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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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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Black Bear

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 30

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Mother Nature turned the lights out on Old Man Winter over the long Memorial Day weekend. Apparently with no regrets, the gal in charge of all things natural advanced the mercury so much as to make us north woods folks forget about spring while we bid farewell to a seemingly short May.
Suddenly we have moved right into summer with some 80-degree readings. The sticky circumstance surely must be silencing the whiners about our long cold season. For yours truly and probably the moose, about two or three days of this nasty heat is enough. Too much more of this heat and my ungulate friends and I will be calling for falling leaves.
Strange as that might seem, the area is barely into leaf out time. There are bulging buds and green tips enough to give the hillside horizons an emerald tinge, but it looks as though we’ll be a good ways into June before the “chlorophylling” process is complete.
Meanwhile, the upper Trail territory has dried out once more with no rain since the dousing of over a week ago. In spite of the snow which had us buried for months, and now is all but departed, the ground cover is bone dry. No, melted snow does not denote the area is safely damp. All we have to show for the meltdown is muck under foot.
The long weekend found the Gunflint a-buzz with pre-summer visitors. Vehicles galore were humming in both directions, most either toting or pulling some type of watercraft. Road traffic eventually terminated at some special water location where both canoeists and fisher people were romancing our crystal lakes.
I must say that it’s been quite a contrast from 10 days ago when we were listening to the crunching of ice shards to hearing the sloshing of foamy rollers against our granite shores. In either case, the scores were and are unmatched rustic orchestrations!
Another beautiful unlikeness was observed by yours truly an evening before our Gunflint Lake ice out. As old Sol was setting over the patchwork of open water and floating ice bergs, a unique mosaic of peach, orange, pink, crimson and purple reflections were cast off the irregular surface, in an awe-inspiring experience.
In comparison, my first observation on the newly opened liquid found Mr. Sunset casting an infrared light bar from horizon to my eye which was superimposed over a rippling royal purple overlay. Talk about natural beauty; the mystique of a border country lake at days’ end doesn’t get any better, regardless of the time of year.
The charm of our wild critters at this time of year is borne out in the new faces of the neighborhood. Such is the case with a momma bear that’s been observed in a number of Gunflint/Loon Lake locations. The big Momma is being accompanied by three wonderful little Teddies. I’m told the family is quite a sight. My suggestion is she and the hungry cubs not be tempted by human carelessness, as she’ll no doubt be very protective.
On another note from the wild, there’s been an invasion of north woods terrorists. First ones I’m noting are ticks. Guess they came through the bitterest winter in years with flying colors. Everyone had hoped there’d be a good freeze out of the creepy monsters, but apparently such is not the case, ick!
Then, along with our first real warmth, the mosquito reconnaissance squadron has invaded. These big guys are not real biters, but just “ GPSing” those of us with blood in our veins for the big onslaught from their hungry cousins.
And, if that isn’t enough, a short Memorial Day stroll along the Mile O Pine found a gang of those black flies lying in the weeds just waiting for this unsuspecting soul. So ‘tis the season, sweat and nets!
One has to wonder what the creator had in mind when these nasty critters were added to the universal listing of all things. I realize that each of these disgusting varmints must play some sort of role in the ecological plan, and skeeters and black flies are nutrition to something up the line. But come on, what being with any sense would eat a tick?
It looks to me that outside of the flies pollinating blueberries and bats eating mosquitos, there is little favorable that can be said for any of our wilderness pests.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a summer song!

(Photo by beingmyself on Flickr)

Oriole in Flight (Geoffrey Gilmour-Taylor / Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 23

