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North Shore Weekend

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  • Saturday 7-10am
Genre: 
Variety
Host CJ Heithoff brings you this Saturday morning show, created at the request of WTIP listeners.  North Shore Weekend features three hours of community information, features, interviews, and music. It's truly a great way to start your weekend on the North Shore. Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP’s North Shore Weekend are made possible with funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

 

 


What's On:
Bill and his daughter Clare found this freshly shed moose antler while out grooming the ski trail at Sawbill

West End News: An interview with Bill Hansen and Clare Shirley

Bill Hansen has been the voice of the West End News for the past 5 years. Bill’s daughter, Clare, will be taking over this weekly report, and Jay Andersen recently spoke with both Bill and Clare about this transition.

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winter trees

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 16

Excitement is building as the birthday of all birthdays nears. Our holiday season is officially in the books for 2016 as the lonesome pine sentinel along the Trail has been lit for yet another year.

What a joy it is coming around the curve and down the hill beside Birch Lake to be greeted by the towering spruce all aglow with hundreds of twinkling bobbles to break up the darkest of darkness. Thanks to those folks on Birch for lighting up our wilderness lives. 

Another kick-off for our season’s greetings is recognized with the annual Borealis Holiday Concert of last weekend. A number of our Gunflint Trail neighbors lent their voices and instrumental talents to this “joy to the world” spectacle. Congrats to all participants and organizers.    

Add to these humankind happenings, the arrival of the full Ojibwe “little spirit moon” within the last few days, and one could not ask for a brighter time in the final stanza of the year.

Conditions for winter time fanciers have been given a boost over the past seven with our first extended cold spell, better late than never. While new snow accumulations to date have been minimal, what’s on the landscape currently has been secured by Arctic cold.   

How cold was it? Not too terrible compared to days of old, but enough to get one’s attention when stepping out the door enroute to the woodshed for an armload of fire wood. An expectation of more sub-nothing temps by this scoop’s air time might make our Wildersmith low temp of -12 last Sunday morning pale in frigidity.  
                  
The arrival of zero and below temps finds the yet to be frozen Gunflint Lake a steamy cauldron. While waters are warm in comparison to the air above, this yearly occurrence has ghostly plumes drifting ashore from this warm/cold interaction. Accordingly, every appendage up into the shoreline forest is coated in delicate crystal frosting.  

The magnificence of this nature-made artistry is almost beyond comprehension. The frosted elegance is the subject of which Hallmark cards are made. The only stopping of this “Jack Frost” decorating show will occur when the winds calm, allowing the Gunflint Gal to put on her winter coat. 
                                                                                                              
Meanwhile, our winter advance is peaceful and quiet. With exception of chattering critters and snapping tree bark, our snowy landscape is still, in and of itself. Flakes are profoundly quiet as they accumulate, but once on the ground, the buildup can become somewhat vocal, as we humans disturb the covering by stepping in it.  

Such has become evident with the decline in temperatures during recent days. I find walking through the marshmallow mass to be fascinating, as each step meets the crystal surface compressing our fluff. Perhaps listeners, too, have noted a difference in tonal quality from warm soft snow to the crispy dry cold stuff. 
                                                                                                                         
Whereas, our earlier precipitation descended barely in a solid state and landed on warm earth, trekking in such happened in mere quiet, then to a slight “squoosh.” Over the past few days, a discernible change is noted while tromping in the drier crystal add-ons. As temps declined, it might be said each step caused the snow to mildly “bark” back at me. As the temp neared zero, each imprint then seemed to “squeak," and on Sunday morning, when it was well below zero, the squeaking became a deeper, hollow resonance. 

I’ve read of such tonal exchanges while walking in the snow from a weather observer in Iowa, and sure enough, he seems to be right on. So, if you ever see me walking down the road on a winter day, seemingly talking to myself, I might be just visiting with the white majesty beneath my boots.     
                                                                                                                                                                    
On another subject, as this territory is in the flyway for many migratory birds, I came upon an informative article in the December/January Nature Conservancy publication. If such interests you, I’d recommend finding a copy and looking at the scribing, “Safe Flight—100 Years Of Protecting Birds.” The content is interesting commentary for digesting on a cold winter night. 
                                                                                                                                                 
For a final note, since this is also bear country, another thought provoking article appears in the recent Sierra magazine for January/February of ’17. Although this reading is focused on brown bears of the Northern Rockies, it has relevance to those of us who live in black bear territory. “The Return Of The Grizzly” by Aaron Teasdale relates to human/bear interactions, much like we experience here in border country. Again, if listeners can get a copy, the author relates an insightful look at how we should be living in close proximity with Ursine.    
                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in a superbly natural way.
 

