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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:
Eric "Frosty" Frost

West End News: April 17

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It’s time again for the annual West End guessing game called “when will the ice go out?”  Sometimes this is a game of casual interest even when it involves small amounts of money being wagered. On the other hand, in a year like this one, when it seems like the ice might not be out by the opening day of fishing, it gets serious.
Here’s what I know.  At the moment, there is 31” of good ice on Sawbill Lake.  The snow pack in the woods is about 20” on average.  The creeks and rivers are open where the water is moving.  The grackles, purple finches, juncos and robins are back.
If I were subjected to enhanced-interrogation techniques, I would say that ice-out will be just in time for opening day.  However, I’ve learned over the years that nothing makes you look foolish faster than predicting the ice-out date.
Every year about this time, Lutsen Mountains holds its “Mountain Meltdown” celebration.  Last Sunday, four local bands performed for what amounts to the defacto end-of-the-year party for the ski hill.   At the height of the Meltdown celebration, local musician and all around good guy, Eric Frost, from Tofte, was treated to a great surprise. 
Last fall, Frosty recorded a handful of his original songs at the recording studio of Jerry and Dusty Levine in Silver Bay.  Jerry and Dusty are the long-time sound engineers at Papa Charlie’s nightclub in Lutsen.  Frosty recorded only the vocal tracks of his songs, with the intention of adding the instruments sometime in the future.  Jerry and Dusty took the vocal from Frosty’s song call “Mr. Moonshiner” and added all the instruments in the style of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the iconic southern rock band, including a blistering rock guitar solo by Dusty.
All the other musicians had been alerted by Jerry, so Frosty was lured to the middle of the room and Jerry unleashed the song with all the considerable audio power that Papa Charlie’s sound system can muster.  It was great fun to watch Frosty’s face as it changed from listening to just any song, to realizing it was his song, which caused him consternation, to the dawning realization of what Jerry and Dusty had done.  His smile was priceless.  Listen for it soon on a radio station near you.
The Tofte and Gunflint Ranger Districts of the US Forest Service are looking for full time wilderness volunteers for the upcoming summer season.  The volunteers are full-fledged wilderness rangers, spending 8 days at a time in the BWCA Wilderness, working on campsites and portages.  Volunteers receive reimbursement for expenses, which amounts to about $200 per trip and free housing when they are off the trail.
This is a great opportunity for someone who is contemplating a career with the Forest Service or who just loves wilderness.  You should know that the work is physically very demanding and requires a high level of fitness.  The wilderness rangers travel, work and camp together in small groups for 8 days in a row, so it helps to have an easy-going personality.
If you are interested, contact Cathy Quinn at 218-387-3240.  You can always contact WTIP if you missed that number.
One of the best things about small town newspapers, including our own Cook County News Herald, is reading the law enforcement briefs that often read like little haikus about the more difficult parts of life in our community.
Amongst the common complaints of keys locked in a car, noisy neighbors, and vehicle in the ditch, is the occasional report of something that is unintentionally hilarious.  The all-time classic, from a couple of years ago, was “caller reports three legged dog running in front of the library with a chicken in its mouth – headed east.”  The level of detail in that report made me spit out my coffee.
This week comes another classic: “Monday, March 31, 7:50 am – Caller said there was a deer sitting by the front door, unknown if it was injured or just hungry.  He gave it a bagel, but was unsure if the deer can get up.”
This report raises a bunch of questions for me.  Was the bagel toasted?  Was cream cheese involved?  Did the deer eventually get up and leave?  Did it return the next morning for breakfast?  I guess we’ll never know.
I do know that I like living in a place where law enforcement is called to help deal with a bagel-eating deer.



