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West End News

Bill Hansen

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.


What's On:
Clear skies have led to happy visitors this week!   Photo by Carl Hansen.

West End News: August 16

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The train that is summer in Cook County is continuing to roll on down the tracks.  From my informal poll of business owners at the Cook County Visitors Bureau meeting last week, it sounds like business is booming for everyone.  Of course, the weather has been nearly ideal, and so far we’ve managed to avoid the drought that is plaguing most of the country. 
I was able to sneak out for a one night campout in the BWCA Wilderness with current and former West End residents Corey Belt, Andy Keith and John Oberholtzer.  I can see why the visitors are all happy right now.  The temperature was perfect, the bugs were non-existent, the scenery was sublime and, of course, the company was excellent.
The Oberholtzers, who live in Lutsen on Deeryard Lake, and a number of other West End residents, have been busy working as models for renowned photographer Layne Kennedy.  Layne, who is no stranger to Cook County, has been hired by the Cook County Visitors Bureau to provide photographs and video for a new, comprehensive web site that the CCVB has in the works.  The crew descended on Sawbill recently to shoot campfire scenes in the Sawbill Lake campground.  They chose to use the existing campsite of Kristin Lundgren, who worked at Sawbill with O.B. a number of years ago.  It was the usual chaotic West End scene with old friends reconnecting, marshmallows being roasted, camera shutters clicking, stories and jokes being told – with everything happening at once.  When darkness finally descended, the film crew rushed off because they had to be up before dawn the next morning to catch the sunrise at Paradise Beach.  Never a dull moment here in Cook County.
Attention all West End parents.  If you have pre-school or Kindergarten through 5th grade aged children, then mark you calendars for the Birch Grove Community School and Saplings Preschool “Dress to Play” Open House on Friday, August 24 from 4 to 7 p.m. and again on Saturday August 25 from 11 am until 2 p.m.  Fun activities will include bouncy house and maze inflatables in the gym, an outdoor water balloon battle, free hot dogs from the grill and cold beverages.
Oh, and by the way, it’s your chance to tour the beautiful school facilities and meet the friendly and competent staff.  You can also check out the brand new outside facilities including a new ice skating rink, warming house, tennis court, playground and pavilion.  Registration materials will be available both days.   You don’t have to be the parent of a prospective student to attend.  Everyone is welcome.  Just remember to come dressed to play!  You can call Diane Blanchette at 663-0170 or email her at if you have questions.
I see that the Cook County Historical Society is soliciting ideas and items to be placed in a time capsule commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Cook County Courthouse.  The items must fit through a 12” diameter opening and the interior dimensions of the capsule are 12” by 12” by 20”.  The Historical Society is specifically asking for items that represent the different parts of the county, so let’s try to get something meaningful in there from the West End.  Maybe a Lutsen Mountains lift ticket or bottle of pickled herring?  The possibilities are endless.  It’s always important to remember that current events are tomorrow’s history.  Submit your ideas by email: or by calling 387-2883.
I’ve been interested to see the effort of some folks in Two Harbors to start a low-power community radio station.  They’ve given it the working name of radio station KTWO. The Federal Communications Commission has changed some licensing rules resulting in the possibility of starting many more small, low powered radio stations.  The KTWO group is hoping to broadcast local meetings, sporting events, new, weather and local music.  Their early organizing meetings have drawn interest from Silver Bay and Finland as well.  With the new broadband technology on the horizon, it’s possible that they could even construct a cooperative service among all the communities in Lake County.  The possibilities are exciting and I wish them the best of luck.

The Ross Sisters: Michelle, Jill, and Julie - photo by Christine Ross.

