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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:
Miami, Florida

West End News: February 20

West End News Feb 20 2014.mp38.92 MB

 The Bloodmobile will be back in Tofte on Monday, March 3rd from 2:30 until 6 pm. In a quick and easy process, you can donate a pint of your blood that will be used to enhance or save the life of another person. The professionals on the Bloodmobile, who work for the Memorial Blood Centers, make it very convenient and painless to perform this critical civic duty. You will get to have a friendly visit with a random selection of your neighbors and, best of all, they will give you free cookies and juice. You do have to schedule and appointment, by calling Carla Menssen at 663-0179 or contact WTIP for more information.

I feel a little sheepish to say that I spent most of the last week in Miami, Florida. I was invited to attend a conference sponsored by the Knight Foundation called the "Media Learning Seminar." The conference is a gathering of people who care about how important information is to a democratic society and how to make sense of information in a world that is changing at an alarming pace.

As you can imagine, the rise of digital technology and the decline of traditional news media are the concerns that run through almost every discussion at the conference. Commercial media outlets are putting less effort into local news. The internet has reduced their revenues and their relevance. Newspapers have gutted their news departments and local television news tends to report murder and mayhem rather than substantial news. The whole news business is changing so fast, that no one really knows where it is going.

According to the experts at the conference, small community radio stations, like this one, are a bright spot in the news landscape, especially in rural areas. The ownership that is felt by listener members and the deep roots that the professional staff have in their communities, makes the news programming at community radio stations, and small weekly newspapers by the way, particularly useful in keeping people actively engaged in their local community.

It wasn't mentioned at the conference, but I can't help thinking that the whole trend toward all things local: local food, shopping, arts, energy, etc. is helping to focus people on their local news organizations. Of course, it almost goes without saying, that good news reporting is critical to a well functioning democracy.

One of the most interesting presentations at the conference was from journalist David Bornstein. He organizes a weekly feature in the New York Times called "Fixes." His idea is that news should go beyond the reporting of conflict and controversy. If someone is having a problem or conflict, it is pretty likely that someone else in this wide world has already figured out a solution.

It is easier, cheaper and more immediately interesting for journalists to cover conflict. The cynical line in the news business is, "If it bleeds, it leads." Bornstein thinks that solutions can also be interesting to readers, if they are presented in the same format as a "who-done-it" mystery, except instead of "who-done-it" it is "how-done-it."

Let me give you and example. Here in Cook County it is generally excepted that finding affordable housing is a big problem for working people, especially young people. There may be many reasons for this, but it is obvious that supply and demand in a beautiful area with a strong tourism economy causes housing prices to be too high for many people who live here.

A reporter could go out and find other communities that have this same syndrome in play to learn how they have solved, or attempted to solve the problem. The news story would start out by stating that they have found a way to have affordable housing in their community and then reveal over the course of the story how they did it. It makes a good story and could be very helpful in finding a solution to a thorny issue.

Aside from the interesting conference, it was an eye-opener for me to spend some time in the heart of Miami. The downtown waterfront is ringed by giant high rise hotels and residences, which caused me to have a sore neck as a gawked at them like the country mouse that I am. Giant super-yachts are parked along the seawalls in front of the high rises. These symbols of luxury are fun to look at, but they do raise many questions about how wealth is distributed these days. It's hard to look at a gleaming 200 foot luxury yacht that cost tens of millions of dollars to build and operate without wondering if this is a smart way to organize our world.

On a Saturday night on South Beach, one of the world's trendiest neighborhoods, we found a sidewalk table and soaked up the carnival atmosphere. I overheard at least 30 different languages and observed a wide range of the human condition - all with club music blaring from every open front establishment. The closest thing I can compare it to is the bar scene from the original Star Wars movie - completely alien, but strangely compelling for some one from the little old West End of Cook County. And, I'm sorry to have to say that the weather was gorgeous and tropical.

Sorry about that.


