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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:
  Wildersmith reminds listeners that this weekend is "for the dogs" on the Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 6

Hard to believe, but week one of the New Year is nearly into the books. We at Wildersmith hope ushering in 2017 found everyone safe, happy and full of wishes for peace and goodwill throughout the universe.

Like falling snow, New Year’s Eve out here in the woods was the essence of quiet. The Wildersmith two stayed up to bid ‘16 farewell and welcome in ‘17 while watching the mass of humanity in New York City turn out the lights on one of the most difficult segments in 240 years. So off we go, newly energized, headed into the month of the Ojibwe full, “great spirit moon” -  Gich Manidoo Giizis.  
                                                                                                                                                             

At the time of this keyboard exercise, weather along the Gunflint Trail has been mostly gray, with several nuisance snows. By nuisance snows, I mean those creating just enough to give irritating cause for removal. For yours truly, if I’m going to have to move it, I want the white stuff to be worth my time. For anyone interested, total seasonal snow accumulation to date at the Wildersmith place amounts to a paltry 30 3/4-inches, with current on the ground measurements at about 1/3rd to 1/2 of this total.

Temps have been near normal with a few nights below zero since our last meeting. This has helped in the icing process on the big lakes. The surface thickness however, remains precarious on some bodies as many headwaters streams continue flowing into and under the shore line ice. I’m told there is serious slush in places on the Gunflint. Hard water anglers and power sledding folks need to execute extreme caution.

Wolves are on the prowl! A few days ago, a south shore neighbor reported the sighting of the Gunflint/Loon Lake pack tracking on the Gunflint ice near the Canadian side of the border. Six were counted as they trudged by. Here at Wildersmith, after a recent nuisance snow, some mysterious tracks blurred the new fallen fluff, appearing to be tracks from “Brother Wolf.” However, finding one paw print of more distinct clarity proved it was none other than the fisher. Yes, it's still hanging out around here.

As I continue counting my daily intake of carbohydrates, many of the holiday treats have outlasted their welcome, particularly since I limit myself to one bite per day. This in mind, I’ve been sharing left-overs with avian of the neighborhood.

Those scavenging blue jays and their “whiskey jack” cousins have been “Johnny on the spot” whenever I make a distribution. However, it’s been really interesting when a couple ravens discovered the sweet treats, causing a scattering of the blue bullies.

Those ravens found a couple morsels with chocolate, particularly to their liking. It was comical to see them depart with a cookie in their beaks. A side view of one in flight gave the appearance of a dark suspicious character with a cigar hanging out of its mouth.

A reminder once more, this is the weekend of the “dog” in Gunflint country. The symbolic rendition of the Gunflint Mail Run takes the mid-Trail stage this weekend. With snow and bitter cold in the forecast, conditions should be excellent and very realistic of yesteryear.

After a blessing of the dogs at 7:00 am, mushers and their teams will be hitting the snow pack Saturday morning at 8:00 am. Races will conclude for the 12-dog, long distance race from late night to the wee hours of Sunday morning. While the shorter, 70 mile event will see finishers from late afternoon Saturday into the evening.  Both the start and finish will take place on Poplar Lake near Trail Center Restaurant. As of this scribing, there are 15 teams in each of the divisions, both of which will have lay-overs during their treks.

The best observation point will be at the start. Following the start, teams will get spread out making them difficult to view with any sequence of regularity. Key points of observation for spectators look to be at Rockwood Lodge, Big Bear Lodge, road crossings at County Road 92 East; County Road 92 West; and Round Lake Road. Folks won’t want to miss the canine energy at eight o’clock and then again as they finish.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every Gunflint day is great, and soothing to the soul!               

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Clare Shirley - the new voice of West End News

West End News: January 5

Nothing says winter in Minnesota like a good old-fashioned get-together on the ice. This year marks the 11th Annual Hockey Day Minnesota. The headquarters for Hockey Day is an outdoor ice rink in Stillwater, where hockey games will be played throughout the day on January 21.
 
