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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.


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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Gunflint Volunteers at the Woodchippers Hall

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 19

The Gunflint Trail is alive with summer visitors as we head into week four of month eight. As luck would have it “Mother Nature” has provided some sparkling conditions over the past seven. Pleasant days with comfortable temps have been complemented by a couple night time rains yielding slightly over one and one-third inches here in this neighborhood.

Fall continues to nudge along as I’ve been watching on daily runs to Grand Marais for the timber framing class of which several Gunflint neighbors are participating. Speaking of this undertaking, it’s an energizing project that will end this coming Sunday.

It’s definitely been a lifestyle change for many of us as we put our retirement on vacation to go back to work each day from nine to five. I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to enjoy leisurely mornings until they went away.

Although the learning curve has been quite high for those of us with little to no experience, we are learning more each day and gaining comfort with reading prints and using tools of the art. As we hone out the components for this neat project, it might well be this is a crafty gang at the “wood chippers hall” and by “hall” I mean the red building at North House Folk School. One can view the mighty sawdust makers as they gathered for work one morning by hitting the website, WTIP.org and clicking on the Wildersmith column.

The annual mid-Trail homeowners summer celebration is into the books for another year following last week's flea market, gift boutique and auction. A big crowd turned out at the fire hall number one and when all was said and done, those folks raised $13,000 on behalf of the Trail Historical Society and our volunteer fire department.

By the way the ever-popular mid-Trail stitchers 2016 quilt raffle found Samantha Payne of White Bear Lake with the lucky ticket as the event came to a close. Congrats and thanks to Chair Judy Edlund and her wonderful group of volunteers for putting together another swell afternoon on the Gunflint Trail.

As if Judy Edlund didn’t have enough to do with this past event, she is looking for Trail pastry artisans to step up with the donation of a pie for our Labor Day weekend pie and ice cream social on the grounds at Chik-Wauk. The sweet treats will be served on Sunday, September 4, from noon until 4:00pm. Anyone wishing to donate a pie should contact Judy at 388-4400.

As we passed the full Ojibwe “blueberry moon” in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the fervor for blueberry heaven continues. Although many easily accessible patches have been picked over, those willing to go the extra mile into rough back country are finding buckets of the blue/purple gems.

The “Woods, Winds and Strings” concert held last Sunday was a melodious whisper through our Gunflint pines. Another sell-out crowd enjoyed many renowned musicians from our “tip of the arrowhead” talent pool. Thanks go out to organizer Susan Scherer, many of the usual Trail volunteers, all performers and of course a fine audience.

Up at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center this weekend, wildlife enthusiasts will want to be there for a program on the ever-changing Canadian Lynx population in the upper Trail territory. Making the presentation at 2:00pm will be USFS wildlife specialist David Grosshuesch.

A final note comes from one of our local resort owners. Last Monday while guiding a guest on Gunflint Lake near Campers Island, the scent of smoke was detected from nearby shore. Investigation found an unattended, still-burning campfire with brush placed on top of the flaming fire ring. Adding insult to an impending disaster, trash remains and plastic had been included in the blaze which is a recognized no-no for wilderness users.

Obviously Gunflint Trail residents dodged a bullet thanks to a good friend being in the right place at the right time. This carelessness is in-excusable regardless of whether the perpetrator was a visitor or a local. Campfires must be “dead/cold” out before departing any wilderness site!!!!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where all days are great and some are even better!!!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 12

As autumn rounds the bend, the “magnetic north” continues its attraction. Wilderness enthusiasts see their time in this spectacular place dwindling. Based on the idea of time in border country waning, vacationers are packing into area outfitters in droves. If parking facilities at both Seagull and Way of the Wilderness outfitters is an indication of what’s happening all along the Trail, business is booming as August heads into week three.

Added to the outdoor fanciers are blueberry pickers galore, making for perhaps more people in the BWCA/Superior National Forest right now than there are bears, or certainly moose.  

To make these wilderness adventures even more pleasant, Gunflint atmospheric conditions have been spectacular for paddlers, tent pitchers, and blue thumbed pickers. Moisture has been spotty though, but thankfully, what did fall came without the violence of storms experienced in June and July.   

Hopes for more fair weather are on the minds of eighteen Gunflint Trail Historical Society volunteers who will be starting an adventure into timber frame building at the North House Folk School as this report hits the air waves. Yours truly included, the group will be making sawdust and wood chips, while shaping timbers for the watercraft display facility to be erected on the bay-shore at Chik-Wauk Museum in the summer of 2017. Under the guidance of Folk House timber frame experts, the project will run daily beginning Friday the 12th and continue through August 21st. Wish us well in cutting a straight line and keeping all fingers intact!

