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West End News

Bill Hansen

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Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

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West End News: January 7

Congratulations to local photographer Paul Sundberg, who was featured in the Duluth News Tribune and the Saint Paul Pioneer Press last week.  Paul lives in Grand Marais, but is a frequent visitor to the West End when he’s out and about with his camera.  Paul has been a professional nature photographer for many years, but has really concentrated on his passion since retiring as the long-time manager at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
 
Paul’s website, <paulsundbergphotography.com> has a popular “Photo of the Week” that was viewed more than 3 million times last year.  He also teaches nature photography at North House Folk School and to 4th graders at William Kelley Elementary School in Silver Bay.
 
Paul is often joined in his photography outings by David Brislance of Lutsen, another talented wildlife photographer and teacher.  Tom Spence, of Tofte, yet another prolific local nature photographer, is also frequently seen on the back roads in the West End.  I’m sure Dave and Tom will get their own turns at being featured by the statewide press, as all three men are talented and dedicated to their craft. 
 
It’s a pleasure to have them – and many other home-grown photographers – documenting the beautiful West End.
 
The West End that attracts wildlife photographers is changing fast due to the accumulating effects of climate change.  It was encouraging to hear that most of the world’s leaders acknowledged the need for action at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Of course, meaningful action on climate change should have started 25 years ago when the science became clear that human activity was changing the world’s climate in ways that had the potential to be very damaging to society.
 
As if it isn’t bad enough that action is coming too late to prevent really serious consequences, it’s even more disturbing that the majority of the current crop of presidential candidates are still denying that climate change is real and are condemning efforts to address the problem. 
 
In my opinion, we should all be outraged by this display of reckless and willful indifference to our children and grandchildren’s future.  Not only should the outrage be directed at the candidates, but also at the root of the problem, which is the uncontrolled and non-transparent flow of special interest money into campaign coffers.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the fossil fuel industry directly and indirectly spent half a billion dollars on candidates in the last election cycle.  It is widely estimated that more than double that will be spent in the upcoming election, focused narrowly on preventing meaningful action on climate change in the United States.
 
Bad as that is, it isn’t just climate change policy that is being blatantly bought off.  In virtually every critical issue facing the country today, special interest money is being is being fire-hosed into nearly every federal and state election, creating a situation where very small number of our most wealthy citizens has a virtual lock on public policy.  I’d like to blame all this on one party, but the reality is that both major parties are complicit, because that’s the way the game is now played, like it or not.
 
As the presidential primary season hits its stride next week in Iowa, the openly transactional nature of elections and politics will be obvious.  Most people agree that the founders of our democracy were very concerned that national political power should never be concentrated in the hands of just a few people.  It’s safe to say that if they were around today, they would be worried. 
 
Fortunately, they gave us the principal of one person, one vote, so I urge you to find out where every candidate stands on meaningful campaign finance reform before you cast your ballot this year.  The future of our children and grandchildren may depend on it.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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John Nelson

West End News: December 31

The end of the year is a significant point in time for the West End. There is the usual mixture of hope, tinged with sadness that everyone feels at the turn of the calendar.  It’s also when the hardest cold stretches of the winter season are just settling in for a good long stay.  But, the days are getting longer and it is, of course, peak season for visitors.
 
This year though, it’s hard to think about anything but the passing of John Nelson of Tofte.  I can’t even begin to list all the things that John did for the community of Tofte. I can say that over many years, John did more for Tofte than any living human being. His hand was in nearly every community and township enterprise.
 
John was instrumental in the re-formation of Tofte as a township in the late 1970s.  The last time I saw him, he was working on the front door of the Birch Grove Center, quietly and effectively making a key repair, as he had done so many times.  In between those two accomplishments he served as a supervisor, helped found the fire department, ran the cemetery, improved the Tofte town park, and worked on the Tofte 4th of July celebration – for just a brief sampling of everything that he accomplished. He was Tofte’s Citizen of the Year in 2009.
 
Mostly John was a leader.  He was the best kind of leader.  One who leads by example and inspires others to get involved.  John sometimes wanted people to think that he was a bit of a tough guy, but in reality, you couldn’t find a more sincere, sweet and perceptive human being.
 