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The month of the racing steeds is heading into the home stretch. And yep, here we are  in May’s home stretch with the Memorial Day weekend. And yep, we still have splotches of snow and ice hanging on.
Our upper Trail weather is on the upswing in spite of a couple mornings where we made ice and also had a day of flurries. The good news is our days are actually getting warmer regard- less of the above glitches, maybe not normal but better than last week.
 There’s even better news too, as the area had been void of any moisture for a number of the recent diurnal segments, but an overnight dropping last Monday night into Tuesday morning quenched the bone-dry ground cover and forest brush. Wildersmith received just shy of an inch.
 Many of us residents had been nervous as to the growing wildfire potential. One would think there ought to be an annual automatic burning ban invoked this time of year. Thinking back as a reminder, if such a ban had been in effect in 2007, when it was dry as it has been of late, the 75,000 acre Ham Lake tragedy would likely not have changed lives and scarred the forest for generations to come. The dousing has at least tempered our nervousness for the time being.
            As I began keying this week’s commentary (May 18), many lakes had shed the winter cover. However, the views across Gunflint, Loon and several other area bodies remained clogged with ice.
            Then in the blink of an overnight’s time, the Gunflint decided enough was enough and Loon was close to the same. By daybreak Monday (May 19) only a couple mini Gunflint icebergs were left, slowly advancing toward the east end sandy beach. And by mid-afternoon even they had been swallowed up by the lapping waters.
Needless to say, yours truly is thankful my lake water line didn’t catch one of the big cakes for an unwanted trip as it did last year. As I monitored the long ice dispersal happening and its relationship with my vulnerable water supply, I was nevertheless charmed by the beauty of this ice ending break-up.
Unless one is present in the land of sky blue waters at the right time, you can’t fathom the remarkable shapes and sparkling clarity of these crystal chards. There’s a dab of magic in knowing they started as serene wrinkles on a quiet surface last Dec. 8 and have evolved into monster masses capable of moving huge boulders and crunching anything in their path. No pun intended, but this coming and going of the congealing process is really cool!
            Fishing activity is growing with the opening of more area bodies. Of the big three or four out this way, Seagull Lake has opened first and is seeing several anglers and canoeists. The folks at Tuscarora Lodge share that early season back country enthusiasts are eagerly skimming out over the freshly opened water.
            There are birds, birds everywhere. Some have just returned home (first hummingbirds have been spotted) while others continue passing through. Also have a report of a Baltimore Oriole sighting over on Loon Lake.
            The Smiths had an uncommon visit from a pair of male rose-breasted grosbeaks last weekend. The twosome spent the better part of two days hanging out around here. They were interesting in the fact each found our windows inviting, and did not slam into them as do the local blue jays. Each flew up to the sill, hovered and then perched within an inch of the glass for minutes at a time.
             I’ve got to think they were infatuated with seeing themselves up close. Their heads turned and twisted in all possible directions, examining every angle. Reminded me of the female gender getting dolled up in front of a mirror for a night out on the town!
            With the Memorial Day Holiday at hand, I remind readers and listeners that the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is opening for year five this weekend. Daily hours are from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through mid-October.
            I got a recent sneak preview of the 2014 visiting exhibit. This year’s exhibit subject is about some beautiful, but maybe over looked, winged critters from our natural neighborhood. It features a stunning display of butterflies, skippers and moths found in Gunflint territory.
            If you can’t make it this weekend, you still won’t want to miss this onetime featured exhibit along with many other activities and ever-growing history of the Gunflint Trail. Make plans to visit sometime during the summer season ahead.
            Another rite of our north woods Memorial Day weekend celebration is noted over on West Bearskin Lake at YMCA Camp Menogyn. The staff is once again serving up their pancake and sausage breakfast fund raiser. Serving runs from 9 a.m. until noon on Sunday morning.
            Organizers are keeping fingers crossed that the West Bearskin ice will be out by Sunday morning. Plan to meet at the camp dock for a great pontoon ride to breakfast while renewing many Gunflint acquaintances.
            Keep on hangin’ on and savor the Gunflint’s time of rebirth!