West End News: August 9

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One of the great joys of being in the tourism business is renewing the annual friendships with the faithful customers who return year after year.  I’ve been around long enough that I’m starting to become acquainted with the fourth generation in some families.
The Ross family from Merrillville, Indiana are well into the third generation camping at the Sawbill Lake campground.  Their three daughters are kind of unusual because they still like to go on vacation with their parents, even though they are now 21, 19 and 17 years old.  The reason is that they are self professed fishing addicts.  They are ferociously protective of their fishing spots and extremely skilled in their techniques. 
This year they told me that they suffer from the common affliction of sibling rivalry and often have spirited arguments.  But, they never fight when they are fishing, because it is too loud and would scare the fish.  This further reinforces my theory that fishing is the answer for world peace.
John Schroeder Day is fast approaching in Schroeder.  Saturday, August 18, is the big day, with a full slate of fun activities planned.  It all starts with the Fire Department’s pancake breakfast at the town hall from 8 to 10 in the morning.  At 10:30 and again at 12:30, Skip Lamb will lead his popular and interesting history walk, starting at the Cross River Heritage Center.  At 11:30 and again at 1:30, Tony and Dion Cicak will demonstrate their sawmill at their house across the river from the Heritage Center.  At noon, a movie will be screened at the Heritage Center.  It’s called “Long White Boards” and is a look a the history and current state of logging in northern Minnesota. Jim Norvell will speak about the history of Father Baraga’s Cross at 1 p.m.  Meet him at the cross.  Zoar Lutheran Church will have a brat booth going all day, along with several other food and craft vendors.  As always, be there or be square.
My good friend, Steve Wilbers, will be in the area on Saturday, August 11.  Steve is a prolific professional writer and a dedicated canoeist in the BWCA Wilderness.  His last two books are personal histories of the BWCA Wilderness.  The first book is organized around Steve’s experience with his father and the second around his son, Eddie.  Published by the Minnesota History Press, the books are very well written and engaging, especially for anyone with a personal history in the wilderness.  Steve will be having a book signing at Drury Lane Book Store in Grand Marais at 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 11.  Yours truly, who wrote the forward for the first book, will be joining him.  Steve is one of the nicest people that I know, so stop by and meet him if you have the chance.
The North Shore Stewardship Association will be presenting a program called: The Storm of the Century and the Building of Split Rock Lighthouse on Saturday, August 18, at 10 a.m.  Jennifer Niemi, program manager at Split Rock Lighthouse, will present the amazing story of the construction of the light station and the lives of the light keepers and their families who have made it their home.  The program is free, open to the public and is at the Sugar Loaf Interpretive Center just off Highway 61 on the Duluth side of Schoeder.
Fishing has remained remarkably good in the West End for this late in the season.  The conservation officers report good catches on Lake Superior and the stream trout are still biting due to higher than normal water levels.  Small mouth bass are downright suicidal right now and even the walleyes are biting in the evening.  I saw a picture of a 29-inch walleye that was caught and returned to an area lake by a ten year old visitor this week.

Songwriters gather at Sawbill for a jam sesson: photo by Jessica Hemmer

West End News: August 2

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A couple of weeks ago, West End seniors took at trip to Grand Portage. They enjoyed a picnic and fellowship at Elderly Nutrition Services, and then toured the new visitor’s center at Grand Portage State Park. Some of the items in the interpretive display were contributed by avid Birch Grove supporter Iola Wojtysiak. The new, critically acclaimed historical documentary about Grand Portage was screened and enjoyed by all.

On Wednesday August 8, the West End Seniors are once again taking advantage of Grand Marais State Bank's generous gift of the AEOA bus for a trip to Finland Community Center for lunch and music. There is a small charge for lunch. The bus leaves around 10:45 from Birch Grove, and will probably have extra spaces, so feel free to join in for a fun day. There will be no senior lunch at Birch Grove that day.

Senior lunch will continue to be every Wednesday after that with a delicious menu prepared by Barb Merritt. Everyone is welcome, but give a call ahead if you are not a regular to make sure enough food is prepared.

Keep in mind the annual fall color tour to Trestle Inn in September. Details will be announced as the date draws nearer. As always, you can call Patty at 663-7977 for details about activities at Birch Grove. Or, stop by for a visit and a look at all the construction that is underway this summer.

The renovation of Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder is now nearly complete. Volunteer Ginny Storlie from Lutsen quipped that it is an ecumenical project as the Lutherans did most of the work to spruce up a memorial to a Catholic priest. Stop by to see the results of all the recent labor.

