The project to pave eight miles of the Sawbill Trail, which has been undergoing prep-work all summer, is finally underway. Mechanical breakdowns and storm damage elsewhere in the region had caused some delays, but as of this week, there is actual pavement on the Sawbill Trail where there has never been pavement before. Cook County Engineer, Dave Betts, says that the remainder of the project should take about three weeks if the weather cooperates.
The project makes me think often of Jean Raiken, who lived on the Sawbill Trail from the early 1930s until the 1980s. Jean was a county commissioner and an influential community activist during those years. She would have been delighted to see the Sawbill Trail being paved. She often talked longingly about that possibility, as far back as the 1960s. Jean was also a prime force in getting the original hospital and care center built in Grand Marais, so she would be pleased to see that project as well. I guess the lesson is to be patient and persistent when advocating for community improvements and they will come eventually, even if you don't live to see them.
We are coming up on the fifth year since my dad and former author of this commentary, Frank Hansen, passed away. Among his many community contributions was working to get a hospice established in Cook County. It was quite a struggle, but Frank, along with many others, finally succeeded in establishing a hospice in Grand Marais. As it turned out, Frank was the very first person to use the new hospice. As he was wheeled through the door, he was smiling and celebrating being the first hospice patient in Grand Marais. I told him that he may also be the last person to be cheerfully celebrating their entrance into hospice.
In a slightly more cheerful historical vein, the Schroeder Area Historical Society is hosting a reunion of the former residents and friends of Taconite Harbor residential area. The housing development was built in the 1950s primarily to house workers at the Taconite Harbor power plant. It was beautiful little 22-home suburban style housing development just south of the existing power plant. Erie Mining Company evicted the residents and sold the houses for removal in 1986. To this day, no one really knows why they removed such a valuable housing resource when affordable housing for working people was - and is - so difficult to come by. The site is now a ghost town feel to it, with overgrown curbs and gutters punctuated by surviving lawn shrubs and ornamental trees among the thick native brush that is slowly talking over.
The tight-knit community of Taconite Harbor still survives in the memories of the people who lived there, especially among those who were children in a time and place where kids experienced real outdoor adventure almost every day of the year. The reunion starts at 1 pm on August 6 at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder. There will be plenty of time for conversation about living and growing up in Taconite Harbor, along with the usual North Shore refreshments of cookies, bars and coffee. This year's featured exhibit at the Heritage Center is the Tac Harbor community, so there will be plenty pictures and artifacts to trigger old memories. The festivities will also include a tour of Birch Grove School in Tofte where the community's children all attended elementary school.
My most vivid memories of Taconite Harbor are of visiting the house that had been converted to a doctor's office and staffed by Dr. MacDonald one or two days a week. Roger MacDonald saved my life several times by treating routine - but potentially deadly - childhood illnesses. I can still vividly recall the smell, which was a not-unpleasant combination of disinfectant, the receptionist's perfume and the developing chemicals from the truly antique x-ray machine. These are good memories of a bygone era in rural medicine.
As predicted, the blueberry season is in full swing and it's a good one. The Duluth couple who camp at Sawbill and pick more than 30 gallons of blueberries per year, are telling me that this may be the best year in a couple of decades. They've been doing their early picking in places that everyone knows about and getting a couple of gallons every time out. They'll be back next week for the heart of the season and will move to their secret spots (cough, cough Pagami Creek Fire) for the main harvest. So even if you're in the three quart and not the 30 gallon league, get out there an pick while the picking is good.