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West End News

Bill Hansen

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Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

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Kevlarus Canoeum Exclusivei

West End News: May 26

When the Minnesota State Legislature adjourned this week, it became obvious to even the casual observer that Minnesota's governing body has gone the way of our national governing body, the U.S. Congress, by descending into ineffective chaos. For the last two sessions, most of the important work of the legislature was not finished and the people of Minnesota were not well served.

Not only did the most important bills of the year, bonding, transportation, RealID and the managing of the budget surplus, fail to pass, but much of the negotiation and horse trading went on behind closed doors in the final days of the session, without the scrutiny or participation of the voters, the news media, or even most of the sitting legislators. A 32 million dollar tax cut for the tobacco industry is this year's poster child of baffling legislation snuck into law without the knowledge or consent of the voters or most of the lawmakers themselves. This makes the legislature resemble a dictatorship more than a "small d" democratic institution.

In my opinion, the troubles besetting the Minnesota Legislature flow from the same source as those that afflict the Congress, the unbelievable amount and influence of money in politics. If we don't move swiftly and decisively to correct campaign finance and lobbying policy, we risk the permanent loss of our democratic traditions. There are two relatively bright spots in this mess. First, it seems like unlimited and unaccountable money mostly bring the political process to a halt, at least so far, rather than just selling laws to the highest bidders.  Second, our system still, mostly, allows for one vote for each of us, giving us the option of changing this crazy system at the ballot box.

This year the Governor almost has to call a special session to complete the huge pile of work left undone, but a part of me wants him to let the leadership of both parties suffer the natural consequences of their misbehavior.

The blackflies are out in the West End if you travel up over the hill. They aren't bad as compared to many years in the past, although this is my 60th blackfly season and in every one of them I've heard many people declare that this is the worst year ever. I discovered about 59 years ago that the most effective way to enjoy the woods during the black fly season lies in the judicious use of the DEET based repellents. If you apply a very small amount of the repellents to your exposed skin and the adjacent clothing you can walk blissfully through the woods for up to eight hours without a single bite.  

Thanks to the Zika virus, Consumer Reports just did a thorough study of spray-on insect repellents. Long story short, they found DEET and similar chemical repellents to be amazingly effective and the natural repellents, like citronella, eucalyptus, cedar, rosemary and lemongrass to be amazingly ineffective.

The kerfuffle surrounding the building of a Dollar General store in Grand Marais seems to have died down for the moment. In Silver Bay, however, plans have been moving ahead for Dollar General to open a store in the business park along Highway 61 near the AmericInn. According to the Lake County Chronicle, the agreement between Dollar General and the city, which owns the land, included a clause that would forbid the city from selling land to a Dollar General competitor. After much discussion, the Silver Bay City Council voted to strike the no-complete clause from the purchase agreement, which may well kill the sale. The Dollar General spokesperson said the decision was too new for them to react to, but I suppose they would have the option of looking for private land in the same area. 

One of the joys of living in the West End, of course, is the ever-changing entertainment provided by good old Mother Nature. Most of the glory goes to the large animals, but there are many critters that go almost unnoticed most of the time, even though they are quite common.  

About a month ago, here at Sawbill, we took delivery of 41 brand new Kevlar canoes. We stacked them on the ground in the canoe yard, tipped up on their sides, one leaning against the other. This week we found the time to bring each canoe to the shop, install the carrying yoke pads and put on the licenses and company stickers. After doing the first six, I noticed that each canoe had one resident spider. There was one, and only one, small, nondescript brown spider in each new canoe – with no exceptions. Once I noticed this, I started keeping track and it held true for every single one of the 41 canoes, except for two that had two spiders, but each in the far opposite end of the canoe.

I looked them up online and as best I can tell they are Cheiracanthium mildei (ky-ruh-KAN-thee-um MILL-dee-eye), also known as the long-legged sac spider. I could be totally wrong about that, of course. Apparently, the overturned canoes must mimic their ideal habitat, but also encompass exactly one Cheiracanthium mildei territory.  

Seeing as how I'm not sure about the identification and I struggle to remember the pronunciation, I've decided to rename them Kevlarus Canoeum Exclusivie and hereby proclaim them the official spider of Cook County's interesting and unique West End.
 

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Intentional fire along the Sawbill Trail makes an eerie sight at night

West End News: May 19

The news is good in the West End this week, thanks to 400 employees returning to work at North Shore Mining in Silver Bay. It is a wrenching blow to the entire West End when the plant shuts down. Basically, when North Shore Mining sneezes, the West End gets a cold and Silver Bay gets pneumonia. 580 workers were laid off last winter, so a callback of 400 people is good, but hopefully the remaining layoffs will end soon.
 
I was chatting with some of the temporary fire-fighters at one of the local watering holes this week. There are many out of state crews in town these days, including these fine fellows from Whitefish, Montana. I was surprised when they told me that their tour here had just been extended for another two weeks. When we were chatting, it was raining, right after it had been snowing, so the fire danger did not seem so high. They said the forecast was dry, so they’re hanging around to keep an eye on things. The Forest Service is doing a lot of intentional burning while the conditions are good for that. Having the extra crews on hand is probably part of that process as well.
 