I was pleased to read that the new cell phone tower in Tofte is moving ahead. Another cell tower is reportedly scheduled to go up in Schroeder this summer. It is long past time that the entire West End had reliable cell service. When I was traveling in rural Kenya in 2010, I mentioned to my hosts that my community didn’t have reliable cell service. The folks I was talking to are subsistence farmers, in their 70's, who have never had electricity or running water, and they were appalled to hear about our lack of cell service. They not only had good service on their farm, but they had a choice of three providers. Granted, they had to take their phones to a shop in the village to be charged by a small generator, but once charged, they used their phones routinely. The patriarch of the family, a lovely man named Dixon Oolu, remarked that he was under the impression that the United States was a well-developed country and he couldn’t imagine how we got along without cell service. I’m glad that we’ll soon be catching up to rural Kenya technologically.

Shelby Gonzalez, marketing manager for the Cook County Visitors Bureau, wants people to know that there is a new resource available for information about bicycling on the Bureau’s website, found at Along with general information about all the wonderful biking opportunities in Cook County and especially the West End, the website allows you to print out detailed maps and descriptions of bike routes that are customized to your, or your customers, personal preferences. Call Shelby at 387-2788 if you have questions or suggestions.

Last week, a friendly and outgoing fellow named Jerry Vandiver paid a visit to Sawbill. Jerry is an avid canoeist and a frequent and well-known visitor to the county, especially around Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail. When he’s not canoeing, Jerry is a professional songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee. He basically goes to the office every day and writes songs for country music stars. His name is on tens of millions of recordings, including some major hits for country music legend Tim McGraw, among others.

While visiting here at Sawbill, Jerry invited local songwriters Bump Blomberg and Eric Frost to a jam session around the campfire. The Sawbill crew and lucky campers were treated to hours of top quality music from three accomplished songwriters. Jerry, the consummate professional, was highly complimentary of our local songwriters skills. Jerry is planning to return next year, for another songwriter’s jam here at Sawbill. He is also working with North House Folk School to explore teaching a songwriting class there in the future.

Photo by Carl Hansen

West End News: July 26

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Mother Nature delivered some very entertaining shows this week. The northern lights have made several appearances and a couple of times were nothing short of spectacular. There have been some amazing thunderheads drifting around the area too. I was at Moguls Grill and Tap Room in Lutsen this week when a spectacular thunderhead developed out over Lake Superior at Tofte. From Moguls' mountain vantage point, the towering storm was magnificently lit by the setting sun. As if that wasn't enough, huge webs of lightning played over and through the clouds. For more than an hour, a large group of people sat outside, oohing, aahing and applauding, as if they were at a light show or fireworks display. In between all this, blue skies and warm temperatures have put everyone in a sunny summer state of mind.

In addition to the natural light shows, here at Sawbill we were treated to an impromptu show by two canoeists who are professional fire performers. Eddy Wilbers and Star Williams, both from Minneapolis, make a good part of their living by twirling and juggling burning objects while dancing and doing acrobatics. The night before they started their wilderness canoe trip, they offered the Sawbill crew a short sample of their skills around the campfire with the stars shining overhead. We all sat open-mouthed and amazed as they juggled burning objects and set their own bodies on fire, including spewing great long flaming jets from their mouths. Lest that makes them sound reckless, let me assure you that they take safety very seriously. Eddy did say that he does get burned sometimes, but only small blisters that heal in a day or two.

Congratulations to some folks with West End connections who won the Lake Superior Binational Program’s ninth annual Environmental Stewardship Award. Lise Abazs, Jan Karon, and Mary Doch accepted the award on behalf of WaterLegacy, a grassroots non-profit that has as its mission protecting Minnesota's water resources from environmental degradation and supporting the human and ecological communities that depend on clean water for their well being. They are, of course, particularly concerned with the new mining proposals in northeastern Minnesota, that want to mine precious metals from ore that contains sulfides. Similar mines have led to disastrous pollution all around the world. You can learn more about their work at

My life and business partner, Cindy Hansen, just returned from her annual canoe trip with some other lovely ladies from Lutsen and Tofte. This year, they chose to paddle the international border from Moose Lake in Ely to Saganaga Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail. On one lake, they spotted an eagle in the distance that was flying short gliding circuits from a tree on the shore. When they got closer, they realized that it was an adult eagle demonstrating beginning flight techniques to a fledgling chick. The chick was protesting and copping an attitude like all teenagers do from time to time. As they watched, though, the chick took the plunge and unsteadily glided out over the lake and back to the tree. The parent flew alongside and chirped encouragement to the youngster. All the ladies on the trip are moms who have seen their own chicks leave the nest, so they could all relate to the tender and terrifying scene that they had the privilege to witness.