Tofte will no doubt muddle through without him, but his legacy of civic generosity will be with us for a long time. 
 
Last week, I mentioned how tough the first pass through the area trails has been due to a high number of trees and brush bent over by heavy snow loads.  Well, it’s turned out to be worse than anyone thought and the amount of labor required to get the trails cleared has been huge.  Most trails are now cleared and trail riding and skiing should be excellent soon.
 
We were delighted to have Paul, Tom and Bill Jensen, brothers who grew up in Silver Bay, camping at Sawbill for a few days this week.  By my best reckoning, the Jensens have been regular Sawbill campers for close to 55 years.  Some West End old-timers might know the brothers better by their nicknames, bestowed upon them in Silver Bay so many years ago. Paul is “Friend,” Tom is “Hawk,” and Bill is “Grub.”  Friend and Hawk live elsewhere in Minnesota, but Grub still lives in Silver Bay.  Friend and Hawk are retired and Grub will be soon.
 
Their winter camping trip to Sawbill was mostly for companionship, but they did make a stab at ice fishing. They said the ice on Sawbill Lake was about 4” thick, with a layer of slush and then another couple of inches of frozen slush in most places.  All in all, still terrible conditions for lake travel.
 
 
While Hawk stopped by the office to say goodbye, a young woman climbed out of a car, clambered over the snow bank and waded through the knee-deep snow to the front of the store.  She turned out to be a Bluefin visitor who, with her husband, skis a 3-lake loop in the wilderness every year, right after Christmas, for the last six years.  It’s a cool tradition for them, as they rarely see another human being during their outing.
 
The young woman had a problem with her skis, which we were able to help with.  While she was waiting, she asked Hawk if he grew up around here.  Without hesitation Hawk replied, “Nooo… because I haven’t grown up.” 
 
This year, the slush turned the couple back pretty quickly, but they substituted a good ski on the Sawbill ski trails and left vowing to return next year.  They headed off down the trail for lunch at the Trestle Inn, so it was fun to see that they were getting a truly authentic West End experience.
 
(Photo courtesy of Cook County News Herald)

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West End News: December 24

At this time of year, it’s hard to think about anything but the holiday season, especially when the woods are a winter wonderland like they are right now. If you get just a few miles away from the big lake, every tree and bush is loaded with snow. The back roads feel like tunnels as the trees bend down to winter’s soft hand.
 
While the snowy trees do wonders for the holiday spirit, they are definitely bad news for the area snowmobile and cross-country ski trails. Trail maintenance crews are reporting incredible numbers of fallen and leaning trees across the trails. Trail clearing is a tough job at any time, but it’s made much more difficult when you have to wade deep snow to cut windfalls that are loaded with hundreds of pounds of snow and usually frozen to the ground. Despite the hard labor, the job will get done and the trails should be open very soon.
 
Right now, the only open ski trail in the West End is the unplowed portion of the Onion River Road, which is groomed for classic and skate skiing. I see that people are riding snowmobiles on the state trail, but I think they might be jumping the gun a little bit.
 
The lakes are odd this year, so I can’t recommend recreating on the ice yet, unless you are fully prepared for self-rescue and survival if you fall through. Most of the ice is fine, but there were open spots on the larger lakes very recently, so it’s unpredictable. In any case, the slush is terrible right now, so that’s reason enough to stay off the ice.
 
Stoney Creek Dog Sled Rides has opened for the season. I can’t think of anything more fun right now than taking a dogsled ride through the snow-laden trees. If you have company from anywhere south of Minnesota, they will get a huge kick out of it.  You can call for reservations at 218-663-0143. You can get more information by googling Visit Cook County or contact WTIP.
 
Of course, a great part of the holiday season is the time you spend with friends and especially family. I was recently reminded how much fun it is to question the oldest members of our families about their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  Most of us know next to nothing about our great-grandparents, but our parents remember them well.  It’s fun to hear not just who are ancestors are but what they were like as people. It also beats talking about the presidential election, which just gets everyone riled up!
 