(Photo courtesy of Tom on Flickr)
 

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The new West End News commentator, Clare Shirley

West End News: December 15

I was very happy to hear the news that the effort to build rental housing in Lutsen that is targeted toward people who live and work in the West End took a big step forward this week. A $325,000 grant was awarded by the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development to the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority. This is a key piece of financing for a 2.7 million dollar plan to build 16 market-rate rental apartments in Lutsen.

The housing shortage in all of Cook County is severe, so this project, along with one planned for Grand Marais and one for Tofte, will be a big step toward easing the shortage. One Roof Community Housing, based in Duluth, is bringing their vast experience as a key partner, hopefully to all three projects. This is not the complete solution to the problem, but is a giant step in the right direction. We owe a debt of gratitude to the many people who have been working on this for so long.

Speaking of good news, I recently saw a report from Visit Cook County, the group that markets Cook County as a tourist destination, that tourism dollars county-wide are up 25% in the last five years. This is significant because it was a little over five years ago that the four parts of Cook County -- Grand Portage, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail and the West End -- decided to pool their marketing budgets and promote the county as a whole. Elaborate financial safeguards were put in place to make sure that each area was treated fairly, but even so, it was hard to build trust among the parts of the county that had been in competition with each other for so many years.

In the ten years before Visit Cook County was created, tourism was declining each year, leading up to the recession, which really took a toll. It is now crystal clear that the decision to work together has paid off handsomely for all. In fact, in the last year, Grand Marais has shown the most growth, which is obvious if you spend any time at all in town.

Our local marketing expertise is getting better all the time and the tools available for targeted marketing are also improving fast, so barring any unforeseen disaster, we should see robust growth for at least a few more years, especially in the slow seasons. Congratulations to the hard working staff of Visit Cook County for their success.

Word is out that ice skating has begun on inland lakes. It's not ideal, as there is some snow on the ice, but if you're willing to skate through the snow or do a little shoveling, there is good lake skating to be had.

Be careful - and I speak from personal experience - to always check the ice depth before you skate. Never skate alone and always carry ice picks to pull yourself out if you do fall through. You should also have dry clothing in a waterproof backpack or at least have access to dry clothing and a warm car nearby.

With some wistfulness, I would like to announce that this will be the last time you will hear me as the regular voice of the West End News. I am delighted to report that my very capable daughter, Clare Shirley, will be taking over this commentary, just as I took it over from my dad many years ago. I may be substituting occasionally for Clare when she is busy or out of town, so I may get a chance again to talk about the bloodmobile or the Birch Grove Carnival in the future, which makes me happy.

Even though I'm now officially a "townie," my heart will always be in the warm and wonderful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Nosey Rosey

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 9

Full blown winter remains on hold along the Gunflint Trail. At the moment I begin this week's scoop, conditions have slipped back into semi-cold season character. The unseasonably warm temps and rain that ended November are, hopefully, in the rear view mirror.

It would seem our notorious frosty atmospheric bragging rights might not appear until the winter solstice rings in on the calendar. In the meantime, winter recreation activities are having a difficult time getting into full gear. I am told there has been enough snow left on the mid-Trail area, following the big meltdown, to enable Trail grooming and some CC skiing opportunities. Further up this way, and on to Trail's end, scarcely a couple inches of white covers the ground, save for protected spots.

Ice making has re-upped over the rain soaked lakes and most of the smaller bodies along the byway are covered over once again. I heard of one anxious ice fisherman who ventured out onto a couple inches of hard water, on an unidentified lake, to try his luck. Sounds a bit dangerous to me, but it’s told he tied rope around his waist and then to a tree on shore as a safety precaution before trekking out. Guess luck was on his side in regard to not cracking through, but don’t know if catching found the same fortunes.

