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West End News

Clare Shirley

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Clare Shirley

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

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

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West End News: May 11

Clare Shirley's West End News is a weekly feature on WTIP. Clare is a fifth-generation local, and third-generation canoe outfitter from Cook County's West End.

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West End News: April 27

Shortly after last week’s West End News, the paddling season officially began. The ice went out up here at Sawbill on April 21. Although we were having an unseasonably warm spring, the ice out is only four days earlier than last year. True to form, some die-hards have already arrived to head into the Wilderness.

Lest we get too ahead of ourselves, sprinter came back with a vengeance in the form of a lovely storm of wintry mix. Over the hill in the west end we got some ice, but mostly we ended up with a fresh new layer of snow. Things are looking more like November than April right now.

As soon as this last vestige of winter melts, keep your eyes peeled for the delicious wild edibles that grow abundant in our west end woods. A few little birds have already mentioned to me that the ramps have started coming up. Ramps are a wild vegetable that is something of a cross between onions, garlic, and leeks. Fiddle head ferns will be making an appearance soon, too. As always, it’s best to go on your first harvesting trip with someone who is experienced with wild edibles. Armed with a little knowledge, the right tools, and an appetite for adventure, you can come up with some delicious spring treats. North House Folk School offers wild edible classes, check out their website if you’re interested in learning more.

The Northwoods Volunteer Connection held its volunteer pint night last week and announced their 2017 volunteer opportunities. There are three overnight projects in the Boundary Waters, one in June, one in July, and one in August. Volunteers will have the opportunity to work on the Angleworm Hiking Trail, the Granite River portage, and the Ramshead Lake portage, respectively. NVC provides most of the gear needed for the volunteers, and cost is only $50 for these trips. Check out their website for more information.

They also have some opportunities for wilderness visitor use monitors. Monitors report visitor use back to the Forest Service, which helps the agency determine the patterns of use in the Boundary Waters. If you’re interested, contact the volunteer connection and a travel route and date will be assigned to you. There are several day long volunteer opportunities coming up as well, if you have a tight schedule.

A new opportunity this year is the Adopt-an-Entry point program. Much like adopting a section of highway, you can adopt a Boundary Waters entry point. An individual, group or business can adopt the entry point, which means you’ll help keep the area clean and open for use. Mainly, it will consist of a couple of days clearing brush and litter each year. There are a number of entry points available here on the west end, including Kawishiwi, Hog Creek, Brule, Baker, and Homer Lakes, to name a few. The Sawbill entry point has been claimed by our intrepid Sawbill crew.

The loons have made their annual journey back north, and can be heard wailing their excitement as they fly overhead. The cattails are sporting their yellow dusting of pollen and hungry fish can be seen rising in the newly opened waters. Fishing opener is May 13, hope to see you out there.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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Northwoods Volunteer Connection

West End News: April 20

April always feels a bit like the calm before the storm in the West End of Cook County. While we slowly wake up from our winter hygge and begin going about the task of sprucing things up for summer, we seem to keep one eye looking south down Highway 61, anticipating the crowds of visitors headed our way in a few short weeks. It feels like such a privilege to be able to watch the wilderness here shake off winter. The transition seasons seem especially reserved for the locals.

This year, many local west enders have been kept busy with their backyard maple syruping endeavors. The sap started flowing a few weeks ago, and by all accounts it just won’t quit! Many folks are on their third or even fourth sap boils already. Boiling sap down to syrup is a very labor intensive project, so a big sap year like this can really turn into quite the time commitment. It’s hard to say no though when you are granted such a prolific batch of sweet maple syrup in the end.

I’ve been remiss in extending a warm welcome to the new Acting Tofte District Ranger with the Forest Service, Lenore Lamb. Lenore is on loan to us from Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She will be here for a few months, filling in for Kurt Steele who has moved on to the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Lenore on a couple of occasions now and she is certainly a wonderful person who is thoroughly enjoying her time here in our corner of paradise.