If you go back just twelve generations, you will find that you are the direct descendant of 4096 people.  It’s incredible to think that each of us carries around the genetic material from that many people – and in fact - millions more.  You don’t have to think like this for too long before you realize that you are literally a cousin to every other person on earth. It’s just a matter of how far back you have to go to find the common ancestor.
 
And, that’s the ideal way to think about humanity at this time of year, when our thoughts are turning to Peace on Earth.
 

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Railings on the new Six Hundred Road Bridge in Tofte

West End News: December 17

I’d like to extend heartfelt thanks on behalf of a grateful community to Amity Goettl, who recently resigned from her position as the Lutsen Township Clerk.  The clerk is the hardest position in township government, requiring many, many hours of tedious and complex work.  I don’t know how long Amity was the clerk, but it was for a long time, and she did a good job.  Thanks also to Sharon Hexum-Platzer, for agreeing to step into the Clerk position, at least until the next election.
 
The three township boards of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder that make up the West End do a ton of good for our communities.  Take a minute to say thanks to your township officials the next time you see them at the post office or in the grocery store.  Also thank them for the growing spirit of cooperation between the three townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder.  My parents always taught us that you actually get more through cooperation than you do from competition.  That has certainly proved to be true here in the West End.
 
The new Six Hundred Road bridge across the Temperance River near the Sawbill Trail in Tofte appears to be completely done.  The crew from Edwin E. Thoreson did their usual professional job.  The iconic old steel bridge, which was famous for being pink, was taken down and cut up with torches.  The new bridge used the existing cement piers in the river and is made almost entirely with wood.  It is just one lane, like the old pink bridge was, and fits well in its truly scenic location.  The only part of the design that makes me nervous is the very low railing that runs along each side.  They only come up to about knee height, which makes me wonder about being a tripping hazard.  Even more alarming is the very real possibility that a heavy snow year will raise the snowmobile trail level even with, or maybe even above, the height of the railings.  It’s a long drop from the bridge to the river, which may not be obvious to riders at night.  However, I know that civil engineers know their business, so I assume they know that it will be OK.
 
For all the years that I’ve lived here, I’ve never been able to determine how the Six Hundred Road got its name.  Heartbreak Hill, which is on the Six Hundred Road, is well known to have been named by teamsters who struggled to get heavy loads up and down the long, steep hill during the horse logging era.  If any history buff knows which 600 things the road was named for - please let me know.
 
It’s fun to live in a community that has so many vivid place names.  From the Scandinavian to the descriptive, most of the local names have a story to tell. Of course, for the various roads that are tagged as trails, it comes from their history of being literal trails in the past.  The township names are mostly Nordic, except for Grand Portage and Grand Marais, which speak to a French connection.  Grand Marais is widely believed to mean “Big Swamp,” but some historians suggest that it actually had a meaning of “Big Harbor” in the older French dialect. 
 
Don’t even get me started on lake names, which are as colorful as we could ask for.  I remember years ago, when Garrison Keillor had a weekday morning show on Minnesota Public Radio, he would read BWCA Wilderness Lake names just to revel in their sounds.
 
The new high-speed gondola is finished at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area and is being dedicated this week. Many dignitaries will be attending the ceremony, but the arrival of colder temperatures and snow are even more welcome.
 
I had a chance to visit the new pumping station in Lutsen that will soon be supplying water for the Poplar River Water District, including the snowmaking at Lutsen Mountains.  The three massive pumps are each 36 feet tall and can pump an incredible 3000 gallons per minute.  It’s been a tough fight to install the pumping station while dealing with the troublesome soils and the fury of Lake Superior, but it looks now like the battle is nearly won.
 

 

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West End News: December 10

Congratulations to Rob Ecklund from International Falls who will be sworn in soon as our new state representative. State House District 3A is one of the largest legislative districts in the United States, extending from Grand Portage down to the outskirts of Duluth and back up to the western edge of Koochiching County, which is closer to North Dakota than it is to Grand Marais. Any representative from 3A would be challenged to have a presence everywhere in the District, but I'm confident Rob will make the effort and be a frequent visitor to the West End, which ironically, is in the far eastern end of his district.

