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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:

North Woods Naturalist: Snow drifting

There’s more to snow drifts than beautiful shapes.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the process of drifting snow.

(Photo by James Jordan on Flickr)


Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: February 17

Deja, Kalina and Arlo report the latest School News.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 12

It seems almost inconceivable we are nearing the halfway point of month two. As January fades in the rear view mirror, seed and plant catalogs are filling our mail boxes, rousing spirits of those among us with green thumbs.  I’ve received a couple of those colorful growing prospectus and had to laugh when my frozen breathe obscured my reach to get the first one out of the snow covered letter box. 

Our hit and miss cold season is back this week after the brief spring prelude around first of the month. How long this snow and cold spell will hang in there is anyone’s guess.

A rather surprising snow happening blanketed the territory last weekend. Four to six inches redressed the forest from mid-Trail on out. Since then, we’ve had a few other lesser droppings, causing not too much strain, but still a pain. If I’m going to have to move the fluff, my time seems worthy of a substantial dose.

It’s notable that man-made piles of plowed white stuff are growing to cause visibility problems at road intersections, and mail boxes are getting hard to find. Furthermore, while stepping off the beaten path, I’ve found it knee high to nearly waist deep in places along the Mile O Pine.   

Most people acquainted with me know of my passion for the winter season. So they’ll understand my fascination with being out in the snow, whether it’s removing the bleached essence or just meandering through it. There’s almost nothing I can think of to match the solitude of frozen crystals descending from the heavens. 

In spite of the worry about what an approaching vehicle might do during winter driving conditions, a truly enjoyable experience for yours truly is a drive through Gunflint country as flakes are coming down. Such was the case during our run to the village and back for church last Sunday.

Intensities of the snowy excursion varied from near white-outs at times to meandering flurries at others along the frosted continuum. The splendor of a “Hallmark Card” scene in the making, was something to behold with each passing Gunflint mile. My enchantment probably sounds a little hokey, but such wilderness treks have unbelievable charm. If one enjoys the beauty of nature in winter, you just have to be here to fully appreciate.

Thursdays find me blazing the Trail into Grand Marais to file my weekly scoop in the WTIP studios. Nearly every week someone in town will ask, did you see any critters on the way in. While many trips are uneventful in terms of animal sightings, this past week a fine looking moose cow briefly interrupted the run. It’s always exciting when one encounters one of these north woods icons, especially, when it's not a close call with the vehicle. 

With the deer population nearly depleted in the upper Trail, it’s almost as unusual to see a white tail as to see a member of the declining moose heard. Friends came upon a singleton deer on south Gunflint Lake Road recently. It seemed to be in an exhausted state walking right down the middle of the road. 

The antlerless critter refused to move out of the way, apparently finding the plowed road easier wayfaring than the deep snow-filled ditches. After about a half mile of taking its share of the right-away out of the middle, it finally moved over so the vehicle could pass. Even then, the usually flighty animal did not bound away from danger. The situation would make one wonder if the deer had been in a run for its life and was just too drained to do be bothered by anything other than survival struggles.

On another note, deer predators remain on the hunt. With almost nightly regularity, one makes a trip down the Mile O Pine. Minor snows of late have left fresh tracking paths from Wildersmith to our mail box location about two miles away.  

I find “Brother Wolf” to be steadfastly focused on its mission down the road. An occasional stop to mark territorial boundaries is all that breaks the relentless straight line pattern of paw prints between the snow banks. In contrast, fox and coyotes, those distant cousins, wander in all directions sniffing every potential link to a meal source buried in white.

In a follow-up to last week's commentary on north-country water quality issues, I received copy of a new publication specific to Cook County. The document is the first in a series of reports on the status of water conditions in county lakes.  

Entitled “Water Watch”, it’s a collaborative newsletter produced by “Lake Superior North Watershed Project” (funded by the MPCA); Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations (CCCola); with contributions from County AIS Coordinator and Karen Evens (MPCA). At first reading, I find this issue to be well done and highly informative! Initial deliveries are going out to area lake association presidents for distribution to their members.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Have a great Valentine’s Day!
 (photo by Gordon Haber via Wikimedia Commons)



Superior National Forest Update: February 12

Hi.  I’m Joe Mundell, timber sale administrator, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For mid-February, here’s what’s happening on the Forest.
Since December, we’ve been talking about clearing trails of fallen trees from that month’s heavy snow event.  While a majority of designated ski and snowmobile trails have been cleared with a huge amount of help from supporting trail organizations and clubs, there are many miles of unplowed back roads used by snowmobiles which remain blocked.  We continue to work on tree removal, but for now, it is still a good idea to check with District offices before you head out to see if your choice of route has been cleared. 
Our winter wilderness rangers report that conditions on lakes are pretty bad.   There’s a deep layer of slush under the snow which makes snowshoeing or skiing difficult.  Our current cold snap should freeze that slush, but if it is well insulated by snow cover, it could take a while to freeze.  Until it does, people venturing out onto the ice should pack extra socks and be prepared in case you get your feet wet.  Wet socks at ten below go beyond uncomfortable and into the danger zone, so throw some extra socks and even a towel into your backpack.
Off the lakes though, this should be an excellent week for skiing.  The snow is nice and firm and fairly new, and the temperature is perfect if you are dressed for it.  If you’re out skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling, you might run into a Forest Service employee asking you to take a visitor use survey.  This is a national survey, and your input is an important part in the creation of an accurate picture of how the Superior is used for recreation.  We’d really appreciate it if you can take the time to take the survey.  It will help us better manage the Forest, and in the long run that will help you as well.
Our days are noticeably longer now, and the sun is much warmer than it was in December, but for deer and moose, this is a hard time of year as the food supplies continue to dwindle.  Whether it is because of salt on the roads, plants along the roadside, or just that sunrise and sunset are aligning with commute times, there are plenty of deer near or on roads right now, so keep a sharp eye out.  There are plenty of deer that have been hit on the sides of the roads as well, which means you also have to watch out for the low flying crows, ravens, and eagles doing the clean-up.  If you’re lucky, you may even see a wolf or two getting in on the free meal.
As you drive in the Forest, you may have to deal with deer and eagles and other animals in the road, but this week you won’t have to deal with many log trucks.  There are only a few timber sales going on with truck traffic.  On the Gunflint District, log hauling is taking place on FR144 (Old Greenwood), Shoe Lake Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Bally Creek Road, Caribou Trail, Ball Club Road, and the Grade.  There’s no hauling taking place on the Tofte District right now.
So, between the light truck traffic, the longer days, and the good weather, this will be an excellent couple of weeks to get outside and play in the Forest.  Enjoy it, and until next time, this has been Joe Mundell with the National Forest Update.



West End News: February 11

Congratulations to the Cook County High School Alpine Ski team on their highly successful season.  The girl’s team recently won the Section 7 championship, competing against more than 20 other teams, including some perennial powerhouses. 
Head Coach Charles Lamb, from Schroeder, has done a terrific job with the team.  He has sacrificed nearly all his fishing time to his coaching duties.  If you knew how much Charles likes to fish, you would really appreciate his commitment to the cause.
I’d also like to point out how lucky we are to have the premier ski area in the Midwest right here in the West End.  Not only is Lutsen Mountains a great facility, they have a long history of supporting the high school team.  They also support a strong junior program that is clearly paying off at the high school and college level for kids across Cook and Lake Counties.  Who knows when and where the next Cindy Nelson or Lindsey Vonn will appear.
It was fun to see Lutsen’s own Willard Nelson on virtually every regional media outlet as he celebrated the 75th anniversary of his induction into World War II military service. I saw Willard interviewed on Channel 6 while he was attending a reunion of other veterans at the Pickwick in Duluth. 
Many people who don’t know Willard may have been surprised to hear him say he is 101 years old. Here in the West End, no one is surprised that Willard is still going strong after an eventful 100 plus years of life. His quick wit and outgoing personality have made him a West End legend. He mentioned in his TV interview that he is the oldest resident on the North Shore. Knowing Willard, I’m sure that it’s an accurate statement.
Just a quick second notice that the Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte on Tuesday, March 1, from 2:30 through 6 pm. Call Carla at 663-0179 for an appointment. That is the same day as the Republican and Democratic precinct caucuses, so you can make a life saving donation and then nominate a nation saving presidential candidate in rapid succession. That’s what I call a productive day.
The recent Powerball frenzy reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad when the state lottery authorization was on the ballot back in 1989.  Without giving it much thought, I had drifted into thinking that a lottery was harmless fun that would generate significant tax income dedicated to improving Minnesota’s environment. When I offhandedly mentioned my opinion to my dad, he reacted forcefully, giving me a quick five-minute lesson on why lotteries are misguided and immoral.
His points were that a lottery is basically a tax on people who can afford it the least. Research shows that Minnesotans spend $82 each on lottery and scratch-off tickets every year. Even more disturbing is a 1999 Duke University study finding that people with an annual income of less than $10,000 average just under $600 annually on lottery games.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of gaining unimaginable wealth through pure luck. The reality is that winning is basically impossible. In 2015, Powerball changed the game to make the winning odds even worse, which drives up jackpots, which in turn drives up ticket sales. You are 246 times more likely to be struck by lightning, but the odds don’t really matter when people imagine themselves as a billionaire. Just to add insult to injury, the majority of people who win large jackpots usually regret it after a few years. It ruins their friendships, family relationships, and often ends in heartbreak and even broken physical and mental health.
What about those taxes for the environment and education? That must be a good thing, right? In fact, in the last Powerball cycle, Minnesotans spent 87 million dollars on tickets - 66 million dollars left the state while 21 million was received by the state. In other words, we are burning four dollars for every dollar of tax revenue. 
The windfall for the environment and education is a myth. Over time, the lottery revenue just replaces regular tax dollars, so there is no net gain in the budgets for the good causes. The displaced tax revenue is often returned as tax cuts, so at the end of the day, the lottery amounts to the poor subsidizing the rich. Does that sound like smart policy?
After hearing all this from my dad back in ’89, I voted no on the constitutional question allowing Minnesota to establish a legal lottery. After the question passed, I resolved to never participate in the lottery. Every time there is a huge jackpot and I have to wait in line at the store as people purchase their tickets, I joke that I expect to win the lottery even though I’ve never bought a ticket. The chances of my winning and the person buying the ticket winning are essentially the same.
A fair wage for real work is a much better policy for the country, the state and the beautiful West End.