Snowshoe Hare (DSikes/flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 16

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            With one exception the Gunflint territory has made significant strides in the march into spring over the past seven days. Warmer daytime temps and some timely rain showers have things advancing nicely.
            The one exception I reference is lake ice. Although many shallower bodies of water and a few bays on the larger lakes have turned liquid, the big lakes in the county remain locked up in winter persona.
            This being the case, opening day fishing activity in this part of the state was non-existent to marginal at best. So the upper Gunflint area, as a fishing destination, has marked a second consecutive year where Old Man Winter has ruled.
 Fishing on opening day up here in border country has always had anglers on edge so this happening was not too unexpected. Plus the cold water this time of year is not the most conducive to good luck, but just wait a couple more weeks. There were a few brave souls, however, who put in where possible, and at least one I know of came home with a nice lake trout.
            Speaking of brave souls that do challenge the icy conditions, I’m reminded of a story from yesteryear. It seems the lake ice back then might have been similar to 2014. The subject of this saga decided ice on opening day was not going to deter him.
Donning waders and winter wear, he loaded gear (including an ice auger) into his canoe and cautiously pushed out onto the frozen surface. Testing things, step by step, he advanced until he found a favorable spot, then drilled a hole in the crystal and dropped in his jigging equipment. Sitting back in the canoe, in time he had a strike, and eventually pulled a nice trout up through the icy orifice.
With a fresh laker in his watercraft, equipment was reloaded and step by step, the canoe was ushered back to shore. And then it was supper, fresh from a truly icy lake, in “the land of sky blue waters.” How’s that for a fish story? And what determination!
Shifting gears back to spring, a few snow bird neighbors are beginning to wander back to the northland. And the real snow birds of Minnesota have been circling the skies looking over former nesting quarters for the past week.
I’m talking about common Loons.  A number have been reported searching for their old retreats only to be delayed in some areas by minimal open water. Apparently their internal clocks were not in sync with our lengthy Gunflint winter.
 I was privileged to watch last Saturday as the nesting platform in North Bay (which is now ice free) at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center was towed into place. It was both interesting and a bit comical to watch the loon pair of that neighborhood.
They seemed as excited as kids in a candy store, skirting the potential nesting retreat as it was launched and then following while it was pulled into position to be anchored off. Within seconds after the towing folks cut loose, the pair was making a “wings-on” inspection of the re-located digs. I assume they found it to their liking.
Spring apparel is being noted on any number of beings from the wild neighborhood. Recently the Smiths spotted a yearling moose that was partway through taking off its now-shabby winter coat.
Then farther down the Trail, we encountered a few snowshoe hares that are in transition to warm weather gear, being almost out of and not quite into their seasonal camouflage. Apparently their feet are the last body parts to make the change, as all were still hopping in white socks.
And last but not least, the red squirrels frequenting our deck are in various stages of un-dress, having partially molted into cooler fur coats.
On another topic for this week, I can’t help climbing onto the old soap box for my annual declaration of disgust with my fellow man. Now that the snow banks are retreating back from the traveled parts of our byways, we observe once more that a certain sector of our society has not grown one iota in respect for our treasured Gunflint Trail view scape.
Unsightly littering of packaging and a sundry of other trash stands out obnoxiously in our barren ditches. I for one say this behavior is totally unacceptable both here and anywhere for that matter. Couple these messes by uncaring masses with the often natural forest mishaps and we find this time of year looking like an ugly duckling following the winter shroud’s exodus.
We humans seriously need to control what we can in regard to the trails we leave and partner with Mother Nature’s green-up to lessen the impact of those not-so-lovely natural accidents.  Then all will be good in this heaven on earth!
In spite of my “soap box” rhetoric, there’s a rebirth of beauty taking hold in them thar  Gunflint hills. The frozen juices of our coniferous forest are flowing freely once again. Evergreens are overcoming their drab winter look with a refreshing twinkle of warm-season greenhood. And in a few weeks, their budding deciduous cousins will “spring” forth with their virescent contribution too. Folks out this way can hardly wait!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the green!

young rhubarb (Miika Silfverberg/Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 9

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            After one week of month five, the Gunflint Trail territory is slowly growing in spring character. Winter remnants remain in many shaded places, but the majority of our border country landscape is revealing barren brown earth.
            In spite of our improving conditions, the Wildersmith neighborhood received what must have been a final swipe of winter last Saturday evening and then again on Monday morning. Each repetition was short lived, but was enough to whiten the ground as if to remind us that it could likely be a farewell encore!
            Meanwhile lake ice is gradually showing signs of deterioration. The surface in several instances is weeping with melt water on top of ice which may still be more than 2 feet thick. In some places on the Gunflint Gal, the white cover is sporting spots of gray, indicating a start to the rotting process.
            Streams that feed some 1,500 lakes in the county are surging through the watersheds. Those rushing waters will soon be swelling lake levels to the highest point in a number of years. Needless to say, it is uncertain as to whether there will be much open water for the North Country (Minnesota Lakes) opening of walleye season tomorrow (Saturday).  It’s anybody’s guess as to when the big ice cubes will be in liquid form.
            Back country roads, including the Mile O Pine, are deliberately progressing toward improved passage. In the case of our pathway through the woods, drying has taken place where snowbanks have receded back into the roadside ditches. However, we still have several dicey places where ice dams command careful vehicle maneuvering.
Around the Wildersmith yard, some brave rhubarb and a few unidentified green shoots have peeked through the cool soil during the past few days. And a friend from over on Loon Lake tells of scooping away an icy bank near her house to discover daffodils and tulips standing up in the snow.
In the animal world, just as I predicted a couple weeks ago, the bears have come out of winter slumber. Although the folks reporting such have not actually seen any inky brunos, several sources confirm evidence of the usual bear calling cards.
            Many of us year-round residents are already into spring cleanup. It is unbelievable how much comes down out of the forest canopy during the winter. The Smiths have already started two piles of brush for our next winter burning piles. So readers and listeners who are unfamiliar with our three-season year, can see that while we are deep in the middle of mud season, we’re already lapping over into the next northern segment, which is “getting ready for winter.”
            Speaking of other clean-up efforts…with leadership from the folks at Gunflint Lodge, two volunteer crews and a few U.S. Forest Service folks, the seventh annual Gunflint Green-up continued this last weekend. Work was conducted up near the end of the Trail at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Sprucing up was done to clear hiking trails along with planting of more coniferous seedlings.
            I’m told there is more cleanup to be done on trails around the museum site, especially up on the Blueberry Hill pathway. Any area resident who would be interested in volunteering help with this process should give Kathy Lande a call at 388-2261. Both Kathy and the Gunflint Trail Historical Society would surely appreciate your assistance.
            It was a cool day in more ways than one last Saturday. Not only was the atmosphere cool, but the coolest were nearly 100 runners who took to the 5K and half-marathon course in the Ham Run.
            The day was great for distance runners! And spirits were not dampened by the misty cold elements. Roadside snowbanks lined the Trail in several places and racers were serenaded by babbling waters where creek coordinates encountered the course.
            Another element of coolness was the absence of bugs to terrorize runners, spectators and officials, as has been the case in some years. Guess we can thank Old Man Winter for hanging around in support of all who took part in this wilderness trek. Thanks also go to all the organizing volunteers for making this an awesome event.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of our full “budding flower” moon, a sure sign for all things that grow!

