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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 Kennedy family has grown along with the businesses established by Beth and Tim. Submitted photo

Tim and Beth Kennedy reflect on being Grand Marais business owners

Birchbark Books & Gifts on First Avenue in downtown Grand Marais is closing its doors after over 25 years in business. The store is one of several businesses launched by Tim and Beth Kennedy.
 
WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with the couple to talk about their move to Cook County and their entry into the Grand Marais business community. They share their thoughts on the establishment of Beth’s Fudge & Gifts, Birchbark Books & Gifts, and Picnic and Pine, which was destroyed in the April 2020 fire.
 
Along with their reminiscences of creating the stores, the Kennedys offer some advice and hopes for the future for aspiring business owners. 

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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Visit Cook County Director Linda Jurek and Chamber Director Jim Boyd - Photo by Rhonda Silence

A tale of two directors: Linda Jurek and Jim Boyd

For years the Cook County Chamber of Commerce and Visit Cook County have worked together in a variety of ways. The two executive directors—Linda Jurek of Visit Cook County and Jim Boyd of the Chamber—have attended many of the same meetings and working to support local businesses.

The two entities are close to officially joining forces through a “single executive director” model, with Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek serving in that position. Chamber Director Boyd will then become the director of policy and advocacy, working part-time.

Boyd jokes that he was initially appointed as Chamber director because he was one of the only founders of the Chamber back in 2013 that wasn’t working full time running a restaurant or resort. On second thought, in a conversation with WTIP, Boyd says that really was the reason he was assigned the task of leading the chamber. He had the time to fill that role. 

At the same time that the Chamber was being formed, the three tourism entities in the County—Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder Tourism Association, the Grand Marais Tourism Association, and the Gunflint Trail Association—were in the midst of creating Visit Cook County. That, Boyd and Jurek say, would not have been a good time to try to have a single director for both the Chamber and VCC.

However, the two now believe this single-director model is the best way to proceed for both organizations. Boyd told members in a letter, “I view these changes as essential to ensuring the long-term survival of a vigorous, thriving Chamber capable of meeting a broad range of member needs. I hope you will agree.”

Jurek certainly agrees and feels her staff at VCC can take on supporting the Chamber with minimal additional effort. She notes that things that the Chamber needs, membership outreach and networking, for example, come naturally to the tourism organization.
Jurek adds that a joint Chamber-tourism model is very common throughout the country.

The new executive director model is not in place yet. A contract is being drawn to ensure that VCC and the Chamber would remain independent, with separate boards and finances. There are still details to be worked out, but Jurek and Boyd are excited about this effort, which will provide significant administrative support for Director Boyd so he can focus on policy and advocacy and will give the VCC crew the opportunity to develop an expanded program of member recruitment and member services.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with the two directors to talk about the process of this administrative change, the plans to keep Visit Cook County and the Chamber separate, and more. Here’s their conversation. 
 

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Eagle Mountain trailhead - Photo by Jimmy Emerson, via Flickr

Extreme weather hampers medical rescue on Eagle Mountain trail

While most of the county was hunkered down waiting out a thunderstorm and tornado warning, some Cook County volunteers were out on the trail on a medical rescue effort.

A call reporting a 70-year-old man possibly having a heart attack came in to the Cook County Law Enforcement Center just before 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 10. The caller said the man from Ramsey was about two miles in from the Eagle Mountain trailhead. The man had been hiking for four hours before symptoms came on.

Rescuers staged as the weather worsened. Lutsen First Responders reached the patient at 4:25 p.m. and began transport of the patient as heavy rain and high winds began. At 5:41 p.m., the rescuers halted to take shelter on the trail as large hail fell. They also kept a watchful eye on the sky as a tornado warning was issued until 6:15 p.m.

The storm lessened and the emergency responders were able to continue, arriving at the Eagle Mountain trailhead and parking lot at 7:29 p.m.

The patient was taken by Cook County/North Shore Health Ambulance directly to St. Luke’s Hospital. There is no word on the man’s condition.

The North Shore Health ambulance, Cook County Search and Rescue, Lutsen and Grand Marais First Responders and Cook County Sheriff’s Office deputies all took part in the emergency call.

Of the responders, Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen said, “They deserve much respect for the job they perform under some very dangerous conditions. I cannot express enough gratitude for these folks and the sacrifices they make.”
 