I join the rest of the community in expressing shock and deep sadness on the tragic fatal shooting in Tofte. Violence can and does happen anywhere, but of course we all hope and pray that is won't happen in our little town. The last shooting that I can remember in the West End was in 1973 when Minnesota Highway Patrolman Don Ziesmer was shot to death during a routine traffic stop on Highway 61 in Tofte.

I am recording this in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. where fatal shootings are nearly a daily occurrence and the threat of a terrorist attack is a constant worry. Since my last visit to Washington in the mid-1990s, security has, of course, increased dramatically. I can't say if this is unusual, but everyday that I've been here the police have been racing around, shutting down city blocks and diverting traffic. Even the genial cop who used to direct traffic in front of one of the congressional office buildings has been replaced by a tense, alert and business-like officer in a flak jacket toting an automatic rifle. Traffic is, needless to say, very obedient when he blows his whistle.

The tight security just adds another level of bewildering urban culture shock for a woods bunny like me. Even in this era of smart phones, I have to check the location of the sun periodically to orient myself to the points of the compass or I will quickly get lost. One of my lobbying partners, who also lives in the woods, stopped to intently watch some small birds in a large hedge. A few moments later a policeman appeared at his elbow, drawn by his abnormal behavior.

I'm out here in our nation's capital lobbying Congress and government agencies on behalf of sustainable and sensible economic development in northeastern Minnesota. It's encouraging to be able to meet directly with members of Congress and the administration. Frankly though, it's a little discouraging to feel like such a tiny cog in an unimaginably humongous machine. Every little effort plays a part though, so it's important to keep trying. I will say while it's very fun to visit Washington, D.C., it's always great relief to arrive back in the West End.

Coincidentally, Congress actually passed a couple of pieces of bipartisan legislation while I've been here, which has members of Congress positively giddy with joy. Apparently, that almost never happens here.

The Cook County Local Energy Project has published a booklet called "Going Solar: A Cook County Guide." You can get more information by emailing localenergy@boreal.org. Solar panels that produce hot water or electricity are now low enough in price that it pays for anyone to install them on their home, assuming they have access to sunshine. At this time of year, it feels like sunshine is in short supply, but in the long run, Cook County is an excellent place for solar systems.

Cook County Higher Education's semi-regular networking luncheon will feature the business case for social responsibility. Social responsibility for business is often defined as the triple bottom line: profits, customer and employee satisfaction, and care for the environment. Erick Block is an expert on this philosophy and will spell out why it benefits the business overall well beyond just making money. The luncheon is at the Higher Ed's North Shore Campus in Grand Marais on Thursday, December 17, from 11:30 until 1 pm. There is a modest charge and you should RSVP at 387-3411 or email highered@northshorecampus.org. As always, you can call WTIP if you missed that contact information.

Well, it's time to wrap this up and head back out into the urban jungle. As I dodge traffic and gawk at the national landmarks today, part of my mind will be, as always, in the beautiful West End.

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West End News: December 3

It’s good to be back in the West End after a two-week trip to Hawaii.  I won’t deny that Hawaii was beautiful and warm.  But, as the saying goes, “there’s no place like home.”
 
It was interesting to observe the similarities and differences between Hawaii and our own Cook County’s tourism economies. They are similar in that they are both are destinations that rely on spectacular natural and cultural features to attract visitors.  They and we rely on an infrastructure of hotels, condos, timeshares and more recently, private vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner. Hawaii and Cook County share the problems of limited private land and a high cost of living, leading to a severe shortage of housing and disposable income for working people.
 
The differences are that Hawaii’s overall tourism industry is huge and well established, compared to ours.  They draw heavily from Asia for their visitors, although Minnesota is well known to most Hawaiians, thanks to all of us who visit there.  From my perspective, Hawaii seems to have more organized activities for tourists, like boat rides, tours, museums, events and what has to be the largest density of helicopter tours in the world.
 
