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North Shore Weekend


  • Saturday 7-10am
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:

Anishinaabe Way: Jonathan Thunder

Jonathan Thunder is a painter and digital media artist who was born on the Red Lake Reservation, raised in the Twin Cities, and currently resides in Duluth. In this segment, he shares his thoughts on dream imagery and some urban influences that have appeared in his paintings. He explains the choices that Native American artists have in classifying their work and the complications involved with using "traditional" images in works of modern art. He also tells the story of his first solo exhibition and the courage required to show highly personal artwork to a larger audience. In closing, Jonathan shares his experience animating the Onondaga Creation & Peacemaker Story, a film he created for the 2015 LaCrosse World Championships.

More art and information is available at

(Photo of Jonathan Thunder by Jason S. Ordaz, courtesy of the Institute of American Indian Arts, 2016; other photos by Jonathan Thunder)



A Year in the Wilderness: May 6 - Ice-out

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: May 6

April has given way to May, and week one is into the books. The Wildersmith two are back in the woods following a trip to Iowa for my annual officiating duties at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, in addition to visiting our kids and re-connecting with many dear friends.   

The Gunflint wilderness seems so quiet and welcoming after what was a hectic time of helping our daughter prepare to relocate, and experiencing the never ending turmoil of human interaction in metropolis. We are surely blessed to have the better of two worlds, one being the ability to reconnect periodically with the civilized world; and two, being able to escape urban hubbub for the serenity of life in unorganized territory. No wonder this place has such magnetism!   

My last day at the Relays event proved to be record setting in terms of miserable weather endurance. A day in Iowa with rain, 40 degree temperatures, and 30 mile per hour winds made a brisk 40 below January segment in the north woods seem not too bad at all. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt such a bone chilling, and that’s saying a lot for a guy who enjoys winter as I do.    

Speaking of winter, it’s pretty much put to rest as of this scribing. But we can’t count it out for yet another couple weeks. Remnant splotches of snow in roadside ditches and shadows of the forest, along with broken tree branches, a few downed telephone poles and sagging phone lines linger as the only reminders of our past season.   

A further note on the area's advance toward seasonal rebirth, declares the ice is out on area lakes. Here on Gunflint, the progression of open water took the better part of a week, with final hard water disappearance at the east end occurring on April30. So it lasted just about as I thought it would. I’m indebted to a friend down the road who stepped up to make the official “ice-out” call in my absence.     

The water now lapping against our granite shore is every bit as joyous, as is the anticipation of those first freezing crinkles each November/ December. It’s just pretty darn energizing! And for angling enthusiasts, there will be no worry about ice in 2016 for getting after those walleyes next weekend.   

Back country roads are drying readily as run-off is back into drainage swales and culverts. In fact, my return trip found the vehicle kicking up dust instead of “mud season” goop!    

Meanwhile, the forest landscape is drab as it awaits renewal of chlorophyll production. The deciduous part of the forest is barely into the budding stage. However, coniferous cousins have regained the verdant twinkle as their juices are already running.     

Signaling spring is in full swing, snowshoe hares have just about completed their warm season wardrobe transition. One crossed our path on the county road during last Sunday's return. It was sporting the usual dusty summer coat with the only reminder of winter garb, being its snow white socks. 

In a closing tidbit, it’s always a relief to get back home after a time away. I was amused while beginning to unload the vehicle, as a couple of resident squirrels came by to greet me. Obviously they wanted a hand-out as they scurried about, chattering food service orders. Following me like a canine pet, until I threw out some seed morsels, one excitably came close to running into the house while I carried in luggage. It sure is nice to be wanted!  

This is Fred Smith, back on the Trail, at Wildersmith, savoring the Gunflint charm!

(photo by Enzik via Wikimedia Commons)


Wild onion

West End News: May 5

I’m very excited to hear about the expansion of Fika Coffee in the Clearview complex in Lutsen. Fika, which can be roughly translated as the Swedish word for “coffee break,” has been roasting and distributing coffee in Grand Marais for several years. The shop in Lutsen, which will be in the old liquor store space, will also be a regular espresso and coffee shop where you can enjoy the aroma, the taste and the camaraderie of sharing coffee.

It is especially gratifying to see young entrepreneurs expanding their businesses across Cook County. The owner of Fika, Josh Lindstrom, is a participant in a program called “Ensure Cook County” run by the Entrepreneur Fund. It is a Cook County-specific program that connects people who want to grow their businesses with training, technical help and local angel investors. I love it when good intentions actually result in tangible results that make all our lives better.

Also, I can’t wait to hang out, drink some coffee and gossip… I mean, discuss the issues of the day.

All the important signs are pointing to the turn of the season. Every lake in Cook County is now free of ice. Sawbill Lake officially became ice-free on April 28, which is pretty close to the average over the last six or seven decades.

As of last Saturday, skiing operations at Lutsen Mountains came its seasonal conclusion. The final day included sunshine, balmy temperatures, live music outside on the deck and, by all reports, excellent skiing conditions. That same Saturday, the first rounds of golf were played at Superior National. A reliable source reported that a few people skied and golfed on the same day.

There is a little time to draw a deep breath before we plunge into the summer season, which is still the busiest time of year by far, up and down the North Shore.

The Onion River in Tofte earned its name from the wild onions that can be found nearby. They are really the first wild edible that can be gathered in the spring. They are also called wild leeks or ramps. They have a strong onion and garlic flavor that makes a nice addition to salads. Native West Enders used to render them into a concoction that induced vomiting, but don’t let that put you off.