A reminder to all seniors residing up the Trail, the AARP sponsored “Safe Driving” refresher course is being conveniently offered up this way on Monday, August 22nd. The class will be held in the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge from 10 am to 2 pm. Be sure to bring your own brown bag lunch. 

Last call is being made for the Woods, Winds and Strings concert this coming Sunday. Some tickets remain available for the 4 pm performance at the facilities of Fire Hall number one. Give the Chik-Wauk Museum a call @ 388-9915 to reserve your seating.

August is the perfect month to be planting. If area property owners are intending to enhance their woodland properties, the Minnesota DNR offers help through a Forest Stewardship Program. The program provides technical advice and long-range forest management planning. All aspects of the program are voluntary and are designed to meet landowner goals, while maintaining sustainability of the land. A Forest Stewardship plan is always prepared by a natural resource professional from our local area. For more information the following website provides a link to such at myminnesotawoods.umn.edu, or phone local DNR Forestry offices. 

News from the staff at Chik-Wauk is that the loon chicks hatched on the man-made nesting platform are back in the bay after a few weeks’ hiatus to somewhere. They are nearing adult size, complete with white breasts and darkening formal attire. It is heartening to note they have matured enough to escape the jaws of a hungry northern pike and the talons of a ravenous eagle. It won’t be too many weeks until loon young’uns will be gathering for their first trip south.   

The Wildersmith two have observed very few bears over the summer, and not one in a couple months. However, one did cross our path just days ago on a Smith trek toward end of the Trail. It was a little guy/gal, suggesting a birth date back around first of this year. Being a youngster, there was a strong probability a mommy and perhaps a brother or sister could be nearby. In the area viewed, it was more than likely to have been coming from or entering a blueberry patch. Pickers beware! It’s time for Brunos to start tacking on the pounds. 

On a final note, harvest time is entering early stages for the rodent critters around our yard. Pine cones high in the white pines and white cedar seed clusters will soon be cut to fall earthward and onto our roof tops, as the foraging race begins. Chipmunks have already begun the mad competition with squirrels for seeds, stuffing their jowls and scampering to unknown winter food banks, while their gnawing cousins seem not the least bit concerned right now. Let the games begin! 
                       
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, thinking of “getting ready for winter” chores! 

(photo by Seney Natural History Association via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 5

The Wildersmith two are back in the woods once again. It’s great to be home to the “cool” north woods after a trek along the Mississippi to “steamy” Iowa for a visit with our daughter. 

With nearly a week of August under our belts, tell-tale signs of autumn are perking up in places along the Trail and back country roads. The first indication of such is noted in ground level cover called dogbane. Apparently, this is the first flora to discover the diminishing daylight minutes and has begun to cut back on chlorophyll production, thus illuminating roadsides with our first sampling of fall gold. 

In the company of this happening: fireweed, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed Susans, and goldenrod have picked up the blooming slack from June and July's floral decline. Further signals are noted in grasses of many varieties beside our pathways turning golden brown with seed tops ready to drop, sowing next year's generation, and last but not least, rose hips are gaining on their crimson color.   

Since our return to paradise, upper Trail weather has been spectacular with cool nights and moderate daytimes. Here at Wildersmith, we even experienced a temp in the thirties one night late last week. Whoa, we have tomatoes yet to ripen!  
    
The pleasantness has been well received but somewhat with tongue in cheek. There has been almost no significant rain in this neighborhood over the last two weeks, until a four-tenths dropping a couple days ago. Therefore, the forest had become quite dry. If one was caught traveling backwoods roads following another vehicle, it’s been like one of those wicked Arizona dust storms. In spite of the recent shower, area folks might want to be cranking up those wildfire sprinkler systems just to add a dampening to their properties.   
                                                                                                                                                             
Lots of August happenings occur during the next week or so. First up is The Gunflint Trail Historical Society meeting, this coming Monday, the 8th, beginning at 1:30 pm. The gathering will be at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Following a short membership meeting, an interesting program will feature Patricia Emerson, from the Minnesota Historical Society talking on the underwater exploration of the Granite River, which the Society conducted from 1963 to 1970.

Then on Wednesday, the 10th, the big mid-Trail flea market/gift boutique, auction and quilt raffle takes center stage at
Fire Hall number one. The always fun event commences at 1 pm and runs until about 4 o'clock. Proceeds from the flea market will go to the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, while the balance from other activities will be donated, once again, to our volunteer fire department. Chances for the quilt raffle drawing continue on sale at Trail Center Restaurant. Come one, come all!    