The beauty of travel is how it changes your perspective.  I came home looking at the West End with new eyes and a greater appreciation for the balance we have between our human economy and the natural world.
 
There is, of course, the matter of the Hawaiian weather, but I won’t dwell on that at this time of year.
 
The special election to fill the legislative seat of the late David Dill is coming up this week.  I was honored to have been a candidate in the DFL primary election, but sad to have come up a little short in that contest.  The four-way DFL primary generated considerable interest and news coverage, but the general election has been very quiet.
 
The received wisdom is that Rob Ecklund, a county commissioner from Koochiching County who won the DFL primary, will easily win the general election over the Republican and independent candidates on the ballot.  Rob has the strong backing of organized labor, as well as the support of the powerful Iron Range legislative delegation and the endorsement of the DFL Party.  In a special election with a very low turnout, those advantages are nearly insurmountable.
 
I know and like all three candidates, but I am particularly fond of Rob Ecklund. Spending time with him at campaign events was a pleasure.  He is always a gentleman and has a very sincere and open personality.  He’s deeply involved in his community and has a genuine concern for regular people.  Even though we didn’t agree on everything, Rob showed a willingness to study, learn and make his policy decisions accordingly.  In this day and age of politicians who won’t change their minds no matter what, Rob’s genuine thoughtfulness is a refreshing quality.
 
This commentary isn’t intended for political endorsements, but I do urge everyone to vote in the special election on December 8 for the candidate of their choice.  For West End voters, please fill out and send back the ballot you have received in the mail.  If you didn’t receive a ballot, contact the Cook County Auditor in Grand Marais to arrange for one. 
 
By the way, because this is a special election, the same seat will be up for election again in 2016.  The primary, if needed, will be in August and the general election will be this coming November, along with every legislative seat in Minnesota, our own congressional seat and the presidency. 
 
It’s easy to make fun of political races, but the results have real consequences.  Voting is the most important right in our democratic process, so please join me in exercising it.
 
I’m sorry to report that it looks like there will be no ice-skating on area lakes this year.  I never give up hope though.  One year, back in the 1980s, the lakes froze with rough ice and a quick foot of snow that created terrible slush conditions.  A couple of weeks later, we had an extended stretch of unusually warm weather and a day of pouring rain.  The temperature promptly plunged to back below zero and the lakes transformed into a perfect skating rinks on six inches of solid ice.  John Oberholtzer, of Lutsen, refers to this phenomenon as “nature’s Zamboni.”
 
Barring an appearance of the elusive Zamboni, skis will have to substitute for skates this year.  I don’t feel like the lakes are totally safe for travel yet, so please use good judgment by going with friends and carrying extra dry clothes and self-rescue equipment.
 
Or, break out the downhill skis or snowboards for some fun at Lutsen Mountains, which is now open on weekends.  The spectacular, brand new gondola lift will be open to the public next weekend.  That alone warrants a trip to the hill.
 
 

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Edmund Fitzgerald

West End News: November 5

I’m delighted to announce the return of my daughter and her husband, Clare and Dan Shirley, to Sawbill this week.  Clare and Dan have been living in Missoula, Montana for the last six years.  They will be buying and managing Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, allowing Cindy and I to shed the responsibilities of ownership and revert to being simple employees.
 
Clare was born and raised in the West End, while Dan spent his formative years in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  They met in college at the University of Montana.  They’re looking forward to taking the helm at the business, as well as getting involved in community life.
 
Cindy and I are looking forward to discovering what goes on in the world outside of Sawbill in the summertime!  We’re thrilled, of course, that Clare and Dan have chosen to join the West End Community.
 
Clare and Dan are the family’s third generation to own Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, taking over in the 60th year since their grandparents, Frank and Mary Alice Hansen, started the business in 1957.
 
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since the infamous sinking of the Emund Fitzgerald.  Back in 1975, I was a young television photographer at Channel 6 in Duluth.  I flew out to Sault Saint Marie in a small plane, in the pre-dawn darkness, just a few hours after the Fitzgerald was reported missing.  At first light, I shot footage of a lifeboat, chunks of wreckage and a small oil slick boiling to the lake surface.  It was the first definitive confirmation that the Fitz had actually sunk.  We landed in the Sault and interviewed coast guard and company officials in a very sad and somber Coast Guard command center.  Then and now, my head and heart keep circling back to those 29 sailors who lost their lives and the many loved ones that they left behind. 
 
