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West End News

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

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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West End News: June 26

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Farmers markets are popping up all across the country as Americans rediscover the joys of eating farm-fresh food.
A brand new farmers market begins this week in Finland.  The new market will offer a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, eggs, wild jams, homemade baked goods and maple syrup.  It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it.
The Finland farmers market will be held every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Clair Nelson Community Center on the Cramer Road in Finland, from now through the end of September.
If you would like to be a vendor at the market, you can purchase booth space for the season or for an individual day.  To reserve a spot, or for more information, contact Marc Smith at 353-7536.  As always, you can contact WTIP for more information.
The Fourth of July should be big this year as it falls on a Friday, which is the ideal day for a weekend of patriotic celebration. Tofte will be the center of the universe again this Fourth of July with a full slate of fun for everyone.
The day will begin with the umpteenth annual Tofte Trek.  This year’s footrace will be epically muddy, so it’s not to be missed. Races begin at 9 a.m.  You can register at or you can arrive early and register on site.
The main festivities are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Tofte Town Hall, right by the post office in Tofte.  All day there will be lots of good food, a beer garden, an arts and crafts show and minnow races.  The parade will start at 2 p.m. and all are encouraged to participate - just line up at the west end of Tofte Park Road beginning at 1:30.
Cook County's Most Wanted, the hottest band in the land, will be providing live music.  In addition, for the first time, the Cook County Vikings Band will make a special appearance at noon and will participate in the parade.
The daytime festivities wind up with a delicious spaghetti dinner at Zoar Lutheran Church served from 5 until 7 p.m.
If you’re like me, you’ll catch a quick nap so you can be rested and alert for the always-popular fireworks show over the big lake starting at 10 p.m.
I’ve been interested in the recent news about the declining maintenance of Forest Service roads due to budget constraints.  As a result, the Forest Service is planning to close the old iron bridge across the Temperance River on the 600 Road just west of the Sawbill Trail.
I can’t imagine that this will actually happen, as the bridge is a vital link in the popular North Shore Snowmobile Trail.  If the bridge were closed, it would tempt snowmobilers to attempt crossing the river on the ice, which would be an unacceptable safety risk.  I know the bridge is old, but I can’t imagine that it will collapse any time soon under the weight of a few snowmobiles.
In my opinion, we are seeing the effect of the popular political rhetoric of the last couple of decades that called for no new taxes.  Nobody wants to pay unnecessary taxes, but taxes do tremendous good when they are applied to construction and maintenance of community infrastructure like roads and bridges.  The payback in terms of jobs created and economic activity supported makes those tax dollars the best deal going.
It’s common to hear people saying that the mosquitoes are worse this year than they have ever been in previous history.  It may well be true, but at my advanced age I’ve started to notice that every year seems to be the worst year for biting insects in history.  This perennial observation my say more about the nature of human memory than it does about variation in insect population.
That said, the bugs have been truly bad in the last couple of weeks.  Here at Sawbill, the sales on headnets, bug shirts and repellent have been booming. 
Nobody likes applying insect repellent, but if you are planning any outdoor activity, you will need it, unless you plan to swath yourself in netting.  A good tip for DEET-based repellents is to use them thoroughly, but sparingly.  If you put a couple of drops in your palms, then rub it over every square millimeter of exposed skin, then wash your hands, you won’t even know that you have it on, but the bugs will not bite.
Years ago, I asked a Grand Portage elder, who had been born before 1900, how he coped with mosquitoes and black flies before the advent of chemical repellents.  Without any irony he replied, “You just have to learn to not let them bother you.”
There is wisdom in that statement, but I also notice in historical photo that people in that era have their pants tucked in their socks, their sleeves cinched tight around their wrists, clothes draped around their necks and they are often smoking pipes or standing in the smoke from a smudge fire.
Whatever your strategy is, don’t let the bugs keep you out of the woods and take heart that the dragonflies are out in full force.  Soon, the worst bug year in history will be a fading memory – at least until next year.