 
A COVID-19 precaution reminder at School District 166. Photo by Rhonda Silence

New cases of COVID-19 at School District 166

On Thursday, October 7, the Cook County COVID-19 website was updated, letting the community know that there were 10 new cases in the previous week, bringing the total number of cases to 234 since the beginning of the pandemic. At least one of those cases is among the student population at School District 166. 
 
WTIP reached out to Superintendent Chris Lindholm, who confirmed that the school had a student who had tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing was completed and Lindholm said four students are required to quarantine.  Lindholm added that several other students do not have to quarantine because they are vaccinated.  
 
However, during the interview on October 8, Lindholm said the school had just been notified of another positive COVID-19 test for a student in a lower grade. Lindholm said contact tracing began immediately and families will be notified of the need for quarantine, if necessary, as soon as possible. 
 
Lindholm acknowledged the increased number of COVID-19 cases in the last weeks in the community and said it was inevitable that the coronavirus would spread to the school. He added that our school has done relatively well in keeping COVID-19 out of the school, especially in comparison with other schools across the region. 
 
In the letter to parents, Lindholm said, “As we work through this incident, please know that we are working hard to continue following the recommendations of the CDC and MDH. 
 
“We are grateful for our Public Health officials and their diligence working through these cases with the parties involved. Our focus is to ensure the safety of all staff, students, and the community.
 
“We are grateful for the continuing work of all families and community members to follow the recommendations of public health to reduce the spread of COVID 19 and for being a caring and respectful community as we continue to work through these challenges. Be well in the weeks ahead!” Lindholm wrote. 

Changes in school administrative staff coming

In other school news, WTIP asked Lindholm about plans to fill the vacancy of Assistant Principal and Activities Director Mitch Dorr, who has submitted his resignation and will be leaving ISD 166 on November 1. 
 
Lindholm said the two positions held by Dorr were advertised to staff at the school. Lindholm said he believes there are staff members with the skills and knowledge to fill those positions “short-term.” The school district will look at permanently filling the positions in the spring, when it is more typically the time to hire school staff. 
 
School survey seeks community input
Finally, Superintendent Lindholm asked for the public’s help in strategic planning for ISD 166. Lindholm said the strategic plan guides the school board and administration on priorities, resource management and long term goals. A survey has been created to accept community input on these long range goals. 
 
Lindholm notes that preschool students this fall will graduate in the year 2035, so the school district knows it must help students prepare for careers that may not yet be created. Lindholm said he wants to hear the thoughts on this from the community. 
The survey will be available on the Cook County Schools website through October. To participate in the survey, click here:  ISD 166 Strategic Plan Community Input
 
In an interesting note for parents, one of the survey questions is “First, please share any needs your students may have due to the COVID pandemic.” 
 
WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Superintendent Chris Lindholm about the survey, COVID-19 at the school and staffing in this interview. 
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Lots of fire questions from the 3rd-graders at Sawtooth Mountain Elementary. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Local fire departments share safety message with students during Fire Prevention Week

Every year the National Fire Protection Association reminds the public of the importance of fire prevention during the first week of October. Fire Prevention Week this year is October 3- 9. During this week, fire departments across the country—and across Cook County—visit schools to talk to students about fire safety.

For the adults out there, the National Fire Prevention Association reminds us that now is a good time to check the batteries in our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence shares this report of one of our local fire departments, the Grand Marais Fire Department, visiting Sawtooth Mountain Elementary. Listen in to see what students learned about the fire department and fire safety. 
 

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Grand Marais Logo

Variance approval for Angry Trout and Planning Commission appointment at city meeting

The last meeting of the Grand Marais City Council for September included approval of a variance for the Angry Trout restaurant and the appointment of a new member of the Grand Marais Planning Commission.

The city council reviewed the variance request from George Wilkes of the Angry Trout, noting that the variance is required due to the restaurant’s proximity to Lake Superior. The variance was for an addition to the building on the back side of the structure, not nearer to the waterfront.

Basically, Council Member Anton Moody (who is doing the remodel for Angry Trout) explained, the Angry Trout was enclosing the waiting area for customers and to bring the restroom into the interior of the restaurant.

The variance request was granted by the council,  with Councilor Moody abstaining because he is involved with the Angry Trout project.

The meeting was the first for newly-appointed City Councilor Tracy Benson. Benson’s appointment to fill the council vacancy created when Kelly Swearingen resigned meant another vacancy. Benson had served on the Grand Marais Planning Commission.

Tina Kraus had applied for the city council seat and when Benson was selected, the city council suggested that Kraus apply for a city board. Kraus did just that, putting her name in for the planning commission vacancy. The council voted unanimously to appoint Kraus to that board.