The Forest Service, in particular the Tofte District office, has been working closely with the nonprofit Northwoods Volunteer Connection. This organization, based out of Tofte, partners to create connections to recruit, train and supervise volunteers. They work to help put boots on the ground and tools in the hands of people that care about the northwoods of northeastern Minnesota. The group organizes several volunteer trips throughout the summer, often led by Forest Service wilderness rangers. These trips are a wonderful opportunity to learn some new skills, spend some time outdoors, and help maintain our public lands. The Volunteer Connection is holding an open house this Monday, April 24, at 5 pm at Voyageur Brewing in Grand Marais. Many community groups, like the Superior Hiking Trail Association and Kekekabic Trail Club, will be at the open house to answer questions about what they do and how you can be involved. There are door prizes, a featured speaker, and best of all the Volunteer Connection will be unveiling this year’s volunteer trip opportunities. If none of that entices you, at least come to share a good beer with some new friends. For more information you can log onto http://www.mnnvc.org/.

Last, but not least, as a part of this writing (which is occurring at an embarrassingly late hour on Wednesday night, April 19) the ice on Sawbill is still not out. It has detached from shore, floated up, and turned a dark, dark grey so really this is it, and it should be out in the next couple of days.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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Star-nosed mole

West End News: April 13

Happy Easter from the West End. We’ve had lots of seasonally appropriate rabbit visitors around our place this week. None of them have come bearing chocolate yet, but we remain hopeful. Along with the surplus of bunnies comes more frequent lynx sightings. If you are hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Canada lynx, a drive on the Sawbill Trail is a good bet.

If you’re on the hunt for Easter candy, then Lutsen is the place to be this Easter Sunday. On Sunday, April 16, at 9 am Lutsen Mountains is hosting a Giant Easter Egg Hunt. Kids of all ages are invited to search for 500 eggs hidden all over the slopes. You do need a lift ticket to get out there, where eggs filled with candy and prizes await you.

Next weekend is the 7th Annual Fingerstyle Guitar Masters Weekend, featuring Richard Smith. This year, the music and workshops will take place at Bluefin Bay in Tofte. There’s something for everyone at these weekends, as long as you’re either a music lover or player, but in Cook County, who isn’t? Friday, April 21, at 8 pm is the free informal evening of listening. On Saturday, April 22, at 7:30 Richard Smith will be playing and tickets are $20. Saturday at 10 am, there are two workshops. Gordon Thorne and Richard Smith will be leading the Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop. Tom Shaefer will be leading the fiddle workshop. Both cost $60 and are open to all ages. If you’re under 18 you’re in luck as there’s no cost. Lunch is included and preregistration is requested. For tickets to the concert or to register for a workshop, call Gordon Thorne at 218-353-7308. So come on down to Tofte, enjoy the atmosphere of camaraderie and treat yourself to some good tunes at Bluefin next weekend.

Also next weekend, the third annual Midwest Extreme snowmobile event will take place at Lutsen Mountains. There’s hillcross on Saturday, April 22, from 9 am - 6 pm and cross-country on Sunday from 9 - 4. Both nights will have an after-party at Papa Charlie’s, but if you go on Saturday night you can catch my personal favorite Cook County band, The Plucked Up String Band. Tickets to the event are $20 for one day or $30 for both.

The ice on Sawbill is eight inches thick but no longer safe to travel on. This lesson was learned the hard way by one unlucky star-nosed mole this week. Our ice technicians found the frozen fella floating just offshore in between the landing and the ice. These curious little creatures often run amok in the spring, enthused by the thaw and in search of a partner, but often bumbling since their eyesight is poor. One year Bill even had one run up his pant leg. So keep your eyes open for the funny looking moles while you're out driving the backroads, and don’t be like the Hungry Jack moose or the Sawbill mole - stay off the lakes for now and spend that time digging out your paddles and PFD’s from their winter storage instead.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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West End News: April 6

Spring has sprung here in the West End. The sap is running and so are the snowshoe hares who are still sporting their winter attire. Grackles and redwing black birds have made their appearances. Our yard is serving as a personal lost and found stash as items unknowingly dropped into a snowbank back in December are slowing reemerging.

