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North Shore News Hour

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News

The North Shore News Hour includes up-to-the minute weather, North Shore happenings in local news, sports and entertainment, as well as a variety of features from WTIP staff and volunteers. If you miss the North Shore News Hour at noon, tune in for a replay Monday through Thursday beginning at 5:00 p.m.


What's On:
Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove School: December 8

Daniel, Deja, and Sophia report the latest school news. For more school news, click here.

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 Onion River Road Ski Trail, now open for early season skiing

West End News: December 8

Congratulations to the Silver Bay Police Department on reaching the august old age of 60 years. Most institutions in Silver Bay are in or near their 60th year because the town was created out of whole cloth when Reserve Mining built the taconite plant and power plant there in the late 1950s.

The current police officers and staff held an open house last week where they recognized all the former officers and administrators who have served in the last six decades. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need police forces, but in the real world it is crucial that communities have a method of enforcing behaviors that are agreed upon by civil society. The Silver Bay Police Department has always had a good reputation - both for their police work and for their strong connection to the community. If you see Chief Doug Frericks, or any of the current officers, be sure to thank them for their service.

I'm glad to hear that the Cook County Economic Development Authority is moving ahead quickly to help solve the severe housing shortage in Cook County. It looks like projects on the front burner include new housing in Grand Marais, Lutsen and Tofte, targeted toward the working person market. Tofte is already a ways down the road on their housing, but it makes sense for them to throw in with the EDA to finish the project. The EDA has the staff, resources, connections and expertise to make all three projects a success.

Once the current efforts are done, it will be time to see if more housing needs to be developed in other parts of the county. The need is so critical that now is not the time for parochial jealousies. Obviously, the problem can't be solved all at once, so let's get the get the baby walking and then move on to getting it running.

Although it came close, Sawbill Lake did not thaw out last week, so the official ice-in date for 2016 is November 23. This is late by historical standards, but pretty normal in recent years. The older snow didn't completely melt at Sawbill either, so with the recent additions, it really looks like Christmas back up in the woods.

Word has it that the Onion River Road Ski Trail in Lutsen is open for business. This is always the first trail to open in the West End and the avid early season skiers have become quite expert in providing a quality skiing experience with the bare minimum of snow.

Lutsen Mountains is also expert at getting the downhill skiing going as early as possible in the season. Between the natural snow and the snow-making made possible by colder weather, they should have most runs ready for schussing soon.

Mrs. Claus, who was featured on the front page of last week's Cook County News Herald, is a former Tofte resident who has recently moved to Grand Marais. Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Claus is not actually married to Santa Claus, but is married to me. Seeing as how she has moved to Grand Marais, I decided to do it too, mainly so she will have someone to wash the windows and take out the recycling.

Obviously, it is difficult to be the author of the West End News when I no longer live in the West End. I have notified WTIP of my pending retirement from radio commentary - probably no later than Christmas time. Stay tuned for an announcement of a new commentator soon. Extra points if you can guess who it is. You have three guesses and the first two don't count.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: December 6

Patience and Graham report the latest School News.

Listen to more School News here.

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North Shore birch trees.jpg

North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 2

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the language of bark. This is part two of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature.

(Photo by  Jeffrey Bary, Flickr) 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 2

Well the weather outside’s been less than frightful, since our last meeting on the radio. Just when the north woods appeared to be into some serious ice making, the gods of meteorological happenings pulled up the reins.

Thanksgiving until the beginning of this scribing last Sunday evening, winter conditions have been on the brink of collapse in this neighborhood. A few more inches of snow was added to the pack early in the stanza, but settled invisibly into the previous storm totals nearly evaporating.  Add on four-tenths of an inch of rain by Monday morning and we’re in a sludgy mess around Wildersmith.

The thermometer has hung out at or near the freezing mark for days, not varying as much as a couple degrees from night time lows to day time highs. This in mind, our white blanket is soft and sticky making for slippery going on back country roads, driveways and walking surfaces. Thus a few unsuspecting urbanite visitors have found roadside ditches around the territory much to their disliking.

Speaking of slippery, such conditions have altered means of mobility at Wildersmith. Traversing down the driveway on foot is a slow, baby step adventure to avoid winding up on one’s posterior. Further, the idea of not being able to get my vehicle up the steep greasy grade has caused me to now park on top of the hill. For how long this will be needed is anyone’s guess. So getting to the vehicle has created double jeopardy. Caution is surely advised to all in this neck of the woods until a cool down makes for better traction on drier snow cover.
                            