Peter Harris, who lives in Little Marais and has worked at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center for many years, told me that Wolf Ridge is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. There will be a celebration in Duluth on September 28 that will, among other things, feature founder Jack Picotta and the stories he has about the early years. They will also be holding a staff reunion on September 29 and 30 this year. Peter asked me to announce the dates in the hope that any former staff who listen to this program will mark their calendars and plan to attend. There are quite a few former Wolf Ridge staff that have settled in the area and the reunion should be great fun for them. I've played my guitar at quite a few square dances at Wolf Ridge over the years, but I don't think it qualifies me as a staff member.

I can't believe that I missed the West End Garden Show that was held last week. My dad, who used to do this commentary and the weekly newspaper column for years before that, never missed announcing the annual garden show and reporting on the activities. By all accounts, it was another successful year for the show and I am resolved to cover it thoroughly next year.

Speaking of flowers, the Schroeder community, under the capable leadership of Jim Norvel, and with many other volunteers, has done a major renovation of the Father Baraga's Cross memorial. On Saturday, July 28, starting at 9 am, volunteers are needed to place the plantings that are the finishing touch on the renovation. Lunch will be provided. Call Jim at 663-7838 for details.

Photo byPeter Juhl - courtesy of the Cross River Heritage Center

West End News: July 19

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Linda Lamb, from Schroeder, called the other day to remind me that there are some fascinating art exhibits currently on display at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.  Kathy Gray-Anderson is displaying her beautiful wildlife photography.  Bruce Palmer is exhibiting his masterful acrylic paintings.  And, last but not least, Peter Juhl is exhibiting photos of his astounding temporary sculptures that he creates by balancing rocks on top of each other along the shore of Lake Superior.  You can see pictures on his website at  In addition to the pictures, Peter’s website has a tutorial, so you too can learn to balance rocks on each other in amazing ways.

It turns out that rock balancing as art is something of a world-wide phenomenon.  It even has its own Wikipedia entry.  In fact, Linda told me that Peter had attended an international rock balancing conference in Italy earlier this year.  She also mentioned that Peter’s family has a long connection with the North Shore, not the least of which is staying as guests at Lamb’s Resort in Schroeder for three generations.

The Cross River Heritage Center is located right on Highway 61 in downtown Schroeder and is open from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Tofte and Schroeder both received surface treatments to Highway 61 this week.  A contractor to the Minnesota Department of Transporation was spreading pea gravel embedded in thick oil.  It was kind of a noisy mess while it was being applied, but will give the road surface a new lease on life for the next few years at least.

The Cook County Highway Department was also busy this week applying calcium chloride to many of the secondary gravel roads. Calcium chloride is a salt compound that looks like oil.  It’s main purpose is dust abatement, but it also helps the road tolerate the sharp seasonal increase in traffic, prevents, or at least slows down, the formation of the dreaded washboard and reduces the amount of grading needed to keep the road surface reasonably smooth.  All West End residents who travel the back roads applaud the Highway Department for their good work.

A customer came in yesterday with a good wildlife story from Alton Lake within the BWCA Wilderness.  The person, who will remain anonymous to protect her dignity, was sitting on the privy yesterday morning when she heard the bushes moving nearby.  Right away she could see that a large animal was moving through the brush, but she couldn’t see it well enough to indentify it.  As she watched, the animal picked up speed and then burst into clear view just a short distance from where she was sitting.  To her complete surprise, is was a full grown timber wolf, headed nearly straight for her.  She involuntarily exclaimed “Holy Bleep!” in a loud voice.  At that moment, the wolf noticed her for the first time, gave her a look that could easily be traslated as “Holy Bleep!” and sprinted off in the opposite direction. In all my years here on the edge of the wilderness, I’ve never before heard of a wolf sighting from that particular vantage point.

Tofte Citizen of the Year Mary Alice Hansen - photo by Lee Stewart

West End News: July 5

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Last call for the Schroeder Historical Society’s annual Lundie Vacation Home Tour. Saturday, July 14th is the date of the eighth annual tour of homes and cabins designed by renowned architect Edwin Lundie. This year, the tour will also include some vacation homes designed by architect Dale Mulfinger, who will be on the tour in person. There is a charge for the tour, but the proceeds benefit the Schoeder Historical Society. Call Suzanne at 663-7706 for more details and registration.