Moose are on the loose as indicated by scattered reports. One observation came from a couple who spotted a quartet hanging out for a road-side salt lick near the mid-Trail fire hall; while another report came in from a fellow traveling the Trail between Swamper Lake and the Bearskin Road intersection.

In this case, the driver was headed up the Trail and became enveloped in a white-out snow squall, when suddenly, there they were. A couple of the big animals were right in his path. Fortunately speed was not a factor, due to the blinding snow. Nevertheless, the vehicle was unable to come to a complete stop and slid into moose number one, while moose number two lumbered off the road into the forest.

Number one was struck in the hind quarters and knocked off its hooves. It scrambled to its feet, apparently not seriously injured, and headed on up the Trail. Neither the driver nor his vehicle sustained injury or damage. It was a lucky day for both the “hitter and the hittee.”

To conclude the short-lived confrontation, the fray must have irritated the beast. It defiantly chose to keep the vehicle at bay by taking its half of the byway out of the middle, until reaching the turn-off onto Bearskin Road. Once again, confirming the critters of “Mother Nature's wild neighborhood” have more control of things than we would like to admit.

In the Wildersmith neck of the woods, “brother wolf” has made yet another obscure visit during darkness hours. Would sure like to know more about this mysterious wildland icon, but assume it prefers to not be seen while making reconnaissance rounds.

Paraphrasing iconic northwoods naturalist, Sigurd Olson, “it's the simple things” that enrich life with meaning. With this in mind, residents living throughout Gunflint Territory are embellished by the mere presence of unadulterated life about us. Most outsiders probably wonder why we would choose to live in unorganized territory so far away from “so called,” civilized hub-bub. Furthermore, what do we do with ourselves deep in this natural paradise?

More often than we might realize, our satisfaction and enjoyment are derived from the unadorned activities seen, heard or smelled during a walk down a back country road or watching just outside our windows.

Such is the case for yours truly during twilight time, at either end of the day. One cannot help but be energized this time of year. Wild critters gather in feeding frenzy, either for a new day's readiness or bulking up on energy morsels in order to survive the long cold night ahead. The enthusiasm of these furry and feathered gals and guys is delightfully uplifting. Every daily segment provides chattering delirium, akin to kids on Christmas morning.

News in these northwoods can be exchanged by any means, often via the moccasin telegraph or by any number of “cub reporters” who volunteer with a nose and ear to the ground reporting tip of the Arrowhead happenings.

As one of those, sadly I report the loss of a member of the WTIP family, with the passing of Rosie, our “pup reporter.” Rosie covered me with on-air commentary for many years when I was away from the keyboard. In ill-health for several months, she recently passed on to those heavenly kennels in the sky.

With her dad, she could snoop and scoop with dogged energy, giving a unique perspective of back country snippets from a canine's down to earth level. Fans of Gunflint territory news will never forget her “woof, woof” observations after sniffing out and digging up borderland headline accounts. Memories of WTIP’s wagging tail pooch from Hungry Jack Lake are etched in yet another chapter of Gunflint Trail history.

The Trail community is grieving the loss of two longtime residents. Condolences are extended to the family and friends of John Baumann, and Andrew “Drew” Schmid. John is remembered as a onetime owner of Golden Eagle Lodge along with his family, while “Drew” lived and loved the woods from his beloved spot along Seagull Lake. In their own ways, both had a special place in history of the Gunflint Trail. They will be missed, and forever remembered!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and can provide a wild country adventure at any moment!

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 Onion River Road Ski Trail, now open for early season skiing

West End News: December 8

Congratulations to the Silver Bay Police Department on reaching the august old age of 60 years. Most institutions in Silver Bay are in or near their 60th year because the town was created out of whole cloth when Reserve Mining built the taconite plant and power plant there in the late 1950s.

The current police officers and staff held an open house last week where they recognized all the former officers and administrators who have served in the last six decades. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need police forces, but in the real world it is crucial that communities have a method of enforcing behaviors that are agreed upon by civil society. The Silver Bay Police Department has always had a good reputation - both for their police work and for their strong connection to the community. If you see Chief Doug Frericks, or any of the current officers, be sure to thank them for their service.

