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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:
The Carlson family will be converting the former Loons Nest Gift Shop to a coffee shop. Photo courtesy of the family

Coming this summer--a coffee shop on the Gunflint Trail

WTIP likes to share news of local businesses -- new businesses, new owners, milestone achievements. In this interview, we’ll hear about the possibility of a new coffee shop on the Gunflint Trail.

Robert Carlson and his family have a history of coffee shop ownership and coffee roasting in southern Minnesota. However, they have long ties to the Gunflint Trail and are excited about their new enterprise here in Cook County.

Carlson tells WTIP if all goes well with the various permits required, the new coffee shop will open on June 1. What will the name of the business be? Listen to Carlson speaking with WTIP’s Rhonda Silence to find out!

If you know of North Shore business owners who should be featured, give us a call at 218-387-1070 or email: Rhonda@wtip.org. WTIP would love to tell their story!
 

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Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux - Submitted photo

City still seeking citizens to serve on boards and commissions

The first city council meeting of the year is filled with a lot of routine business, appointments to various boards and commissions for council members and members of the public. The council also selects who will serve as acting mayor if Mayor Jay DeCoux is not available. On January 12, the city council met and chose Councilor Craig Schulte to be acting mayor.
The city filled some vacancies on city committees. Bob Nesheim agreed to continue to serve on the Grand Marais Park Board and Matthew Brown joined that board. The Grand Marais Library Board is full.
But still needed are representatives on the Grand Marais Planning Commission and Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission. For information on serving on the boards, contact Grand Marais City Hall at 218-387-1848.
After the annual administrative duties were done, there was significant discussion of the request from the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) for an ordinance amendment to allow residential use associated with a business on Cedar Grove Business Park lots. This was approved by the Grand Marais Planning Commission, but the city postponed its decision. Councilor members wanted to know more about how mixing residences and businesses would work.
In other business, the council agreed to hire Alyssa Morinville as an administrative assistant. The council also approved the appointment of Shawn Smith to the Grand Marais Fire Department.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor DeCoux introduced the idea of declaring a “climate change emergency.” He explained there are a number of communities who are feeling the impact of climate change, with drought, fire danger and alternatively, flooding. DeCoux said this was brought to his attention by some community members and there may be a presentation at a future council meeting.
WTIP's Rhonda Silence spoke with Mayor DeCoux about these matters and more. 
 
 
 

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The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has led to distance learning--at least temporarily--for many students. Photo Rhonda Silence

Distance learning is back for some Cook County schools

The rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community has impacted local schools. Great Expectations School in Grand Marais has some students in distance learning now and School District 166 is implementing distance learning next week, from January 18-21.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Chris Lindholm explained that with the current spread of COVID-19 in Cook County, the school district has been hit harder than at any time in the pandemic.

Lindholm said the school district is currently unable to fill all necessary positions and is approaching 50 percent of the student body out due to illness or being a close contact. The superintendent said this is double the well-established pre-COVID threshold for temporarily closing a school due to the flu or other illness.

Factored into the decision is the fact that School District 166 had already scheduled in-service days for teachers, which means no school for students on January 17 and January 24.

Lindholm told parents that the district will implement distance learning from January 18 -21 for all students in all grades. Lindholm explained, “This will provide a ten-day “reset” and hopefully allow for students and staff to return healthy on January 25.”

Schools on the east and west ends of the county—Oshki Ogimaag in Grand Portage and Birch Grove Community School—are currently still able to hold in-person classes.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Superintendent Chris Lindholm about this shift from in-person to distance learning. 
 

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North House Folk School sunset

North House Folk School master plan could bring changes to historic waterfront structure

The North House Folk School campus has seen a lot of changes since the school's founding in 1997. The school has made improvements to the 1930s-era forestry buildings, purchased neighboring properties, changed driveway and pedestrian access to the school, and more, over the years. Is there more to come for the waterfront campus? WTIP checked in with North House Executive Director Greg Wright to learn more about the folk school’s “Master Plan.”

The master plan is an internal document, developed by school staff, board members, and community partners.  At this time, a focus of the master plan is the possible creation of a harborside classroom on the Dockside Fish Market property, purchased by North House in December 2017.

The harborside classroom could mean changes to the historic Scott fish house, a structure on the National Registry of Historic Places.  As owners of the property, North House Folk School has a number of options. The folk school could ask that the building be removed from the registry, something that Wright stresses the school is not considering.

Instead, North House Folk School is working with the Minnesota Historical Society, LHB Engineers, and the Cook County Historical Society to develop a historic structures report. The report looks at the current condition of the structure and what sort of “treatments” could be put in use to preserve the old building. The report will give suggested treatments, ranging from just letting the building stand exactly where it is with no changes to moving the building to another location.

Wright notes that thanks to the work of former owners Harley and Shele Toftey, the building is currently stable. But those improvements, while necessary, were not historically correct—for example, the old fish house now has a metal roof. Wright said the Folk School could continue to make changes like that to keep using the building—but at what point would the Scott fish house lose its historic look?

The historic structures report will help North House Folk School look at the possibilities—how could a restoration or relocation work? What would it cost? Who would partner with this project?

There are no answers at this time, said Wright. He said North House is about 75 percent through the process. Asked when the community can expect some sort of decision on the future of the Scott fish house, Wright said the folk school hopes to have more information for the community in the spring.

WTIP also asked if future development of the waterfront campus impacts the Fisherman’s Daughter or North Superior Fisheries. Wright said no, the goal is for those businesses to continue to thrive on the Dockside property.

Yet another piece of the master plan puzzle is the little Yellow House that serves as a welcome desk and gift shop, which North House Folk School also owns. The structure has foundation issues and is not really set up for the entry to the campus. Plans have begun to remove and replace the Yellow House with something more suitable and welcoming, Wright said.

Other changes and additions to the North House Folk School campus since 1997 include the purchase of the former Superior National Forest headquarters building in May 2016, across Highway 61 from the main North House campus. The building provides office and classroom space. North House also rents a section of the building to a commercial enterprise, North Shore Title.

In October 2021, North House Folk School purchased a parcel of land across from its main campus, west of the former Forest Service building. Part of the lot is undeveloped and the upper portion was cleared when an old house was removed. Any development of that property will be another challenge for the folk school, as there are concerns about Anishinaabe burial sites on the land. In a previous WTIP interview, Wright noted that North House is very cognizant of that. The folk school has reached out to the Minnesota State Archeologist’s Office and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for assistance before any construction begins. 

For now, Wright invites anyone who would like more information on historic fish houses on the Grand Marais harbor, including the Scott fish house, to take part in an online event on Thursday, January 27. The event will be co-hosted by North House Folk School and the Cook County Historical Society. WTIP will share information on how to attend that presentation when it is available. 

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with North House Director Wright about all this. Here's their conversation.
 

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Grand Marais fire hydrant - Photo by RaeAnne Silence

Grand Marais Fire Department asks residents to "adopt a fire hydrant"

The winter of 2020-2021 brought a total of 56.5 inches of snow to the North Shore. As 2021 ended, our seasonal snowfall had already totaled 56.5 inches. That means large snowbanks everywhere, including around the very important fire hydrants in the city of Grand Marais. That has prompted a request from the Grand Marais Fire Department for residents to “Adopt a Fire Hydrant.”

Firefighters across the state are asking Minnesotans to clear snow from around fire hydrants, as a covered hydrant can cost extra minutes and result in more damage when firefighters respond to a house fire. 

WTIP’s Mark Abrahamson spoke with Grand Marais Fire Chief Ben Silence about the “Adopt a Fire Hydrant” program, which asks residents to clear more than just their driveways. Residents are asked to clear at least three feet around the hydrant in their neighborhood and to ensure that the marker pointing to the hydrant is standing and clear as well. 

There are no forms to complete to adopt a fire hydrant, but the fire department would like to know if a resident or group of residents are caring for a hydrant. Anyone interested in taking on the task can let Fire Chief Ben Silence know by calling 218-370-9959. 

Here’s Mark with Fire Chief Silence with more. 

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New Marathon owners Sam and Sabby Bains with former owners, Lynn and Craig Schulte. Photo courtesy of Steve Bragg, Calhoun

New owners for Grand Marais Marathon

The Grand Marais Marathon gas station/convenience store has new owners. Craig and Lynn Schulte, who opened the store and operated it for several decades, have sold the store to Sam and Sabby Bains.

The Bains family, originally from India, have lived in California for the last 27 years. They operate a cross-country transportation and brokerage company. However, Sam Bains said he once worked at a gas station and it has long been a dream of his to own a gas station.

In his travels, he visited Grand Marais and discovered the Marathon station. After a few days in the community, he decided this was the gas station/store for him. His wife, Sabby, also spent just a few days on the North Shore but felt welcome and willing to make a move to Minnesota.

The couple will keep their California home and will continue to operate their other businesses.

Sam said he doesn’t anticipate any major changes at Marathon and all of the current staff will continue. However, he said they will be adding an exciting new offering this summer—Indian foods. He said to watch for an announcement of a day for local Marathon customers to come in and sample some Indian foods, probably in February.

Sam told WTIP’s Rhonda Silence that he and his family really love the community and will strive to make their customers and employees happy.

Here’s their conversation.
 

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Ty Backlund is a local Minnesota permit to carry instructor. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Ty Backlund talks about being a Minnesota permit to carry instructor

Ty Backlund of Grand Marais is a certified Minnesota permit to carry instructor. He offers monthly classes in Cook County for those interested in obtaining a permit to carry. WTIP reached out to Backlund to learn more about his background and training for teaching these classes—and what attendees can expect to learn.

Backlund graduated from Cook County High School in 2009 and joined the U.S. Army immediately, at 17 years old. He attended the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School. He spent 2011 serving in Afghanistan. He worked for a while as a police officer in Mesa, Arizona, an area known unfortunately for its high crime rate. He became a field training officer. He said he really likes teaching. And that is one reason he became a Minnesota Permit-to-Carry instructor.

Backlund shared what course participants go through, including some intense discussion about the legalities and responsibility of carrying a firearm.  The class also includes a hands-on portion in which the student must show they know how to safely load, fire, and unload a weapon.

WTIP also asked Backlund if he addresses current events, such as the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. Backlund said yes, he will talk to people about sensational cases like that but notes that things like that are not likely to occur to the average gun owner. He said more likely situations are when things get out of control, for example in a dispute between neighbors. He said he tries to get attendees in his course to understand that and stresses the need to “kill your ego.”

WTIP also asked Backlund for his thoughts on the recent arrest of the parents of the teen involved in the Oxford School shooting in Michigan. Backlund said their arrest is justified under Michigan law. He said Minnesota has a similar law. He said as a firearm owner, you are responsible for securing your firearm and keeping it out of the hands of children, no matter their age. That is something else he stresses in his course. 

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence learned more in this interview with Ty Backlund. 
 

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School Respect banner - Photo Rhonda Silence

Masks stay for now, but ISD166 is looking to the future

The School District 166 school board held another long meeting on Thursday, December 16, but they tackled some serious issues, such as the COVID-19 policies at the school and the school budget. WTIP reached out to Superintendent Chris Lindholm to learn more.

Following up on a board request at the November board meeting, Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager was in attendance at the December meeting to share the thoughts of public health on face coverings at the school. After a lengthy discussion of “data points” on positivity in the community and transmission rates, the board agreed to consider updating the school district’s face covering policy. School board member reaction was mixed.  Board member Stephanie Radloff suggested removing the face-covering requirement when students return from winter break. Board member Rena Rogers expressed concern that there could be an outbreak two weeks after winter break and suggested extending the mask policy to align with that.

No change was made to the policy at this time, but the school board directed Superintendent Lindholm to draft a new policy that would include a formula for deciding when the mask policy could be removed. The “metrics” to be considered before the school board considers removing the face-covering policy are that the testing rate in Cook County must be less than 5 percent and the cases per 10,000 people is less than 15.  Both of those metrics must be met for consecutive 4 weeks.

Lindholm said the policy would include a plan to go back to requiring masks if numbers go higher.

The school district is hopeful that the availability of COVID-19 test kits will help stop or slow the spread of the coronavirus. Rapid COVID-19 nasal swab antigen test kits were sent home with all ISD 166 students and families are encouraged to test their children before they return to school.

At the school board meeting, the school district also signed a joint powers agreement with Cook County Public Health to offer onsite testing at the school. A health official will now be available two days a week to conduct rapid molecular COVID-19 tests, also a nasal swab. Parents who would like their students (middle and high school only), to participate in testing have received a permission slip and should send that form back. Lindholm said this testing is especially recommended for students who are traveling for sports to other schools.

Lindholm also said eventually the school nurse could also perform these tests for students who come to the nurse’s office with symptoms.

In other business, at the allotted time, the School District held its Truth in Taxation meeting. Business Manager Lori Backlund gave a presentation showing that the school board would be increasing the school district levy by .89%.

The School Board also passed a motion to support a Safe Routes to School grant in the amount of $81,392. The grant will go to the Cook County Highway Department to make changes to the speed zone signs near the schools, to make them more consistent and easier to understand for motorists and pedestrians.*

The School District also received a request from Sawbill Villages in Tofte, a mixed commercial and housing project. In an informational handout, developer Rob Dieter said he would actually like a “no” from the school board. Dieter has received a tax abatement from Cook County to postpone payment of taxes for his new development for 15 years. This helps free up funds to make the development happen. Sawbill Village has learned that if one of the entities that would receive taxes from his development denied his request, they can go back to Cook County to ask for an abatement for 20 years.

Although complicated, school board members agreed to give a “no” vote, after Lindholm explained that if they did so, they would receive the entire taxes collected for the project. And, Lindholm noted, the county needs housing and needs families. The housing could possibly be used by teachers or school staff—or families that would have students in school in Cook County.

The school board heard an interesting report on the “World’s Best Workforce” from Principal Megan Myers. The report looks at goals for various grades. Lindholm said like many schools across the state, there were deficits in 2020. One of the things looked at is the school's graduation rate and Lindholm said he was pleased to hear that Cook County High School had a 97% graduation rate.

The school board approved a plan for “e-learning days,” which will help the school district meet its required days of education. On days that may have previously been called “snow days,” the school will ask students to log in with their devices. Lindholm said there may be snow days may still happen, if weather comes upon the Northland too quickly. But if there is an advance notice of bad weather, parents will be notified of an e-learning day.

Lindholm said this is important to meet the required number of education days. If a snow day is called, another education day gets added to the school calendar. That is the case after the snow day earlier this winter. That will now be made up on March 25.

The School Board also heard a report from student School Board Representative Olivia Nesgoda, shared information that she had gathered from her fellow students on the school dress policy. This is something that the school board has been reviewing this fall and questions have been asked—what is the harm of wearing a hat or hood? The input she gave the board will be considered as the board again looks at the school dress code policy.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence talked to Superintendent Chris Lindholm, to learn more about all of this in-depth. 

* This article has been corrected to note that the Safe Routes to School grant will be used for new signage, per Cook County Highway Engineer Robbie Hass.
 

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Entrepreneur Fund business developer Tracy Benson - Submitted photo

Tracy Benson is the Entrepreneur Fund's business developer for the Arrowhead

The mission of the Entrepreneur Fund is “to actively partner with entrepreneurs to create growing businesses, thriving communities, and a diverse regional economy.” Working for the Entrepreneur Fund to fulfill that mission is Tracy Benson of Grand Marais.

Benson became a business developer with the Entrepreneur Fund in August 2021. She explains that the Entrepreneur Fund recognizes that small businesses are region’s “economic driver” and the fund works to keep the small business community thriving.

There are a number of offerings from the Entrepreneur Fund, from planning a new business to expanding an existing business. The Entrepreneur Fund offers microloans, but Benson notes that what is valuable is the assistance that comes along with the loan.

She says a business owner needs to be able to focus on what they are selling or the services they are offering. She says not everyone is an expert at profit and loss statements or website development. That is where the Entrepreneur Fund comes in.  Business developers like Benson can help make sense of it all.

Benson will work with Steve Surbaugh, a local advocate of the organization, who she says “has been the face of the Entrepreneur Fund.”

She will also work with Small Business Development Center Consultant Pat Campanaro. Benson notes that some of the services their organizations offer are similar. She looks forward to collaborating with Campanaro. She says that is the beauty of the Entrepreneur Fund; it helps businesses find the resources they need and helps make those connections.

Anyone who would like to learn more about the Entrepreneur Fund is encouraged to contact Tracy at 218-264-6200 or by email: tracyb@entrepreneur.org
 

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Changing temperatures overnight could lead to slushy or icy roads. WTIP file photo

Weather advisory warns of high winds, slippery roads

A National Weather Service winter weather advisory warns of extremely high winds overnight and a possible “flash freeze” before morning.
 
The weather service predicts west winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts of 60 mph starting after midnight and continuing until noon Thursday. Travel could be difficult especially for high-profile vehicles. The high winds could blow down trees and powerlines, so be prepared for possible power outages overnight. Drivers should watch for downed trees on roadways.
 
As colder air moves into our region tonight through Thursday morning “flash freeze” conditions could lead to black ice. Wet pavement and roads may become very slick as they freeze over. There could be 1-2 inches of snow with a light glaze of ice or slush. Patchy blowing snow could also significantly reduce visibility.
 
Slow down and use caution while traveling. Plan on slippery road conditions.