Pussy Willow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 2

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The Smiths are back on the Mile O Pine after a trek south where we visited kids, grandkids and reconnected with many friends.  I was also a member of the great officiating crew for the 105th annual Drake relays in Des Moines on the last weekend of April.

The Drake event was held under spectacular weather conditions with sun and temps in the mid-70s. I therefore came home with a sunburned face and ears. It was another world from what I left and subsequently returned to. Nevertheless it’s great to be back home in the peace and quiet of our special place on the northern Riviera.
It seemed that Old Man Winter must have been scribing his final lines last week (April 24 and 25) when border country got another dose of snow. Reports I get are that anywhere from 4 to 12 inches blanketed the Trail depending upon one’s locale.

This just has to be the winter guy’s closing stanza. That being said, our total at Wildersmith stands at close to 120 inches for the season. Not bad, huh?

The ice on Gunflint Lake remains firmly in place at this writing and is probably about the same on all other big bodies of water out this way. I do see hope along the Trail, as liquid is standing on most swamps and small ponds that line the corridor byway. While places of open water can be observed flowing under both Brule River bridges down at the trail’s lower end, and the Cross River is roaring in the upper reaches.

At long last pussy willow buds have escaped their winter husks, but May flowers remain buried in snow, quietly awaiting their time in the sun. The hard winter has taken its toll on a great number of coniferous forest members. Our bitter cold months left millions of branches with brown needles. Most will recover when buds send out the next generation shoots but in the meantime the evergreens look like death warmed over.

Thinking mud season would improve as I departed for Iowa on April 16, the return finds our road conditions along the Mile O Pine barely changed. In fact they are worse in a couple locales as the demise of roadside ice dams continues to disperse what appears to be an un-ending ooze of water. I’m guessing I can’t take off my winter wheels just yet. Maybe we’ll be dry in those places by July!

Although winter has not totally relinquished its grip, people out this way are kicking spring off anyway. The first big Trail happening is being held Saturday. The seventh annual Ham Lake Run highlights the beginning of a new season. The 5K and half-marathon events commence at 10 a.m. Saturday from the Seagull Fishing Camp and Gunflint Pines Resort respectively, running on the roadway, finishing at the Seagull Lake parking facility near Trail’s end.

This is a fun event commemorating the tragic Ham Lake Fire of 2007 while celebrating the energy of rebirth in the scarred forest. In the past years, fund raising proceeds have gone to various nonprofit organizations. This year’s returns will go to the Cook County YMCA.
Late registrations can be completed by visiting or call 218-387-3386. If you’re in the area, come on out and give these hardy runners a cheer!

Since it’s now May, plans are well under way for the fifth seasonal opening of the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Opening day will be Saturday, May 24 (Memorial Day weekend). Hours of daily operation remain from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Staff and museum volunteers are busy getting ready. A new temporary exhibit for 2014 will feature our natural world with a wonderful display of area butterflies, skippers and moths. A new and improved sound system has been installed in the little theater which should enhance a quieter visitor experience. In addition, many new items will be featured in the gift shop.