West End News: June 19

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Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder has a few cool things happening soon.
Mysterious mushrooms will be explored in a free program Saturday, June 21, starting at 10 a.m.  Charlie Danielson from Up North Fungi will be presenting on our fascinating local mushroom population.  He will cover how they fit in a sustainable food system and how they function as protectors of the environment.  You will learn how mushrooms retain water, feed the soil, increase yields and create resiliency in your garden or woodland.
Sugarloaf Cove has also recently opened their Community Forest Restoration Shed.  The shed houses a variety of tools, including backpack sprayers and herbicides that you can use to control non-native species.  You can borrow the tools and receive the herbicides free of charge.  However, if you want to use the herbicides, you must take a two-hour training on herbicide application, safety and invasive plant identification.  The training will be held once a week throughout the summer, so call Sugarloaf for times.
If you are a Minnesota Master Naturalist, Woodland Advisor, Forest Pest First Detector, or Master Gardener, or just really interested in the north woods, there is an advanced invasive species training that will also be held at Sugarloaf Cove Friday, June 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The training will qualify you to identify and remove or treat selected problem species, as well as learning follow-up management and monitoring techniques.
This is an intensive course and qualifies for continuing education credits.  There is a tuition fee, but scholarships are available.  Registration is required through
Sugarloaf Cove is located near Schroeder, at milepost 73.3 on Highway 61. You can contact them through their website, or call 218-663-7679.  As always you can contact WTIP for more information.
The big annual Schroeder rummage sale is coming up at Temperance Traders parking lot, just west of Temperance River State Park on the upper side of Highway 61, Saturday, June 28 from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m.  Pizza will be sold to benefit Birch Grove Community School.  There will also be a Birch Grove rummage table where all sales benefit the school.  You can bring donated items to the table if you would like to support the school.  Contact Peggy Anderson at 663-0111 or Sarah Somnis at 370-9884 for more info.
April Knight, the nurse from North Carolina who is paddling from Sawbill to Hudson Bay this summer, checked in from just north of Keewatin, Ontario a few days ago.  She should be well into Manitoba by now as she winds her way toward Lake Winnipeg on the Winnipeg River.
She reported departing Keewatin with a fully loaded canoe as she had just taken her stomach to visit the large grocery store in that town.  She strives to be on the water each morning by 4:15 a.m. to avoid the winds that often kick up later in the day.  She has been forced to modify her route a bit because of unprecedented high water on the Winnipeg River, which is a side effect of the flooding we’ve been hearing about in northwestern Minnesota.  She expects to reach Lake Winnipeg in time to celebrate the solstice there.
Her update concluded by saying,  “I cannot imagine being anywhere else but here and I feel made for this adventure.”
We had an emergency in the Sawbill Lake Campground this week.  A family from was camping here all week with four of their children, including a set of 9-year-old twin girls.  The twins had an unfortunate head-on collision with each other on their bikes while riding pretty fast.  One of the girls got her leg caught in her bike frame and broke her leg.
It was hard to see a little girl in so much pain, but gratifying to see how people pitched in to help.  A group from Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit that specializes in leading wilderness trips for people of every ability, happened to be nearby, so one of their leaders with Wilderness First Responder certification pitched in to apply an air splint to the girl’s fracture.  Nearby campers ran to call 911, while others fetched the parents and reassured the very frightened twins.  Several volunteers stood for an hour holding a tarp to keep the girl out of the sun while waiting for the ambulance to arrive from Grand Marais.
Most of all, the members of the Tofte Rescue Squad and the Cook County Hospital Ambulance crew arrived as quickly as humanly possible and handled the serious situation with the utmost professional care and concern.  These people are the heroes of our community and help us all in our hour of most desperate need.  They renew my faith in humanity, especially here in the beautiful West End.