If these two wilderness community affairs aren’t enough, another happens on Sunday, the 14th. The fourth annual Woods, Winds and Strings concert takes place at Fire Hall number one and the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center at 4 pm. Ticket reservations remain on sale through the GTHS at Chik-Wauk Museum. Call 388-9915 if you haven’t already reserved yours. The concert of classical and jazz music highlights a blend of many local musicians heard in the past, as well as new performers from Cook County and beyond. New this year will be Mike DeBevec’s Sky Blue Jazz Ensemble. The woods will be alive with “the sound of music”, don’t miss it.      
                        
If Cook County residents and visitors haven’t made the trip out to the new Nature Center at Chik-Wauk yet, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Every day finds some neat natural occurrence being explored with naturalists Jacqueline Mallinson and Kathy Lande.     
            
As an example of what one might experience, yours truly was in attendance last Sunday when Ms. Mallinson presented a female “striped fishing spider” captured with an egg sack attached to an intricate web encompassed branch. During the hours soon after being incarcerated in a big glass container, the arachnid’s egg sack hatched. Bearing countless (perhaps hundreds) of baby spiders, each one was smaller than the head of a straight pin. The new mom and her family were to be carefully released back into the end of the trail wild later that day.     
                                        
Although I’m not into these creepy crawlers, having never been this up close and personal with the critters, the marvel of observing this miracle was one more for the books of Gunflint Trail magic.  
                                                                                            
Fascinating programming continues on Sunday afternoons at the Nature Center providing special insights into many aspects of our natural Gunflint world. This coming Sunday will feature Wildfire Ecology, presented at 2 pm by Gunflint Lodge Naturalist John Silliman. While there, it would be a good idea to stop in the museum for a look at the Trail of yesteryear, and to observe the current temporary exhibit, “Heard but not seen” on birds in the Gunflint Territory.
                                             
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, watching the wonders of summer begin to fade away!

(photo by grassrootsgroundswell via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 22

North Country weather has been pleasantly normal during the past weekly segment. Cool nights and several sunny days have kept us back-country folks happy. However, the forecast, as I begin this week's report, indicates we could get singed by some nasty hot by air time. 

Sandwiched in between those great summer days, the upper Trail has been blessed with a couple good doses of rain. Thus, wildfire danger has been kept at bay, helped along by good old “Mother Nature."  
                                    
In the meantime, growing season throughout the woods is at its peak.  As summer advances into its middle of three calendar portions, we marked the Ojibwe “halfway moon,” and our annual Canoe Races hoedown. So with August little more than a week away, we can see summer beginning to trickle southward.      

In regard to those canoe races, a big thanks to Chairperson Arden Byers and his super crew of volunteers for yet another well run event. As of broadcast/website posting time, an unofficial total indicates over $28,000.00 was raised for the Trail Fire and Rescue departments.  

Gunflint Community goings-on are slowed a bit now, until month eight arrives when they pick up once again. Until then, Chik-Wauk Museum/Nature Center is busy with daily things to see and do. Tuesdays host kids' day activities in the Nature Center, along with U.S. Forest Service programming, while this coming Sunday has a special “wild edibles hike” led by Teresa Marrone, beginning at 2 pm. So if one is seeking a northwoods adventure, a trip out to the magic of Chik-Wauk is well worth the drive.  

It has been announced by planners of the Woods, Winds and Strings concert that ticket reservations are being accepted. This August 14th event has always been a sell-out. Only 150 seats are sold. It would be a good idea to get that call made as soon as possible to secure a spot for this fourth annual mid-Trail happening. The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is facilitating reservations through Chik-Wauk . Call (218)388-9915 between 10 am and 5 pm daily.  

On the wild scene, hummingbird arrivals and departures have picked-up at our International nectar port. We went about six weeks with almost no traffic, so it’s nice to have the tiny hover-critters darting about. Another avian point of interest, finds a gal over on Hungry Jack Lake reporting the discovery of a nesting cedar waxwing. I don’t know if this is an unusual observation, but anytime one can see anything nesting, it’s a neat natural experience. 

According to my angling friend down the road, he says his catching fortunes have been improving over the past ten days or so. Perhaps unsettled conditions in the depths, caused by the storms of late June, plus another mayfly hatching, have eased, allowing a feeding frenzy for bait on a hook.  

The intensity of blueberry hunting is increasing along the upper Trail. A trip to Trail's end last weekend found several berry picker vehicles pulled off in the usual niches, so they must be out, bucket in hand. It would seem, with the rains of the past week and more bright sunshine, there will be a purple explosion in the days to come.  

On the domestic side of growing things, a friend has a tomato plant as big as a small tree, and one of my plants seems not far behind. Both plants have plenty of blossoms, but whether they produce ripened fruit to beat the frost is a question yet to be answered.   

As it relates to frost, it would be a fair trade to forfeit tomatoes in favor of an early passing of mosquito hostilities.