Fiddleheads are another delicious spring delicacy that should be ready by the end of the week.

Steelhead fishing is at its peak right now, judging by the number of pickups parked along the highway at each stream crossing.

If you want to know more about the natural abundance that surrounds us, now would be a good time to register for the annual Master Naturalist Volunteer training that is offered by the Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder. The class, which is being held in partnership with North House Folk School, starts in early June. The five-day immersion course is a whirlwind of biology, ecology and geology, specific to our own back yard. You can contact Sugarloaf Nature Center or North House Folk School for specific information and registration.

Several young moose have been spotted recently that are obviously two-year-old calves that have been rejected by their mothers. When a cow moose prepares to give birth, she forcefully sends her previous calf out on its own. For the first couple of weeks after this happens, the adolescent moose is sad and insecure to the extreme. I know it’s dangerous to anthropomorphize wild animals, but these guys are so woebegone, that it is obvious at a glance.

If you see one of these depressed moose on the road, be kind and gentle. The last thing they need is to be chased by a scary vehicle. Sad as they are, they will soon buck up, become adults and join the greater community that is Cook County’s West End.



A Year in the Wilderness: April 29 - Barking at waves

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)


Transit of Mercury

Northern Sky: April 30 - May 13

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

The spring sky features Leo, Jupiter and Virgo; Mars and Saturn are rising in Scorpio near midnight; the cross-quarter day of Beltane; and Mercury transits the sun on May 9.

(photo by Tomruen via Wikimedia Commons)


The Lake Superior Project/Logo by Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: Pharmaceutical toxins found in northeast Minnesota lakes and fish

Pharmaceuticals and other human-produced chemicals are appearing in northeast Minnesota's water and fish - even in remote and pristine lakes. In this edition of The Lake Superior Project, Dr. Seth Moore, director of biology and environment with the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa, talks about a new study on these emerging toxins.


Icy Bay, Alaska

Gus' Wild Side: Memorable camping

Gus recalls memorable camping trips in both Alaska and the midwest.

Gus’ Wild Side is a regular feature on WTIP. Gus writes about our connections to Nature as he explores wildness from the High Arctic to his own backyard along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

(Photo courtesy of Margaret Olson on Flickr)


Townsend's Solitaire

West End News: April 28

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then North House Folk School in Grand Marais should feel very flattered. North House was cited in the first sentence of a Duluth News Tribune article announcing the formation of a new folk school starting up in Duluth.

A few years ago, Ely started a folk school, also based on the success of North House. The Ely Folk School has succeeded beyond all expectations and I fully expect the same for the new folk school in Duluth.

Although the folk school movement seems like a new phenomenon to us, it has actually been well established in Scandinavia since the early 1800s. They were a reaction to the idea that education was primarily for the elite members of society. The folk schools were a "small d" democratic idea to connect all members of society to a lifetime of learning, with an emphasis on practical and useful skills that helped connect communities into a more cohesive society.

In the Nordic countries today, almost every town has a folk school, where they are a routine and accepted part of life. While North House wasn't the first folk school in America, it was a bit unique when it started 20 years ago. Hopefully, folk schools will be established in every town in the United States, too.

I've been thinking for awhile that it would be nice to have a folk school here in the West End, perhaps affiliated with the Commercial Fishing Museum and/or Birch Grove Community Center. Obviously, it would make sense to organize it as an add-on to North House programming, as they are such a strong part of the Cook County community.

Speaking of the Commercial Fishing Museum, the most recent newsletter has a very nice article about my mom, Mary Alice Hansen, and the key role she played in founding and developing the museum and the Tofte Historical Society. Mom is pleased by the recognition, but being the true historian, she was very concerned that the article get the details correct and accurate.

Congratulations to Split Rock Lighthouse on receiving a $68,000 grant to put toward developing a long term plan to preserve and interpret this important and iconic historic site. I would argue that Split Rock is the most unique and recognizable image from the North Shore.

The grant actually came from the National Park Service, in partnership with the Maritime Administration, according to Senators Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken and Congressman Rick Nolan. The money passes through the Minnesota Historical Society, who operate Spit Rock and is part of a $138,000 cultural landscape report.

Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder has a deal for you if you plan to plant trees on your North Shore property. They are making available low cost fencing to protect your saplings from the deer. This is actually offered by the North Shore Forest Collaborative, based at Sugarloaf, which is actually a group of many partners, working on a very long term plan to restore the forest along the North Shore. Visit the Sugarloaf Nature Center website for details and contact information.

I'm pleased to report that the elusive bird known as Townsend's Solitaire has been a regular visitor at the Sawbill bird feeders this week. It is a common bird in the mountain west, but quite rare in Minnesota. Although this is exciting news for bird watchers, I must admit that the Solitaire is one of the most nondescript birds that I've ever seen. We also have a black-backed woodpecker hanging around. That, along with all the migrants coming through, makes us a birder's paradise at the moment.

At this writing, Sawbill Lake has 8 inches of ice that is too degraded to stand on. Many of the smaller lakes and ponds are already open and Sawbill will be clear in a few days. The birds, the lake ice, the fabulous rushing rivers and waterfalls, and people already using the golf courses - along with downhill skiing still happening this weekend at Lutsen Mountains - all contribute to the magic that is Cook County's West End.



Lake County trail

Sunny's Back Yard: End of a roller coaster winter

Sunny tells us about the final end of what's been a roller coaster winter in her Back Yard.

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 17 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she shares what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard.