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West End News

Clare Shirley

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
 

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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}

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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!


 
Dave & Amy Freeman

West End News: November 21

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Lutsen native, Ailee Larson, is having a great year on the Saint Catherine’s University cross country running team.  Ailee placed eighth out of approximately 300 runners in last week’s Central Region meet, qualifying her for a trip to the NCAA nationals.
 
The national meet is scheduled for Saturday, November 23rd, in Hanover, Indiana.  Action starts at 10 am, Lutsen time, and will be broadcast live on the NCAA website.  Just go to www.ncaa.com to find the webstream.
 
Ailee is a 2011 graduate of Cook County High School where she was valedictorian.  Her parents are Mike and Jana Larson, of Lutsen.  Ailee was a standout athlete in Cook County, but really caught fire running cross country in Chile, where she was an exchange student last year. 
 
Ailee is among the best cross country runners ever to compete for Saint Kate’s, located in St. Paul.  She has been named athlete of the week three times this year and has awarded all MIAC honors.  She is a Spanish major, a resident advisor and has been on the Dean’s List since she transferred to St Kate’s as a freshman.
 
Ailee is famous for running barefoot, which a rarity in collegiate cross country running.  Her mom, Jana says that it is fun listening to the spectators around her comment on Ailee’s lack of footwear during races.
 
Dave and Amy Freeman are also residents of Lutsen, although they are rarely home.  They run Wilderness Classroom, a non-profit that helps schools connect to wilderness through technology.  Dave and Amy take marathon wilderness trips and connect in real time with schools using satellite communications. 
 
Dave and Amy have recently been nominated by National Geographic to be their Adventurers of the Year.   They just complete their “North American Odyssey”, a 11,500 mile trip around North America by kayak, canoe, dog sled and hiking.  More than 85,000 students followed their progress and completed multi-disciplinary lesson plans that Dave and Amy provide over the Internet.
 
There are ten nominees for the National Geographic Award and the winner will be based on voting by the public.  You can vote once a day at adventure.nationalgeographic.com.  You don’t have to register, give up your email address or sign up for anything.  Just go to the site and vote for Dave and Amy!
 
You can always call WTIP for the website addresses that have been mentioned in this report.
 
Victus Farm, in Silver Bay, is now open to the public.  Victus Farm is the closed loop fish and fresh vegetable operation that you can see from the highway in the Silver Bay Industrial Park just east of the stoplight.
 
The innovative system collects rainwater to use for rearing tilapia, a delicious and popular species of fish.  The wastewater from the fish is used to raise a variety of vegetable crops in an aquaponic green house.  The water is then exposed to algae, which restores the oxygen before the water is returned to the fish.  The algae can be used to make fish food or can be processed into biofuel.
 
The fish and vegetables are now available for sale to the general public every Saturday from 10 am until 1 pm.  Eating fresh fish during the winter isn’t much of a novelty here in the north country, but having garden fresh vegetable the year around is a real treat.
 
According to an anonymous source, many area lakes are good for ice skating right now.  The source wishes to remain anonymous so his wife won’t know that he has been skipping work to drive around and check lake conditions.  She doesn’t like him to skate alone, which is actually a pretty valid concern.
 
He reports that most lakes west of the Sawbill Trail are at least 5” thick and sporting black ice that is “smooth as a baby’s bottom.”  Sawbill Lake and lakes to the east have a light dusting of snow, but are quite skate-able.
 
As always, you skate on what some people call “wild ice” at you own risk.  You should check ice depths for yourself, carry ice picks for self-rescue and have warm, dry clothes at hand in case you do fall through.
 
I also recommend that you not skate alone, although I highly recommend ditching out on work to go skating.  Good lake skating is such a rare thrill that it should be seen as a universal holiday.  So, take the day off and go skate some wild ice!


 
Singer/songwriter Martha Scanlon

West End News: November 14

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The annual lutefisk and ham dinner at Zoar Lutheran Church is in the record books for another year.  Chef Gary Hansen reported a successful event with attendance at about 130 people and 100 pounds of lutefisk consumed.  Gary had 175 pounds on hand, just in case, so if you’re looking for some lutefisk, give Gary a call.
 
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned good-natured complaints by the students at Birch Grove School about a certain lingering odor after the lutefisk dinner in the past.  Mel Lingwall, who taught at Birch Grove for many, many years, emailed me after he heard the story. 
 
Mel wrote that years ago he arrived at school early one morning and was alarmed by the strong smell of burning rubber.  He couldn’t see anything burning, but he immediately called Jim Schliep, who was in charge of maintenance at the time.  Jim hurried to the school where he and Mel spent the better part of an hour inspecting all the mechanical systems and searching for the source of the awful smell.  Only after they had inspected the entire school did they realize that the lutefisk was the source of the odor.
 
According to Gary Hansen, an acknowledged lutefisk expert, modern lutefisk doesn’t smell bad.  I can only guess that the lutefisk production process has somehow changed, or perhaps Gary has damaged his sense of smell during his long career as a lutefisk chef.
 
There is a lot going on in the West End on Friday, Nov. 22.  The Commercial Fishing Museum’s Storytelling event is happening at Lutsen Resort.  This popular event is now sold out, but if you didn’t get a ticket, you have two other choices for the evening.
 
Papa Charlie’s at Lutsen Mountains is hosting the annual benefit for Birch Grove School, featuring a lasagna dinner, silent auction and live music.  Tickets are available at the door.
 
As if that isn’t enough for one night, there will be a fabulous house concert, featuring singer/songwriters Martha Scanlan and Amy Helm at the Cascade Loft Concert Series on the Cascade Beach Road between Lutsen and Grand Marais.
 
Both of these talented women have too many accomplishments to list here, but you may remember Scanlan’s songs from the hit movie “Cold Mountain.”  Amy Helm is American roots music royalty, because she is the daughter of Levon Helm, drummer for The Band. 
 
The Cascade Loft Concerts do not sell tickets in advance, but you must RSVP to save yourself a spot.  All you have to do is email cascadeloftconcerts@gmail.com to reserve a seat, get the address and learn the super secret handshake.  Doors open at 7 p.m. and the music starts at 7:45.
 
I was saddened to hear of Lloyd Scherer’s death at the age of 94.  Lloyd was a long-time Lutsen and Grand Marais resident.  I first met him when he had the contract with the Forest Service to pick up garbage at the Sawbill Lake campground, back in the early ‘60s. 
 
Lloyd was a gentle soul and a bit of a renaissance man.  Although he was best known for his beautiful artwork, Lloyd was also deeply knowledgeable about the natural world.  On my last hike with Lloyd, he was well into his 80s and I could barely keep up with both his hiking pace and his stream of observations on the complexity of the ecosystem that we were passing through.  Lloyd will be missed by his family, friends and the whole community.
 
Julie’s Variety and True Value Hardware Store in Silver Bay will be hosting Ladies’ Night on Monday, Nov. 25, starting at 6:30 p.m.  This fun event includes hors d’oeuvres, demonstrations, door prizes, discounts and a chance to knock off a bunch of holiday shopping in one fell swoop.  If you’ve been to Julie’s, you know it is much more than just a hardware store.  Space is limited, so call (218) 226-3803 to reserve a spot.
 
Ladies’ night at the hardware store reminds me of a story that Meg Tofte told me a long time ago.  At the time, Meg and her husband, Greg Tofte, had been married for 10 or 15 years.  Most people know that Greg is well-respected home building contractor and a Tofte native.  A few weeks before her birthday that year, Meg gently asked Greg if he would please, for once, not buy her birthday present at the hardware store.  They are still happily married, so I’m guessing that Greg took the hint.
 


 
Sawtooth Mountain Clinic

West End News: November 7

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The Schroeder Historical Society is holding its annual Holiday Bazaar Saturday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.  Once again this year, there will be drawing for a beautiful handmade quilt.  The drawing will be held at 2 p.m.  Call 663-7706 or e-mail office@crossriverheritage.org if you need more information.
 
I am pleased with the news that the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais has added a staff person to help Cook County residents get enrolled in MNSure, which is the new online health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Health Care Act.  Rachelle Christianson is scheduling information sessions around the county.  She plans to have a couple of sessions in the West End, so watch for information about when and where as it becomes available. 
 
The MNSure exchange is for people who either don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.  If you get health insurance through your work, or if you are on Medicare, you don’t have to be concerned with MNSure.  Judging from her interview here on WTIP, Rachelle seems to have a very firm grasp on the details of MNSure and will be able to give you clear and helpful advice.  If you don’t want to wait for the public information sessions, you can contact her directly at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at 387-2330.
 
I’ve been very annoyed by the irrational and inaccurate misinformation campaign surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act, which is sometimes called Obamacare.  I can’t even begin to list all the nonsense that has been said about the Act, because it would take too long. 
 
From my perspective, Obamacare will be very useful to my family and small business.  We have been among the underinsured population for many years.  As an independent small business, we’ve been forced to buy our insurance on the open market as individuals.  In order to keep the expense within our means we’ve had to carry disaster insurance featuring very high deductibles, large co-payments and scary exclusions for expensive illnesses.  On top of that, many insurance companies have made it a standard practice to drop people from coverage on some flimsy pretext if they actually became sick, to avoid having to pay the claim.
 
In other words, we’ve been paying a small fortune for insurance that didn’t really protect us and might not cover us at all.  Even if our insurance worked as advertised, the reality was that if two members of our family became seriously ill at the same time, we could lose our home and business to bankruptcy – just for being unlucky.
 
The Affordable Health Care Act is a big step toward making sure that all Americans are treated fairly by their health insurance.  You can no longer be denied insurance for having a pre-existing condition.  You no longer can be dropped from your insurance just because you get sick.  All health insurance policies are now required to offer solid, across the board basic care without requiring you to lose your life’s savings if you get seriously ill or injured.
 
That said, I believe the Affordable Health Care Act is a flawed solution to how health care is paid for in America.  All you have to do is look around the world to see that a single payer system of health care is the way to go.  It is simpler, far more efficient and would improve the overall health of Americans. 
 
There is no perfect system for something as complicated as health care, but we can do much better.  A logical, well-run, single payer health insurance system could allow full choice of which doctor you see, make the paperwork much simpler, help hold down costs and let business unleash its entrepreneurial spirit.
 
In my opinion, we should give Obamacare a chance, but it’s not too early to be thinking about the next step forward.
 
At this writing, Sawbill Lake is still completely free of ice, but I don’t think that will last much longer.  All the leaves and needles are down now and the woods have that dark, austere November look.  Every time the wind switches to the north, I can practically smell the snow and ice creeping inexorably nearer and nearer.


 
Lutefisk

West End News: October 31

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There is a lot happening in the West End in the month of November.
 
First, couple of quick reminders: 
 
Senior Lunch at Birch Grove is always a good time and the next one is Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  All are welcome, but give a call to Birch Grove if you are attending for the first time, so they can plan enough food.
 
The Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Contact veteran blood drive coordinator Julie Rannetsberger at 663-7111 to schedule a time.
 
A couple of other big events are coming to the West End:
 
 The umpteenth annual Zoar Lutheran Church Lutefisk and Ham dinner will be Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.  This church dinner has its roots firmly planted in the old country.  Eating the lutefisk is optional, but lutefisk connoisseurs tell me that it’s quite delicious, as lutefisk goes.  It helps to use a lot of melted butter. 
 
When my kids were students at Birch Grove they used to complain somewhat bitterly about the smell that lingered in the building for a few days after the dinner.
 
Tickets are available at the door and all are welcome.
 
The annual Birch Grove Community School lasagna dinner at Papa Charlie’s at Lutsen Mountains is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 22.  This is another longstanding event in the West End social scene.  Chef Chris Nies prepares the meal. The local food service suppliers donate all the food. The waiters are staff and volunteers from Birch Grove School, virtually all the money raised goes to the school and a good time is had by all.
 
The event also includes a very attractive silent auction and a fun dance to the music of the talented West End band, D’Merritt. 
 
Last year, the food sold out early, so more food is being planned this year so everyone can eat.  Take-out dinners are available this year, so if you are too busy to sit down, you can still support the school. 
 
If you have questions, or a silent auction item that you would like to donate, contact Diane at 663-0170.
 
I’ve been watching the Minneapolis mayor’s election with great interest.  Minneapolis is among a growing list of governments that are using ranked choice voting for their elections.
 
Ranked choice voting works like this: 
 
Anyone who is eligible and pays the fee can run for mayor. There is no primary election. All the candidates run in just one general election. When you get your ballot, you rank the candidates in the order that you prefer them. 
 
The ballots are counted and if one of the candidates gets more than half the votes, then they are declared the winner and become mayor. If that doesn’t happen, then the candidate with the least votes is dropped from the election. The eliminated candidate’s ballots are recounted and the votes are reallocated to the next choice on each ballot.  This continues until a winner is determined.
 
If you’ve ever held your nose and voted for the least worse of two candidates on a ballot, you can see the advantage of ranked choice voting immediately.  You can vote for whom you like, but indicate whom you can live with at the same time.
 
I personally like how ranked choice voting virtually eliminates negative campaigning and personal attacks.  If you attack one of your opponents, their supporters are highly unlikely to make you their second choice.  With personal attacks taken out of the equation, campaigns are forced to concentrate on the issues make their case for why they are the best person for the job. What a concept!
 
Ranked choice voting, in my opinion, is the way all our elections should be conducted.  It’s fair, gives voters a real choice and eliminates many of the most annoying aspects of our current system.
 
If we combined ranked choice voting with strict campaign finance rules and a set amount of time for campaigning, we would have more accountable and efficient government at every level. A guy can dream, can’t he?
 
As I speak, Sawbill Lake is skimmed over with ice in the bays and protected areas.  I don’t think this is the final freeze-up though, as warmer temperatures and rain are in the forecast.  As always at this time of year, I have my fingers crossed for smooth ice that is safe for ice-skating.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News. 

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