The big Tofte 4th of July celebration is in the record book for another year. I call it the biggest small town celebration in the northland. I’m not sure if I coined that phrase, or if I heard it somewhere. The highlight for me this year was my mother, Mary Alice Hansen, being named Tofte Citizen of the Year. It is a great honor for her and she got to ride in a convertible in the big parade. Mary Alice was instrumental in the founding of the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum and served for many years at the Tofte Town Clerk. It was nice of the town officials to honor her, especially because she now lives in Grand Marais.

The Memorial Blood Center Bloodmobile will be in Tofte, at Zoar Lutheran Church on Tuesday, July 17 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Contact Polly at 663-7398 for an appointment.

As I write this, the Forest Service is working a wildfire near Parent Lake north of Schroeder. After one day, the lightning caused fire is 3 to 5 acres in size. It’s only a quarter of a mile from last year’s big Pagami Creek fire. The Forest Service is working it with a big water bomber and it will likely just be another routine fire for them. The amazing thing is just two weeks ago we were recovering from one of the biggest rain events in the history of the forest. It is an excellent example of how fast things change with the weather and fire danger. The lakes are still very high, but two weeks of hot dry weather have driven the fire danger right back up.

We lost a good friend here at Sawbill this week. Ed Erickson, from Chetek, Wisconsin, was a favorite visitor here at Sawbill for at least 40 years. Ed retired as a school counselor about ten years ago. It is hard to describe how attentive and empathetic he was with other people. For starters, he remembered the name of every person that he ever shook hands with. He would question them closely about the spelling and pronunciation of their name, at which point you could almost see him consciously commit it to memory. It was remarkable how just this small courtesy endeared him to people. He was a relentlessly positive and upbeat, but he was very serious when it came to fishing. His wife caught a 13 pound walleye on Alton many years ago and they had it mounted in what can only be described as a shrine in their rec room.

About ten years ago, Ed got seriously lost while grouse hunting. A search was organized and John Oberholtzer of Lutsen found Ed, who was tired and hungry after nearly eight hours of wandering through swamp and thicket. Ed and OB have had a special bond ever since. As I told Ed’s family, he will be missed by all who knew him, but we can take consolation in knowing that he is in a place where the fish are always biting. That is Ed’s heaven, for sure.

Tofte fireworks display

West End News: June 28

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A young woman was in the West End this week doing research on the history of Sawbill Lodge. Her name is Jennifer Case and she is the granddaughter of Chuck and Helen Case, who operated Sawbill Lodge in the mid-1970s. Helen ran the lodge while Chuck continued his work as an executive for the telephone company. I believe it was Bell Telephone in those days, in the Twin Cities. Their dream was for Chuck to take early retirement so he and Helen could concentrate on the lodge full time. After a few years, Chuck was offered a promotion that took the family to London and the Cases decided to let the lodge go. Jennifer reports that Sawbill Lodge still is a big part of her family's history and has caught her interest, even though she was born long after the Lodge was torn down and returned to nature. It just shows how the resort life style gets into your blood - in spite of the fact that the reality of resort ownership is mostly hard, dirty and repetitive work over long, long hours.

The torrential rain and flooding that occurred a couple of weeks ago is very likely another of the many changes that are occurring here in the West End due to climate change. We can add it to an ever growing list that includes hotter summers, warmer winters, decline of the moose population, the disappearance of many frog species, die-off of birch trees, and frequent spikes in extreme fire danger, and so on. Patty Johnson, who is a fire behavior expert with the US Forest Service, stopped in the other day on her way out on a personal canoe trip. She mentioned, somewhat ironically given the recent wet weather, that climatologists are saying that periods of extremely dry weather are likely the new normal. The fierce wildfires that are burning in Colorado right now are a good example of what we need to worry about. In my opinion, if you live in the woods, you are crazy if you don't have a sprinkler system to protect your home or business. Jim Winnanen, director of Cook County Emergency Services, has been working hard to line up another FEMA grant to help home and business owners install what are known as Firewise sprinkler systems. The grant hasn't come through yet, but Jim is confident that is will be announced soon. This is government at its best because it is much, much cheaper to pay up front for prevention than to pay for reconstruction after a disaster.