Snowmobile race

West End News: February 13

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One of the fun things about surfing the internet is stumbling across a random news story that hits home for one reason or another.  This morning, I was delighted to find a television news feature story about Jerry Gervais, better known as the Snowmobile Doctor of Tofte.  It ran a couple of weeks ago as part of the “On The Road with Jason Davis” series that the Twin Cities TV station KSTP has been doing for what seems like a hundred years.
The story highlighted Jerry’s success as a pioneer snowmobile racer in the early 1960s.  Jerry was a big part of the racing scene when it was just getting started.  His daring and skill quickly brought him to joining the Polaris Company racing team.  I remember what big news this was back in the day, and how Jerry, who went by the nickname “Red” in those days, was quite the local celebrity. 
I was about nine years old at that time and I remember a Tofte resident telling me, with a mixture of horror and pride, that Jerry sometimes went 60 miles per hour on his Skidoo.  When I expressed my desire to do 60 on a Skidoo myself, I was told that Jerry had just broken his leg while riding at high speed at the Tofte airport.  I think the word maniac may have been used.  It didn’t diminish my desire to race snowmobiles, just like Jerry.  Fortunately, I never had the opportunity, which kept my skeleton mostly intact.
Jason Davis also covered Jerry’s current skill as a snowmobile mechanic and his passion for vintage snowmobiles. He pointed out that Jerry’s shop is located in the middle of nowhere.  As proof, he noted that it was located just off the Sawbill Trail.  He did admit that the shop is located immediately adjacent to a major snowmobile trail.
Davis also mentioned that if you go to Jerry’s shop, you should plan a little extra time to hear Jerry tell a few stories.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent less than an hour in Jerry’s shop, even when I’ve just stopped by on a minor errand. 
You can see the story for yourself by going the KSTP website, or google “On the Road: Snowmobile Doctor.”
If you have a big dog and want to have some fun, you should attend the first annual “Best In Snow” Ski-joring race, scheduled for the first Saturday March at the George Washington Pines ski trail, just a few miles north of Grand Marais on the Gunflint Trail.  Ski-joring is basically harnessing your dog to pull you on cross-country skis. 
This event is being sponsored by Go Dog North Shore, which is a new non-profit organization based in Grand Marais that aims to promote healthy and active human and dog relationships on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior.  Plans include a 2-mile and 4-mile race, with a limit of one dog per skier and each race capped at 15 teams. If you don’t know how to ski-jor this would be a good way to see if it’s for you and your dog.
You can find details at, or contact WTIP for full contact information.
Last week, I mentioned my epic fall off the peak of my house.  I got a number of emails and comments about my inventing the new Olympic sport known as roof diving.  It got me to thinking about other West End winter sports that could be included in future winter Olympic Games.
One event could be Cold Weather Dog Walking.  This would be judged on the dog’s form and skill at walking while holding one or more freezing paws off the ground.  Points could be awarded for maintaining speed while walking with one, two, or at the pinnacle of skill, three paws in the air.  Extra points are awarded for successfully “taking care of business” with one or more paws off the ground.
Another sport could be competitive car starting.  Athletes would each be provided with a 1992 Toyota Camry with two hundred and thirty thousand miles on it and a four-year-old battery, cooled down to 32 degrees below zero.  Points would be awarded for the least time elapsed from leaving the house to pulling out of the driveway.  Style points would be added for combinations of starter fluid, gas pedal pumping and application of jumper cables. Needless to say, at the Olympic level, only batteries with the tiny little side-mounted terminals would be allowed.  Points would be deducted for failure to make a solid connection or having the jumper cables pop off just as you turn the key.  You are disqualified if you leave your choppers sitting on the air cleaner when you slam the hood.
The final new event could be that ultimate test of speed, agility and strength that we call roof shoveling.  Points would be awarded for speed and style, with extra points being added for the size of each block of snow pushed over the edge of a low pitch cabin roof.  The judges will want to see a few graceful roof diving moves, with points being added for the length and loudness of the scream and the gracefulness of the landing.  Veterans of this Olympic sport, like me, would delight the crowd with our perfect belly flop techniques.
This all gets me to thinking that the West End should submit a bid to host the 2022 winter games.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

Here’s what the divot made by a radio commentator falling 22 feet looks like.