How can you celebrate this veritable holiday in the West End, you ask? Lucky for us, James Coleman has organized a Hockey Day gathering to take place starting at 1pm on Saturday, January 21, at the outdoor rink at Birch Grove in Tofte. This event is open to everyone, regardless of your skating ability. It is free and there will be a potluck, so bring your best hotdish to share. There are even some skates available to borrow at the rink, if you are lucky enough to find some in your size. Don’t know how to play hockey? That’s ok, it’ll be our little secret. The good news is, you’re still invited to come play on the ice. The rink is in great shape and is equipped with lights so the fun will last as long as your hand-warmers.
 
Grand Marais’ own Jay Arrowsmith-Decoux will be teaching a ServSafe class at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland on Monday, January 9. According to the Center’s website, the course is designed to fulfill requirements for Minnesota state and local health departments. The course will train, test, and certify you in the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program for safe food service. The full certification course will run from 8am to about 5:30pm and costs $170, which includes the textbook and exam. A shorter renewal course takes place on the same day from 8am to noon and costs $70. The class is open to ages 15 and up. Certification is good for three years, with a one-year grace period to get recertified. You can sign up online on the Lake Superior School District’s website: https://isd381.cr3.rschooltoday.com/public/costoption/class_id/3587/public/1/sp/
 
After the ServSafe class, you can head over to the Birch Grove Task Force Public Meeting. The meeting will be held on January 9 from 6:30 to 8pm at Birch Grove in Tofte. Everyone is welcome to attend. The purpose of the meeting is to identify interests and concerns surrounding the working relationships between Birch Grove Community Center, Birch Grove Community School, the townships of Tofte, Schroeder, Lutsen, and all other interested parties.
 
These entities all have a long history of doing great things for the West End. The meeting will serve to share information and bring to light ways in which these important parties can work together moving forward.
 
The plan is to form a committee to mediate a master agreement among all interested parties. A mediated settlement is a consensus agreement that all interests can live with. It advises, but does not replace, the legal decision-making powers of government bodies and non-profit organizations. Simply put, if you are interested in what is going on with all these entities, you are welcome to attend and participate in the meeting on January 9. If you can’t make it to the meeting, you can submit your interests and concerns to Bill Hansen. He can be reached by email at Bill@sawbill.com, or by phone at 218-370-1353.
 
Last winter West End residents and visitors to Lutsen bid a happy retirement to Rosie Somnis, the long-time manager of Rosie’s Café in the Main Chalet at Lutsen Mountains. Rosie promptly came out of retirement this Fall, however, to help get the Café up and running for another busy winter season. On January first this year, Rosie came back for one last day, really this time, to commemorate her 50 years of service at the cozy chalet. Rosie ran a tight ship, making the best burgers around and keeping things “Rosie Clean.” She was a familiar face to many characters over the years. Generations of skiers have grown up under her watchful eye, another example of how the West End is really just one big extended family. Have a very happy retirement Rosie, you deserve it!
 
For WTIP, this is Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 
 
 

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West End News: December 29

Here's Clare Shirley -- the new voice of West End News.

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Fisher at the feeder

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 30

This week's commentary finds everyone in the waning hours of the 16th year of this youthful century. Most anyone you would talk with has an opinion of the year we have endured. It would seem the good old USA has gone through some perilous downs with few ups to be marked on the ledger.

With the greediness of a populous opting for more and more personal wealth instead of the health and well-being of all its citizens, one has to wonder how much longer it will be before we just ravage ourselves into oblivion.

The good old “red, white and blue” are surely not so “united” as our name would infer, and our pledge of being “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” are words with little to no substance after the year we have witnessed.

2016 passes into the books with such bickering, back-biting, name-calling and struggling for power, that I for one am happy to have it pass on. 2017 just has to be better!

The question yet to be answered is, can we come to our senses and make it better, or continue down this path of divisive demise.