The North Shore Stewardship Association, located at the Sugarloaf Landing just west of Schroeder, is offering movie night every Friday. They show good movies that you probably wouldn't normally see and the setting at the Sugarloaf Interpretive Center is, of course, beautiful. On Friday, July 6th, they are showing "Mad City Chickens", an entertaining and funny documentary about the urban chicken movement in Madison, Wisconsin. The following Friday, July 13th the movie is "Play Again", a look at "nature deficit disorder" which is what afflicts America's children who now spend between five and fifteen hours a day looking at screens instead of playing outside and learning to enjoy the natural world.

The North Shore Stewardship Association is also sponsoring an outdoor photography workshop on Saturday, July 14 starting at 10 a.m. at the interpretive center just off Highway 61 west of Schroeder. Photographer Chris Sandberg will present the two hour class which will focus on finding and capturing outdoor scenes and presenting them in the best possible way. You can call Molly at 218-525-0001 for more information and starting times.

Don't forget about the fabulous Tofte 4th of July Celebration, one of America's great small-town Independence Day events. It all starts with the 33rd Annual Tofte Trek 10K Wilderness Run and Walk. Registration opens at 7:45 am with the 10K walk starting at 9 a.m., Kid's Race at 9:05, the 1 Mile Race at 9:20 and the 10K Run at 9:30.

The Festival at the lovely Tofte Town Park starts at 11 a.m. and runs through 5 p.m. with kids games, local crafts, food booths, beer garden and live music featuring Tofte's own Eric Frost, The Sensational Hot Rods, a '50s tribute band, San Francisco jazz musician Johnny Smith, the drum group Yabobo and the Cook County High School Band. The High School Band will also be featured in this year's parade which starts at 2 pm along the old highway in downtown Tofte. There is a spaghetti dinner at the Lutheran Church from 5 - 7 p.m. and last but not least, the spectacular fireworks display over the lake starting at full dark around 10 p.m.

I remember one year, many years ago, when there was a spectacular lightning display over the lake and vivid northern lights directly overhead while the fireworks were being shot off. We can only hope for a repeat of that memorable performance. As always, be there or be square.

Duluth flooding - AP Photo - Andrew Krueger

West End News: June 21

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It was the talk of the town this week when the communications out of the county were cut due to the extraordinary flooding in Duluth. It is almost breathtaking when the landlines, cell service and internet all go down at once. A couple of years ago, when the same thing happened, a plan was hatched to bring in a separate connection from the Iron Range, so we would have a backup. I know that the alternate connection is under construction, but apparently not finished yet.

It is probably healthy for us in the long run to realize how dependent we’ve become on the worldwide communications network. The economy comes screeching to a halt when cable gets cut. Our dependency grows by the day, including this humble report, which is usually recorded in my car (cars make surprisingly good little recording studios) and then emailed to the station.

We will probably continue to deepen our dependency on communication networks as broadband connections are rolled out in the relatively near future. Construction on the broadband network in Cook County is underway again. Miles of red tape are being cut and there is reason to believe that we may see at least part of the system lit up by the end of the year.

There is a lot of news out of the Birch Grove Center in Tofte this week. The Neighborhood Revitalization program is moving ahead for the West End. It provides grants in the form of deferrable loans for energy improvements like insulation, new doors and windows, furnaces, water heaters and so on. Owner occupied and rental housing can qualify if family income is between 40 thousand and 80 thousand dollars per year. The grants are first come, first served. You can contact Patty Nordahl at Birch Grove, 663-7977 for details and contact info.

Last call for vendors interested in working the Tofte 4th of July. Again, call Patty at 663-7977 if you are interested.

There are still a few spots available for the Hobbits project, which is class to learn how to build a wood fired outdoor oven running at Birch Grove Center from September 9th – 13th. There is a tuition cost for the class, but the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation is offering generous scholarships, so don’t let cost stop you if you are interested.

The West End was saddened by the passing of two longtime community members this week. Marion McKeever from Schroeder passed away at the age of 92 and Bud Nelson formerly from Tofte and more recently from the Gunflint Trail passed away at the age of 79. Both were active, long time business owners who contributed in many ways to their community. My thoughts and condolences go out to their many friends and family.