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society invites you to once again make plans for a visit to this magical place at Trail’s end during the coming season. Make a day of it with a museum tour, a hike on the trails system and maybe a picnic around the bay.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our trickling streams and the reappearance of brown earth.

(Photo by Marilylle Soveran on Flickr)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 18

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Atmospheric conditions in the upper Gunflint have been tranquil with hints of “old man winter” ceding his hold on us in favor of the “gods of re-birth.

 A couple brief snow showers along the Mile O Pine last weekend and then another zero morning on Monday displayed perhaps the last few frosty gasps for our “man of the north.” However, we should remember, a year ago tomorrow (April 19, 2013), the area received up to a two foot dose of his concluding dying snorts, so we can’t sell him short.

Since our last meeting on the radio, our dwindling snow pack has really taken on that dirty gray metropolitan look.  With temps gradually easing up, the piles of winter accumulation are slinking down. The sound of dripping liquid can be heard at almost every turn, and in some cases it’s more like running water. We’ve got water, water everywhere!

In spite of the shrinking snow banks, there’s still plenty of snow to be melted; ice dams to be thawed; water to gush its way into rivers and lakes; and mud to dry. And, speaking of mud, I wouldn’t be surprised if our season of “muck” extends well into the next north woods segment, “getting ready for winter.”
Meanwhile those of us in year around residency are taking things in stride by navigating icy, rutted roads with our vehicles and digging ditches to divert the wild run-off in more acceptable directions. I’ve even heard of a couple who are not venturing to far from the back door until there is firmer ground.

The Mile O Pine has been a quagmire, but is grudgingly drying where the powerful sun is able to peek through the pines. At Wildersmith, we are not quite an island, surrounded by this muddy moat, but close. Four wheeled drive still gets us out with a little slip sliding around at times.

It seems uncertain as to when ice will make its departure from border country lakes. The splendid sunshine of several days last week found snow softening into to small ponds on top of the icy depths, but then re-freezing overnight.

How much affect standing water actually contributes to helping the decay is unknown, but it must be of some consequence. Regardless, this gradual day time thawing, followed by night time re-freezing is good, slowing things, so months of winter build –up doesn’t wash us away.

Whatever the ice exit scenario, everyone would hope the winds will be favorable when the big cakes begin to move about so shoreline damage is minimal. In 2013, yours truly was within minutes of seeing my lake water system succumb to a huge icy flow. Only my heroic action with a pry bar, while balancing on the frozen mass, saved the day! Whatta “Superman,” huh?

Now that winners of pools for March Madness have been decided, folks in these parts are picking date predictions of ice out on their favorite area lake. Yours truly is not revealing my pick at this time. It’s a good bet though our opening day of the Walleye season might find an ice auger being the first implement of choice being dropped into area waters. Last years’ ice out on the Gunflint Lake Gal was May 17th, a few days past the angling opener.

Thoughts come to mind that traversing ice at this time of year merits caution. Let’s not tempt fate!  I heard that one of our game wardens went through the ice on Saganaga recently. Fortunately he was able to save himself with his safety picks, lucky guy!

Just a little reminder to property owners in residence now, we need to be getting those wildfire sprinkler system lines out into the lake ASAP once your ice departs. It would also be well to fire up the pump system as a dry run test at the same time.

Remember 2007, ice was out only a very few days, in many lakes, before the Ham Lake Fire ignited and took off. Ravaged were some seventy-five thousand acres with over one hundred forty upper Gunflint Trail structures destroyed, all of which were not in emergency preparedness. Every structure with a functioning WFSS was saved! Please be ready!

News of new babies will be soon wafting through the forest. Wolf pups and fox kits are within days to a couple weeks of being born, and not far onto May the first “bambi’s  and moose calves will be delivered.
In the meantime, black bears are soon to be awaking, if not already. Cubs born in late January and February will be making their first appearance outside the birthing quarters.

We should keep in mind that bears are famished as they emerge hibernation. So beware of the marauding bruno families and take care to avoid tempting them with winter feeders and un-protected garbage receptacles.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the evolving times of change along the Gunflint!

{photo by David Hulme via Flikr}

Gunflint Green-Up

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 11

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A third of the way into month four and “old man winter” is still tinkering around with his seasonal elements up this way. Although he is still holding spring at bay on some days, one can get the feel that he has slipped a bit in the past seven days.