Citizens are still needed for another planning commission seat, the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission and the Park Board. Anyone interested in serving on those commissions is encouraged to contact City Hall for more information by calling 218-387-1848 or emailing communications@grandmarais.city.

The city is also seeking an apprentice lineworker. Information on that position is also available at City Hall.

The city accepted the Grand Marais Fire Department recommendation to hire a new firefighter, Sven Hogland. The fire department now has 15 active members.

The city also voted unanimously to accept a grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for work to be done on the large stormwater management pond below Highway 61 next to 8th Avenue. The water holding pond is not functioning as well as it could to prevent runoff from going into the creek that goes through the campground and ultimately to Lake Superior. Cook County Soil & Water is working on the development of this stormwater improvement project.

A final matter of business was the approval of liquor license renewals in the city. It was Councilor Craig Schulte’s turn to abstain as his business, Marathon, is one of the license holders. The motion was passed to approve all licenses as requested.

The next city council meeting will be Wednesday, September 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Grand Marais City Hall. Meetings are also live-streamed on the city's YouTube channel

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux about all of this. Here’s their conversation.
 

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Cook County Chamber of Commerce logo, courtesy of the chamber

Deadline for national survey on J1 workers is October 8

From Delaware to Alaska, from the Southwest to the Midwest, tourism communities are experiencing a labor shortage due to the lack of international workers. That is certainly the case here in Cook County, as Chamber Director Jim Boyd can attest.

Cook County businesses rely heavily on the international students that take part in the J1 Visa program. Boyd tells WTIP that in a “normal” summer, Cook County employers welcome several hundred J-1 exchange visitors.  But in 2020 and 2021, that shrank to several dozen at most.

Bringing the J-1 visa program back to full strength is critical to the viability of the Cook County economy.

In fact, as Chamber Director Boyd tells WTIP, it’s not just the businesses that bring these international workers to the community. Many of the young people that come to the North Shore on a J1 Visa take part-time jobs with secondary businesses.

And, Boyd notes that many of these international workers become longtime friends of community members.

A national effort is underway to convince federal legislators of the need for increased numbers in the J1 Visa program. Interchange and the Alliance for International Exchange, organizations that help international workers obtain visas, are leading the way. They write that “To ensure that as many participants as possible are able to safely experience American culture first-hand this winter, and again next summer, our government needs to know that the economic recovery and stability of American seasonal businesses depends on these programs.”

To obtain information on the importance of J1 Visa workers, Interexchange and the alliance are surveying businesses nationwide to gather data on how the reduced number of J-1 Visa Exchange Visitors has impacted local seasonal businesses thus far.

Boyd hopes that local businesses will take the survey to add their voices. The deadline to complete the survey is Friday, October 8.
Data from the survey will be processed so that respondents remain anonymous.

Interested business people may take the survey using this link: 2021 J-1 Exchange Visitor Host Impact Survey

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence learns more in this interview.
 

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The view of the existing Ski Hill area from the Lutsen Mountains gondola. File photo Rhonda Silence

Upcoming virtual meeting offers look at Lutsen Mountains Ski Hill expansion

On Tuesday, October 5, the Superior National Forest is holding a virtual open house that could be one of the final steps toward a decision on whether or not to allow the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area to expand ski runs and operations onto nearly 500 acres of adjacent U.S. Forest Service lands.
 
The open house on October 5 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. will begin with a presentation from those who have been involved in the proposed project to date, followed by a time for questions.

To take part in the virtual open house, email joanna.gilkeson@usda.gov. Attendees will receive an email with information on how to join the open house by phone or by digital device through a browser or mobile app.

Although this virtual open house gives participants the opportunity to ask questions, comments on the project must be submitted in writing. Verbal comments provided at the open house will not be considered part of the official record. 

Lutsen Mountains first applied for a special use permit that would allow the resort to expand its existing ski hill operations onto Superior National Forest land in December 2017. Lutsen Mountains is seeking approximately 50 acres on adjacent federal land, on what the ski area calls Eagle Mountain, and about 400 acres on Moose Mountain.

The U.S. Forest Service has issued its draft environmental impact statement on the proposed expansion. Comments must be submitted in writing, electronically or by U.S. mail, within 45 days of September 10, when a legal notice was published in the Duluth News Tribune. 