In closing, following the most recent rain storm, a drenched canine-type critter came darting up out of the ditch in front of my vehicle. At first glance, I thought it to be a coyote, or maybe a juvenile wolf, and then again, my wife thought it to be a shepherd-type dog. Regardless of the species, it did not look too comely in wet fur, as it scampered back into the woods avoiding a painful encounter with my truck.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, savoring thoughts of cool days and autumn colors.

(photo by Ryan Haggerty via Wikimedia Commons)
 
 

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Gunflint Lake July 2007 (Dale Sundstrom/ Flickr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 15

The Northland is turning the corner in July with weekend number three going into the books. Border country has experienced some swell atmospheric conditions as I hit the keyboard with this Gunflint scoop. With temperate air, cooling breezes and mostly sunny skies, it has made for some great dock time, including last weekend.  

Dock time for yours truly affords a terrific opportunity for contemplation. Following another week of American tragedy, there has been much to think about. Solving our ever growing societal dilemmas seems overwhelming to nearly impossible. As greed and self-gratification continue not yielding an inch toward compromise and/or respect for our fellow man, it’s just pretty discouraging for a country that once prided itself in being a land of opportunity for all.                                               

It sure makes me thankful for living in our “unorganized territory” where peace and civility are still the order of life.

On a happier note, while down on the dock last Sunday, when not pondering American ills, I was nudged back to the reality of how great this place is by rolling lake waters with gentle whitecaps and shadows being cast on the Canadian hillside by puffy clouds. The world seemed at peace, as one roller meshed into another and the heavenly wisps of gauze slowly eased over the green mountain tops to be gone forever. We in this neck of the woods are so fortunate to reside far away from the hubbub of an urban America gone wild, in spite of the constant media bombardment. 

Ongoing news from the upper Trail has me reporting about berries, bitin’ bugs and bunnies. First up is the progress of blueberry ripening. A few pickers are hitting the patches and gathering early purple pearls. However, most reports indicate the best is yet to come, probably in another week or two.      

As to the bug situation, black flies have simmered down a bit, but still can be stirred up. “No see umms” remain a nightly nuisance if lighted windows are left open, and mosquitoes are lurking in mass as the sun sets. Knowing how these winged terrorists get after we humans, one has to feel for the critters of the woods that must be in 24/7 agony from these carnivorous nippers.  

Meanwhile, snowshoe hares are practicing multiplication exercises with diligence. The hopping crowd can be noted at almost any turn of the road. I can’t remember observing so many during any one season as I’m seeing this summer, and other folks are echoing similar information. This speaks well for critters seeking a rabbit dinner, especially Canadian lynx. We might look for increased lynx appearances as fall and winter grow closer.  

Elsewhere out this way, the ghostly reminders of the Ham Lake fire are diminishing in many areas bit by bit. A recent trip to end of the Trail, finds far fewer of the charred skeletal remains lurking over the landscape. One might guess the wind storms of a few weekends ago took down great numbers and buried them in the surging green rebirth.    

While driving any number of our back country roads, I’m often compelled to visit with myself about the traveled surface. I have taken to doing an assessment of quality verses appalling on those I traverse. 

I find many county maintained pathways to be in a difficult to deplorable state. At the same time, I realize this is a huge county with many arteries to be serviced, and understand the difficulty in keeping each road up to snuff and everyone happy. 

Nevertheless, my mid-summer rating finds the Sag Lake Trail to be far and away “the clubhouse leader” in regard to rattle your teeth roughness. I feel for those folks having to make daily trips on this rolling corduroy course. Number two on my list, and gaining on the Sag Lake Trail, is county number twenty (the South Gunflint lake Road). In both cases, I hope I’m not offending residents residing along these back woods byways, but rough is rough, and pot holes, wash-boards and ruts, are what they are!   

Our big Gunflint canoe race event is now at hand. Finally, after months of planning, canoeists will hit the water this coming Wednesday evening. Kids' activities begin at 4:00 pm, food service at 4:30, and the first race at 6:00, all on the Gunflint Lodge waterfront. Expect to have another great evening in canoe country as we celebrate summer and the Gunflint Trail Volunteer fire Department.   

Last but not least, from this weekly commentary volunteer, thanks once again for stepping up with a pledge of support in last week's WTIP summer membership drive. All station followers proudly confirmed their friendship, showing that “with a little help from our friends,” anything is possible.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, hoping sanity and peace can get a grip on our violent world!
 

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Loon with fish, courtesy of Chik-Wauk

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 8

We’re a full week into month seven and the upper Trail weather is much less frightful than the previous two weekend segments. In fact, our National Birthday holiday was splendid for both Gunflint residents and visitors.

Rapidly as the days tick away it seems unnerving we are closing down July’s second weekend so soon. I’ve even heard comment to the effect that summer is over after Independence Day. This is a bit of a stretch, but then again we are only a three short weeks away from August as this scoop hits the air.

This in mind, the calendar for area folks is plenty full of summer activities. First up and highly important is the current membership drive for WTIP. At broadcast time, the station is into the third full day of its drive for membership support, with only two and one-half days remaining (until noon Monday).

WTIP needs you! Please get on board without delay. Give operators a call at (218) 387-1070 or 1(800) 473-9847, or click and join at WTIP.org – or better yet – stop by 1712 West Highway 61, hand deliver your pledge and see our staff and volunteers in person.

Next up is the fortieth year for the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races, scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, with food service beginning at 4:30 pm and races at 6:00. Plan to be there for all the fun on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge.

Remember proceeds from this great community event go to support our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS crew. Tickets for the general prize raffle and the kayak drawing are on sale now at Trail Center and any number of places along the Trail. They can also be bought on site the evening of the event.

As we get into August, the mid-Trail gang will be following up with their annual flea market, gift boutique and auction, also on behalf of our Gunflint protectors. Stay tuned to WTIP for more details on the August 10 happening which runs from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.

Like windrowed snow in winter, daisies are drifting in along our byway Trail sides. Thus they join our 60 mile “Technicolor” wildflower garden. It’s uncanny how “Mother Nature” has sequenced blooming things out this way. The floral show is just a mosaic of pigments.

A note on the loon chicks at the Chik-Wauk site, finds all is going well. They hatched on June 28-29. However, the big wind/rain storm of last weekend disturbed the parents enough causing them to move from the nesting platform to the bay southwest of the Museum. This new location, along the Moccasin Lane hiking trail, is actually more accessible for photo-ops than the birthing place.

A couple big Bull Moose sightings, in different locales on the Trail, have been reported. Being several miles apart, I presume they are two different characters, and this is heartening.

Further moose lore comes from a couple gals over on Leo Lake. I’m told they are seeing more moose this summer than in several years past. It was also shared that the ladies are in a challenge contest over who observes the most. To date one has seen 15 while the other has counted seven. It makes me wonder if they are counting the same critters time after time. Too bad the animals couldn’t be marked with a dab of paint for confirming ID’s. In any event, to see just one is great, and these ladies’ scorecards are fantastic. Maybe their sightings indicate a turn-around in the territory's moose population decline.

On a final note, a friend reports the observance of three young Pileated woodpeckers. I’m told the trio was found hanging out on the USFS leased land properties at the west end of Gunflint Lake. Guess the “woody woodpecker” look-alikes were making a lot of racket, perhaps calling for mom and pop who were nowhere to be seen and probably tired of the adolescent chatter.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, encouraging your call to arms for WTIP!

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Yellow hawkweed (Lmmahood /Wikimedia Commons)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 1

Ten days into official summer and we welcome July. It’s hard to believe, we have reached the month of the Ojibwe 2016 “halfway” moon.

The last weekend of June found this area once again in the bad weather bullseye. As luck would have it, “Mother Nature” spared us a repeat of the previous week's blitz. This time the violence skirted us in other directions.                                                                                                        
This neighborhood did get a nice rain of nearly an inch last Saturday while most folks kept their eyes on the sky under a full day of severe weather advisories. All of us residents are thankful to have not experienced more blowdown as we continue the current clean-up efforts.  
             
Speaking of the June 19 storm damage, some parts of the territory look like nothing happened, while many other spots were smashed pretty well. The Wildersmith place took a hit with seven big trees down, while neighbors to the west and east were hit even worse.             
                       
It seems residents on the Mile O Pine and east along the south shore of Gunflint Lake caught the brunt. Sadly, I mention many one to 200 year old white pines were downed in addition to countless other species. Further, I’m told the popular “campers island” was about totally smashed. As far as I can tell structure damage seems limited to docks, boats and boat lifts.                                                                                                                                              
All of this weather terror is making me long for winter when a good dose of cold and snow would look like pie and ice cream compared to what we’ve had lately.                                                          

On a brighter note, temperatures have been just right to allow for garden plantings to explode. While on the wild side, a burst of gold has taken over along the Trail. The plethora of buttercups, Canadian hawkweed and other yellow beings has laid claim as the guide through this paradise pathway to the end at Seagull Lake. Added to a sprinkling of orange hawkweed, daisies and waning lupine, and we have a rainbow right here at ground level. It would seem a trip on the Trail would be in order.                                       
Speaking of Trail treks, The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is hosting an open house this coming Sunday, July 3, in honor of the new Nature Center facility on the Chik-Wauk Museum campus. The happening occurs from 11 am to 4 pm with free admission and treats for all.    
                                                                                                                                                                
As part of the celebration, the GTHS is excited to announce two recent exhibit additions. The beautiful “Diving Loons” sculpture is now in place. This work was designed and produced by local artist, Keith Morris. Besides the loon display, the Nature Center has been gifted with a marvelous display of Trail butterflies, skippers and moths. This collection has been provided by local lepidopterist, David MacLean. Grateful thanks go out to both gentlemen for their elegant contributions. 

It is unknown if other area folks are noticing a scarcity of hummingbirds this summer. Our usually busy nectar station is experiencing almost no activity. Over the past couple weeks the only hummer arrival has been a singleton. The mini bird arrives shortly after daylight commences, and that’s all we’re seeing. Kind of makes me wonder what human invasiveness has done now to screw up more wild country habitat.          
                                                                                                             
On the angling agenda, a few area fishermen indicate their catching has gone to pot. They are thinking the big storm has driven fish down and stirred up other bait sources. They’re just not into being lured by hooks with meat attached for the time being. However, a fellow on Gunflint Lake tells of watching a gull (often referred to as a winged French fry-eating rat) having better luck than he. It seems the “gull’ snatched an eelpout from somewhere nearby and stopped by his dock where it set down to have its version of a “shore lunch.”                                                                                                                                                                      
The angler headed in soon after his observation and came up dockside of the dining bird. Not to be denied dinner, the winged critter was reluctant to take flight. The fisherman eventually had to shoo it off, and placed a lawn chair over the finny in order to discourage a return.  In the end, an eagle eyeing the goings-on circled overhead, made a careful landing, and made off with an easy dinner. This is yet another predator/prey epic in the natural magic of life on the Gunflint Trail.                                                       
A note of “breaking news” comes to all WTIP listeners and website followers. Our summer membership drive begins in earnest this coming Wednesday, July 6, and continues through noon, Monday, July 11.                                                                                           
One of three such drives each year, this is the biggest and is so important for continued growth of this North Shore Community broadcast experience. I encourage all to re-up their membership and /or become a new member of the WTIP team during this coming effort.    
                
I think we can all say we got to where we are to today “with a little help from some special friend.” At this time, “with a little help from all WTIP friends” radio excellence can blossom even further. Be sure to give us a call or click and join at WTP.org or stop by 1712 West Highway 61 and pledge your support, beginning next Wednesday.                                                                                                                                            
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith reporting! Have a safe and sane July 4.                             
 

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by David Wilson via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 24

              
Breaking news on the Gunflint! The historic Gunflint Lodge has new owners! After nearly 90 years of Kerfoot Family hospitality, the reins have been turned over to another family.  From Justine and her mother, to son Bruce and his family, the iconic resort operation has been one of the premier north woods vacation spots in the country for going on nine decades. Through good times and some not so good, the business remains standing tall like the surrounding white pines, boosting and reflecting the spirit of life gone by in wilderness America.   
                                                                 
The Gunflint Community thanks the Kerfoots, both Bruce and Sue, for their never ending contributions to our territory, wishing them the best in their long sought quest for retirement. At the same time, upper Trail residents welcome the Fredrikson family, John, Mindy and son, to the great border country, wishing them well in their new venture, with many “happy” Gunflint Trails!   
                                                                                                                                                     
Mother Nature has pulled the plug on homemade air conditioning since we last met on the radio. Summer has warmed considerably (well into the 70s), making me and the moose cringe in the jungle-like humidity. Although this neighborhood has not experienced the hot misery of most places around the country, for me and my Alces Alces friends, anything above 55 to 60 has us heading in haste to cool lake waters. Guess the danger of frost can be forgotten for the time being, and all planting should be safe.     
                                                                  
At the time of this Gunflint scooping, we’ve been on the dry side. Less than a quarter inch has fallen at Wildersmith over the past days making for a new beginning of dust build-up on back country roads.                                                                                                        
As fate would have it, rain did come to the area late last Sunday, but accompanied by high winds and hail in isolated places. The horrendous winds (60 to 70 mph, I’m told) brought back memories of the tragic July 4 in 1999, when a derecho demolished over 300K pristine northern wilderness acres.                                                                                                                                               
Although this occurrence did not display the violence of the 1999 version, it nevertheless did a job on countless trees in several Trail locales, along with death and injury, power and fiber outages. I have not heard of any building damages yet, but folks will be spending the next few days to weeks clearing up blowdown remnants. The Wildersmith neighborhood was, as in ’99, once again hit hard during this violent weather episode.   
                             
Something magical can catch one’s attention most anytime in this neck of the woods. Many times it can be a situation that has gone on for eons, but is either taken for granted, or never fully grasped until just the right moment for the observer. Such was the case for yours truly one cool morning prior to this sudden summer turn on.  
 
