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News & Information

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


What's On:

Magnetic North: Staying home

Welcome back to Magnetic North. Today I want to address the subject of staying put for the winter. Staying home instead of sprouting snowbird wings and flapping away at the first sign of frost. Fact is, most of us retired sorts could go somewhere else. Somewhere warmer. But we don’t. Too much money we say. Too much hassle we protest. And so we stay. Stoically, but seldom silently, enduring all that Mother Nature chucks at us for the next six months. We are indeed, the stuff of epic drama. And drama, my friends, is exactly what it is and why it is we stay.

Because the truth of the thing, the real reason why so many of us stay here all winter is this: This is where the good stuff is and we don’t want to miss any of it. Even for a month or two. Or, in my case, even for a week or two.

For instance, have you noticed that the pine and balsam and spruce are now taking center stage? Leaves are leaving deciduous trees naked and slightly embarrassed. To their rescue and our craving for color come the evergreens. The sight of these giants standing tall throughout a January blizzard warms me as no Florida sun could ever do. 

The apple tree in the yard is bare now, too; but one bushel of its fruit is already transformed into silky, tangy sweet apple butter. Twelve pints this year. I got the recipe from a book my husband, Paul, got me at a long gone bookshop in town, the Book Station. There, proprietors Ray and Virginia Quick, also sold angora mittens made by a local woman who spun her yarn right off her bunnies and dyed the wool with Kool-Aid! Virginia was a fount of grandmotherly advice for a newcomer like me. And Ray was a daily vision, breezing through town on his way to the little shop on his ten-speed bike. They, like their shop, are gone now, but with each new batch of apple butter, I remember them fondly. Remembering blooms in winter.

So do spectacular sunsets and sunrises. The former casting a rosy glow over the world - Sigurd Olson called it “Ros Light.” And the latter coming so late in the morning that even a slug-a-bed like me can catch it most days. And between sundown and sunup there is a delicious 14 hours in which to star-gaze, build fires in the hearth, read, write, imagine, and, most glorious of all, give in to the siren call of comfort food.

Ahh, comfort food. We must have it so we can bulk up in the event we end up in a ditch and are not found for days, don’t you know. At least that’s my excuse. On the first visit to our clinic after moving here, I found no comfort at all when I stepped on the scale in late January. Before I could protest the inaccuracy of the equipment, the nurse patted my hand and said, somewhat cruelly I thought, “Welcome to Cook County.” We transplants hear this phrase often in our first years, usually after a mind-boggling event of some kind renders us speechless.

Speech in winter tends to be as brisk as the air. Small talk is for summer. Pumping gas in a gale wind in subzero temperatures one tends to keep one’s mouth shut, conserving what little warm air there is inside. At the most, an exchange out of doors at the market might be along these lines.

“Had 21 below at my place to his morning.” To which a reply might be, “Anything freeze up on you?” The concern being, not fingers or toes but plumbing. Winter is our shared enemy and we are comrades bonded together in the fight to endure, if not to conquer it. We strategize hourly about how to get to work, then home, then to this or that meeting. We are ready for anything. And we are invariably snookered.

The power goes off. The private plowers all break down on the same day. The early winter rain turns to snow at midnight and garage doors freeze shut. 

No day is ever like one in living memory, according to the weather mavens at the Blue Water Cafe. It may be better. Or worse. But it is never, ever, the same.

And yet, in the midst all of this uncertainly we have community and the ever-present sweetness of wood smoke in the air. Add to these, the incessant meetings of committees and boards and hobby groups, like the knitters at Java Moose coffee shop or the cribbage crowd at the Senior Center. Community. It’s here to take or to leave. But it is here for us, solid and snug and comforting, 

This place, this stretch of woods and shore in winter is truly a world apart. There is a saying here that many come to our woods and shore to find themselves and when winter comes, often don’t care much for what they have found. I get that. The unbroken whiteness. The monochromatic palette and daily bouts with nature is not for everyone. But I just happen to be wired to love that kind of world and for that I am so very, very grateful. 

In the summer months, tourists often ask us, “what do you do up here in the winter?” Sometimes I say no one actually lives here in winter, that we all leave and the highway is closed at the county line. Or some such smarty pants answer. But I never tell them the truth. Because to yammer on about Northern Lights and apple butter, much less the thrill of bag day at the recycling shop on Fridays, would be exposing some of my favorite things to ridicule. And so usually, when asked that question, I just channel Jack Nicholson in the Shining and smile and say, “well now, that’s a secret.”