Western painted turtle

West End News: June 14

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This is the time of year when turtles appear all over the back roads in the West End. Pretty much anywhere that a road goes near a lake, stream or swamp, you will see numerous turtles crossing the road or perched along the shoulders. These are females who are taking advantage of the soft, sun-warmed gravel on the roadside to lay their eggs in holes they dig with their back feet. Most of the turtles you see are western painted turtles, but every once in awhile you can see a huge snapping turtle.

Every year I see a few turtles that have been hit by cars, which always makes me wonder why? Did the turtle dart out in front of the car? I can just hear the driver now, "It came out of nowhere. Really, the turtle hit me." It's frightening to think that someone could be so inattentive in their driving as to not see a turtle on the road. I simple can't believe that anyone would be so mean as to hit a turtle on purpose.

Back in the early 1960's a crew member at the old Sawbill Lodge, during a slow day at work, took a can of white paint that was kept in the boathouse for lettering numbers on boats, and painted the name of each person working at the lodge that year in small, neat letters along the edge of the shells of half a dozen turtles. For years, we would see turtles named Betty, Linda, Buck or Dusty sunning themselves on logs during the summer. Eventually, we didn't see them anymore and I had pretty much forgotten about it, until 1990 when the legendary Rainbow Gathering was held near Barker Lake here in the West End. The Rainbow folks had put a large sign on the beginning of the Sawbill Trail that read: "You cannot reach the Rainbow gathering by traveling on this road." In spite of the sign, we had several groups that wandered into Sawbill, lost and looking for the gathering. One cheerful group, driving a VW van, arrived at our store wondering where the Rainbow Gathering was. After giving them directions, I asked them if they hadn't seen the warning sign when they turned up the Sawbill Trail. The driver responded by saying that he had seen the sign and read it to his passengers, who happily told him to ignore it and keep driving. Then he mentioned that they were all glad about being lost because they had seen a turtle crossing the road near Sawbill Creek and had decided to stop and help it to safety. "And," he said, "the turtle's name was Dusty! It was painted right on his shell!" This was roughly 30 years after the turtle had been labeled by the bored lodge worker. The Rainbow People were delighted that the cosmos had directed them to become acquainted with Dusty the turtle. I shouldn't have been too surprised, as Wikipedia informs me that western painted turtles can reach sexual maturity by the age of 6 and can live up to 55 years in the wild.

Congratulations to Silver Bay entrepreneurs Lyn Singleton and Lisa Larsen who have opened a new bakery in Beaver Bay. It's called the Honey Bee Bakery and is located in the Beaver Bay community building. The products include a variety of pastries and breads, along with sandwiches, soups and coffee. I've heard very positive feedback on the pasties. Lyn gets up in the middle of the night and does the baking, while Lisa, her daughter-in-law, handles the books. Local businesses are the life blood of our economy, so be sure to show your support to this wonderful new enterprise. Even if you don't want a fresh, warm, sticky, sweet caramel roll, force yourself to stop at the Honey Bee Bakery and have one.

It's not too early to reserve your spot for the eighth annual Lundie Home tour sponsored by the Schroeder Historical Society. This year the tour is Saturday, July 14th. It will feature several homes and cabins in the West End that were designed by the famous architect Edwin Lundie. This year, some additional homes will be toured that were designed by author, architect and "Cabinologist" Dale Mulfinger. Mulfinger will be present on the tour and will be giving a presentation that day at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder. As always, the tour will be followed by the popular "dinner on the ledge rock" with live music and beverages. There is a suggested donation for the tour and reservations are required, so contact Suzanne at the Cross River Heritage Center, 663-7706, for more details. Dale Mulfinger's presentation, however, is free and open to the public.

Returning to the subject of turtles for a moment: did you know that if you are a Minnesota resident under the age of 18, that you can take, possess, rent or sell up to 25 turtles for use in a non-profit turtle race?  But, the western painted turtles that you take, possess, rent or sell for use in a non-profit turtle race must have a longitudinal shell length of more than four inches. It's the law.

Photo: U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region - courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.

West End News: June 7

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Recently, Steve Robertson, a naturalist with the Forest Service in Tofte, sent me a web link to the Forest History Society. I had never heard of this non-profit before, but have since learned that it was founded in 1946 and has been diligently collecting and disseminating historical data from our nation's forests. Steve directed me to their searchable database of historic photos and I was delighted to find quite a few very old photos of the Sawbill Campground, the Sawbill CCC camp and several wilderness lakes near Sawbill.