Slit Rock Lighthouse will be holding their annual commemoration of the disaster on Tuesday, November 10th.  At 4:30 pm, the names of the 29 will be read out, accompanied by the tolling of a ship’s bell.  At the end of this powerful ceremony, the lighthouse beacon will be lit and the lighthouse opened for touring.  This is the only day of the year when the public is allowed to climb the tower and see the beacon lit and revolving.
 
The Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland is sponsoring a Community Dinner on Thanksgiving Day, November 26th, from 2 until 5 pm.  The Friends of Finland will provide turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.  Diners can bring side dishes and desserts, if they would like to share.  All are invited to arrive early to help with the cooking and set-up.  If you plan to attend, give a call at 218-353-0300 so the food quantities can be planned.
 
The FISH Project, which is public health study on fish consumption by women in their childbearing years, has reached its goal of engaging 500 women.  Well, they actually enrolled 499 women, but close enough.  Two of the study’s sponsors, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and the Grand Portage Health Service, are holding two follow up events to celebrate the success of the community-wide effort. The first is at North House Folk School on Tuesday, November 17th and the second at the Grand Portage log community building on Wednesday, November 18th.  Both events run from 5:30 until 7:30, with the presentation starting at around 6:15.  The events will include time for chatting and delicious food, including smoked fish.  You can call either clinic for more details.
 
It was interesting to hear about the economic impact of the arts in Cook County at the recent annual gala sponsored by Visit Cook County and the Chamber of Commerce.  It is the kind of data that falls into the category of what I call, “Well duh!”  But that said, it is important to see the actual hard numbers, so we resist the temptation to take what we have for granted.  Of course, the greatest values of artistic expression in a community are the intangible qualities of joy, curiosity, satisfaction and intellectual stimulation that art provides.  Art is a powerful force for good on many levels. 
 
It is just one of the reasons that we all choose to live here in the wonderful West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

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Lutefisk!

West End News: October 29

The umpteenth annual Lutefisk and Ham Dinner at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte is scheduled for Saturday, November 14, from 5-7 pm.  This very popular fundraiser has deep roots, going back to the arrival of the original Norwegian immigrants on the North Shore.  In fact, it really goes back to pre-historic Scandinavia when fish had to be preserved for longer periods of time than simple drying would allow.
 
Lutefisk is dried cod fish that is soaked in a lye mixture for two days at which point it is dangerously corrosive.  An additional 5 days of soaking in cold water, changed daily, makes it edible – at least according to some people.
 
The directions for making lutefisk specifically warn against leaving it in the lye mixture for too long because saponification of the fish fats may occur.  This led me to Wikipedia where I learned that saponification is the process that produces soap, usually from fats and lye.  Saponification is a great vocabulary word, but not one that you usually see in a recipe.
 
Of course, the most notorious fact about lutefisk is - what I will politely call - its “distinctive” odor.  The taste is surprisingly mild though, especially when slathered with melted butter.  The mouth feel is a bit strange.  Think fish-flavored Jello and you’ll be close.  If lutefisk isn’t for you, the good cooks at Zoar make plenty of ham, which is an equally traditional dish for Norwegian-Americans. 
 
This year, for the first time, the church is asking people to make reservations for the dinner and the number of diners will be limited to 100.  All you have to do is call the church at 663-7925 to leave a message with your name and how many people you are bringing.  You can pay the night of the dinner.
 
This is a quick reminder to return your ballots for the general operating school levy referendum before November 3. You can also vote in person on November 3 at the courthouse in Grand Marais.
 
The West End lost two of its most vivid citizens this month.
 