And that tends to end the conversation pretty quick.

(Photo courtesy of Ed Suominen on Flickr)



Superior National Forest Update: October 1

Hi. This is Myra Theimer, silviculturalist, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Forest. For the week of September 30th, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

It is the turning of the season, and of the leaves! This weekend could well be the peak of the fall colors, so you owe it to yourself to take a drive or walk, or both, out in the woods this weekend. Be aware that there will be plenty of others doing the same thing though, so drive carefully on our one lane back roads, and show respect for others in how you park and where you stand to take pictures.

September 29, Friday, was the end of our winter office hours, so Ranger Stations in Grand Marais and Tofte will now be closed on weekends. It is also the end of the quota permit season in the Boundary Waters. Starting October 1st, you no longer need the reservable permit picked up at the ranger stations for an overnight wilderness trip. You still need a permit, but you can use the self-issued permit available at most entry points. Bring a pen in your car though - the pencils seem to disappear from our permit boxes!

The fee camping season is almost over as well. Starting around October 15th, we will be shutting down water systems and taking out docks at campgrounds. When the water is shut down, garbage service will end as well, and it will be the end of fee collection for the year. The campgrounds will remain open for use, but you will have to bring water and pack out all your garbage.

Hunting seasons are underway for grouse, bear, and archery deer. That means that you should be wearing your orange on you fall hikes, and try not to interfere with hunters. Last year, we redid some of our maps and signs on Tofte and Gunflint’s hunter walking trails, and we invite people to make use of those areas. Maps and locations can be found on the Superior National Forest website under ‘Recreation, Hunting’.

If you are using an ATV for hunting or just to get outside, be sure to get a copy of the newest motor vehicle use map at a district office. These maps show which roads are open to ATV use. There are slight changes from year to year, so don’t trust someone else’s advice on where to ride. Check the map for yourself, or you could end up with a ticket.

You may have noticed - it’s been raining a lot! There were plans to do some prescribed burning this fall, but it may be that we won’t be able to do that due to the wet conditions. Fire crews are going to be burning some piles the next few weeks while things dry out. The piles are a result of cutting undergrowth in some areas to reduce fuel build up.

There is some autumn timber harvest taking place that will have log trucks out on the roads. On Gunflint, harvest is taking place off of Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, and Powers Lake Road. Please use caution when driving or recreating in these areas. In addition, road work will be taking place on the Blueberry Road. On Tofte, logging activity is the same as last week: The Grade between the Sawbill Trail and Baker Lake, Sawbill Landing Road near Silver Island and Sawbill Landing, the Dumbell River Road, and the Wanless Road. There is also still culvert work being done on the Grade between Sawbill Trail and Crescent Lake Campground.

Whether you are hunting grouse or hunting fall colors, have a great weekend! It should be a good one. Until next week, this has been Myra Theimer with the Superior National Forest Update.


Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: September 29

Sophia, Kalina, Tori and Arlo report the latest School News.


Keep an eye out for this guy and his friends if you are driving the West End back roads in search of fall colors