Regardless of the current up and down weather happenings, the past several months have been an awesome display of what winter is supposed to be in Gunflint country.

We’ve surely had enough snow to satisfy about everyone’s need in terms of recreational opportunities, while those that need the fluffy white stuff to make their business ventures an economic success must be smiling ear to ear.

Another thought on the winter, and perhaps the most important of all, is the natural aspect for the entire territory. Whereas we’ve experienced some drastically dry times over the past few years, this fall saw the earth reasonably saturated at the end of growing season.  Add on an enormous amount of snow, and there should be adequate soil moisture to sustain a wet growing medium to kick-start the green-up, and watershed run-off, to replenish county lakes for a good number of weeks into the summer. Of course, we’ll always need more.

Probably the number one reason many folks choose to live in this region either seasonally or year around, in addition to thousands who visit the Gunflint year after year, is the magic of our natural wilderness. Taking this a step farther, we celebrate backwoods adventure opportunities which have been sustained, for the most part, from the beginning of recorded history.

Sustaining this pristine part of the universe does not come easy. Mother Nature has her hands full preserving this time-honored primeval forest.

The state of our backcountry as it was even as late as a century ago continues to erode away. A burgeoning population seems to have an insatiable appetite for our wilderness experience. This is not necessarily bad, but the result of such often taxes this treasured landscape far beyond its capabilities. .

During April, and on through the summer, WTIP is taking the lead to renew thought, conversation and hopefully more action about sustainability of this great piece of “mother earth.” 

I’d like to reflect on a few activities both past and present throughout the Gunflint in regard to our community efforts at sustaining what we all cherish. The sweat equity of most all who reside in the Gunflint Corridor reflects an energetic desire to see that what the “Creator” has provided, and “Mother Nature” maintains, is sustained into perpetuity.
Past struggles have not come easy and future endeavors to ensure sustainability will require concerted leadership and elbow grease. The natural quality of this border land as well as that of the entire planet hangs in the balance of on-going integrated environmental, economic and social considerations. All will be the key as we evolve into the decades ahead and far beyond.
Gunflint Trail residents, along with throngs of seasonal visitors, take unending pride in pristine lakes and a healthy forest. In my short time of living in the woods, I have observed enduring dedication on the part of Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations (CCCOLA) to educate our community about water use and quality preservation.
In that regard, due to CCCOLA’s toiling, we are seeing more and more lake property owners taking interest in and adopting lake management plans.  These are action guidelines that involve scientific water testing and lend assistance to shoreline residents concerning proper land/water use recommendations.

Since the gigantic blow-down in 1999, and subsequent wildfires in 2005, 2006 and 2007, community efforts, in partnership with the USFS and DNR, to assist nature in regeneration of many devastated forest tracts have been extraordinary. Each of those disasters has prompted organized “firewise” clean-up and the planting of hundreds of thousands of baby trees. The signature event has been and continues to be known as “The Gunflint Green-up.”

Further, since the mid-1990’s, leadership of the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee has been at the forefront of looking after a sundry of activities.  Their mission is working to guide Gunflint Trail residents, businesses, and managing agencies in sustaining, enhancing and preserving the byway territory as a valuable historic and natural resource.  This effort is guided through a Gunflint Corridor Management Plan. The document works to offer leadership in ensuring all parties playing a role in life along the Trail have sustainability of our inherent natural riches as their top priority.

These are a sampling of activities employed by the community as a whole. Meanwhile many individual property stakeholders have sustaining plans of their own; from private land reforestation, to planting area-tolerant foliage, to control of invasive species, to water run-off control and on and on.

But our work is still not done. If we users of the Gunflint byway and its surrounding landscape are to honor the creation of this marvelous place, we have to partner with every neighbor and entity to ensure this northern “paradise found” does not become “paradise lost.” 

Keep on hangin’ on, and join the journey toward sustainability.

(Photo courtesy of VisitCookCounty)


River Otter

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 4

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No foolin’, it’s April!  As the keying of this week's scoop began filling the monitor screen, the weather guessers were predicting another swipe from “old man winter.” Will March depart and April arrive, one in the same, like a lion? By the time this scribing reaches readers and listeners, we’ll know if the projected winter-storm warning panned out, or whether it was just another “wolf cry.”
Since we last met on WTIP, the Wildersmith neighborhood picked up another four inches of snow and a couple more mornings of below zero. Thus we’ve extended our daily sub-zero awakenings to 92 for the season, and our snow tally has risen to 105.5 inches.