Rob McCampbell died at home in Tofte on October 19.  Since moving to Tofte, Rob spent most of his years at his beautiful cabin on Pancore Lake.  When the Cross River Café was still in business in Schroeder, Rob was a regular, driving all the way down from Pancore to hang out with his friends.  He had an outgoing personality that served him well as he developed a retirement business of selling Turkish rugs.  He ran the Uhller ski lift at the hill for several years.  He would keep detailed and interesting conversations going with multiple people as they cycled through the lift, demonstrating his keen mind and sharp wit.  He was deeply in love with his wife, Perihan.
 
Bernie Sajdak, from Schroeder, died on October 18.  Bernie was a renaissance man with a brilliant mind and a wide range of practical skills.  He did many jobs through his life, including a busy lawn care business most recently.  Bernie also planted many thousands of trees on contract with the Forest Service.  He was an unstoppable tree planter, who loved to work long hours alone.  For many years afterward, he would visit his planting areas to check on their progress and was pleased with the big contribution he had made to the future of our forests.
 
Perhaps Bernie’s greatest passion was his skill as a trapper.  He was an old-school trapper who ranged deep in the woods, where he plied his trade based on his vast and detailed knowledge of animal behavior.  Bernie loved working by himself in the woods.  He always said that his dog never argued with him about when and where they went.  He was one of a small number of people who have been trampled by a moose, although he always made it clear that he didn’t blame the moose. I doubt if there are many left who understand the woods like Bernie did.
 
Bernie always expressed his gratitude for the love shown him by his beautiful and resourceful wife, Bobbie, and his talented and successful children.  I’m sure the whole West End joins me in wishing them our deepest condolences.
 
The West End will never be quite the same without Rob and Bernie among us.
 

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Cook County Schools

West End News: October 22

We were thrilled to have a visit from the Superior National Forest leadership team this week. The team is about 30 Forest Service employees who hold the higher administrative jobs at the Forest Service headquarters in Duluth and in the District Offices around the Forest. They were taking a full day to tour various parts of the Tofte District, which includes most of the West End.
 
The Forest Service plays a large role in our lives here in the West End, as they administer the vast majority of our land base. Their multiple-use mandate provides business opportunities in timber and recreation of all types. They are also important employers in their own right. As if that isn’t enough, they provide a lot of the recreation opportunities that we all enjoy, including trails of all types, fishing docks, campgrounds and hunting land, just to name a few.
 
The individuals on the leadership team are out and about in the forest on a daily basis, but it’s also valuable for the whole team to get out together, so they can discuss and ponder future policy decisions while looking at the actual effects of their past decisions.
 
It’s easy to make fun of any big organization like the Forest Service, but the reality is that they do a great job administering the public lands that provide for the lifestyle that makes us all want to live here.  In my long experience with the Forest Service, I’ve invariably been impressed with the intelligence and dedication of the employees. They do a lot for us and we shouldn’t take them for granted.
 
The Bloodmobile is returning to Tofte on Monday, November 16, from 2:30 until 6 pm.  It parks at Zoar Lutheran Church with registration taking place just inside the church. Long-time blood drive volunteer, Julie Rannetsberger, is organizing things this time around, so give her a call at 663-7111 to schedule a time to donate.
 
I almost never miss an opportunity to donate blood, but I’ll have to pass this time because I’ll be on vacation in Hawaii. Someone is welcome to take my place though – at the blood drive, not in Hawaii!
 
I usually don’t report local births, because if I do one, then I have to do them all. But I’m making an exception for the birth of Freja Tofte Hedstrom last week. Freya is, I’m told, the first child born of a union between the Toftes and the Hedstroms, two of the  largest and most prominent pioneer families in Cook County. Congratulations to the parents, Abby Tofte and Sam Hedstrom, as well as the grandparents, Brian and Kelly Tofte, and Ed and Kris Hedstrom.
 
The election ballots are out for the operating levy referendum for the Cook County Schools, also known as Independent School District Number 166. 
 
In my opinion, the correct vote on this issue is “yes.” Without this authorization, our largest school district will be crippled in its efforts to educate our children.  
 
Education is the key to almost everything in a civil society. I could provide examples all day, but the bottom line is that our tax dollars spent on public education provide a return on investment that would be the envy of any Wall Street hedge fund.  Failure is not an option here. We can pay a little now or pay a lot later.
 
Aside from the financial sound financial reasons for voting yes, it is also just the right thing to do. What kind of community would we be if we didn’t invest in the well-being of our children? 
 
Thanks in advance for doing your part to keep the West End a wonderful place to grow up and a great place to raise a family.
 

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West End News: October 15

As I write this, there is only one car in the parking lot here at Sawbill.  The busiest canoeing season in recent years is finally coming to a close.  The North Shore resorts are still hopping, but the fall colors are now past their peak and the quiet season is just around the corner.
 
For the year-around resorts and businesses, the deep valleys in income that occur in November and April are a real problem.  They go from being desperately short of staff - to wildly overstaffed - for a good month before the winter tourism season kicks in.  Layoffs are hard on everyone, but if the staff is kept on, it has the practical effect of suppressing wages, as the slow season must be averaged with the busy season.
 
The solution, of course, is to give visitors a reason to come to Cook County during the slow months.  One of the best examples of that strategy is the upcoming Bluegrass Masters Weekend at Lutsen Resort.
 
Celebrating its 25th year this year, the event is a unique partnership between Lutsen Resort and the nonprofit North Shore Music Association.  This year it is happening on November 6, 7 and 8. 
 
This time around, the visiting bluegrass master is Mike Witcher, who plays the resophonic guitar, which is commonly known as the Dobro.  It is an acoustic version of the steel guitar, with the strings being picked with the right hand while the notes are formed with a steel bar held in the left hand.
 
An in-demand session player in L.A. and Nashville, Mike Witcher has worked with such artists as Dwight Yoakam, Dolly Parton, Bette Midler, Peter Rowan, Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. He has played the Grand Ole Opry and Prairie Home Companion many times, and you can hear him on hundreds of records, sound tracks, commercials, and TV shows.
 
Mike is bringing an all-star bluegrass band with him.  The master players will be giving workshops all day on Saturday.  You can register for the workshops on the spot Saturday morning.  The band will present a concert on Saturday night in the Lutsen Resort Ballroom.
 
The coolest part of the event are the jam sessions that are almost continuous in every nook and cranny of the resort.  Most of the visitors who attend are musicians themselves and they play from early in the morning until early the next morning throughout the weekend.  If you like bluegrass music, I highly recommend that you stop by Lutsen Resort some time during the weekend to walk around and listen to the spontaneous music.  The high level of musicianship will surprise you and I guarantee that you will have a good time!
 
Here are a couple of quick reminders for events at Birch Grove School and Community Center in Tofte:  The annual Halloween Carnival will be on Sunday, October 25, from 2 until 4 p.m.  It is a wahoo good time for all, especially the under 15 set.
 
Mark your calendar for the Community Lunch at Birch Grove on the second Tuesday of every month.  No need to call ahead – you can just show up at 11:30 and enjoy lunch with your friends and neighbors, prepared by chefs Julie Aldinger and Barb Merritt.  There is a reasonable charge in exchange for a delicious meal and some great conversation.
 
You may recall the Norwegian murder mystery trilogy best known as “The Land of Dreams” series. The three books won a prestigious Scandinavian writing award and were translated into English a few years ago by the University of Minnesota Press.  The books included many real places and people from the West End, including yours truly.
 
Now, according to the Minnesota Film Board, a deal has been made to produce the books as a television show titled “Minnesota.”  I am a very minor character in the book, but if my character is included in the TV show, I may get the real world answer to that old hypothetical question of which actor would portray me on TV?
 
I’m actually hoping that Sawbill and I will both get cut from the screenplay.  The last thing I want is indirect television fame, especially because my fictional alter ego isn’t a very nice person.  Sawbill Canoe Outfitters is portrayed in the book as being fantastically successful – practically an excuse to print money.  While this is flattering, any small business owner will tell you that it is far from reality.
 
It sounds like the whole project is a long way from a done deal.  In the unlikely event that the show is produced and is actually watched by a significant number of people, it will just be part of the interesting life that we all get to lead, here in the West End of Cook County.
 
 
 

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