Another sure sign of spring is Lutsen Mountains annual Mountain Meltdown. This weekend they will be celebrating the last full week of skiing for the season. On Saturday the 8th and Sunday the 9th there will be a live music on the outdoor stage (weather permitting) and a barbeque. Music starts at 11:30 both days and the last band takes the outdoor stage at 4pm. If you, like me, have a small human who makes going out to live music late at night a challenge, or if you’re simply an early to bed kind of music lover this is a great opportunity to catch some really great tunes before the sun goes down. If you are a night owl, stick around for the late night music at Papa Charlie’s. Lutsen has been open into April every year for the past 26 years, if 26 years of spring skiing isn’t worth a good celebration I don’t know what is.

Congratulations are due to the Fika family. Many West End residents are frequent visitors to Josh Lindstrom and crew at the Fika coffee shop in the Clearview building in downtown Lutsen. If you tried to get your coffee fix on a certain weekend in mid-March you may have noticed that they were closed for a few days. They had a good reason though as they were in Duluth welcoming their fourth child. While the Lindstroms have not yet had the good sense to move their family to the West End, we are glad to have Fika Coffee in our midst and wish them the very best with their new baby boy.

Congratulations are also in order for Birch Grove School which received the 2017 School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education. A friendly reminder that Birch Grove is having its Kindergarten round up on Tuesday April 11. If you’ve got a kiddo who will be 5 years old by September 1st, 2017, they are invited to come check out our neighborhood school. You can register on Birch Grove’s website or by calling 663-0170.

Okay, now what you’ve all been waiting for - the ice report. There is quite of bit of standing water on top of the ice, especially near shore. In many places, water can be seen, and more noticeably heard, seeping up through degraded spots creating little bubbles and a sense of anxiety for us ice measuring technicians. My sources tell me that as of April 5 there is, drumroll please, still 17 inches of ice. That’s seven inches less than last week though, so we’re moving in the right direction, and fast.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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West End News: March 30

This past Monday the Birch Grove Task Force reached an agreement. This final consensus is the result of more than three months of fact-finding and negotiation by a committee representing all of the various interests connected to the Birch Grove Building in Tofte. The Consensus Agreement is a carefully balanced set of recommendations made for the decisions makers, including the Birch Grove Community School Board, W.E. Connect Board of Directors and the Township Boards of Tofte, Lutsen, and Schroeder.

The next step is for the agreed upon recommendations to be accepted or rejected by those decision making entities I just mentioned. These groups must accept or reject the consensus as a complete agreement. Any changes would require the Task Force Conciliation Committee to meet again and agree upon the alterations.

These types of community consensus agreements provide powerful and enduring solutions to complex community issues. There is no explicit term on the effect of the agreement, but typically this type of consensus endures until there are significant changes in circumstances. In which case, it would be a good idea to reconvene a community conciliation process to produce a new agreement.

This agreement is fully supported by every member of the Birch Grove Task force Conciliation Committee. Many thanks are due to the committee members for their patience, commitment and hard work in reaching community consensus. Thanks are also due to Bill Hansen, who graciously volunteered his time to facilitate the process.

As an outfitter, each spring we watch the waning ice thickness with a mixture of excitement and anticipation. A bit like the calm before the storm of visitors. Many inland lakes right now are currently covered in large puddles of standing water. Upon encountering this scene on our daily ski the other day we thought it prudent to measure the ice before venturing out too far.