A Year in the Wilderness: February 10 - Acorn in the Tent

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)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 5

Here we are into month two already. Although January seemed long, it was not as long as it might have been if this area was having a traditional winter. 

Having passed the legendary woodchuck/whistle pig/ground hog day, our part time winter reached the half-way mark just a day or so ago, according to the calendar. If conditions follow suit for the second half, our semi-winter is sure to be taking on a spring look sooner rather than later. 

As to the cranky critter with presumed prognosticating capabilities seeing its shadow and bailing back into its burrow for six more weeks of winter, the calendar says we’re going to have it in some form, regardless. Furthermore, the gnawing little nuisance was still snoring away in this neck of the woods on the second February day. Moreover, at this latitude it will likely not make an appearance until late April.

In addition, a weather observer/researcher down in Iowa contends the buck-tooth varmint is accurate less than 50 percent of the time. By comparison, this degree of rodent dependability equates closely with those who get paid to sensationalize our atmospheric happenings. Thusly, neither source is too reliable.  

In conclusion, whatever one thinks about this shadowy marmot spoof, the folk tale lines up quite well with our current array of aspiring presidential hopefuls, whose rhetoric predict this and promise that with, at best, perhaps an even lesser chance of ever delivering. 

Meanwhile, the Gunflint area experienced a brief spring-like interlude last weekend with temps along some parts of the Trail perking up over the freezing mark. This spike made short work of the few inches of new white dropped on us a couple days earlier and had roof edge icicles growing to new lengths. Now it’s colder once again.

It would seem the sudden warm-up did not lend itself well to the start of the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. With soft and sticky snow, it’s for certain those canine athletes labored long and hard. They, like the moose, would much prefer 20 below instead of that much above zero. See results of how our local entries finished on 

Calling all power sledders! The long distance poker game hits the Trails Sunday morning at nine am. Entries will depart from the Cook County Ridge Riders clubhouse on the Devil Track Lake south shore. Trails will be alive with screaming snowmobiles as the players make five stops at various lodges for their card hands before heading back for a 5:30 pm call. This event is always a fun time for those sledding folks. Participants are wished a safe run and good luck! 
With lakes frozen over, not many give thought to the ever increasing threat of invasive species in our pristine waters. However, if there are some such critters in border country waters they are not going away just because it’s cold outside.

The International Lake of the Woods Watershed Board met in mid-November and discussed a number of international border water quality issues.  Gunflint Lake resident Jerry Caple is a Community Advisor to the Board. He reports one item of discussion was the correlation between calcium levels and invasive species, notably rusty crayfish and zebra mussels.

This is a concern due to calcium residue run-off from its use on roads draining into streams feeding watershed lakes. The prospect of such accumulations is pertinent because these invasive species take hold and are supported by high levels of calcium.    

