.
The first step to a nursing degree is to obtain your Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide certification.  Higher Ed is offering this course starting in February. 
Of course, the certificate can also be used to find good paying work, even if you don’t want to be a nurse. You can actually start working before you finish the course and, in effect, get paid to learn.
The four-credit course is offered here but is accredited by Lake Superior College.  Local nurse, Mark Abrahamson, is the instructor.  Financial aid is readily available. The people who work at Higher Ed will do whatever it takes to make you successful in improving your skills and completing your studies.
For more information, contact Cook County Higher Education at 387-3411 or email, or just search for Cook County Higher Education on the Internet.
Last week’s interruption of phone and Internet service was a reminder of how fragile our communication system still is here in the West End.  However, a few services kept working after the fiber optic line was accidentally cut, so the system is getting more robust. 
I think the workers who caused the outage were actually working on connecting up the new cell tower in Tofte. The tower has been up for over a year and the equipment arrived about a month ago.  I see the contractor trenching fiber optic lines up to the tower, so hopefully our communications in Tofte will improve dramatically as an early Christmas present.
(Photo courtesy of Ann Rider)