West End News Aug. 5

The Sawbill Lodge Dock in the 1950's
The Sawbill Lodge Dock in the 1950's

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Construction is nearly finished on the new, single-track mountain biking trail that begins at the Britton Peak parking lot, 2 miles north of Highway 61 on the Sawbill Trail. It’s 1.2 miles of narrow, twisting trail that is specifically designed to maximize fun for mountain bikers. This trail is designed for beginners. Another 1.7 miles of intermediate trail will be added by this fall or early next year. The project has been coordinated by the U. S. Forest Service Tofte Ranger District; the Minnesota Conservation Corps, which is a state program that provides summer jobs for Minnesota teenagers; the Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow; and the Superior Cycling Association, a local non-profit that promotes cycling in Cook County. This is an example of government at its best: cooperating with citizens to develop and maintain a facility that provides outstanding recreation, providing construction jobs while teaching skills to young people, improving the health of our population and giving our tourism industry another top quality amenity to offer our guests. I guess you could say it’s win, win, win, win, win.

The Minnesota Conservation Corps has also done some major work on the Superior Hiking Trail in the West End this summer. The stretch of trail between Temperance River State Park and the Sawbill Trail has been thoroughly reworked, with brushing, dirt work and new boardwalks in wet areas. This is a gorgeous part of the trail that includes a short spur to the top of Carlton Peak where one of the most scenic views in America is available.

The North Shore Stewardship Association at Sugarloaf Cove is offering a program titled; “What’s Up With Our North Shore Moose” this Saturday, Aug. 6 at the Sugarloaf Cove Interpretive Center, on the lake side of Highway 61 just west of Schroeder. DNR wildlife biologist Martha Minchak will talk about what the research is telling us about the recent decline in moose population in Cook County and what the future might hold for this iconic wild animal. The program is free and open to the public and you can call 218-663-7679 for more information.

While we’re on the subject of wildlife, a few weeks ago I mentioned a bear that was hanging out on the Sawbill Trail. As the weeks have gone by, it became clear that the bear was not well. He was blind in one eye, clearly emaciated and seemed slow and confused. He appeared to be eating mostly grass and flowers along the roadside. Our local conservation officer, Tom Wahlstrom, was monitoring the situation, but of course the C.O.s prefer to let nature take its course in most cases. In fact, the bear seems to have disappeared in the last four or five days, so nature may indeed have relieved the bear of its earthly burden. It is a reminder that life is hard for wildlife in the northern woods. Bear activity in BWCA Wilderness campsites and the local campgrounds continues to be very light. This week the first blueberries have started to ripen. Local pickers report that is looks like a good, but not great, year for berries. Hopefully, between the abundant hazelnut crop and decent blueberries, the bears will stay deep in the woods where they are most at home.

At Sawbill this week we had a visit from several members of the Towner family. They are the descendants of Art and Ruth Towner who used to spend every summer at Sawbill Lodge back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Art and Ruth were wonderful people and played a part in two pieces of Cook County history. They were the owners of what amounted to the first condominium in Cook County. They built a cabin at Sawbill Lodge and owned the cabin, but the lodge rented it out when the Towners weren’t around. The Towners also had full resort privileges in the dining room and at the boat dock. It was an arrangement that foreshadowed the later condominium and other shared ownership properties in the county.

Art also played a key role in the construction of the Cook County hospital. Art was a founder of company called American Hospital Supply, which was very successful in that era. He introduced many of his employees and professional associates to Sawbill Lodge and Cook County. When the Cook County Hospital was being planned back in the ‘50s, the owner of Sawbill Lodge, Jean Raiken, was the chair of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and was working hard to get a local hospital built. At one crucial point in the process, it looked like the hospital would never be built due to high cost. Jean mentioned the problem to Art, who immediately assembled a group of experts in hospital construction. They combed through plans with their experienced eyes and were able to find enough cost savings to enable the project to go forward. Fortunately, none of Art’s descendants who visited recently needed hospital services while they were here. But they do have the satisfaction of knowing that their grandfather and great grandfather played a key role in the medical history of Cook County.

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