Lest you worry about us, the ice on Sawbill is still 24 inches, solid. There’s about four inches of hard packed slush and snow on top of the ice, and an abundance of big sloppy puddles on top of that. Puddle skiing doesn’t get enough credit - if you don’t mind sloppy socks. On a still sunny day, the puddles reflect the blue sky and patches of snow become the fluffy clouds. Standing in the middle of this on a large lake with the blue expanse stretching out overhead and reflected below your feet, it feels for all the world like you are skiing on the ski.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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Lunch ladies

West End News: March 23

I was sorry to hear this week of Bob Dunn’s passing. A resident of Princeton, MN, Bob and his wife Bette enjoyed much of their retirement time at their home on Caribou Lake near Lutsen. While I never had the privilege of meeting Bob personally, by all accounts he was an incredible person. After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War, Bob served in the Minnesota State House and Senate from 1965 to 1980. He was a progressive Republican, well respected by members of both political parties. While he prioritized education, good government, and the concerns of his constituents, he will perhaps be most remembered for his work on several environmental laws that, as his family says, put Minnesota at the nation’s forefront.

Bob was the chief author of the Environmental Policy Act. He also helped to create The Environment Quality Board, which he later chaired as a citizen member. He also served as Chair of the Waste Management Board and was Chair of the first Citizen’s Advisory Committee to the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources regarding the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. In 1993, the DNR dedicated a portion of the Sand Dunes State Forest as the Bob Dunn Recreation Area.

A steadfast environmentalist, Bob and his family planted more than 20,000 trees during his lifetime. Bob held a special place in his heart for our North Shore, and I think it’s safe to say, the feeling is mutual.

Kindergarten round-up will be happening at Birch Grove on Tuesday, April 11, this year from 8:30 a.m. to noonish. Any kids eligible for Kindergarten next year (that is if they are 5 by September 1, 2017) are invited to come and experience being a big kid for a day. Prospective Kinders will get to ride the bus, participate in a classroom project, and eat community lunch with their parents. After lunch, kids can go home or sign up for the Saplings preschool program for the afternoon free of charge. To register for this big day, please call 663-0170 or download the form from www.birchgroveschool.com. Again, that’s on Tuesday, April 11. As a former Birch Grover myself, I can say that it is a top notch little school any Cook (or Lake!) County kid would be lucky to attend.

Speaking of Birch Grove Community lunches, this spring marks 12 years of the program. A big hearty thank you goes out to Julie Aldinger, Barb Merritt, Lisa Hemp and Rosie Somnis for all their years of lunches. Community lunches are an opportunity for folks to come to Birch Grove and have lunch with the kiddos. It happens on the second Tuesday of every month at noon during the school year.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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West End News: March 16

If you, like me, have been a little stymied by the strange midwinter thaw and are in need of some entertainment out in the community, might I recommend heading to Lutsen this weekend. Papa Charlie's, up at Lutsen Mountains, is hosting their annual DuLutsen music weekend this Friday and Saturday. DuLutsen is a weekend chock full of Duluth’s top musicians playing way up North of North, as they say. This is a great opportunity to catch some good tunes from our neighbors to the South right here at home. This year you can hear groups like Black-Eyed Snakes, Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank (featuring Ryan Young of Trampled by Turtles), Jillian Rae, Sarah Krueger, Rich Mattson & The North Stars, and Brothers Burn Mountain. Tickets are $12 at the door and music starts at 8:30 both Friday and Saturday.

If that doesn’t entice you out of your midwinter stupor, listen to this! This year marks the 42nd annual St Urho’s day celebration in Finland. St Urho, of course, is famous for chasing the grasshopers out of Finland, thus saving the grape crop. Folks, this is a three day event. It kicks off with the Miss Helmi Talent and Beauty Contest from 6-8pm on Friday the 17th. There’s a parade through Finland on Highway 1 that starts at noon on Saturday, March 18. There’s music around town throughout the day Saturday as well as a craft fair, games and lunch at the Clair Nelson Community Center. If you’re still standing, you can win some door prizes at a raffle drawing at 3pm on Sunday. St Urho may be made up, but this party is for real. So put on some purple and we’ll see you in Finland!

