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News & Information

News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!


What's On:

West End News Dec. 8

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 Mary Somnis sent me an email the other day, calling my attention to a local shopping initiative called “Made On The Range.” It is a website, – just like it sounds with no spaces or punctuation – that lists dozens of companies that offer holiday goods and services and are based in northeastern Minnesota. The website eloquently says: “The people living in northeastern Minnesota have a long history of resourcefulness and personal innovation culminating in the design and creation of quality and interesting goods and services. This web site is a convenient one-stop-shop for these goods and services and serves as a direct portal to these companies.”

Mary Somnis is in charge of the tourism initiative at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. The IRRRB is a state agency that receives a production tax from the iron mining industry that it uses to develop and support a stable economy in northeastern Minnesota. It operates in parts of six counties, including all of Lake County and Cook County. Mary got her start in tourism promotion right here in Cook County where she served as the Executive Director of the Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association. She started at the LTTA as a secretary, but through hard work and talent, rose quickly to the executive position. During her tenure, the Lutsen Tofte Schroeder area led the state in tourism growth. After a few years at the LTTA, Mary was recruited for her current job at the IRRRB, where she has continued her success. She kept a property here in Cook County, which she visits frequently, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her return permanently at some point.

Again, the local shopping website is madeontherange,com.

The snow cover, or lack there of, is becoming a common topic of conversation around the West End. Of course, most good West Enders are hoping for enough snow to enable their winter sport of choice – especially the snowmobilers and cross country skiers. The down hill skiers are lucky because the snowmaking at Lutsen Mountains Ski Area is well underway and downhill conditions are already excellent. At this writing there is a 12” to 24” base with six lifts operating. There are a number of improvements at the ski area this year, including a beginner’s terrain park on Ullr Mountain, a more advanced terrain park on Eagle Mountain and a boarder-cross course on Mystery Mountain where riders can race down the series of turns, jumps and drops. It’s great to have such a wonderful facility right here in the West End along with the extensive trail systems.

There are other concerns with the low or non-existent snow cover. In the past, when we’ve had little snow and cold temperatures, many people have had their septic systems freeze up. This is a particularly annoying phenomenon with ramifications that are better left unspoken. Local well driller, Bill McKeever, was quoted the other day saying that the wells he’s seeing are the lowest that he can remember. Another long-term worry is what the fire season will be like next year if we have a dry winter and/or spring. I remember reading somewhere that the total winter snowfall on the Superior National Forest in the winter of 1935/36 was 4 inches. 1936 was an epic year for forest fires. After the big Pagami Creek Fire this fall, we could do with a breather in 2012. But, we’re lucky enough to live in a big beautiful forest, so I guess we’ll have to learn to play with the cards that Mother Nature deals us.


Moments In Time: Military Contracts

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Rick Anderson grew up in Grand Marais. One day at little league practice, he and his teammates looked up overhead and saw what looked like a missile heading out toward the big lake. Check out Rick's story in this edition of Moments In Time.


West End News Dec. 1

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We’ve been enjoying a lot of good animal sightings on the back roads recently. On Thanksgiving Day, we were headed over the river and through the woods when I spotted a group of at least four animals on the road up ahead. I quickly called Cindy’s attention to what I thought was a pack of wolves. Most of the critters leapt over the snow bank when they saw us coming, but one stayed on the road. Based on the way they moved, both Cindy and I started to doubt that they were wolves. We were able to get pretty close the remaining animal and it turned out to be a lynx. We were astounded to realize that we had just seen a pack of lynx. One of the cats was clearly bigger than the others, so we’re guessing that it was a family group, but lynx researchers have found that lynx occasionally hunt and travel in small groups. I went almost 30 years without seeing a lynx or a bobcat, but in the last decade I’ve seen several every year. It is good to have the big cats back in the neighborhood.

We’ve also been seeing many other animals as well as enjoying the best grouse hunting that I’ve seen around here in the last 50 years. All of this makes me wonder if we aren’t seeing some wildlife displacement from the huge Pagami Creek Fire. The research on what happens with wildlife during and immediately after large forest fires isn’t very complete, but it does seem to indicate that more animals either escape or survive a fire than you might think. It makes sense from an evolutionary point of view that wildlife that live in a fire-based ecosystem would have developed strategies to survive fire. It also seems like common sense that there isn’t much food for wildlife within the fire boundaries for a while, so most animals and birds would shift to unburned areas until next spring. This has got to play havoc with animal territories, especially in the areas just outside the fire perimeter. On the other hand, I know that sometimes common sense will lead you astray when it comes to wildlife biology, so I’d love to see more research done in this area.