BWCA Wilderness Artifact (Courtesy of the Superior National Forest)

West End News: June 12

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There has been a lot of action around the wayside rests that are located up and down the North Shore along Highway 61.
I can find no official word about the opening of the beautiful new wayside rest and park headquarters of Tettegouche State Park.  Last winter the Duluth News Tribune mentioned a March date for opening, but that obviously didn’t happen.  Based on how it looks from the highway, it seems like it will be open soon.  The number of construction worker vehicles has dwindled to a daily handful and last week on the way to Duluth I saw workers sweeping the parking lot. This is surely a sign that working is winding down.  It looks like it will be a spectacular facility and the restroom facilities will be welcomed back by all travelers to and from the West End.
The news also came last week that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving forward on a major redesign of the Caribou Falls wayside rest just west of the county line.  MN-DOT knows that the entrance to the wayside is not clearly defined, causing unsafe access to and from Highway 61. The sharp curve just to the east has always been a spot where accidents occur, so hopefully both problems will be solved with one fell swoop.  MN-DOT and the Department of Natural Resources are working together to improve the parking, trail access, and restroom facilities at the same time.  The planning process is happening now, with construction presumably to follow in a couple of years.
The Onion River wayside rest has been under construction for what seems like nearly a decade, but now seems close to completion.  An impressive new set of stairs provides access to the beautiful, but underused trail that parallels the Onion River.  The new outhouse that was constructed over the winter is surely one of the most beautiful outhouses ever built.  It is not only architecturally interesting, but looks sturdy enough to withstand everything but a direct nuclear attack.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent retirement of Jill Schug from her long career with the Forest Service.  Jill was a well-respected employee who served most, if not all, of her career in the engineering division of the Forest Service.  Her husband, Steve, who retired a few years ago, also served his entire career in the Forest Service. Congratulations to Jill, even though she won’t hear this, because she and Steve packed up and left their West End home a few days ago to visit their daughter Michelle in Las Vegas.
We had an interesting visit this week from Superior National Forest East Zone Archeologist, Ryan Brown and Archeological Technician, Troy Price.  The two men had just spent five days in the BWCA Wilderness, surveying campsites for artifacts.  Their first stop was a site on a remote lake where the Forest Service is proposing to close an existing campsite and to build another one nearby.  It is standard practice for the archeologists to check the site of any new construction on the forest to make sure it doesn’t destroy any historical artifacts.
Although Ryan and Troy found no artifacts at the site of the new campsite, they did find many artifacts at the existing campsites that they surveyed.  Forest Service policy is that they only photograph any ancient artifacts that they find on the surface. However, they do document and take any artifacts that they dig up in what they call “shovel tests.”  Those pieces are carefully cataloged, curated and made available for research.
From this most recent trip, they brought back a beautiful little arrowhead, a piece of a broken stone tool and a large flake that was a byproduct of tool making.  I forgot to ask them for an estimate of the age, but it is likely that the age of the pieces is better measured in thousands rather than hundreds of years.
Ryan asked me remind everyone that if you find an artifact on the ground, please admire it, photograph it, but ultimately leave it where you found it.  This serves as a living reminder of those who enjoyed living in the beautiful West End so long ago.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News. 




West End News: June 5

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The Great Place Race micro grants provided by Cook County Moving Matters and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce included several awards in the West End.  Tofte and Schroeder will install bike racks and improve wheelchair accessible picnic spots at Tofte Park and Father Baraga’s Cross.  The Birch Grove Foundation will create a more comfortable gathering spot around the wood fired oven, including seating, a garden and an info board.
The Great Place Race also funded the placing of four Little Free Libraries around Cook County.  Little Free Libraries are an informal national phenomenon of people placing tiny roadside libraries that can be used by anyone.  Volunteers build and maintain them and they’ve proven to be very popular.  Anyone can take a book whenever they like. They can either return the book when they’re done, or donate a different book, or just keep the book, if they want to.  Many of the tiny libraries are whimsically designed and many are targeted toward children’s books. We are building a Little Free Library here at Sawbill, which should prove popular with campers and canoeists.
The Cook County Invasives Team will lead two hikes in the West End in the coming weeks.  The hikes will concentrate on learning about native and non-native plant species.  The hikes are free and no registration is required.  The first hike will be along the Cascade River Monday, June 16 and the second will be along the Temperance River  Monday, June 30.  If you want to go, just meet in the parking lot at 5 p.m.  You can get more information by calling Angelique Edgerton at 387-3772.  Or you can contact WTIP, if you missed that phone number.
April Knight, the adventurous nurse who is paddling from Sawbill to Hudson Bay this summer, is already in the International Falls area and heading north to the Winnepeg River.  She called this week from Ranier, Minnesota where she was waiting for the Rainy River to drop below flood stage and picking up new supplies.
She reports that she is having the time of her life.  Her travel kit is serving her well and her fitness level is increasing daily.  She is making excellent time and has no doubts that she will finish the trip on schedule.
When I asked her if she was lonely, she said that she has only had one bout of loneliness when she had a particularly great day and wished for someone to talk to about it.
The people of Ranier have welcomed her with open arms and invited her to a potluck celebrating the life of a man named Oscar who recently passed away.
For the next few weeks, she’ll be passing through relatively populated areas, so I’m sure she’ll have a lot of interaction with locals who are interested in her trip.
Driving up the Sawbill Trail a few nights ago, I saw a pair of eyes lit up by my headlights in the road ahead. They stared at me without blinking or moving, and when I got close enough, they resolved into a big, fat bear. He was the first bear that I’ve seen this season.  He was in no hurry to run off, so I got a good look at him.  He slowly rolled down and up through the ditch and melted into the dark woods.
Seeing a friendly bear is just another reminder of why it’s great to live here in the wild West End.



West End News: May 29

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Congratulations to the 2014 West End graduates from Cook County High School.  This year’s graduates are coincidentally all from Lutsen.  Anna Carmen, Charlie Lawler, Megan Lehto and Shannon O’Phelan are exemplary students, which is exactly what we expect of our West End scholars.  All four are attending good colleges and have strong ambition.  They are the latest example of why it is good to grow up in the West End.
The Schroeder Area Historical Society has a lot going on at this time of year.  On June 6th they will be having the Opening Day Party starting at 6:30 pm. The party is a casual social time with wine, hors d’oeuvre and a chance to get up to speed on what is happening in Schroeder this summer. Of course, the party is at the lovely Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.
The featured exhibit at the Heritage Center this year is from the St. Louis County Historical Society and is titled “Ojibwe Faces and Stories.”  The core of the exhibit are portraits and every day scenes painted by Eastman Johnson in the mid-1800s.  Johnson spent an entire summer in Grand Portage, so the exhibit has a strong local connection.
On June 14th, Grand Portage elder, Billy Blackwell, will be speaking at the Cross River Heritage Center as part of this year’s emphasis on the original North Shore people.  You can call Suzanne at 663-7706 for more details.  As always you can call WTIP for contact information.
Don’t forget about the upcoming fundraiser at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.  Saturday, June 7th starting at 6:30, there will be great food, music and lots of fun neighborliness. I especially encourage Cook County people to support our Lake County friends and neighbors.  If you haven’t ever been to the Clair Nelson Center, you owe yourself a visit.  It’s a beautiful facility and the hub of life in the Finland area.
April Knight left the Sawbill Lake canoe landing on May 17th for a solo voyage to Hudson Bay.  Over the Memorial Day weekend, we received a brief text message from her, reporting that she was camped on Washington Island in Basswood Lake and that everything was going well.  Andy Keith, who completed the same trip in 1987 said that based on her progress, she should be in Voyageur’s National Park by now and into Canada by the end of the week.
My hat is off to the people who have taken their hats off and thrown them in the ring for the upcoming local elections.  It is a significant personal decision to stand for election and serving as an elected official is truly a public service.  It is popular now-a-days to be cynical about politicians, but the truth is, they have a tough job and perform a valuable service.  It’s a lot easier to be a critic on the sidelines than it is to take on the responsibility of guiding public policy with the goal of improving the community for all residents.  Balancing the competing interests, like many things in life, is harder than it looks.
The filing deadline for county commissioner closes on June 3rd.  As a person with some experience in the matter, I urge everyone who has an interest it get involved.  Being a candidate is fun and interesting, even if you don’t win. Our democratic process is the basis of civil society and a big part of making the West End a wonderful place to live.



West End News: May 22

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I’m sorry to report that Joyce Krueger, one of Tofte’s most beloved residents, took a nasty fall down her stairs and broke both ankles.  She was taken to Duluth for treatment and is now in a swing bed at the Care Center in Grand Marais.
Joyce is a life-long Cook County resident and has lived in Tofte for quite a bit more than 50 years.  She was a long serving postmaster at the Tofte Post Office before her retirement and was the undisputed ambassador of good will for Tofte all those years.
I’m sure Joyce would appreciate a quick visit or phone call while she’s recuperating at the Care Center.  The whole West End joins me in wishing her a speedy recovery.
There’s a fun event coming up at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.  On Saturday, June 7th there is a dance, concert and food event to raise money to support the Community Center.  The event starts at 6:30 pm with tapas and appetizers.  The Spruce Roots will start playing at 7:30 pm for listening and dancing fun.  There is a suggested donation and you should RSVP at 218-535-0300 or at the Clair Nelson Community Center Facebook page.
The 2014 Gala for the Grove fundraising event for Birch Grove Community School is in the record books.  Once again, it was a sold-out affair and a lot of fun. 
Dennis Rysdahl and the staff at Surfside deserve a ton of thanks for donating the space and the food.
Colleen Brennan was the main organizer for the fourth year in a row.  She is claiming that she will pass the torch to someone else next year, but we’ll see.  In any case, she has done a wonderful job of organizing the biggest fundraiser of the year for Birch Grove.
There were too many acts of generosity at the Gala to recount here, but one particular generous act deserves special mention.  Two of the many items included in the live auction this year were a season ski-pass from Lutsen Mountains and a really nice pair of downhill skis donated by Lutsen Recreation.  Chuck Whiteside, of Schroeder, bought the season pass and Plamen Dimitrov, of Tofte, bought the skis. 
After the auction, I was chatting with Plamen who, along with his wife DD, are the parents of two young Birch Grove scholars and very reliable community volunteers in Tofte.  Chuck approached Plamen and asked if he had purchased the skis to use himself.  Plamen said that he had just learned to ski this year, but was planning to use the new skis frequently next season, now that his kids are old enough to ski.  Chuck responded by handing Plamen the season pass, saying “here’s your season pass, Plamen, thank you for all you do for the community.”
It was a touching moment that illustrates how the Birch Grove School and Community Center bring people together in the West End.



West End News: May 15

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Sawbill Lake officially became ice-free on May 14 this year.  We started monitoring the ice depth on a daily basis during the brief warm spell in the first week of April, only to have winter return with a vengeance and hold the ice in place for well over a month.
I’ve filed my report with Ken Stewart, a professor in the New York State University system, who has been monitoring the comings and goings of lake ice for at least the last 40 years. Ken keeps track of roughly 2,000 lakes across North America. He catalogs the data within the university system, but the whole thing is basically a hobby for him.
According to Ken, ice-in dates have been trending later and ice-out dates trending earlier for the last 20 years, in spite of our local experience in the last two years. Just for the record, the latest ice-out in modern history for Sawbill Lake was May 24 back in the mid-‘70s.  The earliest ice-out was March 27 and that was just two years ago. That record skews the average dramatically.
As in past years, within minutes of a path opening up through the ice, canoeists were on our doorstep, looking for their permits and canoes so they could launch into the wilderness.
As we are all grousing about the long and bitter winter, it’s important that we remember that the devastating Ham Lake Fire began on May 4 back in 2007. Personally, I’d rather endure a cold, gray, wet spring, than a fast moving wall of flame.
Wildfire, of course, is never far from our minds here in the north woods.  If you are interested in learning more about wildfire, North House Folk School is offering a class called “Fire Ecology in the Field.”  The instructor is our own Patty Johnson, who an acknowledged expert in the complex and interesting field. 
The class is offered as a part of North House’s Northern Landscapes Festival in the last week of May. Patty is a great teacher and it would be good for all of us to have a better grasp on the role that fire plays in our region, because like it or not, we have to live with it.  You can go to the North House Folk School website for more information and registration.
It’s been a very sad week in the West End this week with the passing of George “Bub” Nelson at the age of 88. George was probably best known as the founder of the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area, as well as the longtime owner of historic Lutsen Resort. 
It was George’s military service in the famous 10th Mountain Division that gave him the vision of a ski area in the hills above Lutsen Resort.  He started with a rope tow and two runs in 1948 and built it into one of the finest ski resorts in the Midwest.
West Enders know that the ski hill and resort were just part of what George did for his community.  He was an intelligent, calm, friendly and wise presence in nearly every good thing that has happened in the West End in the last 60 years. 
My favorite memory of George was the long cross-country ski I did with him back in the late ‘80s from Bally Creek down to Cascade Lodge.  It was everything I could do to keep up with a man nearly 30 years my senior.  While I was catching my breath at each rest stop, he was telling another colorful story from the history of Lutsen. We ended the day with blueberry pie and ice cream at Cascade, while the stories continued to flow. We parted that day with traditional Scandinavian affirmation of a shared skiing adventure and I left with a precious memory of quality time spent with a great man.
He will be greatly missed by his many friends and family.  He leaves behind a wonderful legacy and big shoes to fill.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.




West End News: May 8

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The second annual Cook County Ramble held last week at Cascade Lodge was a huge success again this year.  About 20 local musicians played songs inspired by the late American music icon, Levon Helm. The place was packed and everyone seemed to have a good time. My hat is off to the staff at the Cascade Pub who labored mightily all night long to keep everyone fed and watered.  They got into the spirit of the evening by donating some of their tips to the fundraising cause, which is Cook County High School's instrument repair and replacement program.
Present company excepted, I can only say wow to the level of musicianship that we have walking around in Cook County. If you haven't gone out to hear any local music lately, you might want to give it a try.  Our local musicians have a lot of opportunity to perform in public and they just keep getting better and better.  Special thanks to Jessa and Eric Frost from Tofte for organizing the Ramble, and to Maureen and Michael O'Phelan for hosting.
It's not too early to sign up for the third annual North Shore Landowners Workshop, which will be held this year at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland Friday, June 13 from noon until 4:30 pm. This has become a very popular and fun event for landowners along the North Shore. Sponsored by the North Shore Forest Collaborative, the event is part of their effort to restore the forest of the North Shore to a healthy and high functioning ecosystem. The workshop connects landowners with professional foresters, tools and resources to help in the effort.  It's also a great opportunity to meet your fellow landowners - from up and down the shore - to compare notes and get to know each other.
The event is free and open to everyone, but registration is required, which you can do by calling Molly Thompson at 218-525-0001 or just search online for the Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Association.  As always, you can contact WTIP for details and contact information.
A lot of people are thinking about the health of the forests and Lake Superior recently after the latest National Climate Assessment was released this week. The assessment observes changes in the climate based on the best scientific methods available. The report leaves no doubt that our climate is changing at a rapid rate and is mostly caused by human beings burning fossil fuels.
In our region, it is easy to observe some of the effects, including dying birch trees, declining moose population, deeper and longer droughts which can lead to larger forest fires, more intense rain events and flooding, among many others. In my opinion, if we human beings don't get serious now about climate change, we will be remembered as the generation that left a much more difficult and unpleasant world to our children and grandchildren.  The report deftly bats away the various arguments of the climate change deniers, who are now thoroughly discredited by the obvious facts.
Reacting to climate change doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Switching to more local, non-polluting energy and food sources would be good for Cook County's economy, keeping the money circulating here instead of sending it out of the area.  This is a big issue for the West End and for the world and I urge you to look at the surprisingly clear and readable report. You'll easily find it online by searching for "National Climate Assessment."
April Knight is a nurse from North Carolina who visits the BWCA Wilderness every few years for a canoe trip.  A few years back, April met Andy Keith, a former Lutsen resident who now lives in Mexico.  Many years ago, Andy and Herb Wills, also from Lutsen, canoed from Sawbill Lake to Hudson Bay over the course of several months.  April was intrigued by Andy and Herb's adventure and is planning to canoe the same route this summer.  She will start the trip alone, but is scheduled to join a group once she reaches the big Canadian rivers in order to be safer in the big rapids there.  She was planning to embark on May 8, but will be delayed a few days by the late spring ice.
April is no stranger to adventure travel, having used her nursing skills to help people in some of the most remote parts of the world.  She has certainly done her homework and has tapped Andy's experience for practical advice.  Hopefully, I'll be able to update her progress for you occasionally as the summer goes on.
I just like knowing that it's possible to throw a canoe in the water a few steps from my front door and travel ancient routes almost to the Arctic Circle.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



