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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:
Kevlarus Canoeum Exclusivei

West End News: May 26

When the Minnesota State Legislature adjourned this week, it became obvious to even the casual observer that Minnesota's governing body has gone the way of our national governing body, the U.S. Congress, by descending into ineffective chaos. For the last two sessions, most of the important work of the legislature was not finished and the people of Minnesota were not well served.

Not only did the most important bills of the year, bonding, transportation, RealID and the managing of the budget surplus, fail to pass, but much of the negotiation and horse trading went on behind closed doors in the final days of the session, without the scrutiny or participation of the voters, the news media, or even most of the sitting legislators. A 32 million dollar tax cut for the tobacco industry is this year's poster child of baffling legislation snuck into law without the knowledge or consent of the voters or most of the lawmakers themselves. This makes the legislature resemble a dictatorship more than a "small d" democratic institution.

In my opinion, the troubles besetting the Minnesota Legislature flow from the same source as those that afflict the Congress, the unbelievable amount and influence of money in politics. If we don't move swiftly and decisively to correct campaign finance and lobbying policy, we risk the permanent loss of our democratic traditions. There are two relatively bright spots in this mess. First, it seems like unlimited and unaccountable money mostly bring the political process to a halt, at least so far, rather than just selling laws to the highest bidders.  Second, our system still, mostly, allows for one vote for each of us, giving us the option of changing this crazy system at the ballot box.

This year the Governor almost has to call a special session to complete the huge pile of work left undone, but a part of me wants him to let the leadership of both parties suffer the natural consequences of their misbehavior.

The blackflies are out in the West End if you travel up over the hill. They aren't bad as compared to many years in the past, although this is my 60th blackfly season and in every one of them I've heard many people declare that this is the worst year ever. I discovered about 59 years ago that the most effective way to enjoy the woods during the black fly season lies in the judicious use of the DEET based repellents. If you apply a very small amount of the repellents to your exposed skin and the adjacent clothing you can walk blissfully through the woods for up to eight hours without a single bite.  

Thanks to the Zika virus, Consumer Reports just did a thorough study of spray-on insect repellents. Long story short, they found DEET and similar chemical repellents to be amazingly effective and the natural repellents, like citronella, eucalyptus, cedar, rosemary and lemongrass to be amazingly ineffective.

The kerfuffle surrounding the building of a Dollar General store in Grand Marais seems to have died down for the moment. In Silver Bay, however, plans have been moving ahead for Dollar General to open a store in the business park along Highway 61 near the AmericInn. According to the Lake County Chronicle, the agreement between Dollar General and the city, which owns the land, included a clause that would forbid the city from selling land to a Dollar General competitor. After much discussion, the Silver Bay City Council voted to strike the no-complete clause from the purchase agreement, which may well kill the sale. The Dollar General spokesperson said the decision was too new for them to react to, but I suppose they would have the option of looking for private land in the same area. 

One of the joys of living in the West End, of course, is the ever-changing entertainment provided by good old Mother Nature. Most of the glory goes to the large animals, but there are many critters that go almost unnoticed most of the time, even though they are quite common.  

About a month ago, here at Sawbill, we took delivery of 41 brand new Kevlar canoes. We stacked them on the ground in the canoe yard, tipped up on their sides, one leaning against the other. This week we found the time to bring each canoe to the shop, install the carrying yoke pads and put on the licenses and company stickers. After doing the first six, I noticed that each canoe had one resident spider. There was one, and only one, small, nondescript brown spider in each new canoe – with no exceptions. Once I noticed this, I started keeping track and it held true for every single one of the 41 canoes, except for two that had two spiders, but each in the far opposite end of the canoe.

I looked them up online and as best I can tell they are Cheiracanthium mildei (ky-ruh-KAN-thee-um MILL-dee-eye), also known as the long-legged sac spider. I could be totally wrong about that, of course. Apparently, the overturned canoes must mimic their ideal habitat, but also encompass exactly one Cheiracanthium mildei territory.  

Seeing as how I'm not sure about the identification and I struggle to remember the pronunciation, I've decided to rename them Kevlarus Canoeum Exclusivie and hereby proclaim them the official spider of Cook County's interesting and unique West End.
 

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Pileated woodpecker

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 20

Not too surprisingly, May is rapidly slipping away. The Ojibwe “budding flowers moon” (Zaagibagaa Giizis) will grace the north woods this weekend. Then we head off toward the commemorative “Memorial Day” weekend to kick-off summer.

As I begin this week's report, summer feels a long ways off. Our big day of the walleye fishing opener came and went under less than favorable conditions. “Old man winter” kind of gave us a kiss goodbye reminding all in these parts there is still a little click in his heels.