This scenario should be of considerable interest to those of us in the upper Trail watershed, what with years of continued calcium and other chemical treatments on county roads. Lake property owners along the Gunflint byway might want to get into the information-loop about implementing a plan for their lake water testing, if not already doing so. Water quality and testing info can be obtained from Ilena Berg at Cook County Soil and Water. 
On a related note, the Gunflint Lake property owners are in the early stages of building a data base, by testing inflow samplings in select locations for Ph, temperature, and conductivity. The group will also begin calcium testing (which is relatively inexpensive) this coming spring.  All this is being done to affect change, should test data provide evidence of our lake water quality being compromised. 

Further water quality issues data can be found in the Heart of the Continent Partnership’s  "new outdoor news source.” By contacting Charlene Mason  one can subscribe to this online magazine for free. It often has articles or synopsis of scientific research covering watershed quality issues.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  It’s the month of hearts, chocolates, and the Ojibwe “sucker moon”, enjoy it in a Gunflint way!

(photo by Ladycamera via Wikimedia Commons)



A Year in the Wilderness: February 4 - Slush

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)



West End News: February 4

Last week I mentioned a university study that is looking at what economic and social changes are coming to the North Shore due to climate change.  The two-year study is ready to report its initial findings at a meeting in Lutsen on Tuesday, March 15th.  You must RSVP to attend.  Contact Karen Katz at or 651-246-0974.  You can find Karen’s contact information on the WTIP website, or by calling WTIP.
I know that many people in Cook County are very concerned about the impact of climate change on our economy and life style, so the study results should be very interesting. 
By the way, there is a Cook County Chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  You can sign up to be a local member by searching for Citizen’s Climate Lobby online.
The next West End visit of the Bloodmobile is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1st at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte from 2:30 through 6 pm.  Call Carla at 663-0179 to schedule your appointment to donate blood.  All blood types are needed, but they are particularly interested in type O negative.  If you haven’t donated blood before, it is easy, almost pain-free and a fun social event. 
The Finland area 2016 Community Conversation was held on January 9th at the Clair Nelson Community Center with a contra-dance afterward.
More than 50 people attended the Conversation and enjoyed a lasagna dinner with ice cream dessert and a lively discussion on topics ranging from food and farming to housing, the economy and the arts. Each table recorded their discussion on paper and shared their findings with the larger group. Afterwards, everyone present marked community priorities with sticky dots.
Some of the priorities identified included the Finland Community Mural, which is currently in the works, a coffee/tea cafe, a wild rice processing facility, a community barter book and better onsite camping at the Clair Nelson Center.
Many other topics were raised and will continue to be worked on by those that are interested.  You can find the details by searching for “Friends of Finland” online.
Now that the Iowa caucuses are in the record book, it’s time to start thinking about our own Minnesota precinct caucuses. Here in Cook County the Republican and Democratic, Farmer, Labor Party precinct caucuses will all be on Tuesday, March 1st, starting at 7 pm. 
The Republicans will hold all of their precinct caucuses at the same time at the Log 4H Building at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais. 
The DFL precinct caucuses will be held in four locations this year.  Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen will be at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte, while the Grand Marais area precincts will meet at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais.  Hovland and Grand Portage will meet at the Hovland Town Hall and the Gunflint Trail precinct will meet at Trail Center.
You can go to the Minnesota Secretary of State website to discover which precinct you live in, if you aren’t sure.  You can also call the always-helpful Cook County Auditor’s office and they can tell you too.
Both parties will be conducting straw polls on presidential candidate preference. With lively contests for president in both parties, the caucuses should be a lot of fun.  You can throw your hat in the ring to become a delegate to the county-wide party conventions and on up the line to a state senate district conventions, congressional district conventions, state conventions and even the national conventions.  Participation can be very meaningful, especially in a big election year like this one.
You can also present resolutions at your caucus, requesting that your party take a certain position on an issue that is important to you.  The resolutions flow through the process right up to the state and federal level where, if they have enough grassroots support they become the official goals of the party.
I started participating in my precinct caucus when I was in high school.  I’ve been a delegate to the state convention many times.  It has given me the honor of meeting many of Minnesota’s most famous and well-loved political figures.  It was my participation that caused Senator Paul Wellstone to ask me to run for the legislature in 2002.  Although I never made it to the legislature, having the Senator’s trust and support is still one of the highlights of my life.
It’s truly a case of doing as much, or as little, as you like so the process is very user friendly.  It’s also the basis of our democracy so, you know…, important.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.



School News from Oshki Ogimaag: February 2

Denali reports the latest School News.