West End News: May 1

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As of today, Sawbill Lake is still sporting 27 inches of ice.  This is only a few inches less than I reported two weeks ago, news which could just aggravate the chronic late winter depression that is epidemic in Cook County these days.  However, the ice is quite a bit more degraded that it was two weeks ago and there is some hope that open water will arrive eventually.  Based on recent weather trends, I would guess that it will be at least two more weeks until the lakes clear, taking us well past the opening day of fishing season for the second year in a row.  I can only imagine the joy we will all feel when the next warm sunny day arrives.
The Birch Grove Foundation and Tofte Township invite you to the second community conversation at the Birch Grove Community Center on May 7.  The event starts with a wood hearth pizza bake at 5:30 p.m. and the conversation starts at 6:30.  The goal is to prioritize the ideas and goals that were identified at the first community conversation last month.  Once the priorities are set, strategies will be discussed for practical steps for attaining the goals.  Everyone who cares about the future of the West End should attend. 
If you plan to participate in the pizza bake, you should RSVP so they know how much dough and sauce to prepare.  As always, bring your own toppings.  Email or call 663-7977 to let them know.
While on the topic of Birch Grove, don’t forget to buy your tickets for Gala for the Grove scheduled for May 17 at Surfside Resort in Tofte.  This is the social event of the year and an important fundraiser for the Birch Grove Community School, which is the heartbeat of the West End. 
It’s not too late to donate an item to be sold at the exciting live auction that is a big part of the gala.  Contact info is and 663-0170.
The Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder is offering an interesting free program comparing our ecosystem with the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.  The Osa Peninsula has been called the most biologically intense place on Earth by National Geographic magazine.  It contains more than 700 species of trees alone.  The program is free and open to all on Saturday, May 10 at 10 a.m.  I suggest that it might be very pleasant to watch a slide show of lush, green, sun-dappled forest at this particular point in time.  I’m just saying…  
The cell tower that has been standing on the hill above the power plant in Schroeder is finally fully operational.  This is only good news if you are an AT&T customer because that is the only service it supplies at the moment.  The plan is for Verizon Wireless, which is the carrier most of us have, to also provide service in Schroeder in the near future.
Meanwhile, the cell tower in Tofte, which was supposed to provide Verizon Wireless service last fall, is still just a tower with no service available.  Hopefully, that will come online as soon as possible.  I have heard reports that the AT&T signal from Schroeder is pretty reliable in Tofte.  The plan is for the Tofte tower to offer AT&T service sometime in the future.
The best news of all though, is the report that Arrowhead Cooperative is actually hooking up broadband Internet customers in Schroeder.  A couple of homes have had high-speed connections for a few weeks as a test and regular customers are being hooked up as I speak.  The connections are starting at the county line and moving east.  Only a couple of crews are working now, but more crews will be added as summer gets under way.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!
Finally, it’s my privilege to report the end of an era at the Forest Service District Office in Tofte.  As of May 1, Meg Tofte, who has been the den mother of the Tofte office for 25 years, has retired.  I’m personally shocked that Meg can be retired at such a young age, because she and I are the same age. 
All kidding aside, Meg’s ability, intelligence and caring personality will be deeply missed by Forest Service crew and all of us who have cause to spend time at the district office.  Fortunately, she will be hanging around Tofte with time on her hands, so we can all continue to enjoy her friendship and wisdom.  Now, if she can just get Greg to retire…