Recently, in the immediate time after sun-up, beams of brightness began to glisten through the forest. It was one of those rays streaming through the cedar trees that caught my eye. The focus getting my attention was a swarm of unknown winged insects hovering right in the midst of this golden shaft. Not giving the view much thought, a glance away, and then looking again later, I found the collection of buzzers in the same proximity. Giving a closer look for an extended period of time, they just hung in the area suspended, how strange I thought.         
              
Duh, finally, it dawned on me. They were not gathering in the attack mode, but simply bathing in the warmth of a new day, following a cold night. As the solar radiance moved with changing trajectory, these little critters followed right along until out of sight. It was just another interesting view of nature in the Gunflint world around us!                                                                                   
More North Country magic has been noted by a local fishing guide. Bear sightings are not too uncommon, but this one, as reported, found a momma and her family crossing the Trail out this way. The noteworthy detail of the bear trek was four little fur balls scrambling to keep up with her. Bears can be like pigs and sometimes can have a litter, but we seldom see more than two or three cubs, so this happening is surely interesting. I’m betting this “momma bear” was glad to see warm weather so she could get out of the birthing den. I suppose dinner time was a mad scramble with a lot of pushing and shoving for several months.    
                                                                
One more critter tale finds folks living along the Mile O Pine have sign of a mystery moose. The phantom creature has not been observed except occasionally, down in Gunflint’s “dog ear” Bay. But any number of us have seen tracks along the road. Leaving less than dainty hoof prints, the ghostly icon definitely leaves a trace.                                                                                                                       
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, busy picking up after last weekend's wind/rain episode.
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 17

The Smiths are back in the woods once more. A week away from this northern paradise seems like an eternity. After a swell visit with family on both the western and eastern extremities of Iowa, it’s nice to return to “home sweet home” in border country.    

Our trip into the northland came just in time as we escaped the grizzly heat and humidity surging through the Hawkeye state a week ago. While those conditions are great for growing corn and soybeans, they are disconcerting to an old timer like yours truly.  

As I put together this week’s scoop, we Gunflinters are enjoying some natural air conditioning courtesy of our Canadian neighbors. I missed out on a frosty June morning while away, nevertheless, smiles abound, hoping the “cool” hangs in there until fall.      
                                                                                                 
More moisture blessed the area during my absence, keeping wildfire danger at bay, lake levels up and rivers a gushing. With the Gunflint Gal being an inflow/outflow body, this time of year finds the depth beginning to diminish. However, at this moment, the surface has risen several inches on the DNR lake measuring gauge since its placement near the Wildersmith dock about the end of May. 

The forest is now in full summer regalia. It seems our lush greenery might be the densest I’ve seen in 17 years of residence. Early summer blooms are decorating the landscape along back country roads - most notable are wild roses, Columbine and those pesky lupine.            

Meanwhile, the blue heavens have seemingly settled to earth right here in our back yard. An azure haze of Forget-Me-Nots, the likes of which we’ve never had before, blankets nearly every square foot. They’re so delicate one hesitates to even step off the walkway path for fear of blemishing the beauty.  

Speaking of summer, the Solstice passes before we meet again. It’s hard to realize “old Sol” starts the slow tilt southward soon after this coming Monday. One shouldn’t be discouraged though as plenty of great warm weather opportunities remain in Gunflint Country.           
Speaking of one such, the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races loom just four weeks away, July 20. Organizational plans have long been underway for this fortieth annual fund raiser to benefit the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS crews. This event is soon followed by the Mid-Trail event, a similar fund raising endeavor in early August. There is plenty to look forward to, so mark your calendars and stay tuned for further updates.                  

Winged critters are buzzing with reckless abandon throughout the area. The war against mosquitoes has garnered additional troops as dragonfly airborne squadrons have entered the battle with us humans. Sad to say, it appears to be a losing cause with far more “skeeters” than there are “D Flies” to eat them. Added to the nasty biting onslaught are those obnoxious black flies and “no see-ums.” So in general, it has been quite uncomfortable out of doors, regardless of the cool green surroundings.        

However, one thing positive can be said for those blackfly rebels, they are a necessary evil when it comes to the upper Trail blueberry patches. As facilitators of the pollination process, it would be nice if these ravenous bugs would just do their job and leave us alone, - “fat chance.” And speaking of the “blue gems,” a fellow up at end of the Trail tells of seeing a lot of flowering and green berries on the bush already. Will it be another bumper crop?   

An update has come my way in the past few days with regard to the loon pair hanging out at Chik-Wauk's museum site. The staff up there reports, the handsome couple have returned to the nesting platform and are apparently incubating new eggs. Folks might wish to be checking the CW webcam to follow the aspiring parental activity.      