If you need something slightly calmer, the woods are lovely right now. The thaw and freeze has made for a very solid crust that keeps a person on snowshoes right on top, making for easy travel all over the place. The inland lakes are pretty icy, but if you don’t mind a little slipping, you can usually find a ribbon of windswept snow along the eastern shores to carry you along on skis. Traveling so close to shore has given me insights into the winter woods I otherwise would have missed. Like the scattered remnants of an otter’s lunch, blue and orange shells adding to the illusion created by ocean-like ripples the wind has made in the snow.

So there you have it. Good tunes, a parade, and peaceful wilderness, all out our backdoor this week in the West End. I feel better already.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add that this week I am especially grateful for WTIP. In addition to all the wonderful things WTIP does for our community, which I’m sure you’re hearing about during this membership drive, I’d like to add one very personal thank you note. Years ago, my Grandpa Frank Hansen transitioned his newspaper column, the West End News, to WTIP. While I always enjoyed it when I heard it, I never fully appreciated the lasting impact of those recordings. Now, years after he’s left us, I can still listen to his voice recounting history and news as though I were in his living room anytime I want, just by clicking a button on WTIP’s website. It’s one of the only places his voice is recorded to my knowledge. So thanks WTIP, for capturing the voices of our community, what a gift.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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West End News: March 9

Not to go full Minnesotan on you, but I need to take a minute to talk about the weather. Here in the woods of the West End, we’ve been treated to the full range of weather patterns over the last week. One day, we were skiing on the lake in sunshine and warmth. The next, we fell asleep to the sound of rain pounding the roof interrupted only by the occasional flash of lightening. When we woke up, it was once again a winter wonderland with big soft flakes floating down. As I write this, the wind is howling and chickadees are actually being blown right off the railing on our deck.

The rain and melted snow has refrozen into a very hard and thick layer of ice covering the ground virtually everywhere. Now, I’m no Chel Anderson, but it seems the local red foxes are having trouble catching mice. Typically, the foxes will listen for the mice under the snow, then pounce into the drifts in dramatic fashion. I suspect that the hard crunchy snow and thick ice is preventing them from a lot of this hunting activity. I come to this hypothesis after a couple of recent encounters with the cat-like red foxes.

Just yesterday, moments after I had walked in the front door of our crew housing to visit with Jessica Hemmer, a red fox appeared hot on my trail. Rather than come inside, he (or she) stopped just under the bird feeder and spent several minutes scratching spilled seeds out of the crunchy snow. Filling bird feeders is an inexact science in this household, so often we have a pretty decent pile of spilled seed on the ground but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a fox partake in the buffet. Jessica and I watched the fox until it causally trotted off towards my house. I later noticed its tracks up on our deck as well.

Jessica then told me about another close fox encounter this past week. I suppose an alternate hypothesis to the difficult mouse hunting conditions could be that Jessica is simply a fox whisperer. Maybe they just like her company, she is pretty cool. Anyway, Jess was hiking Briton Peak in Tofte a few days ago when she noticed a red fox skirting around the parking lot in the woods. A few minutes into her hike, and there was the fox again, heading straight towards her on the trail. It walked right up to her, gave her a look as if to say “um, excuse me, you’re hogging the path” before sauntering around her and continuing on towards the trailhead. Lest no one believe her, Jess managed to get the whole thing on video. We both wondered if well meaning folks were feeding this fox near the trail head, contributing to his blasé attitude.

While it's tempting to feed these beautiful animals, especially when it seems you could almost feed them out of your hand, doing so is not in their best interest. Rough winters come and go, and with them the corresponding fluctuations in populations. Living so entwined with the natural world, as we do here in Cook County, it’s important that we do not alter the natural patterns and behaviors of our animal neighbors by providing easy meals.

In other canine news, the frequent dustings of new snow on the hard packed ice has been great for spotting wolf tracks. There appear to be three or four wolves that frequent some of our favorite ski trails. Unlike their foxey friends though, we have yet to see anything more than some footprints and scat. Maybe this is the cabin fever speaking, but I think we’ll try stepping out on our back deck tonight for a good howl and see if we can’t start up a conversation.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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West End News: March 2

This week’s West End News is brought to you with a theme: Civic engagement. Don’t turn down the dial, this is important stuff! Let’s start with the local level.