West End News: April 10

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It’s not too early to mark your calendar for the “Gala for the Grove.”  The Gala is a gourmet dinner, live auction and dance, and is the largest annual fundraiser for the remarkable Birch Grove Community School in Tofte.
This year, the Gala is scheduled for Saturday, May 17th at Surfside Resort in Tofte.  Seating is limited, so reserve your place early.  You can also be a sponsor of the event at various levels.
You should also think about what you might have to donate to the live auction.  In the past, some memorable items have been auctioned, including a pedigreed puppy, free use of a vacation villa in Mexico, and a truckload of black dirt, among many, many other things.
This year, the Gala is looking for a local artist to donate a significant piece of art.  The artist will be given a lot of publicity and will have the chance to mingle and meet many local art buyers during the Gala’s social hour.
For reservations, sponsorships or auction donations, call Diane Blanchette at 663-0170.  You can always contact WTIP for that phone number if you missed it.
In every story that I read about job openings in Minnesota, welding is invariably mentioned as an area where many high paying jobs are currently available.  Cook County Higher Education is offering a 30-credit Welding Technology Certificate right here in Cook County.  Completing the course will qualify you to work in production welding, manufacturing, repair, maintenance work or the construction industry.  The program is geared for working adults and can be completed over two years.
The certificate can also be applied toward higher degrees including Applied Engineering and Technology Management.
Scholarship help is available, but the scholarship deadline is April 15th, so if you’re interested, contact Cook County Higher Education at 387-3411 right away.  The wonderful folks at Higher Ed will help you with every step of the process.
The Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District is offering low cost tree and shrub stock for sale this spring. A variety of species are available.  You can see images and descriptions on the District’s website.  Just google “Cook County Soil and Water Conservation” to find the site.  Orders are due by April 18th for pickup on May 15th in Grand Marais.
Many years ago, one of the trail food companies produced a package of freeze-dried water as a marketing gag.  We had the package on display in our store here at Sawbill and it drew a lot of comment.  A surprising number of people took it seriously and suggested that it would be perfect for desert camping trips.
Imagine my amusement when I heard that the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota is busy freeze-drying water samples taken from Lake Superior. 
It turns out that freeze-drying the water gives them a more accurate sample of what is dissolved in the water than the traditional method of evaporation.  Letting water evaporate gives volatile compounds the chance to evaporate too, giving the scientists -who are a picky bunch - inaccurate results.
Now if they can just figure out how their freeze-dried water can be used for desert camping…



West End News: April 3

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There are definitely some trade-offs to living in the West End.  We get to live in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.  We are
surrounded by compassionate and talented people.  On the other hand, it seems like we'll never get broadband internet and when we have an emergency, help can be far away.

In modern times, we've been lucky and smart to develop systems that provide emergency services - police, fire and emergency medicine - in a timely manner.  Locals can respond quickly to most populated parts of the West End and have the training to do what needs to be done to save property and life.

Hovland is in the same boat, if you will, and has developed similar fire and rescue systems at roughly the same time.  In recent years though, Hovland has pioneered a new volunteer service called STOP. STOP stands for Safety Team Operational Patrol.  Because so many of our most serious emergencies happen on or near Highway 61, the STOP volunteers have been trained to provide safety and control along the highway so everyone involved in the incident can avoid further injury.

The Hovland Fire Department is hosting a STOP training session soon to encourage the spread of the STOP program throughout Cook County.  The one day training begins at 8:30 AM on Saturday, April 12th at the Hovland Town Hall.  Lunch will be provided and a social barb-e-que is planned immediately after the training.

You don't need to have any prior emergency training to take the course - just a desire to help out your community and provide crucial aid to the heroes who are there for us in the worst moments of our lives.  I strongly encourage you to call 218-475-2766 for more information.  You can always call WTIP for information as well.

The concept of stewardship is a powerful notion if you think about it. Taking care of ourselves, our families, communities and the world we live in, is really the most profound function of our lives.  We are all on this earth for only a short time and the reality is that we don't really own anything - it's just ours to take care of for awhile. My friend Hal Greenwood put it well a couple of years ago when he donated a valuable autographed baseball to a local charity.  He said, "My stuff is just someone else's future stuff."

Some folks around the region are working on an exciting new stewardship project.  It doesn't have a name yet, but they are forming an organization to coordinate volunteer efforts in and around the BWCA Wilderness and the Superior National Forest.

The idea of the new organization is to make it easy and painless for people to get their boots on the ground and hands on tools to help protect and improve the wild lands in our corner of the world.  There are a lot of volunteers working in the woods now, but there is a lot more work to be done and many more people willing to do it.  Having an umbrella organization will make it easier for the many agencies, clubs and groups to recruit, train, supervise and reward volunteers.

This new group does not plan to be an advocacy group but plans to help anyone who needs work done, including, but not limited to, the US Forest Service, Minnesota DNR, Cook County, snowmobile clubs, ski clubs, biking clubs, ATV clubs, hiking trail clubs, and other groups who operate in the forest.

This idea has been kicking around for awhile, but it has really caught on around the country, with dozens of similar groups having success all over the U.S.  Right now the Superior Forest group is just a steering committee, but they hope to have the organization normalized and funded in the next year in time to put their first volunteers in the woods during the summer of 2015.