All of the old photos are fascinating, but two of them particularly caught my eye. The first was a camping scene in the Sawbill Lake campground from 1937. It is a pretty typical camping scene except that it includes all women and two are wearing dresses. We used to have a customer who canoe tripped in a skirt for many years, but otherwise, we don't see too many dresses around here. The second photo, also from the '30s, is of a road sign on Highway 61 in Tofte that lists what can be found up the Sawbill Trail and at what distances. Most of the places would be somewhat familiar to modern eyes, but it lists a "Plouff Resort" 17 miles up the Sawbill. I had never heard of Plouff Resort, but Brian Henry, retired forester from Little Marais, told me that he put some research into it when he ran across references to it in the records at the Tofte District Office of the Forest Service when he worked there. He actually found an ariel photo of the resort, which was located on the Old Grade Road, just off the Sawbill Trail and just south of the CCC camp. Brian found the site on the ground, but reported that there is really nothing left except a few scraps of metal.

Bill Plouff and his wife, whose name I can't remember, were well known pioneers along the Sawbill Trail. I presume they ran the resort that bore their name. Our family first came to Sawbill in 1957 and the Plouffs were already long gone, with only the creek, now mispronounced as "Pluff Creek", to remember them by. The late Dick Anderson, from Grand Marais, used to tell stories about working for the Plouffs when he was a kid. At that time, Dick said that they lived in a cabin on Kelly Lake. It makes me wonder if the Plouff Resort was somehow connected to prohibition. There were several resorts during that era, located in obscure spots in the woods, where it was possible to get a drink, along with maybe a card game and other illegal diversions. It's interesting that this colorful history is so little celebrated in this part of the world. I suppose it must be the influence of Scandinavian culture.

Knowing that a resort can disappear so quickly and completely makes me think about the permanence of all the human activity here in the back woods of the West End. The time may come when today's establishments are just a dim memories - hopefully, not anytime soon.

Now is the time to start thinking seriously about Marion McKeever's award winning fishcakes at Satellite's Country Inn Restaurant in Schroeder to benefit the Birch Grove Foundation. The fishcakes, along with baked potato, coleslaw, green peas, bread, rhubarb pudding and kringler, coffee, tea and milk, will be served in two shifts on Tuesday, June 12th. The first shift is over the lunch hour from 11 am to 1 pm. The second shift is during the dinner hour from 4 pm to 8 pm. Seatings are every half hour. There is a free bus departing from Birch Grove at 11:15 am for the 11:30 seating, courtesy of the Grand Marais State Bank. The bus is for all ages, but call Birch Grove if you plan to ride, so they know how many to expect. I can say from wonderful personal experience that Marion's fishcakes rank right up among the best on the shore. Not only is this a chance to help Marion make a generous contribution to Birch Grove, it's a chance to taste a genuine North Shore delicacy. Tickets are available at Satellite's, Grand Marais State Bank - Tofte Branch, Birch Grove Center, or by calling Patty Nordahl at Birch Grove, 663-7977.

Tofte 4th of July celebration is coming up fast. Don't forget to peak up your training for the infamous Tofte Trek 10 K run, founded by Jan Horak 33 years ago. You can pre-register online at Also, a reminder that the parade starts at 2 pm this year, so plan accordingly. Volunteers are still needed to run the bingo and help with children's activities, so contact the ever busy Patty Nordahl at 663-7977 if you can help.

I would like to add my condolences to all the many friends and family of Muriel Michaelson, of Tofte, who passed away last week. Muriel was an institution in Tofte and will be missed by all.

Phoebes are small birds that are common in our woods, but are most often heard and not seen. I've been noticing a pair of phoebes all spring that have been hanging around the windows of my office. Last week, I finally found their nest. They built it out of moss right on top of the outside light fixture above the front entrance to the Sawbill Store. As customers come and go, their heads pass less than two feet from the nest. The phoebes seem unfazed by the passing people. So far, most people haven't noticed the nest, but that may change when the eggs hatch and the chicks start calling for food. If need be, we will certainly block off that entrance and direct people to the side door until the chicks leave the nest.