The townships of Schroeder, Tofte, and Lutsen are all gearing up for their annual meetings, coming right up on March 14 this year. All three townships will hold elections for township positions from 5-8 pm on March 14, followed immediately by the annual meeting. Schroeder will be voting and meeting at the Schroeder Town Hall, Tofte residents can vote and meet at Birch Grove, and Lutsen folks will vote and convene at the Lutsen Town Hall.

In Schroeder, there is a race for one open supervisor seat. Marion McKeever, known as Bill, currently holds the seat and is being challenged by Rick Anderson. In Tofte, Craig Horak is running for the 3 year supervisor term. Craig is currently appointed to the seat left vacant by Paul James. Jeanie Larson, a current supervisor, is running for the 1 year supervisor term. Sam Crowley is running a write-in campaign for the 1 year supervisor term. If you would like to vote absentee for Tofte, call the town clerk at 370-0763 to get set up. The clerk will also be available for absentee voting on March 11, at the Tofte Town Hall from 10am to noon. Lastly, Lutsen resident Christine Ordemann has announced her intent to run as a write-in candidate for the open supervisor seat. If you’d like to vote absentee in Lutsen, call their town clerk at 663-7002 or email her at lutsentownship@gmail.com. Same as Tofte, you can vote absentee at the Lutsen Town hall from 10am-noon on March 11, prior to the March 14 meeting.

If you aren’t registered to vote, don’t let that deter you! You can register to vote at the polls. So if you’re interested in who is making decisions in your town, what they’ve been up to and what the year ahead looks like, by all means attend the election and annual meetings. Again, the meetings are all at 8pm on March 14, at the Schroeder Town Hall, Birch Grove, and the Lutsen Town Hall.

On the state level, Lutsen resident Molly O’Neill is headed to St. Paul. Last fall, Molly participated in a listening session in Grand Marais held to discuss challenges and successes of women in rural MN. Molly shared her story about the difficulty of living and working in rural Minnesota and paying her monthly student loan bill. Molly’s story is simultaneously very personal and very relatable. As a somewhat recent college and law school graduate, I know more than my fair share of people in the same situation as Molly. They are educated, motivated, and gainfully employed in rural settings, yet still struggle due to their student loan debt. Molly has been invited to share her story in the form of testimony before the Higher Ed Committee at the Minnesota Legislature. The Committee is considering a bill that would establish a loan forgiveness program for individuals working in greater Minnesota. The West End is proud that Molly will be there to represent us!

On the national scene, Lutsen native Jessica Chenevert is in D.C. this week with the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association for the annual Congenital Heart Legislative Conference. The conference brings together patients, parents, providers, and partner organizations to advocate for awareness and funding for congenital heart disease. Inspired by her son Barrett, who was born with Transposition of the Great Arteries two and half years ago, Jessica has become a veteran advocate for more funding, research, and awareness for the #1 birth defect. As the full time social media coordinator for the Association, Jessica is in D.C. telling her personal story as well as supporting other newer advocates. All told, 183 advocates will be meeting with their representatives in the House and Senate to share their stories and ask the legislators to co-sponsor the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act. This year, they will be asking for 7 million dollars to support surveillance and awareness activities aimed at addressing the public health impact of Congenital Heart Disease across the lifespan of those living with CHD. You can read more about their mission and how you can help at conqueringchd.org. This is Jessica’s third year attending the conference in D.C. Each year she has taken on more of a leadership role, and I feel confident that I can speak for us all in the West End when I say that we are very proud of her!

So there you have it, our very own West Enders are out there making a difference, from right here at home, to St. Paul, all the way to D.C. If you are interested in becoming involved, I encourage you to take that first step. It turns out the old cliché is true, one person really can make a difference.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.

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