Strong northwest winds, dismal skies and occasional showers of snow flurries were the order as temps hovered around the freezing point. Saturday AM found a skiff of snow on the ground, and water in my deck-side avian drinking dish stayed frozen all day. It was so cold conditions even prompted a couple nights of firing up the old wood burning stove.

Spring will no doubt bounce back by the time this scoop airs. And, there’s a good chance the last of the snow along our Mile O Pine will have faded into history.

In retrospect, while winter seemed less than gruff during the past months, we’ve had snow on the ground in varying amounts from November into the third week of May. If I count right, it’s seven months of north-country heaven for yours truly.

Although the area experienced a dash of winter, we’ve still not received enough moisture to diminish the wildfire danger. Cooler conditions of late have been a help, but rain remains the key component. The rain recorded here has barely settled the dust in the last week.

Most locals I know deferred frosty angling for a nicer day. However, out-of-towners owever. out-of-towners were not deterred. After all, it's Minnesota and fishing opener is a rite of the season. A trip along the Trail this past weekend found vehicle after vehicle either toting or pulling some kind of watercraft.

Boats started cruising by on the Gunflint gal before Saturday morning twilight and continued right through the day in spite of frigid air and rough seas. I suppose a few “finnies” were caught, but with the waters so cold right now, I’m guessing most walleyes were holed up in favor of warmer waters someday soon.

Last week's story about the first bear sighting has advanced into chapter two. Several folks along the Gunflint Lake south shore report the meanderings of a really “big” one around their places. Of those sharing the “Bruno” visits, none indicate any property ravaging or confrontations - just that it’s snooping around. I guess residents must be doing a good job of removing temptations thus far.

The folks at Gunflint Lodge have observed it, too, and believe this guy/gal may be the same one that caused them considerable grief last summer by getting into a cabin or two without checking in first at the reservation desk.

The Chik-Wauk Museum’s loon nesting platform is reported to now be occupied. I have not been witness to the returning occupants, but the museum manager indicates she witnessed a parental changing of the guard one day last week, so the fragile ovals must be there for the warming. Happy days are here again! All hope is looting raptors can be kept at bay.

On a related note, I’m told the loon cam at the Chik-Wauk site will be up and operating soon. Check the website to follow the nesting/hatching activity over the next few weeks.

When the sun has peeked between the clouds over the past few days, there’s been ceremonious tweeting throughout the woods. Harmonizing is not necessarily the order of performance as crows, jaybirds and the like, are all singing a different tune. And, as I’ve been out around the yard picking up winter blow-down, percussive components have been added to the northern ensemble with drumming grouse and a hammering pileated woodpecker chipping in solo parts. Ah, the north woods refrains of spring, what a delight!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! On the watch for emerging green!

(Photo by Mick Thompson via Flickr)

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Superior National Forest Update: May 20

Hi. I’m Cathy Peterson, business management on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the week of May 20th, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

 It’s spring, and there are a lot of things happening outside. Hummingbirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks have made their way back to the north country. While the grosbeaks can find seeds fairly easily this time of year, flowers are a bit harder to find. If you have a hummingbird feeder, now’s the time to fill it. A simple solution of four parts water to one part sugar works as well or better than commercial nectar. You don’t need to boil the water, but if you do heat the water to dissolve the sugar, make sure it is back to room temperature before you put it out for the birds. Most feeders hold a lot of nectar, and it often goes bad before it runs out. Usually, you only need to fill feeders halfway. You should be replacing nectar every few days, or sooner if it gets cloudy.

Along with the birds returning, baby animals are starting to show up. Cute as they are, remember they are wild creatures. Don’t crowd even tame appearing animals, you don’t want them to get too used to humans. Watch out too for little ones on the road, they really don’t have any ‘car smarts’ yet.

There are some big ones on the road, too -- big in the sense of logging trucks. More weight restrictions have been lifted, and there is a fair amount of timber work going on right now. Log trucks are hauling on the Trappers Lake Road (FR 369), Dumbbell River Road (FR 174), the Wanless Road (FR 172), Lake County 705, Cook County 33 (the Perent Lake Road), and The Grade (FR 170) in the Tofte District. On Gunflint, there will be heavy log truck traffic on the Greenwood and Shoe Lake roads during the next couple of weeks. Harvest is currently taking place off of Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, and Firebox Road, with operations scheduled to begin off of the Trestle Pine Road (FR1365) soon. With the dry weather, clouds of dust coming down the road means either a log truck or a Tasmanian Devil is approaching. Either way, you’ll need to pull over and give them room.

Most, if not all, of our docks will be in the water this weekend, which is great news as it is supposed to be fantastic weather. If, instead of boating, you are planning a hike, or are planning on going into the wilderness, be aware that footpaths in many places are still very brushy from the winter storms. Portage trails and latrine trails in the wilderness, and hiking trails both inside and outside the wilderness, all may take a bit more effort to hike. There will be fallen branches and brush across the trail in some places. We are working on clearing these trails, but it may be a couple of months before they are totally cleared.