Last weeks’ discussion of tracks in the snow has prompted intensified interest on wild beings’ extremity impressions. Just days ago footprints confirmed a visit from “brother wolf.” Although the critter was not observed, the near hand-sized paw prints found it meandering the yard in several different directions. The Canids’ presence is a bit unnerving, but then again, the adventure of knowing this iconic resident of the “untamed neighborhood” was close by energizes the primitive spirit of living in the wildlands. 
              
In the meantime, our next door neighbors recently met with what was perhaps another member of this upper Gunflint pack while traveling along the trail above Loon Lake. This meeting resulted in some great photo ops as the handsome animal tracked beside the byway. See a couple digital shots of their experience alongside my column on the web at WTIP.org. This lone wolf is a robust beauty.

In other snowy tracks activity, it’s evident a fox is making routine nocturnal visits to the yard. Then a couple days ago, the lush red hunter made a reality appearance, trotting by our deck. I do not purposely put food out, but I do catch an abundance of mice type rodents in my out- buildings. I toss them out into the snow and by next morning, all these dietary supplements are gone. It is my guess this might be an attraction for this foxy one.
          
With some assurance the bears have gone to napping, I’ve started putting provisions out on the deck side rail. To say our “wild ground and airborne friends” are busy keeping track of these handouts is an understatement. This in mind, another furry creature anecdote is worthy of mention
Within 24 hours of stocking the outdoor feed trough, those poultry poaching pine martens stopped in, making their first up close appearance since last spring. Lucky for them, the cupboard was not bare, and they’ve been regulars each day since.      
                                 
The world is now into week one of our next holiday season. Trail residents are reminded of the third annual Gunflint Trail Holiday Open House, Saturday, December 3rd. The event commences at 4 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall No. 1).  
                                                                                                                              
Once again sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS Crew, dinner and refreshments will be provided. All are welcome, and in the spirit of this giving season, please bring a donation for our local food shelf. 
                                                               
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great as we wait for the real “Jack Frost” to get with it for keeps!

(Photo By Margo Brownell)

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove Community School: December 2

Jack, Goshi, and Kalina report the latest school news.

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Sawbill Lake, on a windy day, looking deceptively like open water, but it is actually ice - flooded by rain.

West End News: December 1

Congratulations to Craig Horak who has stepped up to fill the Tofte Township Supervisor position recently vacated by Paul James. Craig is a natural for the job. He was born and raised in Tofte at his parents' resort, Cobblestone Cabins. Craig and his wife Ellen have chosen to make Tofte their home and plan to raise their daughter there.

I'm glad to see younger people taking leadership roles in the West End. A regular infusion of new thinking in the community, combined with the wisdom of the elders, is a healthy thing. Speaking of elders, Craig's father, Jan Horak, served as the Tofte Township Treasurer shortly after the township was formed, back in the old, old days, so township government seems to run in the family.

As I've said before, township government is sometimes fun - and sometimes not so fun - and almost always a bit tedious. It is, however, the level of government that most directly impacts our lives and is vitally important, so I applaud those who serve.

If you're looking for fun with very little tedium, mark your calendar for the annual meeting of the Superior Timberwolves Sportsman's Club on Tuesday, December 6. Although this is the annual business meeting for the West End snowmobile club, it is more importantly a social hour, starting at 5:00, followed by potluck dinner from 6 to 7:00. A short business meeting will follow, but it beats washing the dishes any day. It all happens at the Tofte Town Hall.

Tofte native, Danielle Hansen, will be singing in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival this year. You may think, "what's the big deal about someone singing in their college Christmas program?" Well, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is not your typical college musical event. It is truly a world class concert and you have to be a singer of the absolute highest quality to be allowed to participate. The training and rehearsal are a serious commitment and not easy. This is a very big deal for Danielle and for her parents, Paul Hansen and Diane Blanchette, who I'm sure are proud of their talented daughter. Danielle, it should be pointed out, is a 2015 graduate of Cook County High School.