However, we were teased last Sunday with a magnificent day. Our snow pack shrunk a little and roof tops actually turned solids into liquids as the powerful sun warmed some parts of the Gunflint territory to 40 degrees.

Bare places have appeared on my driveway, something not seen since before Thanksgiving. While down along the Mile O Pine, our mini glaciers oozed more liquid than usual under the blazing “Sol,” soaking the packed snow into slush. This meltdown action kicked off the first of our soon to be run-off trickles which will eventually become wash-out gullies.  It may be spring, but up here we call it the coming of “mud season.” 
Our day was so nice that all little critters coming in for feeding seemed to be in a cheerful mood. The regular chickadees and nuthatches were flitting and chirping like I haven’t seen in a while. And, those pesky squirrels soaked up sunshine, munching on seeds with only an occasional pause to bully each other away from their position along the feed tray.
In the meantime, this vicinity has been taken over by a growing dark cloud. I’m speaking to a burgeoning siege of crows. Every day seems to accommodate a few more of the squawking jumbo avians. It’s quite an invasion of “The Birds,” along with their inharmonious conversation.
Life can be tough in the “wild neighborhood” regardless of the season. In addition to our on-going predator/prey theater, another instance of ferocity in the woods was noted right here on our deck recently. 

You may recall a while back I mentioned a pine marten came by with battle wounds on its shoulder. Another showed up not long ago with severe open wounds on its face. In this instance, the animal appeared to move about in good fashion but displayed some ugly loose torn flesh.

Seeing this, kind of made us observers wince at the pain it must have been enduring. It has me curious as to what this guy/gal encountered and what the adversary might have looked like following whatever the confrontation.

Was it a family feud or some other forest competitor? Guess I’ll never know, but I can conjure up all sorts of possibilities, maybe a fisher, a lynx, an owl or perhaps an eagle??

On a more jovial note, some friends over on Loon Lake tell of an amusing otter experience. The lady of the house skis seriously on trails her husband grooms daily. It seems an otter must have been watching this trail grooming process and developed a curiosity about a particular down-hill stretch.
Twice in the last week, the frolicking animal decided that this manicured incline would be a great sliding hill. During each of two next day tours of duty, the groomer found imprints where the fun-loving critter went belly down and careened the entire length of the slope. I’m betting this would have been a stitch to watch, and a good unscripted scene for “funniest home videos.” Obviously, this is a place where more than just we humans can have a fun time in the snow.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor our time of warming transition!

(Photo by ArcheiaMuriel on Flickr)

Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 28

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The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. It’s always a joy to return to this northern Riviera following one of our southern road trips.

Now that spring is official, it’s mostly quiet around border country with exception of the whispering pines and the roar of an occasional snowmobile.

For the second homeward trip in a row, we encountered a snowstorm. Driving conditions had us white knuckling it from just north of Forest Lake all the way to Grand Marais.

Kudos go to our Cook County snow removal guys that maintain the Gunflint Trail. It was in far better winter driving condition than I-35 or US 61 along the big lake, neither of which had been given much clearing attention as we plowed along.

While our trip to Iowa City encountered spring in the air, with bare ground and daffodils beginning to peek skyward, our return found conditions in this neck of the woods still in winter character.

In fact, the Old Man of the North reasserted himself this past weekend with a refresher on what we in this area are all about. After the 6 or so inches of new snow at Wildersmith, he then reminded us that sub-zero temperatures are still at his command and has since dished up a few more nights of teens below the nothing mark.

We are now at 89 days and stiill counting of below-zero mornings for the winter along the Mile O Pine. Then again, it’s still March, so why not?

Therefore residents of the upper Gunflint continue scooping, plowing, shivering and watching their woodpiles dwindle. We look forward to the days of sky blue water splashing against the granite shores.

Hope does spring eternal as sensed in the annual onslaught of seed and plant catalogs, all of which have long since been perused on frosty January evenings.  Winding down the first quarter of 2014, more signs are in the air and tree tops.

The crows have returned to our neighborhood. They must be wondering if their return might be a bit premature in these frosty conditions. A murder of them has been hanging out around here each morning. Perhaps the biting cold is what their raucous morning chatter has been all about.

Meanwhile the next generation of wild neighborhood babies is growing in tummies of wolves, fox, martens and sundry other woodsy characters. Ravens and Canadian jays are sitting on eggs, and cubs are probably getting itchy for momma bear to take them outside the birthing den.