West End News: September 29

Congratulations to Dave and Amy Freeman for completing their “Year in the Wilderness” project this week. In case you’ve been living in Siberia, I’ll tell you that Dave and Amy spent the last twelve months traveling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness without coming out, even once. They accomplished this feat to call attention to the great value of the BWCA Wilderness in the face of a massive proposed mining project that is almost certain to damage the wilderness.
I used to refer to Dave and Amy as Lutsen residents – and it is true that they own a piece of land in Lutsen – but their reality is that they live in the wilderness. I say this not because of their literally living in a designated wilderness for the last year, but because they have chosen a unique lifestyle that takes them from one huge wilderness trip to the next. One or both of them have circumnavigated North America by kayak, canoe and dog team, paddled the length of the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Rio Roosevelt rivers. They’ve explored the jungles of Central America, circumnavigated Lake Superior and paddled from Ely to Washington, D.C., just for a partial list of their wildland journeys. 
In fact, they flew to Washington, D.C., the next day after emerging from their wilderness year, where they are lobbying congress and the Obama administration to find the wisdom to protect the BWCA Wilderness. Talk about culture shock. But, they are no strangers to re-entering civilization after long trips, so I’m sure they will cope just fine. Hopefully, they’ll find their way back to their estwhile home, the West End, soon to visit their many friends here.
Birch Grove Community School took the upper classman on a field trip to the Forest Service Tofte District compound, which is right next door to the school. The kids stopped first in the office where they got their Junior Ranger stickers and admired the stuffed animals and historic photos. Then, they walked over to the historic Ranger’s Dwelling where they learned about log cabin construction, more history of the Forest Service in the West End and historic preservation techniques.
According to Birch Grove School Board member, Skip Lamb, a good time was had by all. Skip also reported that Birch Grove is very close to hiring a new Director, the position that is now held on an interim basis by the founding director, Diane Blanchett. Skip expressed confidence in the future of the school, citing legislation in the works to make it clearly legal for the three West End townships to provide financial support. He said the school is running strong this fall and invites everyone to stop by any time to see what excellence in education looks like, right here in the West End.
The upcoming Presidential election is hard to avoid these days. With that in mind, I recently read an interesting book entitled “Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam.” It tells the story of John Brinkley, who was the most successful medical quack in American history. Brinkley was world famous in the early part of the 20th century. He made and lost several fortunes and ran a variety of very successful, but completely unethical scams. At the height of his popularity, he ran twice for Governor of Kansas and nearly won.
The most interesting part of the book was the description of Brinkley’s personality. Even though he was a complete fake and a dangerous criminal, he got by for many years by steadfastly proclaiming that he was the greatest at whatever he did and launching bitter personal attacks on any who dared question him. When the book, which was written in 2009, quoted Brinkley’s statements verbatim, they sounded eerily similar to statements made by the current Republican candidate for President. 
The good news is that Brinkley was eventually exposed and discredited by science and logic in the form of the then rather new American Medical Association. Once he was exposed by impartial investigation, from both journalists and prosecutors, Brinkley’s elaborate house of cards collapsed quickly and irretrievably. In my humble opinion, the same dramatic fall from grace awaits the great charlatan of our own time, as hard truth overwhelms the flim-flam.
The fall colors have been appearing very slowly this year. The reason is the wet weather and the startling fact that we will not have a single real frost event in the month of September. It is really pretty back in the woods, but we are still a week or two away from the peak. The high winds this week brought down mass quantities of white pine needles, but left the vast majority of leaves still on the trees.
If you head out for a color tour in the West End this week, I recommend the Honeymoon trail that runs east/west between the Caribou Trail and Sawbill Trail. It is a narrow winding road that follows the glacial eskers through a forest that is heavy with maples. I like it best when the maples are about half red and still half green, which will be the case this week. Watch out for rutting bull moose though.  I barely dodged a giant bull on the Sawbill Trail just last night. All’s well that ends well, but let’s just say it was a little close for comfort. It’s all part of the fun here in the wild, West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 23

The blush of fall is now fully engaged in the northwoods. The natural “east is east” and “west is west” equinox phenomenon has sent “old Sol” past the tipping point toward the southern hemisphere. 

Our border country “Technicolor” spectacle has shifted into high gear. While the intensity has been mounting rather deliberately up to this point, the official declaration, this past Thursday, seems to have set off an orange/red blitz in just a few days. This area will be a “leaf peepers” dream for the next couple weeks.  

Several cloudy days have been the order in this neighborhood during the last seven. Fortunately, the dismal time did not go to waste as the Wildermith rain gauge collected over an inch and three-quarters, with some upper Trail folks reporting even more.   

Speaking of wet happenings, a check of the Gunflint Lake water temp at the Smith dock, found the mercury in a state of decline to sixty-five degrees. This is down from our warmest summer reading of near seventy-five.  

Whereas several areas in the northland got nipped, this place in the woods missed the predicted frost of last week. It was close though, with two consecutive mornings at thirty-five on multiple thermometers. Yet I did detect what appeared to be frozen crystal in a few ditch locations during a trip to town on one of those days. 

I received an interesting report on some lake water testing conducted this summer here on Gunflint Lake. Some of our residents have long been concerned about the application of calcium chloride to roads adjoining the Gunflint Gal for dust control, as well as copious amounts of chemical treatment put on the Trail during the winter. Our interest of course, is whether this practice is having any adverse effect in regard to calcium (C++) run-off and a build-up of such in the lake water. 

Sample readings were taken in cooperation with County Soil and Water in mid-June. I’m told thirty-five lakes were tested in the County, and of all the lakes sampled, Gunflint was the third highest with analysis showing 8.2ppm. A rough calculation projects there could be nearly a thousand tons of excess calcium chloride in this lake. In comparison, Tucker Lake, just two lakes to the south, and not having close proximity road treatments, had a reading of 3.5ppm. 