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society’s annual “shrimp boil” was a huge success this past Sunday. A record turnout enjoyed a “taste of southern dining” at its best in the great north woods ambiance. Thanks go out to the many volunteers for putting on such a unique feast.                                                                                                                      

Gunflint Trail residents are saddened to hear about the death of Harriet (Boostrom) Taus. A daughter of pioneer residents Petra and Charlie Boostrom, Harriet’s passing ends another chapter in history of this charming piece of the universe. She was a wonderful link to the past as she often shared stories of her family and their life in Gunflint territory, at both Clearwater Lodge and the Chik-Wauk Museum. All who knew her will surely miss this kind and gentle lady.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, wishing everyone “happy Gunflint Trails!”
 
(photo by dawnzy58 via Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 3

        
Border country is off into June, the month of the Ojibwe full “strawberry” moon. Where did May go?

The past weekend's intro to summer probably seemed bleak if one was a visitor to the area. Our Memorial Day break was nearly a bust as “Mother Nature” chose to do some catching up on overdue moisture, along with cool, but “moose comfortable” temps.

However, we Gunflint byway residents are not complaining. Furthermore, we are deeply appreciative for the heaven-sent liquid. The rain couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, after a near month of tinder dry conditions. Nearly an inch and three-quarters filled the Wildersmith rain gauge during the soggy weekend siege.  

The accumulation will surely enhance mosquito habitat, and the now gushing streams and rivers will provide equal enthusiasm for hatching more of an already active black fly contingent. So everybody, net up!

The north woods jungle has exploded, no doubt aided by the welcome rain. Early wild flowers are aglow, and weeds will soon be beckoning to be whacked. With exception of the sugar maples along the Mile O Pine, leaf-out is completed for summer, while red and white pines are sporting the candles of next generation branches. 

People activities along the Trail were not a washout, as a nice crowd filled the hall at YMCA Camp Menogyn for the annual pancake breakfast on Sunday, while the seasonal opening of the museum at Chik-Wauk & the new Nature Center drew a busy crowd of visitors last Saturday.    

This is just the beginning of what looks to be another hectic summer in the Gunflint Community. Next weekend (June 11 & 12) finds the Boundary Waters Expo taking center stage up at the Seagull Lake boat landing. This 2nd annual event will feature both exhibits and family friendly programming on learning how to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. For a full schedule of events, contact Visit Cook County at (218) 387-2788.   

As the “Expo” draws down on Sunday the 12th, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be holding its annual Shrimp Boil and bake sale at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Commencing at 4 pm, this is always a fun gathering. A fundraiser for the Society, a per-plate donation is suggested, with proceeds going to the Chik-Wauk facility operations. 

While the weather was cold and dismal, it didn’t temper the excitement for area fisher people. A friend down the road found catching to be action packed down on North Lake with a goodly number of trout keepers and subsequent releases. I’m told, the most difficult part of the angling/watercraft excursion was fighting through the rapids from Little Gunflint Lake into Little North. Guess “Beaver & Beaver” Construction have engineered and built quite a dam in the passage, causing the entry to be narrowed with turbulent flowage. 

Spring babies are growing rapidly to the point where they begin venturing out from their birthing places. Guests at Rockwood Lodge had the rare pleasure of recently watching a trio of fox kits playing around and learning of life. Fortunately, the activity was captured on video and shared with WTIP. One can get a look at this foxy fun by clicking on the website at WTIP.org and going to the “photos on the edge" section.

Meanwhile, a few moose opportunities have been reported. One such was a calf the Smiths’ observed in a swamp along the Trail at the turn-off to Big Bear Lodge. And on another day, a couple gals found a big bull munching greens in the pond above the Birch Lake overlook.    

Then, in a rarity during a recent mail run, I found a trail of moose tracks along the Mile O Pine. Moose are seldom found in this neighborhood, other than near the “dog eared” bay of mid-Gunflint Lake. Other Alces alces sightings have been re-counted from mid-Trail on up since last week's scoop. 

If our current cool weather trend extends, there surely will be more sightings of the iconic creatures as they venture out from the shady shelter of balsam groves in twilight hours. 

Those feisty hummingbirds have returned to many feeders around the territory, although to date, we at Wildersmith have observed only minimal arrivals at our nectar supply port. Guess the heavy traffic time for ruby throats is yet to come, and/ or they might be delayed in TSA security lines somewhere south of here.

Finally, the Smiths observed a young “Bruno” crossing our vehicle path not long ago. Other than this lone sighting, I’m not hearing of bear happenings. Stay tuned for future bear tales as more careless humans infiltrate their domain with appetizing temptations.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, savoring, “the land of sky blue waters!”

(still shot from Sally Wilson's video; footage courtesy of Rockwood Lodge & Outfitters)
 
 
 
 

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