I'm glad to hear that the Cook County Economic Development Authority is moving ahead quickly to help solve the severe housing shortage in Cook County. It looks like projects on the front burner include new housing in Grand Marais, Lutsen and Tofte, targeted toward the working person market. Tofte is already a ways down the road on their housing, but it makes sense for them to throw in with the EDA to finish the project. The EDA has the staff, resources, connections and expertise to make all three projects a success.

Once the current efforts are done, it will be time to see if more housing needs to be developed in other parts of the county. The need is so critical that now is not the time for parochial jealousies. Obviously, the problem can't be solved all at once, so let's get the get the baby walking and then move on to getting it running.

Although it came close, Sawbill Lake did not thaw out last week, so the official ice-in date for 2016 is November 23. This is late by historical standards, but pretty normal in recent years. The older snow didn't completely melt at Sawbill either, so with the recent additions, it really looks like Christmas back up in the woods.

Word has it that the Onion River Road Ski Trail in Lutsen is open for business. This is always the first trail to open in the West End and the avid early season skiers have become quite expert in providing a quality skiing experience with the bare minimum of snow.

Lutsen Mountains is also expert at getting the downhill skiing going as early as possible in the season. Between the natural snow and the snow-making made possible by colder weather, they should have most runs ready for schussing soon.

Mrs. Claus, who was featured on the front page of last week's Cook County News Herald, is a former Tofte resident who has recently moved to Grand Marais. Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Claus is not actually married to Santa Claus, but is married to me. Seeing as how she has moved to Grand Marais, I decided to do it too, mainly so she will have someone to wash the windows and take out the recycling.

Obviously, it is difficult to be the author of the West End News when I no longer live in the West End. I have notified WTIP of my pending retirement from radio commentary - probably no later than Christmas time. Stay tuned for an announcement of a new commentator soon. Extra points if you can guess who it is. You have three guesses and the first two don't count.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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North Shore birch trees.jpg

North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 2

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the language of bark. This is part two of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature.

(Photo by  Jeffrey Bary, Flickr) 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 2

Well the weather outside’s been less than frightful, since our last meeting on the radio. Just when the north woods appeared to be into some serious ice making, the gods of meteorological happenings pulled up the reins.

Thanksgiving until the beginning of this scribing last Sunday evening, winter conditions have been on the brink of collapse in this neighborhood. A few more inches of snow was added to the pack early in the stanza, but settled invisibly into the previous storm totals nearly evaporating.  Add on four-tenths of an inch of rain by Monday morning and we’re in a sludgy mess around Wildersmith.

The thermometer has hung out at or near the freezing mark for days, not varying as much as a couple degrees from night time lows to day time highs. This in mind, our white blanket is soft and sticky making for slippery going on back country roads, driveways and walking surfaces. Thus a few unsuspecting urbanite visitors have found roadside ditches around the territory much to their disliking.

Speaking of slippery, such conditions have altered means of mobility at Wildersmith. Traversing down the driveway on foot is a slow, baby step adventure to avoid winding up on one’s posterior. Further, the idea of not being able to get my vehicle up the steep greasy grade has caused me to now park on top of the hill. For how long this will be needed is anyone’s guess. So getting to the vehicle has created double jeopardy. Caution is surely advised to all in this neck of the woods until a cool down makes for better traction on drier snow cover.
                            
Last weeks’ discussion of tracks in the snow has prompted intensified interest on wild beings’ extremity impressions. Just days ago footprints confirmed a visit from “brother wolf.” Although the critter was not observed, the near hand-sized paw prints found it meandering the yard in several different directions. The Canids’ presence is a bit unnerving, but then again, the adventure of knowing this iconic resident of the “untamed neighborhood” was close by energizes the primitive spirit of living in the wildlands. 
              
In the meantime, our next door neighbors recently met with what was perhaps another member of this upper Gunflint pack while traveling along the trail above Loon Lake. This meeting resulted in some great photo ops as the handsome animal tracked beside the byway. See a couple digital shots of their experience alongside my column on the web at WTIP.org. This lone wolf is a robust beauty.

In other snowy tracks activity, it’s evident a fox is making routine nocturnal visits to the yard. Then a couple days ago, the lush red hunter made a reality appearance, trotting by our deck. I do not purposely put food out, but I do catch an abundance of mice type rodents in my out- buildings. I toss them out into the snow and by next morning, all these dietary supplements are gone. It is my guess this might be an attraction for this foxy one.
          