West End News: February 6

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There is great news from the Section 7 High School Alpine ski meet that ran on Tuesday at Giant’s Ridge.  West Ender Will Lamb, who has deep roots in Schroeder, placed seventh overall in a field of 120 skiers.  This earns Will, a 15-year-old freshman, his second consecutive trip to the state meet at Giants Ridge on Feb. 12.  Last year, he went to state when the team placed highly enough to go as a group. 
This year, neither the boys’ nor girls’ team placed high enough to qualify for state.  However both teams are very young and did extremely well in a competitive field.  The girls were sixth out of 18 teams and the boys were fifth out of 20.
Seventh-grader Riley Wahlers, from Grand Marais, also qualified for state, finishing an incredible 11th overall out of 114 of the region’s best skiers.
Coach Charles Lamb reports that he has many young skiers who are improving fast, which bodes well for the future.  There can be no doubt that the Junior Ski Team program sponsored by Lutsen Mountains Ski Area is working well to develop top-notch high school skiers.  It’s wonderful to have such a world class facility here in the West End and even better that they offer such generous support to local kids.
Speaking of local kids, I urge everyone to attend the community conversation get-together at the Birch Grove Community Center Wednesday, Feb. 19. This is a fun brainstorming session to identify the opportunities and challenges for the future of the whole West End community. Anyone with an interest, or ideas about the community center and how it can enhance our quality of life, should attend.
The event kicks off with a community meal at 5:45 p.m., followed by a structured discussion.  The goal is to identify and prioritize the three- to five-year goals of the Birch Grove Community Center.  RSVPs are encouraged.  Call 663-7977 or email
As of Feb. 5, the Canadian Ice Service has declared that Lake Superior is officially frozen over.  This is a relatively rare phenomenon, happening only about once every 20 years on average.  The last official freeze over was in 1997, although 2003 came very close.
I well remember the ice-box year of 1982, when the big lake not only froze over, but developed a swath of smooth ice, safe for skating, from Two Harbors to Grand Marais. On the night of the February full moon that year, nearly every resident of the West End was out skating. It was a peak moment in West End history. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it will be smooth on such a large scale this year.
I am particularly happy to be able to report the West End News this week, because by all rights I should be either be in an intensive care ward or attending my own funeral. 
Last Wednesday, I fell off the peak of my roof, plunging 22 feet straight down on to rock-hard frozen ground. 
I was up there to clear a frozen sewer vent, which is something that a lot of West End residents have been doing lately.  To access my roof, I climb the latticed radio tower that is bolted to the high peak of my two-story home. At the peak, there is a steep eave about 18” wide that I have to step over to reach the much flatter main roof area.  When I committed my weight in that first step, the snow on the eve broke loose and avalanched down and off.  I wasn’t too worried because I still was holding the tower with both hands and my other foot.  Unfortunately, the physics of the avalanche took a large chunk of dense snow off the flat part of the roof with it, including my foot that was buried within it. The huge mass of the moving snow plucked my hands off the tower like you would pluck a mosquito off your arm.  Meanwhile, the foot that was still on the tower became momentarily wedged in the latticework and in the blink of an eye, I was spun around and launched into mid air 22 feet above the unforgiving earth.
I’m here to tell you that good old gravity accelerates a falling object frighteningly quickly.  It’s one thing to observe an object dropping from the heights – and quite another thing to be the object.
I’ve often wondered what would pass through my mind if I were facing sure death with only a few seconds to ponder my fate. Would my life flash before my eyes? Would I think of my children, spouse, family or beloved friends? Would I feel regret or fear? Well, now I know. I had one thought and one thought only as the ground rushed toward me. Calmly and without fear, I thought to myself, “This is really going to hurt.” – and it did.
As it turned out, I was incredibly lucky to land a perfect belly flop on absolutely flat ground that was covered by 25 inches of soft snow.  Thanks to the cold weather, I was wearing multiple layers of thick clothing. That combination saved my life. I had the wind thoroughly knocked out of me, but once I recovered from that, I had only a moderately sore shoulder and foot to show for my adventure.
The experience definitely did change my outlook on life. I was stupid, then lucky, and that’s a combo that you don’t get to repeat too many times in one life.  After the fall, you can be sure that I’ve thought often about my children, spouse, family and beloved friends. And I am so grateful to say…for WTIP, this Bill Hansen with the West End News.

boot hockey at Birch Grove

West End News: January 30

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Cook County Higher Education in Grand Marais has two offerings this week that may appeal to West End residents.
The first is called “Taking the High Road,” which is a six week study skills course that teaches you how to develop the proper mindset for studying. 
The instructor is Bob Pratt, a Cook County native who was the first in his family to go to college.  Bob, who is now retired and living in Grand Marais, holds a Phd and is one of the world’s leading authorities on adult and non-traditional learners.  Bob’s passion and mission in life is empowering people to improve their lives through education, so matter what their circumstances.  Not only is he a skilled and encouraging teacher, but he is one of the nicest and most pleasant people I know.
If you have any inclination toward returning to school, Bob’s class is for you.  It starts on Wednesday, February 5th, from 4 until 5:30 pm and continues for six Wednesdays, ending on March 12th.  There is a small charge for the course, but scholarships are available through Cook County Higher Education.
For more information, or to register, call Higher Ed at 387-3411.  You can find Higher Ed online by searching Higher Education, Cook County, Minnesota.  As always, you can contact WTIP at any time to get the contact information.
The other event being organized by Higher Ed, is the Emerging Leaders Group Coffee from 7:30 am until 9 am, at the North Shore Campus in Grand Marais on Tuesday, February 4th.  This is an informal gathering for anyone who wants to make a positive impact on the future of Cook County.
This is intended to be an ongoing opportunity and will be directed by the participants.  The plan is to have time for networking, as well as discussing issues that are important to Cook County.  The first session will be lead by Tim and Beth Kennedy.  Tim is a participant in the Blandin Leadership Program.
It would be great if some of our emerging leaders in the West End could represent us.  The same goes for every part of the county, of course.  Again, it is 7:30 to 9 am at the North Shore Campus of Cook County Higher Education, 300 West 3rd Street in Grand Marais.  It is free and everyone is welcome.
Also on February 4th are the precinct caucuses for the major political parties in Minnesota.  The precinct caucus system is the ground floor of democracy, where regular people can influence the issues championed by each political party that will eventually influence what kind of society we choose to construct for ourselves.
The Independence Party conducts their caucuses online, so consult their website for how to participate.  The caucuses the Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor Parties are all held in Grand Marais.  This year the Republicans will caucus at the 4-H Building and the DFLers will gather at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts. 
The caucus process is easy and fun.  All you have to do is show up at 7 pm on Tuesday, February 4th.  Each precinct can endorse candidates, propose changes to the party platform and, if you would like, get yourself elected to party positions that can lead to the party’s statewide convention in June.
You can get full information on the caucus system in Minnesota by going to the website of the Minnesota Secretary of State.
The entire West End is reeling from the tragic and untimely passing of Mark Buckman.  Mark is a life-long West End resident with deep roots throughout the Cook County.  Mark’s quiet and steady demeanor earned him many friends, especially among his co-workers at the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area where he was loved and respected by all.  I join everyone in the community in extending condolences to Mark’s family and many, many friends.
Congratulations to the organizers, racers and fans of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.  For a while last year it looked like the Beargrease would disappear from the scene, but a dedicated group of volunteers rallied around the race and made it one to remember.  Hopefully, it will continue for many years to come.
And finally, don’t forget the crazy fun annual boot hockey tournament at Birch Grove Community Center, Friday, February 7th starting at 5:30 pm.  Serious bragging rights are on the line and the competition will be semi-serious.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

{photo courtesy of the Birch Grove Foundations}


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 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 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.


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 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}


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.


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.


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.