As weather conditions allow, fire crews will be working on prescription burning. These preemptive actions clear out the fuels at ground level which could cause hazardous conditions in the event of a wildfire. Details can be found on our website and at our offices. The area where the burn is occurring will be marked with signs on the roadway.

May 27, next Friday, is the deadline for registering for the June 11 “Take a Kid Fishing” event. It is possible that we may be filling open spots after that date, but it would help with our planning to have registration done by next Friday. There is only a limited number of spots, so register early to make sure your child can come fishing with us. “Take a Kid Fishing” is open to children 5 through 12. Call the Gunflint Office at 387-1750 to register or for more information.

Try taking a kid fishing this weekend, too, or just go out yourself. It looks like a great weekend to get out on the water!

Until next week, this has been Cathy Peterson with the Superior National Forest Update.

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Intentional fire along the Sawbill Trail makes an eerie sight at night

West End News: May 19

The news is good in the West End this week, thanks to 400 employees returning to work at North Shore Mining in Silver Bay. It is a wrenching blow to the entire West End when the plant shuts down. Basically, when North Shore Mining sneezes, the West End gets a cold and Silver Bay gets pneumonia. 580 workers were laid off last winter, so a callback of 400 people is good, but hopefully the remaining layoffs will end soon.
 
I was chatting with some of the temporary fire-fighters at one of the local watering holes this week. There are many out of state crews in town these days, including these fine fellows from Whitefish, Montana. I was surprised when they told me that their tour here had just been extended for another two weeks. When we were chatting, it was raining, right after it had been snowing, so the fire danger did not seem so high. They said the forecast was dry, so they’re hanging around to keep an eye on things. The Forest Service is doing a lot of intentional burning while the conditions are good for that. Having the extra crews on hand is probably part of that process as well.
 
Cook County Higher Education is celebrating 20 years of operation this week. Although located in Grand Marais, Higher Ed has provided college level education for dozens and dozens of West Enders over the years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cook County Higher Education is the most efficient and cost effective social program in the county. They provide expertise, support, logistics and financial aid to students of all ages who want to pursue their educational dreams while living right here in Cook County. 
 
For instance, they are offering a Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide course starting in June.  This certification can qualify you for good jobs that are in demand, but is also are a good first step toward more advanced health care training, leading to better and better paying jobs. Higher Ed says that if you are interested, regardless of your financial situation, you should apply and they will work diligently to find a way to make it work for you. To find them, just google “Cook County Higher Education” or call WTIP for full contact information.
 
The Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland is looking for some volunteers this summer. They need window washing, weed pulling, landscaping and help painting the dugouts. I must confess, when I read about painting the dugouts, I pictured Finland residents painting dugout canoes and wondered to myself why on earth they had dugout canoes. Half a day later, it dawned on me that they meant the dugouts at the ball field – at least I think that’s a more reasonable guess. Call Joyce Yamamoto at 218-353-0300 and leave a message if you can spare some time.
 
Birch Grove School’s “Gala For the Grove” is scheduled for Saturday, June 18. Get your tickets early to this popular event. The elegant, multi-course meal is just the beginning of the fun that includes a silent auction, prize drawings and the always-popular live auction. The auctioneer is frankly terrible, but the donated auction items are spectacular and steer every dollar to serving the students at the award winning Birch Grove Community School. Contact Caroline at 663-0170 to reserve your tickets.
 
I have an ethical dilemma on my hands and would like the West End community to help me solve it. About a week ago, an unfamiliar bicycle appeared in the bike rack here at Sawbill. That is not an uncommon event, so I thought nothing of it. But, a few days later, a note appeared on the bike that said “Dibs – Bilbo.” Bilbo is my nickname among the Sawbill crew – don’t ask me why. Apparently, the crew decided that if it wasn’t claimed, the bike should be mine, as my bike is living in Montana with my youngest son.
 
When I made inquiries, it came to light that a customer had found the bike in the woods alongside the Sawbill Trail. They spotted it back in the woods, fished it out and delivered it to Sawbill.
 
It’s not an expensive or particularly new bike, but it’s nice enough that it certainly doesn’t look abandoned. I guessed that it maybe fell off a car-rack, but it doesn’t seem to have the kind of dents and scratches that would result from that kind of accident. My best guess is that someone stashed it, for whatever reason, with the idea of picking it up later. Of course, when they returned, they would jump to the conclusion that it had been stolen.
 