The critical issue on excessive levels of C++ is a correlation between C++ and INVASIVE SPECIES, notably rusty crayfish and zebra mussels. According to our Gunflint Lake water monitor, Gunflint Lake, on the whole, does not have good habitat for “rusties,” but the invasive rascals could devastate the shallower Little Gunflint and Little North Lakes. What happens is that “rusties” destroy vegetation and hog available food, thus having a negative impact on fish habitat. This surely has potential implications for other upper Trail lakes as well. Apparently, research says that 5ppm (this could be found to be even lower) is a cutoff for sustaining rusty crayfish.    

Attempts are being made with MPCA to do some deep water testing this winter on the Gunflint to further assess the consequences of this C++ issue. In the meantime, Gunflint Lake property owners and other territory lake residents will no doubt be thinking about the value of keeping the dust down versus environmental costs to our pristine waters.   

A story of near tragedy and triumph took place on Hungry Jack Lake little more than a week ago. A loon was discovered near a resident’s dock in a seriously distressed state. The bird had a fish hook in its chest, and fish line tangled around its head, obviously making it difficult to eat, dive and/or swim. 

There are “good Samaritan” acts someplace every day. Fortunately for this Minnesota icon, Hungry Jack and Leo lake neighbors were in the right place at the right time and gathered quickly. A fish net was chosen as the implement for rescue, and a gal in a kayak with three folks in a canoe set out to corral the troubled animal. They soon netted the loon and brought it to the dock of Hungry Jack Outfitters.    

The terrified loon was wrapped in toweling, but nevertheless, inflicted numerous blows with its beak before rescuers were able to secure its head. The fish line was ultimately removed and the hook carefully cut off and pulled out.  With loving hands the handsome critter was released back into the lake where it gave a “hoot” (perhaps saying thanks), flapped its wings and swam away, for sure saved from an anguishing death. Congrats and thanks to the caring folks for helping a creature of the “wild neighborhood” to triumph over tragedy.  See pictures of the rescue effort attached to the Wildersmith column at   

Most of the time it’s difficult to retrieve lost fishing tackle, but if at all possible, anglers could do these floating critters a big favor by not leaving to chance that line and hooks with bait will never cause a problem. 

On a final note, The Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in concert with the GT Scenic Byway Committee and WTIP, is looking for stories, pics, and artifacts of the Ham lake Fire. Such are needed for the 2017 Chik-Wauk Museum temporary exhibit, as next year commemorates the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. The exhibit will feature remembrances of this flaming disaster, along with educational presentation of wildfire ecology in the territory.  

If anyone has items from the historic event and is willing to share them with exhibit organizers, please let the Society know by calling the museum at (218)388-9915 to be directed to project planners. Donations are being solicited to assist in funding this extraordinary undertaking.      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, where every border country day is great, and some are even better!

(photos courtesy of loon rescue team)


Superior National Forest Update: September 23

Hi.  This is Renee Frahm, visitor information specialist, with this week’s National Forest Update -  information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Forest. For the week of September 23rd, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.
Yesterday, September 22nd, was the fall equinox.  From here on out, until spring, our days are shorter than our nights.  The color change in leaves is actually triggered by day length, so our leaves are starting to turn in larger numbers.  If you’re out in the woods looking at fall color, be sure you are stopping in safe places where you can pull over with space for others to pass.  In addition to leaf watchers, there are also grouse hunters in the woods, along with people bow hunting for deer, so it is time to dig out some blaze orange to wear when you go for a hike.  Watch for vehicles parked along roads, but you may find other obstacles as well.  One of our vehicles was surprised to come over a hill and find the roadway completely blocked by a fallen tree.  They were driving at a sensible rate of speed, and were able to easily stop before the tree, but had they been going faster, it could have been a problem.  With no recent storms or winds, they weren’t expecting a deadfall.  When they got to look, it turned out that the culprit was a beaver who didn’t care where his tree fell.  You never know what might be on our roads.
Of course, added to the leaf watchers, hunters, and beaver felled trees, are logging trucks in some areas.  On the Tofte District, look for truck traffic on The Grade between the Sawbill Trail and Baker Lake, the Sawbill Landing Road near Silver Island and Sawbill Landing, the Dumbell River Road, and the Wanless Road.  On Gunflint, harvest is taking place off of Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, and Powers Lake Road.    
There is fall road work out there as well.  Culverts are being installed on the Blueberry Road, and on the north end of the Richey Lake Road.  The work also continues on The Grade between the Sawbill Trail and Crescent Lake Campground.  There may be road closures between thirty minutes and an hour in all these locations.
One other sure sign of fall happens next weekend.  With the start of October, our district offices return to winter hours, so this is the last weekend Forest Service offices will be open.  Starting next weekend, our Ranger Stations will be open Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 4:30, excluding holidays.  Boundary Waters permitting also changes.  While all users will continue to need a permit, starting October 1st, overnight users will not need a reservation and can use the same self-issued permit as day users.  These permits are available at ranger stations, but also can be found at the information kiosk at most entry points.  That means that this is an excellent time of year for quick wilderness trips - if it looks like good weather, grab a canoe and your tent and head out.
Due to wet conditions in the woods, it is unlikely that the prescription burns planned for some areas in the Boundary Waters will happen over the weekend, and things may need to dry out until the end of next week.  Conditions change rapidly though, and you should check with one of our district offices for up to the minute information on these planned burns.  With the burns delayed, fire crews have been busy clearing the Border Route Trail of downed trees.  They’ve made excellent progress, and most of the trail is now clear.  The last half mile of heavy blowdown near the intersection with the South Lake Trail is expected to be cleared by the end of next week.
So, whether you are out hunting for fall color, or hunting for wilderness solitude, or hunting for grouse, have a great time out there!  Until next week, this has been Renee Frahm with the Superior National Forest Update.



Fall begins on a wet note

Fall enters with a rainy weekend.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen speaks with National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Stewart.


A carefully built cairn shows the way to last week's Rainbow Gathering in Tofte

West End News: September 22

The Rainbow Gathering on the Sawbill Trail has come and gone. Most West End residents and visitors were probably not even aware that it happened. It was deep in the woods about two miles beyond the “Dog Tired” gravel pit, which is about ten miles up the Trail from Tofte.
Before the gathering started, some authorities were advising us that we would be inundated with Rainbow people, as Sawbill Outfitters had been designated as their “official” store for supplies and drinking water.
A few days before the start of the gathering, a couple of people did stop in to fill water jugs and buy firewood. After that, we seemed to have almost no traffic from the event, except for a few genial young people who had missed the turn and were lost.
One couple I talked to was looking for Forest Road #350, but of course, being a local, I don’t know the roads by their numbers. I know them by their local names, like Kawishiwi Lake Road, Rhino Road, Pancore Lake Road or Raspberry Road. When I asked them what their destination was, they were shy about revealing that they were looking for the Rainbow Gathering. They finally said they were looking for “a gathering of people” and I was able to give them directions with no problem.
When I drove into the gathering site to see what was going on, the most remarkable thing I saw was a giant bull moose about half a mile before seeing any Rainbows.
I doubt this will be the last that the West End will see of the Rainbow People. Like almost everyone else, they seem to like it here. I’m glad that they are able to have their peaceful gatherings without controversy or even much comment from locals.
There are a couple of cool events coming up that you should put on your calendar now. The first is a performance of the “Music and Magic of Patsy Cline” featuring Cassie and the Bobs at William Kelley High School in Silver Bay. The show is scheduled for 7pm on Saturday, October 8. Northern Lake County Arts Board is the show’s sponsor, so you know it will be great. Who doesn’t like Patsy Cline… and if you don’t know who Patsy Cline is, then you are required to attend – no exceptions.
The second fun event is the annual Birch Grove Community School Halloween Carnival, scheduled for Sunday, October 30, from 2 until 4pm. The carnival is not only fun and a great tradition, it’s also an important fundraiser for the school. So be there, or be square.
Tofte garderner extrodinaire, Jessa Frost, was proud to announce that she has successfully raised black beans in her gardern in the heart of the infamous Zone 3. She posted a picture on Facebook holding seven ripe beans in her hand, with mightly Lake Superior in the background. Under questioning, she admitted that the seven beans are a third of the total harvest so far, but did say that there will be many more if we can hold off the first frost for another week or two. This is ironic, coming from a gardener named Frost.
The fall colors have really popped up in the high country in the last few days. You have to get at least 10 miles away from the big lake for the best viewing, but nature’s big show should be coming soon to a hillside near you. If you’re looking for good color this week, I recommend the Eagle Mountain Trail, which is not only colorful right now, but is also the highest point in Minnesota.. and just one of the high points in the wonderful West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.


Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: September 22

Kalina, Sophia and Tucker report the latest School News.



North Woods Naturalist: Autumn update

Autumn is slow in coming, but changes are being made in the natural world, just not as apparent as in some years. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about an autumn update.