With some assurance the bears have gone to napping, I’ve started putting provisions out on the deck side rail. To say our “wild ground and airborne friends” are busy keeping track of these handouts is an understatement. This in mind, another furry creature anecdote is worthy of mention
Within 24 hours of stocking the outdoor feed trough, those poultry poaching pine martens stopped in, making their first up close appearance since last spring. Lucky for them, the cupboard was not bare, and they’ve been regulars each day since.      
                                 
The world is now into week one of our next holiday season. Trail residents are reminded of the third annual Gunflint Trail Holiday Open House, Saturday, December 3rd. The event commences at 4 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall No. 1).  
                                                                                                                              
Once again sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS Crew, dinner and refreshments will be provided. All are welcome, and in the spirit of this giving season, please bring a donation for our local food shelf. 
                                                               
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great as we wait for the real “Jack Frost” to get with it for keeps!

(Photo By Margo Brownell)

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Sawbill Lake, on a windy day, looking deceptively like open water, but it is actually ice - flooded by rain.

West End News: December 1

Congratulations to Craig Horak who has stepped up to fill the Tofte Township Supervisor position recently vacated by Paul James. Craig is a natural for the job. He was born and raised in Tofte at his parents' resort, Cobblestone Cabins. Craig and his wife Ellen have chosen to make Tofte their home and plan to raise their daughter there.

I'm glad to see younger people taking leadership roles in the West End. A regular infusion of new thinking in the community, combined with the wisdom of the elders, is a healthy thing. Speaking of elders, Craig's father, Jan Horak, served as the Tofte Township Treasurer shortly after the township was formed, back in the old, old days, so township government seems to run in the family.

As I've said before, township government is sometimes fun - and sometimes not so fun - and almost always a bit tedious. It is, however, the level of government that most directly impacts our lives and is vitally important, so I applaud those who serve.

If you're looking for fun with very little tedium, mark your calendar for the annual meeting of the Superior Timberwolves Sportsman's Club on Tuesday, December 6. Although this is the annual business meeting for the West End snowmobile club, it is more importantly a social hour, starting at 5:00, followed by potluck dinner from 6 to 7:00. A short business meeting will follow, but it beats washing the dishes any day. It all happens at the Tofte Town Hall.

Tofte native, Danielle Hansen, will be singing in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival this year. You may think, "what's the big deal about someone singing in their college Christmas program?" Well, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is not your typical college musical event. It is truly a world class concert and you have to be a singer of the absolute highest quality to be allowed to participate. The training and rehearsal are a serious commitment and not easy. This is a very big deal for Danielle and for her parents, Paul Hansen and Diane Blanchette, who I'm sure are proud of their talented daughter. Danielle, it should be pointed out, is a 2015 graduate of Cook County High School.

The roads over the hill were virtually undriveable for a few days last week. I hasten to say that the bad roads were a victim of circumstances, not a lack of care by the county highway department. When the snow arrived last week the road surfaces were not yet frozen. This requires the plow drivers to keep their blades a few inches about the gravel to keep from plowing a thick layer of saturated gravel into the ditches. The ensuing rain turned the snow on the roads into dense slush - the kind that grabs control of the car from the driver and pulls it inexorably toward the ditch - even at slow speeds. Actually, normal speeds weren't even an option with the slush literally slowing even four wheel drive vehicles to a crawl. Now that is been driven on for a few days it is much better.

Many of the lakes in the back country were also weirdly affected by the rain. The lakes had already frozen over and received a few inches of snow. The rain melted the snow, but not the ice, leaving an inch or two of standing water on top of the ice from shore to shore. The ice is black, so it was an optical illusion with the lake looking like it would on a dead calm day even when the wind was blowing briskly. Overall, it was an eerie and unsettling effect. If only we would have received a quick cold snap at that moment - the ice skating would have been spectacular. Fingers crossed for some good skating eventually, but you never really know what mother nature has in store for us here in the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Northern Sky: November 26 - December 9

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

The story of the Pleiades; a young crescent moon in the evening sky; the triangle of Venus, Mars and Fomalhaut.

(photo by NASA/Hubble via Wikimedia Commons)


 

North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 1

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the Language of Bark. This is part one of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature. 

(Photo by Evelyn Berg on Flickr)

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