Before I can feel good about calling the bike my own, I’m putting out word that the bike is here. If you own and can even come close to describing it, then it should return to its rightful owner. You can email me at: bill@sawbill.com or contact me through WTIP. Let’s see what word of mouth can turn up.
 
It’s episodes like this that make be so glad to live in Cook County’s West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: May 17

Kalina, Sophia and Silas report the latest School News.

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Cherokee Lake

A Year in the Wilderness: May 13 - Canoe all the time

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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Northern Sky: May 14 - 27

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

Mars in opposition, at its peak brightness the 21 through 24; a soft golden Saturn also in opposition; Jupiter in the southwest; this week's challenge: Corvus, the crow; and a full moon rising at 8:24pm on Sautrday 21, four hours after fullness.

(image by chaouki via Wikimedia Commons)


 
Chik-Wauk

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 13

Into week two of our fifth month finds spring edging forward, seemingly with two steps forward then one step back. As this scoop hits the keyboard, the upper Gunflint Trail has been a part of extreme temperature swings.    

As last week's column aired, this neck of the woods saw the mercury soar to the 90 degree mark up at Trail's end, and in less than 24 hours, we at Wildersmith awoke to frost on the roof tops.  

All of this has happened under mostly fair skies, in spite of occasional tufts of smoke from the raging Canadian wildfire in Alberta. Fair skies obviously have left this area moisture starved with barely a few sprinkles since our return of a week ago.  

So we Gunflinters are in grave wildfire danger too. At this writing, folks remain on pins and needles wondering why responsible agencies have not invoked total burning bans in the county, knowing about 98 percent of all wildfires are caused by human actions. 

It’s particularly nerve racking remembering that nine years ago at this time, the territory was under searing siege due to a judgmental error by a lone camper. The resulting historic Ham Lake Fire torched 75,000 acres of the border country and destroyed over 140 upper Trail property structures. 

Needless to say, residents are quickly getting their wildfire sprinkler systems up and running. Yours truly has been into the cold lake placing pump lines and firing up the three units for which I have responsibility. Wildersmith is ready, hoping the need for pumping does not become a reality.  

Speaking of the cold lake, it was so cold my hands ached in a matter of seconds when dipped into the icy liquid. The rest of me was covered in deep sea wet suit protection. Going through this annual exercise is always a keen reminder of how dangerous the water can be soon after ice out. By the way, the water temp was in the mid to upper 30s as I took my first dip of 2016, brrrr!  

With cool temps and dwindling patches of piled snow, the eighth annual “Ham Run” half marathon and 5k run were celebrated last Saturday. The event, held in commemoration of human survival and forest re-birth following the horrendous Ham Lake burn of 2007, saw over 140 runners in the two events.

The anniversary of the running was a happy time, as have been the previous seven, with sunny skies guiding runners along this taxing, but most scenic course in the universe. Thanks go out to organizers, sponsors, and dozens of volunteers for making it happen. 

As May ends week two, excitement is building at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. The Museum will be opening for its seventh season. Meanwhile, final touches are being applied to the new Nature Center building project. Along with the new Nature Center exhibits and programming, the Museum is featuring a spectacular new temporary exhibit spotlighting “Birds of the Gunflint Wilderness.” Both facilities will open on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  

I’ve had a sneak preview of the new NC facility. The exhibits are simply stunning as the Nature Center planning committee, in concert with the Split Rock Studios’ designers, have put together another splendid component for sharing more of the Gunflint story.  Gunflint Trail residents and visitors alike will want to make the historic resort site a destination choice for this summer. The new Nature Center and museum temporary exhibit is a must see. Special Nature Center programming events can be monitored on the Chik-Wauk website.         

This week's commentary finds me reporting a first bear sighting. It was a momma and her triplet cubs plotting a breaking and entering of the garbage canisters site along the Trail.

In another critter episode, a fellow reports the sighting of an adolescent moose having apparently received a snort from momma to get out on its own. This rejection must have been in favor of a new arrival. Guess the forlorn youngster was wondering aimlessly, looking as confused as a freshman going to the first day of high school.  

On a final “wild neighborhood” note, after telling of snowshoe hares making their wardrobe transformation in last week's column, I recently observed three white tails yet to have shed their winter camo. I’m thinking their copper tone summer wear is due very soon.   

Lastly, spring really becomes official this weekend with our “walleye opening day.” Good luck to all anglers and be safe in these icy cold northland waters!    

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Our Gunflint spring is trying to “bust out, all over.”
 

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Great Expectations Charter School

School News from Great Expectations: May 12

Sol and Noah report the latest news from Great Expectations Charter School in Grand Marais.

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Spring Beauty

North Woods Naturalist: Spring ephemerals

They’re the first flowers of spring getting as much sun as they can before the leaf cover takes over.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about spring ephemerals.

(Photo by Emma-O Productions on Flickr)

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