Trapping season is in full swing in Minnesota, and every road in the West End is currently blanketed with traps. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of traps lining every road and logging road in the area. I have no moral objection to trapping. In fact I have great respect for the people who hike or snowshoe their trap lines deep in the forest, reading the sign and matching wits with their prey. I have less respect for what most trapping is nowadays, which seems to be driving around in a pickup truck and setting up a line of traps along the road to catch whatever happens to cross. Even this sort of low-skill trapping wouldn’t bother me, except that I feel strongly that the animals are more valuable to the local economy if they are left alive than they are on a rich person’s back in some remote, foreign city. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a big part of what draws visitors to this area year-round. It also feels kind of intrusive to have people who don’t necessarily live in the West End suddenly blanketing our roads with smelly baits and traps that can be dangerous and even deadly to local pets. Many of us become attached to the animals we see regularly around our houses and it’s sad to see so many of them suddenly disappear at this time of year.

As with all natural resources, it’s important that we learn to accommodate each other and not intrude too heavily on other people’s chosen enjoyment of the resource.

Don’t forget about the Saturday, Dec. 3 open houses that are happening at every retailer in Tofte that is open at this time of year. They are, for the record, AmericInn Gift Shop, Birch Tree Gift Shop, Bluefin Gift Shop, Coho Café, Northshore Market, Tall Tale Yarn Shop, Tofte Holiday Station Store, Water’s Edge Trading and Waves of Superior Spa. In addition to some great local shopping, there will be treats, visits from Santa and roving carolers. M. J. Huggins is offering a free ornament making class at the yarn shop and Brian Olson is offering full service gas at Holiday. For those of you under the age of 40, full service gas means that someone will pump your gas for you and wash your windshield.

On Dec. 15, Water’s Edge Trading holds their annual men’s shopping night. It is designed for West End men to complete their holiday shopping in the least painful way possible. Beer and personal shopping advice are provided. It is by invitation, so call Water’s Edge if you’d like to participate. You can also call to provide hints to the man in your life, if you know he’s attending.

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


Moments in Time: North Shore commercial fisherman Walter Sve

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Walter Sve is a third generation North Shore commercial fisherman based near Two Harbors, MN.  In this edition of Moments in Time, Walter talks with Art Fenstad of the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte, during a "Remembering the Fishing Life" presentation at the museum.  Produced by Carah Thomas.

Joan and Bob Burrows clean herring roe at the Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais / photo by Barbara Jean Johnson

Behind The Work: Joan and Bob Burrows

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 Joan and Bob Burrows work at the Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais each fall during the herring roe harvest. They clean through roe 7 days a week during the peak of the season and although the work is smelly, they enjoy the job.

Ice on Sawbill Lake by Carl Hansen

West End News Nov. 17

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Last week, Sawbill Lake was almost frozen over. The official criterion for freeze-up is when the lake is more than 90% frozen. Sawbill got close to that, but then reopened over the weekend. Two young men appeared on Friday evening and proposed going out on a canoe trip. However, they accepted our strong recommendation to stay in the campground and take day trips into the wilderness, to avoid being frozen in. When they did venture out on Saturday and Sunday, they found most of the bays frozen and weren't able to paddle very far in any direction.

In the past, the lakes used to freeze pretty reliably right around the first of November. The first time we were able to paddle on Thanksgiving was in the late '80s. At that time, the old-timers around here said that they had never seen the lakes freeze that late. Since then, it has become a fairly routine phenomenon. In 1975 or '76, we actually had below zero temperatures in October and the ice on Sawbill was 6" thick on Oct. 26 when a van pulled up to the canoe landing with two canoes on top. We skated over to chat with the surprised canoeists. I remember the party leader protesting that the lakes were still open in Minneapolis.

Sometime in the '90s, we had a party get frozen in on Cherokee Lake. Cherokee was still open, but when they headed back toward Sawbill, they found Cherokee Creek too thick to paddle and too thin to walk. They returned to their campsite and waited for rescue. When they were a day overdue, we contacted the sheriff, who asked the Forest Service to send their Beaver float plane over to take a look. The campers efficiently signaled S-O-S to the plane, so the pilot landed and taxied to their campsite. He informed the group that the route to Brule Lake was open and if they paddled there, he would call Sawbill Outfitters to come pick them up. They refused that option in favor of being flown out immediately. The pilot said he would only fly them out if they agreed to pay for the flight and left ASAP without their canoes and camping equipment. For some reason, they chose this more expensive, inconvenient option.

