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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:
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.

The Gordon family on Amicus II.

West End News: May 31

The Schroeder Historical Society sponsoring a lumberjack dinner at their annual meeting on Saturday, June 9th, starting at 5 p.m. at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder. The menu will include lumberjack stew and biscuits. I'm surprised that beans aren't on the menu as they were a famous addition to the cuisine in the old logging camps. The lumberjacks used to call them "blanket lifters." Another famous feature of logging camp meals was a long standing tradition that no talking was allowed once the food was served. Lumberjacks that were cutting, skidding and hauling big timber in the deepest part of the winter season were very serious about their food - so serious that they couldn't be slowed down for conversation. You could actually be fined for speaking during a meal. I’m confident that chatting with your neighbors will be perfectly alright at the upcoming lumberjack dinner re-enactment.

Joyce Krueger will provide old time piano music and Forest Service Naturalist Steve Robertson is presenting an entertaining program. He has promised that it won't be a lecture and it won't be boring, so you'll have to attend to see what he does. The lumberjack dinner is open to all and the cost is just a small free will offering. Contact Suzanne at the Cross River Heritage Center for details.

For a number of years, a group of local quilters have been meeting at the Schroeder Town Hall to work on quilts, share knowledge and socialize. Through the quilting, the West End group made contact with a group of quilters in Ostersund, Sweden which led to the group traveling to Sweden for a visit a couple of years back. Now, our local quilters will be hosting a delegation of the Swedish quilters in Schroeder very soon. Fifteen Swedish quilters are coming and they have activities planned in Duluth and Thunder Bay too. Local quilters Beth Blank, Nancy Hansen, Orlean Fischer and Linda Lamb have quilts on display at the Cross River Heritage Center, so you can look for them when you are there for the lumberjack dinner.

I want to acknowledge the recent passing of musician Doc Watson, a truly original American treasure. Doc was best known as a guitar player and singer, but could play a mean old time banjo too. He is often called a folk musician - and he was well versed in the Appalachian traditions that he grew up with - but he was really just a great musician, able to play comfortably in nearly every style of American music. He came to national attention in 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival and remained popular and active right up until his death this week. Doc had a quality to his guitar playing and singing that only comes along once in a great while. Although his technique was nearly perfect, it was the genuine humanity and a sense of genuine connection with his art that made him special. Local musician Bump Blomberg saw Doc at what must have been his last public performance just a few weeks ago in North Carolina. My condolences to the Watson family and the vast family of musicians that Doc mentored and influenced over the years. Although he will be sorely missed, his art will live on in future generations. He was 89 years old.

I'm pleased to see that my friend, Katya Gordon, from Two Harbors, has written and published a book about her experiences sailing with her husband Mark and two young daughters, Lamar and Cedar. I met the Gordons in 2008 when they had just returned from a cruise from Knife River to the Bahamas and back. Before I knew about the sailing trip, I noticed how capable and self-possessed their two little girls were, even though they were only 3 and 5 years old at the time. When I found out that they had lived a large portion of their young lives on a traveling sailboat, I realized that living in a large house in Two Harbors was a piece of cake for them. I see that Katya has been doing author signings in Two Harbors and Silver Bay, so I assume she'll be coming up to do one in Cook County soon. The Gordon's boat, the steel hulled cutter Amicus II, is a sister vessel to the Hjordis, which is based at North House Folk School in Grand Marais.

Fishing dropped off considerably during the storms over the Memorial Day weekend, but seems to be bouncing back nicely now. Lake trout are still being caught easily and the walleyes and bass have been generally cooperative as well. We haven't seen any mayfly hatch yet here at Sawbill, but expect that we will soon. The backflies and mosquitoes have been out for a couple of weeks, but the wild weather has kept the population small and mostly non-biting. With the water so high now, it's my guess that they will get quite a bit worse in the next week as the weather warms up a bit. It's all part of the fun here in the West End.

Common Merganser

West End News: May 24

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Congratulations to Birch Grove Community School graduates Ashley Ross, Michael Sjogren and Bradley Van Doren.  The congratulations might seem a little late, as the three finished their studies at Birch Grove seven years ago.  But now they are graduating from Cook County High School.  As is often the case with Birch Grove graduates, they are all excellent students and are collecting numerous scholarships to continue their studies after high school.  The three scholars came full circle this week, returning to Birch Grove to meet with the current kindergarten class. This is a wonderful thing to do, providing positive role models to children that have their entire educational careers ahead of them.

Many Birch Grove alumni who are in college or beyond are returning to Cook County for the summer and stopping by Birch Grove to visit. Marie Nordahl recently spent part of a day at the school, joining the students for lunch and helping out with an art class.  Alumni are always encouraged to stop in and visit.  Again, wonderful examples to encourage the younger students.

Birch Grove graduates Beau Larson of Lutsen and Carl Hansen of Tofte have been in the area lately in their professional capacity as film makers.  Beau and Carl are both graduates of the University of Montana where they studied film.  They are the official videographers for the Lutsen 99er, the marathon mountain bike race that is held in the West End every June. T hey have been doing advance work this week, planning out their race day strategy and getting some advance footage shot.

In more Birch Grove news, the upcoming North House class that will build a wood fired bread oven at Birch Grove has been awarded a $1750 grant from the Cook County Community Foundation to provide scholarships for the course.  Participants will build the oven from September 9th through September 13th, with the grand opening celebration on Saturday, September 29th.  The class is filling up fast, so if you want to participate, get ahold of Patty Nordahl soon at 663-7977. I f you can’t take the class, there are several other ways to contribute, so contact Patty if you have an interest.

Spencer Motschenbacher, of Lutsen, told me that he found the nest of a common merganser duck last week.  Spencer kept his distance, but even then, he could count an amazing twenty-two eggs in the nest.  He said there may have been more, because he wasn’t sure that he could see them all.  It seems incredible that one mother duck could carry that many eggs.  And if she did, what kept her from sinking straight to the bottom of the lake?  It’s not uncommon to see mergansers with a long string of chicks behind them, but I’ve never seen anywhere near twenty-two with one mother.

The North Shore Stewardship Association at Sugarloaf Cove near Schroeder is holding a Recreational Trail Design workshop on Saturday, June 2, 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  You will learn what you need to know to design, construct, and maintain sustainable trails for hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, off-highway motorcycling, and all terrain vehicles.  Sustainable trails require minimal maintenance because their design and materials hold up to intensive recreational use and severe weather conditions. Mel Baughman, U of MN Extension Specialist, will teach the workshop.  There is a small charge, payable the day of the class.  Google Sugarloaf Cove for more information.

The Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder is having its opening party on Friday June 1st, at 6:30 p.m., kicking off another busy season of events highlighting the rich history of the West End.

Not to state the obvious, but thank goodness for the recent heavy rains to relieve the extreme fire danger that we had last week.  For two days, we watched the sky and sniffed the air anxiously as the temperature soared into the eighties, the winds ramped up to 35 miles per hour and the relative humidity plunged to near single digits.  One spark and we would have had a repeat of last fall’s fire season.  After our experience here at Sawbill last September, I know exactly how the people of Ely felt as a fire storm bore down on their homes and businesses. Thank goodness it ended as well for them as it did for us.

Now that is is raining regularly, I have to listen to the complaints of visitors about the wet weather. Sometimes, I have to take a deep breath before I commiserate with them. Those of us who live in the woods are never sorry to see a good, soaking rain.