Getting off my “high horse” with happier tidings find we border country folks have moved on from the madness of holiday spending, traveling nightmares, family gatherings and over-eating. The peaceful north woods seemed so far away from urban commotion as we celebrated. About the only din has come from the neighborhood critters gathering for sustenance at the Wildersmith outdoor eatery during this Holy observance.

Residents in the Gunflint north spent last weekend on pins and needles in anticipation of another weather service “dooms-day” snow storm forecast, only to see one more “prognostication bust” along the international border. Out this way, light showers of white were all we mustered, counting to barely an inch and one-half. We have extended the ice making process on the Loon and Gunflint Gals, however.

A report from over on Loon Lake tells of otters enjoying some hillside sliding and then dipping into a hole in the ice for some fishing fun. Kind of mirrors some humans who do the sauna thing, and then wallow in snow or dip in the drink, if an ice opening permits. In either case, both species are reveling in this winter playground.

While our snow pack is less than ideal for power sledding, cross country skiing opportunities are readily available. Depending upon the upper Gunflint location, trails range from just packed, to groomed with skate lane and classic track. A call to Poplar Creek Guest House B &B, Golden Eagle, Bearskin, and/or Gunflint Lodge can render up to date ski trail conditions.

Last week's mention of the fisher visit to our deck has increased to more stops in the interim. The animal's range is known to be quite extensive, but apparently access to an easy hand-out has kept this gal/guy stretching its stay into a winter vacation.

While there’s considerable banter of our nation “going to the dogs,” such negative connotation doesn’t exist out this way. Dogs positively have been a way of life for information exchange and survival service for ages, prior to a surfaced byway.

With this in mind, celebrating this aspect of wilderness living in yesteryear is being marked for another year with the Gunflint Mail Run sled dog races. The sledding teams will be hitting the trails next weekend, January 7 & 8.

Two race distances will be featured, a 12 dog—110 mile run and an 8 dog—70 mile event. Headquarters and the start are located in the mid-Trail area near Trail Center restaurant.

Organizers remain in need of volunteers. Locals are being sought to lend a hand. Please make a contact with Cathy Quinn, gunflintmailrunvolunteer@gmail.com, or give Sarah a call at Trail Center, 388-2214.

Activities get underway Saturday, with a “blessing of the dogs” at 7:00 am. The first race (for the 12-dog sleds) heads off at 8:00am, to be followed by the 8-dog teams at 9:00am. For a complete scheduling of both days, go to gunflintmailrun.com.

The colorful barking event reflects the spirit and energy of Gunflint pioneer history so come on out and support this neat community happening. It’ll be a yelping good time!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with back country adventures always in the offing! Happy New Year!

 

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Orion setting

Northern Sky: December 24 - January 6

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

Venus will be bright in the southwest sky - not to be confused with a UFO! Jupiter will be high in the sky just before dawn, bright winter constellations will dominate the eastern sky, and on New Year's Day a young crescent moon will be close to Venus.

(Photo by Richard Droker on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 23

As the northland awaits the big Christmas day, the discussion is all about cold. Baby. it’s been cold outside. Beginning this week's Gunflint report, the “great spirit of the Arctic” has spent a good many days in the northwoods. For some folks in our territory, “his coldness” may be wearing out his welcome.

In the Wildersmith neighborhood, up through last Sunday when I started this keyboard exercise, we have not seen the plus side of zero in eight straight days. The mid-December trek toward the shortest daylight minutes of the year has felt much like January, but in the past few 24 hour segments, it has warmed some and snowed a little.

While temps to this point haven’t measured down to those of decades ago, the bitter cold has roughed us up a bit due to the warmth of just a few weeks ago. Our adjustment to real winter character has been rather harsh. 

Winds during the early days of this sub-zero stretch were not only biting to us two-legged beings, but the cold blasts also had waters on the big lakes out this way in turmoil. As waves bashed our shore lines, ice build-up has smoothed the jagged granite shards into velvety mounds of cupcake frosting.