As a side benefit, the new organization should provide a few professional level jobs in the future, which, if I have anything to say about it, will be based in good old Cook County.

It's just another way that we can provide stewardship in the short time that we are blessed to live in the beautiful and interesting West End.



West End News: March 27

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A couple of weeks ago, Cook County Higher Education met with businesses in the West End to explore training and education needs for people who work in the West End. Leadership training for managers and employees who want to move into management positions was identified as the number one priority.
Following up quickly, Higher Ed will be offering a certificate course through Lake Superior College called "Success Strategies for the Effective Leader." The course is tentatively scheduled to start May 20; the tuition is subsidized by the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce. 
The plan is to have two groups with up to 16 students in each group. One group would be for entry-level employees and new managers. The other group would be for owner/operators and experienced managers.
Participants will gain skills in motivation, coaching, communication, team leadership, workforce diversity, employment law and much more. A certificate will be awarded upon successful completion. The course is open to all Cook County residents. If you are interested, talk to your employer or call Higher Ed at 387-3411.
Here is another cool thing that Higher Ed is doing, this time in cooperation with the Cook County Community Fund. They are organizing a series of brown bag lunches for all the nonprofit organizations in the county. 
The first discussion will revolve around issues that the county will face in the future, how can nonprofits be more effective, and how can the nonprofits work together?  This is something that should happen on a regular basis.  As best I can remember, Cook County has more than 70 nonprofits, including everything from sports clubs, to health care, to philanthropic groups, to churches.  It's valuable for all these groups to let each other know what they're doing, but even more valuable when they can move together in the same direction.
The first brown bag event is scheduled for Thursday, April 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  RSVP to Higher Ed at 387-3411.
The international fascination with the disappearing Malaysian airliner reminds me of a couple of mysterious disappearances in the West End. Back in the late '60s a trout fisherman vanished while fishing on Plouff Creek in Tofte. His family searched for a day, then called in the sheriff, who searched for several days with larger and large numbers of volunteers. Tracking dogs were brought in with no success. There was no reason to suspect that the fisherman had run away, so the governor ordered in hundreds of National Guardsmen, who spent several days covering a huge swath of woods foot by foot. The fisherman was never found and his disappearance remains a mystery to this day.
A few years later, a young man disappeared while trout fishing on Six Mile Creek, also in Tofte. The search was pretty thorough, but there was a strong suspicion that the fisherman had run off to avoid military service. Quite a few years later, his skeleton was found by another fisherman. The best guess was that he succumbed to hypothermia.
It was some relief for his family to know that he had passed away, rather than living in a limbo of never-ending uncertainty. I know all West Enders join me in hoping the loved ones of the people on the Malaysian flight are able to find some peace and resolution.



