West End News: June 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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