In a continuance of last week's discussion of our vaporous lake surface, the decorating has been enhanced into the thickest forest flocking during my eighteen winters living in border country. Relentless west-northwest currents have made this wonderland more winter-like than one might ever imagine. This rocking and rolling water came about in cooling readiness for the big freeze.

Bound to subside eventually, the raucous air calmed last weekend allowing the Gunflint Gal to start slipping on her winter coat. By Sunday morning, the “Zamboni” finished the job. With the official ice-on date of December 18, this lake is already complaining about the fit, with some screeching conversation and a couple thunderous belches after less than 24 hours.

Thinking about how difficult extreme cold affects members of the “wild neighborhood,” I’m intrigued observing animals coming through the yard with frost accumulations on some of their body extremities. It’s hard to imagine them surviving when I see one draped with frost on its back, ear tips, forehead, eyelashes and whiskers. Some probably don’t endure, but most do, and it makes me shiver at the thought of how cold they must get. Obviously, “Mother Nature” has blessed them with amazing adaptive capabilities.

A few mornings ago, one of those red squirrels came to the feed tray with a fascinating set of white whiskers and a frosted tip on its tail. Moments later, our regular pair of “whiskey jacks” showed up with distinguished icing around their beaks and eyelashes. How cool was this!

Since our last meeting on the radio, a couple not-seen-so-often-visitors appeared at Wildersmith. First, was a fisher coming to the deck for a little dark hours scavenging. This pine marten on steroids was sizeable, perhaps large as spaniel like dog. Lush and healthy looking, it made short work of its small cousin's poultry treats, and then was off into the night.

The other visitor was a total surprise considering the brutal cold. Perhaps due to the still open Gunflint Lake water at the time, maybe I should have realized this could be possible in the waning migratory season. I’m talking about a mallard duck.

The “quacker” arrived in the midday hours, somehow getting up to ground level in front of our deck (around 125 feet from the shore). It was discovered slurping up spilled sunflower seeds as if there were no tomorrow, and shivering almost uncontrollably. Thinking it should be left alone, and not knowing what I would do with it if a rescue was attempted, I dropped more seeds which it consumed before waddling back toward the lake.

One would think it may not have survived another cold night. I wondered what or who might celebrate a duck dinner. Much to my surprise, the next morning it was back, nestled in a snowy crater scraping up more left-overs.

I had fleeting thoughts that this “lonesome duck” might become a regular when “old Piney” who had been dining on the mezzanine discovered this feathered visitor. The carnivorous fur ball snuck part way down a deck support post to check it out. The duck apparently sensed impending danger, found the marten leering at him and took flight toward the lake. The last I saw of this obviously “Cold Duck,” it landed and scooted down into the icy H2O. Meanwhile the marten decided against a chase and came back to the fast food tray.

By Sunday, with open water no longer available, only two possible outcomes remained in this frigid drama, this “Donald” (and I don’t mean Trump) went airborne to the south, or it sadly became a “ducksicle” treat on the wildland menu.

A somber note came to me reporting the loss of a bull moose along the Trail last Saturday night. A couple coming up the Trail found the animal being removed from the shoulder of the road just beyond the South Brule River bridge. Details of the situation are not known, but it is disheartening to hear. If the death involved a vehicle, the hope is none of the passengers were injured and their mode of transportation was not damaged totally. I might have more info by next time we meet.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, wishing everyone safe travels, and happy holidays to all, and to all, a great day! 

 

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North Woods Naturalist: Christmas balsam firs

Balsam fir are popular Christmas trees, but they do have male and female flowers on the larger ones. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about problems you could have with trees sporting male buds.

(Photo by Kent McFarland)

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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 a glow 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 in-route to the wood shed 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 minus twelve last Sunday morning pale in frigidity.  
                  
The arrival of zero and below temps finds the yet to be frozen Gunflint Lake a steamy caldron. 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 discernable 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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