Two months later, Steve Schug, from Schroeder, went in with the Forest Service dog team and retrieved the canoes and equipment. He was able to get everything in one trip by loading the gear in the plastic canoes and dragging them behind the dog sled, which worked surprisingly well. In the two months that the gear had been alone in the wilderness, it had been ravaged by rodents and pine martens. I called the party leader and we worked out a deal for me to bring the gear to his office during a routine trip down to the Twin Cities. His office turned out to be high in the IDS tower in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. When the elevator doors opened, I was greeted by an opulent reception room and a glamorous and decorous receptionist. She eyed my pile of stinky, semi-thawed camping gear with open disdain. As I explained my business with her boss, I mentioned that it was entirely possible that small rodents were hibernating within the gear and might wake up as they warmed. She told me firmly to put the gear in her boss' office and shut the door - tight. That's the last I ever heard of it, but it's entirely possible that distant descendants of Cherokee Lake mice are still living high in the IDS tower.

This is the time of year when we all pause to count our blessings and think about what we are thankful for. I am thankful for all the people who chose to support WTIP in the recent membership drive. I'm even more thankful for WTIP itself and the wonderful asset it has become for our community. In many ways, WTIP is representative of all that is good in our little corner of the world. There are literally too many good people, doing too many good things, to list in this limited time. Life is surely a balance of joy with sadness, but I am profoundly grateful to be part of a community where people live in dignified fellowship with each other and with nature.


DNR issues ski hill permit to draw water from slowing Poplar River

After a review of more than 600 comments from the public, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr issued a permit to Lutsen Mountains Ski Hill to take water from the Poplar River for snowmaking despite the stream’s low water level.

For many years the ski hill has been drawing more water than its permit allowed. In an effort to rectify the situation the state passed a new law raising the amount of water the company could draw from the river. However, that law also requires the ski hill to quit pumping when water levels fall below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five straight days. But a separate law cited by the DNR allows for exceptions with just cause. In this case the DNR says the potential economic impacts to the region are significant enough to merit an exception.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr says a long-term solution needs to be found and that relying on the Poplar River for snowmaking is not a sustainable source for the ski area. He says Lutsen and legislators need to commit themselves to finding an alternative, probably Lake Superior.

In a statement thanking the DNR on behalf of Lutsen Mountain Corp. company executive Charles Skinner said the company is currently working aggressively on a financing plan including public and private funding for a pipeline from Lake Superior as its primary snowmaking source.

Lutsen estimates it would cost more than $3 million to install a pipeline to Lake Superior that would meet its needs.



West End News Nov. 10

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As of Wednesday, Nov. 9, Sawbill Lake is about 75% frozen over. The shallow bays froze the day before and stayed frozen in spite of a sunny, calm day. At sunset that night, the red sky was reflected off the skim ice and as the temperature dropped we could watch the ice form minute to minute. A nearly full moon allowed Tofte's own filmmaker, Carl Hansen, to film a time-lapse sequence of the lake freezing by moonlight. The next morning, I walked down to the lake early to check on the ice progress and was rewarded by a pack of wolves howling in the wilderness between Sawbill and Alton lakes. Their howling was different than the long howls that we usually hear. It was more like moaning mixed with yipping and barking. Our little terrier mutt, Roy, who normally barks at everything, was stopped in his tracks by the sound. He stood stock-still and stared in the wolves' direction, but he kept his mouth firmly shut. Maybe he's smarter than we think he is.

Wednesday, Nov. 16 is "Minnesota Give to the Max" day. This innovative and successful program is an initiative of the Minnesota Community Foundation. It is designed to bring Minnesotans together to raise as much money for non-profits as possible in 24 hours, starting at midnight Nov. 16 and ending at midnight Nov. 17. This creative one-day event showcases the incredible generosity of Minnesotans. It also highlights the power of raising money for good causes by harnessing the convenience of the Internet. All you have to do is visit the clear and simple website at and you can quickly find information about the non-profits in your community and make a donation by credit card with a few clicks. In this era of declining government budgets, many vital community services are being delivered by non-profits. Quite a few of the non-profits here in Cook County and on the West End are participating. Even a small donation can make a huge difference if we all pitch in. Once again, the website is and the date is Wednesday, Nov. 16.

I am sad to report that Sawbill's beloved golden retriever, Homer, passed away this week. Homer was part of a popular litter that was born at Clearview Store in Lutsen back in 2000. The puppy pen was right next to the store and the puppies got more than their fair share of attention right from the start. In those days, Clearview was the transfer spot for the school buses between Grand Marais and the West End. Every school day when the buses pulled in, all the kids would pile out to visit the puppies. Rules had to be established so the poor puppies wouldn't be literally loved to death. Most of the pups ended up in local homes and a few became resort dogs like Homer.

Resort dogs are a special kind of dog. They receive far more socialization than ordinary family pets. They become the symbols of the resort, star in many photographs, become expert moochers and are generally loved up by staff and visitors alike. They are real ambassadors for our beautiful area and are minor celebrities in their own right. Homer was the epitome of the resort dog, friendly, gentle and reassuring. He was petted so much, that I often wondered why his fur wasn't rubbed off. He inherited the mellow personality that some golden retrievers are known for, but took it to a whole new level through thousands of happy interactions with visiting people and dogs. As one former Sawbill crew member said, "Take away the drool and the smell and you have the world's most perfect dog." I can picture Homer in heaven right now, lying on the porch and having his ears scratched by an angel. Happy trails, old friend.

Don't forget the Birch Grove Foundation dinner/dance fundraiser at Papa Charlie's in Lutsen on Friday, Nov. 18. From 4 until 8 it is good food, good folks and a fabulous silent auction. At 8, the local band, D'Merritt, plays for foot-tapping and dancing. Be there or be square.


Wildersmith November 4

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The 20th anniversary of the northland’s great Halloween snowstorm was celebrated quietly with no repeat. In fact, spirits of snowy ghosts and goblins throughout the upper Trail were not too haunting at all. Being nearly at the end of the world, so to speak, there were so few spooks banging at the Wildersmith door that our candy cache remains intact except for a little in-house snitching.

The atmosphere has shown some sign of components soon to be in the offing as our ground was whitened with about a half inch in the early hours, and several mornings found a skim of ice on the smaller ponds and swamps along the byway since we last met on the radio. However, in both circumstances, the cold weather character could not be sustained as sun and wind vaporized things rather easily.

Bitter cold has not consumed us yet, but several of our recent dawns have dished up some pretty hefty frosted layers on most everything sticking up in the air. At Wildersmith our coldest reading to date has only been in the high teens.

On the moisture side of the ledger, a few piddly shower attempts in the past week have netted less than a quarter inch, but it has kept things damp enough to chill the bones when added to the never-ceasing air currents.

So the beat goes on as we traipse into month 11. Ojibwe call it the month of the ‘freezing over’ moon (Gash Kadino-Giizis) while others in the north woods label it as the full ‘beaver’ moon.

Regardless of what one dubs it, excitement mounts with the end of one month in Halloween orange, and a beginning of another in hot hunter orange. This marks the opening of another firearms whitetail season. In a matter of hours, thousands of stalkers, decked out in their fluorescent outfits, will descend on border country and take positions trying to look like a tree or a bush.

All this hoopla is in hope of surprising some unsuspecting buck or doe that is more in tune with continuing the species than looking down the barrel of a 30 ought six. Not a pursuer myself, I wish both hunter and the hunted good luck, but most of all, let’s be sane and safe during the next couple weeks. For everyone else that might be out in the forest doing their thing during this time of year, remember to don your orange warning wear too.

The wintertime critters that frequent our deck-side feeders are back. That poultry-lovin’ marten has returned, remembering how well it has been treated in the past. And a cluster of whiskey jacks have hung around to make me feel guilty enough to get up and out early with a handful of bread cubes. The gray jay reward for my early day outdoor venture has been a visit to my hand and a peck on the digits if the serving is not enough.

The “white sox” are out along County Road 20 at almost any time of day or night, and they are not of the Chicago vintage. I’m talking about snowshoe hares, and all have slipped into their white winter leggings. I guess that I have not paid them much attention, but apparently their turn from summer to winter apparel must start from the ground up. A few have even taken on a white undercarriage.

At times it’s like you’re in a game of dodge ball trying to avoid the daredevils in white sneakers with the vehicle. Speaking of other daredevils in the wild, those hares don’t exactly have a lock on keeping you alert on backcountry roads. Minnesota’s ‘chicken birds’ must think that their hunting season is over because they are casually roaming about creating an occasional roadside surprise of their own. Between the hares, grouse and now crazy deer, vehicle operation is not for the faint of heart.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor dodging those wilderness surprises!

Airdate: November 4, 2011

Photo courtesy of Steve Urszenyi via Flickr.


West End News Nov. 3

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I'd like to add my sincere condolences to the friends and family of long-time Minnesota Public Radio personality Tom Keith who passed away unexpectedly this week. Tom was famous for his mastery of the nearly forgotten art of radio sound effects. He provided inspired and hilarious sound effects for Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, which is heard on public radio stations nationwide. Garrison would often try to stump him by calling for nearly impossible sound effects, like a man falling into a pool filled with piranhas and the sound of tires spinning on ice. Tom was also the co-host of the MPR Morning Show for many, many years, with his radio partner, Dale Connelly. Tom was a frequent visitor to Cook County. He took several canoe trips out of Sawbill. Years ago, he stayed for a week at Bearskin Lodge and called in a live report each morning. When the local MPR transmitters in Grand Marais were built about 13 years ago, Tom and Dale brought the Morning Show to Grand Marais and broadcast live from North House Folk School. Tom's dry humor and classic laid-back Minnesota manner endeared him to millions of people. Losing him feels like losing an old friend.

This weekend is the Bluegrass Masters Weekend at Lutsen Resort. This amazing event has been running annually for 21 years. It brings some of the biggest names in bluegrass music to little old Lutsen for workshops, jam sessions and a Saturday night concert. This year, Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley, two of the best bluegrass guitar players in the world, will be the masters in residence. In recent years, the event has drawn participants from all over the midwestern U.S. and northwestern Ontario. The workshops and concert are great, especially if you are a bluegrass fan like me, but the real highlight of the weekend are the continuous jam sessions that fill every nook and cranny of Lutsen Resort. Everyone is welcome to stop by, especially on Saturday evening, and listen to spontaneous music being made very accomplished players. As an example, last year I ran into a friend who is a fabulous guitar player. He told me that he had just spent the three hours playing with a group of fiddlers. He said they had played approximately 60 fiddle tunes without a repeat. The Bluegrass Masters Weekend, which is sponsored by the North Shore Music Association, is not only a significant artistic and cultural event, but it brings hundreds of visitors to the county on a weekend that would otherwise be very quiet. Tim and Steve will give a preview of the weekend on The Roadhouse this Friday.

It is the time of year when everything in nature seems to be waiting for winter. Flocks of snow buntings are passing through and creating a minor driving hazard on the back roads. They are tundra dwelling birds during the summer and their reflex when threatened is to fly toward open space, which causes them to fly in front of cars instead of off into the woods. It is fun to be able to see into the woods now that the leaves are down. You can actually watch animals as they walk though the woods, and interesting artifacts re-emerge after being covered by foliage during the warm season. For instance, there is a Model-T pickup truck just off the Sawbill Trail that can still be spotted near one of the creek crossings. It dates back to the time when the Sawbill was upgraded from a cart track to an actual road. Some local firefighters have told me that the Pagami Creek Fire revealed several old cars and trucks in the BWCA Wilderness. It wasn't too long ago that logging roads crisscrossed what is now wilderness in the area of the fire. The old roads have been overgrown and almost impossible to trace for many years, but the fire has made them jump out of the landscape as plain as day. The firefighters actually made use of some of the old roads for access and fire lines. I'm old enough to remember the road that used to cross the portage between Phoebe and Hazel lakes. One time, I was carrying a canoe across the portage and paused at the canoe rest that was located right where the road crossed. As I caught my breath, a loaded logging truck pulled up, driven by my friend, Hans Hall from Lutsen. Hans stopped and we had a nice chat before he continued toward the sawmill and I trekked on up the portage. Another time, I was paddling down the Kawishiwi River just north of Square Lake when I came upon a Forest Service pickup truck parked next to the river. Of course, we chatted for a while before heading our separate ways. It is hard to imagine these encounters in today's wilderness setting.

Speaking of changes in the wilderness, there is bill working its way through Congress that would exempt the Border Patrol from virtually every environmental law within 100 miles of the border. This includes the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act and many more. On the House side it has the disingenuous name "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act.” I'm surprised that they didn't call it the "Mom and Apple Pie Act.” In my opinion, it is silly piece of election year nonsense that uses the pretense of national security to justify circumventing laws that protect the public from rapacious special interests that would put their own wealth ahead of the health and well being of the American people. Worse than that, it is wasting time in election-year posturing when we should be working on the real problems facing our country and world. Tourism travel between the U.S. and Canada is sharply down in recent years, much of which is attributable to tougher border requirements. In this part of the world, where tourism is a huge part of our economy, we have to be careful not to protect ourselves into poverty. I'm afraid this bill is more about the ever-expanding silly season that seems to accompany the election process these days than it is about national security.