In the draft environmental analysis, the Forest Service acknowledges that tribal involvement must be included in any decision. According to the environmental documents, the Forest Service initiated formal consultation with the three resident tribes in the 1854 Ceded Territory: Bois Fort Band of Minnesota Chippewa, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

During the initial consultation, the Tribes indicated concerns about potential impacts to sugar maple stands and changes to land use and access that could result from the project. Specifically, concerns were expressed that the project may fragment and/or reduce the extent and productivity of mature maple stands (sugarbush stands) and white cedar stands, wild rice waters, and hunting/fishing resources. There were also concerns that the project would reduce the quantity of land available for individuals to hunt, gather, fish, and generally exercise the treaty rights provided by the 1854 Treaty.

The Forest Service states that consultation and coordination with the Tribes in the area will be ongoing throughout this NEPA process and the Final EIS is expected to be updated with the results of consultation with the Tribes.

The Cook County Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter of support for the proposed ski hill expansion on May 22, 2020, noting the economic importance of the recreation area to Cook County. The Chamber stated that Lutsen Mountains and the families which own it also have proven themselves responsible environmental stewards over the years, citing their work to see the Poplar River removed from the state impaired waterways list.

The Lutsen Mountains expansion DEIS and supporting documents can be found on the forest’s website: Lutsen Mountains Ski Area Expansion Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement

After the 45-day comment period, the Forest Service will review public comments and will revise the Draft EIS into a Final EIS based in part on that public input. When the final EIS is issued, it will include the Superior National Forest’s decision about whether or not to grant the special use permit to Lutsen Mountains.

If the special use permit is granted, the EIS will include information on which alternative the Forest Service will allow Lutsen Mountains to pursue.

How to comment

Written Comments: Mail to Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak, District Ranger: Lutsen DEIS Project, Tofte Ranger District, 7355 West Highway 61, PO BOX 2159, Tofte, MN 55615.

Electronic Comments: Email comments to comments-eastern-superior@usda.gov.  Please include “Lutsen Mountains Ski Area Expansion Project” in the subject line.

Regardless of how you submit comments, the Forest Services asks that you please include your name, address, and the title of the project: Lutsen Mountains Expansion DEIS. Comments received (including names and addresses) will become part of the project record and are public information.  

For further information about this project or questions about commenting, please contact Michael Jimenez, project coordinator, at Michael.Jimenez@usda.gov. 

To revisit some of WTIP Community Radio's previous coverage of this proposal, click below. 

May 10, 2018 Expansion of ski hill leads to call for public meeting on treaty rights

December 13, 2019 U.S. Forest Service beginning review of Lutsen Mountains expansion request

September 10, 2021 Forest Service opens public comment period on Lutsen Mountains expansion proposal


 
The NMW logo is often accompanied by the Save the Boundary Waters campaign logo.  Image courtesy of NMW

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness respond to member concerns

The Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness was founded as a nonprofit in 1996 to, as its website states, “to continue a vital tradition; working to protect our wild places against ever-increasing public and commercial pressures so that the area’s wild character will remain intact for future generations.”

The organization has grown since 1996 and is the driving force behind the Save the Boundary Waters campaign. The primary focus of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign is to ensure permanent protection of the Boundary Waters Wilderness from proposed copper-nickel mining in the region.

A founding member of NMW recently shared concerns that the organization is too focused on halting copper-nickel projects, claiming that other important environmental issues are being neglected.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with the letter’s author, Brad Sagan, about his concerns and followed up with NMW Co-Chair Jon Nelson. Here’s her report.
 

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Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Mitch Dorr is leaving School District 166 on November 1 - Photo by Rhonda Silence

Assistant Principal Dorr to leave ISD 166 in November

Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Mitch Dorr is leaving School District 166. Dorr sent out an email to his colleagues at School District 166 this week, letting them know that he was leaving the district, effective November 1.

Dorr shared a copy of his letter to Cook County Schools staff, which read:

After much thought and prayer, I have decided to take the Principal position at Saint John the Baptist Catholic School in Jordan, Minnesota.  After 24 years at Cook County Schools and 46 years living in Grand Marais, it is now time for me to explore other pursuits.
My family will finish out this school year with all of you, while I will depart on November 1st.  It has been a blessing to work with the many talented people we have here at Cook County Schools.
I apologize that many of you have found out through an email.  It seems like an impossible task to tell everyone of my move in a way that honors and respects each of you.
My heart will continue to bleed blue and white and I wish all of you the very best in all you pursue.
May you be blessed and fulfilled always,
Mitch

WTIP will share news on how School District 166 will handle the vacancy of these two positions at the school as it becomes available.