A neighbor indicated that she spotted a chipmunk on one of those early, warmer March days. It would appear that others of the slumbering critter crowd will be awakening soon throughout the territory. Look out, the skunks will be next.

We need not fear that winter will never end. Spring will be here when the “mom in charge of things” decides it’s time, complete with a rebirth of buds, bugs and bites! In the meantime, we’ll just relax and enjoy the pristine white beauty of the marvelous season as it slowly retreats into history.

A report has just come to me that the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack was in concert along the shore in our neighborhood.  Do you suppose they were in practice for a spring chorale?   More likely, they were sharing a GPS on the latest fast food venue.

I’m told the family must have been split apart as they were in serious chit chat back and forth from what appeared to be two different locations. Guess it was a real howl!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor more of north woods outdoor adventures!

Pine Marten

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 14

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At the time this week's scoop commences, it appears that Old Man Winter might have slipped on the ice and lost his grip. Gunflint residents are smiling at the beaming sun and near to above freezing temps that graced the area last weekend.

However, it’s with tongue in cheek that we celebrate too much too soon. We are still but a week away from the vernal equinox and everyone can remember when late April 2013 brought the worst snow of the winter.  Some areas of the Gunflint territory got two feet or more.

Nevertheless, the relief from bitter cold is gratefully accepted as we honor the “crust on the snow moon” for March in a couple days.

The sudden warm-up couldn’t have come at a better time for the white tails in our neighborhood. They certainly must be under stress, and the few that come through our yard are taking on an emaciated look.

I have noticed that several of the more mature bucks are displaying swelling knots on their foreheads. Obviously, they are in the know as to spring character being on the way.

By the way, the deer have apparently missed the cue to turn their clocks ahead. It seems they are still on Central Standard Time as they are showing up around the yard an hour later than usual.  This is just one more example of humans screwing up another thing for some of the Wild Kingdom!

It’s been a tough winter for one pine marten, which came by our feed trough the other day. The beautiful fur coat had a ragged blemish where a large bite wound appeared on its right shoulder. Who knows how that might have happened? The big scar reminded me of many deer that come by with a bite out of their side or rump, or with chunks of an ear missing.

Speaking of pine martens, we had a first-time Wildersmith visit from a close cousin. A fisher, the larger version of the marten/weasel family, has made two nightly visits in the past week.

It looks to be a healthy critter although a bit scarier than its cuter relative. Due to its size and rather ferocious look, I wouldn’t want to meet up with a live one in a defensive circumstance.

I may have more to share if this guy/gal comes by scavenging again. I know one thing for sure, it makes a pretty good clunk when jumping down from feed tray rail to deck.

Another unusual animal sighting was reported to me just a few days ago. Two different residents observed a white wolf in the Gunflint/Loon Lake area.

Since white wolves are of the Arctic variety, this would seem unlikely, as we are a long ways from that territory.  However, these observers saw what they saw, but perhaps it was just one of our own gray wolf gang that was born with a silver/blond coat. A little research confirms that on occasion a gray wolf will turn up with a cream or even white coat.

The sighting looks to be a ghostly mystery. Hope this “white shadow” shows itself again for further confirmation.

Not only is the weather a tie that binds folks in these parts together, a sense of community is certainly another fusing element. I’m talking about volunteerism.

Two hugely successful endeavors were completed this past weekend. One was the eighth annual “Mush for a Cure.” This event benefitting National Breast Cancer Research once again was a splendid example of what a small village of people can do when they put their heads together.

Highly organized, the many planned activities went off without a hitch due to wonderful leadership and county-wide participation and cooperation. I’ve heard wonderful comments from both mushers and spectators.

Fund raising numbers are still being tallied at this writing, but it is estimated that somewhere in the neighborhood of $40, 000 will be contributed to this search for a cure. Thanks go to all who pitched in to make the happening a big success!

Special recognition is extended to all mushers and their handlers as well as the “bald, brave and beautiful” trio. You were all in the “Pink!”

The other event was our own community radio station’s spring membership drive. Talk about volunteers, how about the great WTIP staff, a fellowship of in-kind and in-house worker bees and our community of listeners, both local and nationwide. Many people stepped up to put this much needed funding process over the top once again.

We welcome 35 new pledging/contributing members to the WTIP family and salute our loyal renewing membership. Congratulations, and thanks to all for helping exceed the spring forward goal. Enjoy “THE” radio station of the north shore and north woods!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a bit of north woods heaven!

(Photo by SolidElectronics on Flickr)