West End News: March 20

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The National Football League, yes, the National Football League, is supporting Birch Grove Community School in Tofte.  The NFL recently donated a picture board to the school, which is a group of photos and autographs of the following NFL stars: Dan Marino, Steve Young, Kenny Stabler, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Carl Mauck, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Mark Schlereth, Payton Manning, Tom Brady, Jim Kelly, Terry Bradshaw, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Carl Ferrill.
Even if you don’t follow professional football, you will probably recognize most of these names as the mega-stars of the game.  The one name that may not be a household name is Carl Ferrill, but he is the key to how this valuable collectable item came to Birch Grove. 
As the saying goes, “Here is the rest of the story.”
Birch Grove contracts with the Central Minnesota Educational Research and Development Council to provide some financial services, as is required by the regulations governing charter schools in Minnesota.  Over the years, Birch Grove Principal Diane
Blanchette has become a personal friend with some of the people who work at the council.  One of them, Sue Anderson, is a good friend of Carl Ferrill, who is a college-level coach with strong ties to the NFL.
Carl is involved with an NFL program that donates these valuable autographed picture boards to schools that need to raise money.  Sue suggested to him that Birch Grove was deserving, and the rest history.
Diane hasn’t decided exactly what to do with the donation yet, but needless to say, she is investigating how to maximize the benefit to Birch Grove, probably through an online auction for collectors.  Hopefully, it will be on the wall at Birch Grove for a while so the community can enjoy it first.
Here is a cool thing if you have the time.  The Lake Superior Binational Forum is offering a full-day program called “Mysteries of Lake Superior, from Top to Bottom,” Friday, March 28 in Superior, Wisc.  The seminar will include presentations from scientists, adventurers, business owners, Native Americans, and other who know of some mysterious or unknown aspects of the Big Lake and its surroundings.
For instance, robots are now visiting some of Superior’s most remote depths, and those surfers you see at Stony Point aren’t completely insane.  25 different sessions will be offered concurrently, so you can go where your interest leads you.  The day will be capped by a reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. featuring musical and visual artists who are inspired by the world’s biggest freshwater sea.
The event will be held at the Barkers Island Inn on the waterfront in Superior and is free and open, with no advance registration required.  It should be fascinating.
Regular listeners know that I am a big fan of Cook County Higher Education, the “little college that could” on the North Shore.  Anyone can get higher education through Higher Ed, which brings a world of opportunity to Cook County. 
What many people don’t know is that Higher Ed has access to three significant scholarship programs, so you shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing your dreams because of cost.
The Wes Hedstrom Scholarship honors the longtime community leader who was instrumental in founding Cook County Higher Education.  This scholarship is open to any Cook County resident who want to pursue a degree program through distance learning.  Awards are up to $300 and the deadline for application is April 15.
The Michel Beaupre Scholarship honors another longtime county resident and respected electrician, Michel Beaupre.  It is available to anyone who is working toward a certificate or degree in a skilled trade.  Awards are up to $300 and the deadline is April 15.
The Lloyd K. Johnson Scholarship is a new program that can be used for partial or full tuition assistance by county residents who are enrolled in an accredited distance certificate, diploma or degree program.  Awards are up to $2,000 and the deadline for application is again on April 15.
The good people at Cook County Higher Education will not only help you apply for these scholarships, but they will also do whatever it takes to help you plan and complete your education.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of school, or what your experience was in the past; they will see you through to your goal. Look up Cook County Higher Education on the web, or call 387-3411 for more information.
Lutsen Mountains announced this week that they are extending the downhill skiing season by a week, which puts their closing day on April 20, Easter Sunday. To acknowledge the important holiday, they have scheduled a “Sunrise Easter Service at Lutsen Mountains.”  The Right Reverend Mike Larson, who is not actually a minister, but a popular lay preacher, coach, financial advisor, marriage counselor, and fashion guru to the Lutsen community, will be officiating.
The service will be held at the Moose Mountain chalet at 8 a.m.  The gondola will start running at 7 a.m., as it is the only way up to the chalet.  It should provide an inspiring view of the forest and lake to get you in the mood for the service. There will be music and, with Mike presiding, plenty of laughs and fun.  Be there, or be square.



West End News: March 13

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A lot of West End News was generated around the township annual meetings held in Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder this week.
In Lutsen, no one had filed for the township supervisor seat being vacated by the retiring Marland Hansen.  At the last minute, Andrew Beavers was encouraged to throw his hat in the ring by some of the Lutsen elders and he was elected as a write-in candidate.  He’s lived in Lutsen for 10 years while working as a manager at Lutsen Resort.  However, it’s been a busy week for Andrew, as he has just learned that he is leaving the resort to accept a staff position with North House Folk School in Grand Marais.
I think it’s wonderful that a bright and capable young person is willing to get involved in township government.  However, that doesn’t take anything away from the huge contribution made by retiring Supervisor Marland Hansen.  Marland has not only served with distinction, but has made a thousand other contributions to his community – too numerous to mention here.  Marland has been spending some time at the Mayo Clinic recently, but is now home and on the mend.  Be sure to wish him well when you see him.
In Tofte, Jeanne Larson won a hotly contested race for the supervisor position left vacant by the retiring DC Olsen. The margin of victory was razor thin with Judy Motschenbacher receiving 29 votes and Jeanne getting 31.  It was really a case of having two excellent candidates on the ballot.  This is reflected by the large turnout of 60 voters, which is the second highest voter count in the history of the town, as best as anyone can remember.
Judy Motschenbacher is another West Ender who has made huge contributions of her time and talent to the community and will continue to do so in a number of capacities.  I’m know the whole West End joins me in thanking her for all that she does.
DC Olsen has likewise been a stalwart in the West End since he returned after retiring from his first career.  Like his contemporary, Marland Hansen, DC grew up here and has quietly done so much for the town, that he is basically Tofte’s own George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Last, but not by any means least, Louise Trachta announced her retirement as the head of the Tofte Rescue Squad after 15 years of service.  Louise has built a professional crew of skilled first responders who donate a good chunk of their lives preparing to save our lives in that half hour between catastrophe and the arrival of the nearest ambulance.  It is not going to far at all to call her a hero.  Hers will certainly be big shoes to fill.
All three townships voted in favor of a special donation to the Birch Grove Community School to help them over a period of low enrollment.  The school is the heartbeat of the West End and the money spent will return to us many times over.  Having a strong school will encourage young families to live here, which will strengthen the school, and so on…
The Birch Grove Foundation also reported some exciting news at the town meetings.  They are talking to the new Cook County YMCA about offering significant programming and activities at the Birch Grove Community Center. Apparently, the Y has some equipment in storage, which they could bring to Birch Grove, as well as scheduling popular classes in the West End.  This is particularly exciting in light of the Birch Grove senior housing development that is coming soon.
In a virtual cascade of Birch Grove Community Center news, they have just received their first grant toward the erection of a large greenhouse that was donated last year.  They are also talking to the Grand Marais Library about a branch library at the Center.
Cook County Higher Education is offering a short course that may be of interest to West End residents.  It’s called Mental Health First Aid Training.  This groundbreaking 8-hour class helps people respond to mental health problems.  This is handy knowledge for anyone who works with the public, including hospitality professionals, public safety workers, social workers, employers, etc.
The class will be held at the North Shore Campus in Grand Marais Thursday, Mar 20.  Registration is required by Mar. 17 and there is a fee, but it has been reduced thanks to a grant from the North Shore Health Care Foundation.  Call Higher Ed at 387-3411 to get more information.
Now that the weather has finally moderated, the abundant snow has all the area trails in beautiful condition. As I travel the trails, the almost universal sign of bobcat and lynx is amazing. For about 30 years, starting back in the ‘70s, I didn’t see a cat track anywhere.  Now, I see them everywhere.  I’ve even taken to scanning the trees as I ski and snowmobile, thinking I might spot a big cat perched on a branch.  It is so great to have these fascinating creatures back in the woods.
During that really warm, sunny day last week, I spotted a cat track on the ski trail that was so large that I thought for a moment it might be from a cougar.  It turned out that it was just the sun working on a bobcat track - which is just as well.


Tofte Town Hall

West End News: March 6

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The annual meeting of the West End townships is coming up Tuesday, March 11.  Townships are the bedrock of local politics and the town meeting is a unique opportunity for citizens to be involved in government.  While a board of three elected supervisors governs each township, binding decisions can be made by a majority vote of the citizens attending the annual meeting.
While I encourage everyone to attend their township annual meeting, it seems like the Tofte Township will have the most activity this year.  Judy Motschenbacher has filed for the open supervisor seat in Tofte being vacated by the retiring DC Olsen.  I’ve seen posters indicating that Jeanne Larson is mounting a write-in campaign for the same seat.  Both women are deeply involved with the Birch Grove Center.  Judy is on the board of the Birch Grove Community School and Jeanne is on the board of the Birch Grove Foundation.
According to Skip Lamb, also a Birch Grove School Board member, the school will be asking Tofte for some temporary financial help to tide the school over a period of low enrollment.  In my opinion, this is money well spent.  Birch Grove Community School is critical to the economic and social health of Tofte.  Every indication is toward economic growth here in the West End and having an award-winning school is critical to continuing that trend.
The township elections run from 5 until 8 p.m. on the same day as the annual meetings, Tuesday, March 11.  The annual meetings begin at 8 p.m. The meetings are held at the Lutsen, Tofte, and Schroeder town halls.  The elections are held at the town halls in Lutsen and Schroeder, but Tofte’s polls are located at the Birch Grove Community Center.
The annual kindergarten round-up at Birch Grove Community School is also scheduled for Tuesday, March 11 from 8:30 a.m. until noon.  This is a fun day for preschoolers who may want to attend Birch Grove as kindergartners next year.  The kids can be dropped off or you can arrange for them to be picked up by the bus.  There will be a variety of fun and educational activities for the prospective students until 11:30, when the parents are invited to join their scholars for community lunch in the cafeteria.
I strongly urge all parents of preschoolers in Cook and Lake Counties to attend the kindergarten round-up to see first hand how Birch Grove can get your child started on a life-long educational journey. Birch Grove has everything you want in a school: small class size; dedicated and skillful teachers; lots of personal attention; deep involvement with the community; involved and supportive parents.  My two children who are Birch Grove alumni certainly built on their excellent early education to find success through college and beyond.   For more information or to register, call Diane at 663-0170. 
The deadline for commenting on the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Polymet Mine near Hoyt Lakes is Thursday, March 13.  The implications of this proposed mine are crucial to the West End because it lies in the Lake Superior watershed.
You can find all kinds of information online, both pro and con, including sample letters for input.  You can submit your input by email or though online forms, so it’s very convenient.
In my opinion, this type of mining is a non-starter for northeastern Minnesota.  While it is always certainly tempting to jump on the jobs bandwagon, the reality is that this kind of mining has been both an environmental and economic disaster everywhere that it has occurred.  I’ve said for years that northeastern Minnesota is to fresh water what Saudi Arabia is to oil.  To accept a high risk of pollution to our precious water resource in exchange for 20 years of jobs is just a bad deal.
But, whichever way you come down on this issue, I urge you to educate yourself and let your opinion be known to the Department of Natural Resources.  This is the most important issue affecting our lifestyle in this generation.


Kjersti Vick

West End News: February 27

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 The next Birch Grove Community Lunch will be held on Tuesday, March 11th at 11:30 am. The members of the Birch Grove Community School Board will be there, so you can sit with them and talk about all things Birch Grove. The menu, created and cooked by Barb Merritt and Julie Aldinger, sounds scrumptious with chili, cornbread, fruit salad, scotcharoos, milk, water and coffee. If you plan to attend and aren't a regular, give Diane a call at 663-0170 or email

Almost everybody knows that Birch Grove Community School is a charter school. You may not know that all charter schools must have a sponsoring organization, known as an authorizer, that monitors it for financial, managerial and academic performance. Birch Grove's authorizer is Volunteers of America - Minnesota. Volunteers of America sponsors sixteen charter schools in Minnesota. For the last two school years, Birch Grove has posted the highest reading and math test scores among the V.O.A. charter schools in Minnesota. Congratulations to the teachers, administrators and especially the students at Birch Grove.

Cook County Higher Education is hosting a Workforce Training Outreach information and exploration session in the West End on Thursday, March 13th from 1 to 3 pm. Bluefin Bay is hosting the meeting in the Tofte Room which is in the building right behind guest services.

Anyone who owns, operates, or works for a business in the West End should attend this meeting. The good folks from Higher Ed will not only talk about what they can offer to businesses and their employees, but they'll be asking for suggestions about what types of instruction and certification would be useful.

Higher Ed can custom tailor training to the needs of businesses and employees. They can also help students enroll in online coursework that fits their schedule and resources. They can even arrange for training sessions that are located on-site at a particular business, if that is desired.

You are encouraged to bring your ideas and to think big. In this modern world that we live in, nobody needs to miss out on higher education. Cook County Higher Education is highly skilled at finding education solutions that work for each individual student. They also have access to significant scholarship dollars for students that need financial help.

There is nothing better for the health of a community than ongoing education. Everyone is welcome to the session, so even if you aren't interested in returning to school, you can bring your ideas for lifetime learning in the West End. To repeat, the session is on Thursday, March 13th from 1 to 3 in the Tofte Room at Bluefin Bay. It is free and open.

Congratulations to Lutsen native and life-long West End resident, Kjersti Vick, on her new job as the marketing coordinator for the Cook County Visitor's Bureau. Kjersti was literally born for this job, as I'm sure she absorbed a lot of marketing expertise at the dinner table from her father, Jim Vick, who has done the marketing and promotion for Lutsen Mountains Ski Area for many, many years. Kjersti will be moving over from the Grand Marais Art Colony, where she's been working in a similar position for several years.

Kjersti is passionate about all the recreational opportunities in Cook County and brings a wealth of local knowledge to her new job. She is also a creative artist, so it's hard to imagine a better person for the job.

Speaking of tourism, most operators in the West End are reporting a slow winter season due to the persistent cold temperatures we've been experiencing. It's ironic, of course, because we have the best snow conditions that we've seen in many years. Even the most hard-core locals have found it hard to get motivated for outdoor recreation during these extended cold snaps. I recently read that Florida is breaking all tourism records this winter. It's the flip side of the same coin, I guess.

Although it's impossible to control the weather, it seems like our tourism economy is back on much stronger footing as the country slowly pulls out of the recession. Here's hoping for a beautiful and balmy late winter, spring and summer.


Miami, Florida

West End News: February 20

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 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

WEN_20140213_finalcut.mp38.84 MB

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.