West End News: April 24

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It’s a well-established fact that affordable housing for working people in Cook County is a problem.  That problem is particularly acute for young people who are just starting out and don’t have the assets that lenders want to see as collateral.
We suffer from what I call “the Aspen Syndrome” where much of the already scarce private property is occupied by expensive vacation homes, which in turn, drives up the cost of all available properties.  Add the high cost of a septic system and general construction, and the dream of home ownership is effectively out of reach, even for double income families.
If you live and work in the West End – and want to own your own home or start your own business, you should attend the information and strategy session, that is designed specifically for you, on Thursday, April 29th, starting at 7 pm at the Lutsen Resort Ballroom.
A panel of people knowledgeable in housing and business in Cook County will go over, in detail, the resources that are currently available for buying or building a home and/or starting a business in the West End.  
There will also be time to talk about what strategies can be brought to bear on these long-standing problems.  We are not alone in this problem, so we can learn from other communities.  I urge everyone who is interested in the local housing issue to attend and contribute ideas.
You can contact WTIP for details and contact information.
Birch Grove Community School in Tofte is once again offering its popular Campsite Kids summer program for children from Kindergarten to 5th grade.  The program runs every weekday from 7 am until 5 pm in June, July and August.  It includes many creative and stimulating activities, including field trips, S’Mores and much more.  You can find all the details by googling Birch Grove School.  Call Diane at 663-0170 to register your child for this excellent program.
Lutsen Mountains has hit the news all over the Midwest by announcing that they will be open for skiing through the first weekend in May.  This is a first for the hill and probably a first for any ski area in Minnesota. 
For locals who know the hill, only the Eagle Mountain runs will be open, with only the Bridge chair lift running.  It is Saturday and Sunday skiing only.  The hill is closed on weekdays now.  There are very reasonable local lift tickets available, including a two fo the price of one offer, but you have to purchase them 72 hours in advance on the website.
I was at the hill all day on Easter Sunday.  Not only was there plenty of great snow, but sitting on the chalet deck and watching the experts ski the moguls on Hari-Kari was endless entertainment.
The second annual Cook County Ramble is being held at Cascade Lodge on Friday, May 2nd starting at 7 pm.  The name references the famous Midnight Rambles organized by the late American musical legend, Levon Helm, at his farm in New York.  The Cook County Ramble features a bunch of local musicians playing songs that were previously performed by Levon Helm. 
Last year’s event was a smashing success, so I expect this year’s event to be even more fun.  There is a suggested donation at the door and the proceeds go to the instrument fund at Cook County High School. Last year, the event raised a thousand dollars for the instrument fund, which more than doubled their budget.
Many thanks to the O’Phelans at Cascade Lodge for donating their restaurant space for this great event.  As I always say, “Be there, or be square!”