The roads over the hill were virtually undriveable for a few days last week. I hasten to say that the bad roads were a victim of circumstances, not a lack of care by the county highway department. When the snow arrived last week the road surfaces were not yet frozen. This requires the plow drivers to keep their blades a few inches about the gravel to keep from plowing a thick layer of saturated gravel into the ditches. The ensuing rain turned the snow on the roads into dense slush - the kind that grabs control of the car from the driver and pulls it inexorably toward the ditch - even at slow speeds. Actually, normal speeds weren't even an option with the slush literally slowing even four wheel drive vehicles to a crawl. Now that is been driven on for a few days it is much better.

Many of the lakes in the back country were also weirdly affected by the rain. The lakes had already frozen over and received a few inches of snow. The rain melted the snow, but not the ice, leaving an inch or two of standing water on top of the ice from shore to shore. The ice is black, so it was an optical illusion with the lake looking like it would on a dead calm day even when the wind was blowing briskly. Overall, it was an eerie and unsettling effect. If only we would have received a quick cold snap at that moment - the ice skating would have been spectacular. Fingers crossed for some good skating eventually, but you never really know what mother nature has in store for us here in the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: November 28

Cy, Selena, and Neveah report the latest school news.

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North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 1

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the Language of Bark. This is part one of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature. 

(Photo by Evelyn Berg on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 25

The yearly spending madness in America is officially underway with the “black Friday” weekend. In the midst of this coming mayhem, I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday has been stuffed with a joyous time of family, friends and goodies from the bounty of all who made it possible. Further, if you were able to share our abundance with someone less fortunate, kudos for your decency and generosity, you can’t be thanked enough!

“There’s no business like snow business.” Finally, after much wringing of hands about when and if it would ever come to these parts, production and distribution got under way. Last weekend's snow and return to more normal temps has the landscape in dazzling white, with the forest flocked to the hilt.

We’re even into ice-making on some of the smaller lakes with the mercury hitting the nothing mark in places up at this end of the Trail (it was zero at Wildersmith and slightly below at Seagull Lake).

This neighborhood did not receive what prognosticators envisioned, but neither was it a bust. Our first measurable dose piled up at seven inches, and with the accompaniment of howling winds during the storm, it looked like much more in many locales. Guess some might consider ourselves lucky compared to the upwards of two feet that fell in several North Country counties to the west. However, for a few of us “zanies,” there can never be too much.

I find interesting the excitement created when forecasters begin to sensationalize the coming of a first winter storm. It would seem everyone’s trigger is tripped, whether” the coming” is with scorn or elation. Beginning with the first reveal of a cold season storm advisory, suspense begins to build. Questions, of when will the furies of such arrive; how much will it pile up; and how bad will it get, resound throughout the kingdom.

Evolvement of the situation intensifies if the “watch” turns into a “warning.” Folks edge up on their seats and ears perk to the media, many in disgust, with others in hope of a doozy. The storm is getting close, it seems to be real; will I be able to get home, or get out; is my vehicle ready; do I have enough food; will the power and communications be interrupted; will the snow blower start; where’s my shovel; will school be dismissed early or called off? Oh so many concerns echo through our minds.

Arrival is confirmed as trifle flurries at first, energy then escalates to a full blown visit from the “Polar Express.” Curiosity whets our senses, noses to the glass watching a calm vertical descent of the heavenly flakes, while ears detect howling air suggesting a horizontal delivery. Whatever the means of conveyance, the magical sensation of snow whitening the world around us is capturing.

Seldom lasting for more than a few hours or a day or two, the work of “old man winter” idles down to an end. The body of this “old guy's” toiling lies in varying states of crystal serenity. With our mini-universe blanketed in white, the results, are sometimes not as bad as predicted and others far worse than anticipated. Regardless of one’s opinion on the end product, it’s difficult to argue the peaceful splendor of new fallen snow.

In immediate days following the cold atmospheric drama, our wilderness territory comes alive with intriguing, mysterious signs of life we have not seen for months. Tracks of “wild kingdom” critters indent the bleached carpet in infinite shapes, sizes and directions. For yours truly and other outdoors people, the wonder and curiosity associated with critters leaving a trace is beyond the ordinary “what,” “why” and “when” of human understanding. Tracks, tracks everywhere make living in the wilderness setting a deeply profound encounter into the “wild”unknown.

Oddly enough, enthusiasm for the first winter season happening does not wane. For many folks, it seems subsequent wintry episodes conjure up the same anticipatory energies as the initial act. So for us winter enthusiasts, bring it on, the joy of the times are at hand. Happy snow activities to all!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and having them with snow cover is even more delightful!

(Photo by Tony Hisgett on Flickr)

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