Cook County Higher Education is celebrating 20 years of operation this week. Although located in Grand Marais, Higher Ed has provided college level education for dozens and dozens of West Enders over the years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cook County Higher Education is the most efficient and cost effective social program in the county. They provide expertise, support, logistics and financial aid to students of all ages who want to pursue their educational dreams while living right here in Cook County. 
 
For instance, they are offering a Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide course starting in June.  This certification can qualify you for good jobs that are in demand, but is also are a good first step toward more advanced health care training, leading to better and better paying jobs. Higher Ed says that if you are interested, regardless of your financial situation, you should apply and they will work diligently to find a way to make it work for you. To find them, just google “Cook County Higher Education” or call WTIP for full contact information.
 
The Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland is looking for some volunteers this summer. They need window washing, weed pulling, landscaping and help painting the dugouts. I must confess, when I read about painting the dugouts, I pictured Finland residents painting dugout canoes and wondered to myself why on earth they had dugout canoes. Half a day later, it dawned on me that they meant the dugouts at the ball field – at least I think that’s a more reasonable guess. Call Joyce Yamamoto at 218-353-0300 and leave a message if you can spare some time.
 
Birch Grove School’s “Gala For the Grove” is scheduled for Saturday, June 18. Get your tickets early to this popular event. The elegant, multi-course meal is just the beginning of the fun that includes a silent auction, prize drawings and the always-popular live auction. The auctioneer is frankly terrible, but the donated auction items are spectacular and steer every dollar to serving the students at the award winning Birch Grove Community School. Contact Caroline at 663-0170 to reserve your tickets.
 
I have an ethical dilemma on my hands and would like the West End community to help me solve it. About a week ago, an unfamiliar bicycle appeared in the bike rack here at Sawbill. That is not an uncommon event, so I thought nothing of it. But, a few days later, a note appeared on the bike that said “Dibs – Bilbo.” Bilbo is my nickname among the Sawbill crew – don’t ask me why. Apparently, the crew decided that if it wasn’t claimed, the bike should be mine, as my bike is living in Montana with my youngest son.
 
When I made inquiries, it came to light that a customer had found the bike in the woods alongside the Sawbill Trail. They spotted it back in the woods, fished it out and delivered it to Sawbill.
 
It’s not an expensive or particularly new bike, but it’s nice enough that it certainly doesn’t look abandoned. I guessed that it maybe fell off a car-rack, but it doesn’t seem to have the kind of dents and scratches that would result from that kind of accident. My best guess is that someone stashed it, for whatever reason, with the idea of picking it up later. Of course, when they returned, they would jump to the conclusion that it had been stolen.
 
Before I can feel good about calling the bike my own, I’m putting out word that the bike is here. If you own and can even come close to describing it, then it should return to its rightful owner. You can email me at: bill@sawbill.com or contact me through WTIP. Let’s see what word of mouth can turn up.
 
It’s episodes like this that make be so glad to live in Cook County’s West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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“Soon to be paved” Sawbill Trail

West End News: May 12

The Sawbill Trail has become a beehive of activity this week and the busy tourism season hasn’t even started.
 
Many fire engines have been patrolling the back roads, including the Sawbill Trail, due to the almost continuous red-flag fire conditions that we’ve been experiencing. On Wednesday, with cooler temperatures and a solid forecast of coming rain, the decision was made to burn over some recent logging sales along the Sawbill.
 
This involves many people in many pickups, semis with heavy equipment and a lot of good communication with stakeholders and the public. The Forest Service is really good at fire, due to their thorough understanding of fire science and many decades of hard-core practical experience. The fires burned hot, the rain arrived on schedule and it was “mission accomplished” all around.
 
On the same day as the fires, Northland Constructors of Duluth started work in earnest on the eight mile paving contract that they have this summer on the Sawbill Trail, which is known to them as Cook County State Aid Highway # 2. Unlike the Forest Service, the County does very little public outreach when they start a new project. I guess they figure the stakeholders and public will figure out what’s happening when they see it. In chatting with the contractors though, they mentioned that they expect to be on the job for at least three months, with a month and a half of prep work and two months for the actual paving.
 
The Sawbill Trail was completely reconstructed about 20 years ago, so the paving will basically go on top of the existing roadbed. It looks like some culverts are earmarked for replacement. I’m hoping that the half-dozen “Dukes of Hazard” style frost heaves that form every year will be dug up and stabilized, otherwise the paving in those spots will be broken chunks by this time next year.
 
While there is something sad about encroaching civilization up the Sawbill Trail, I recognize that a gravel road is no longer practical for the amount of traffic received.  The engineers also make a strong case for both the greater safety and long-term environmental advantages of pavement over gravel. Fortunately, the last six miles of the Sawbill Trail will never be paved, so the tradition of dusty washboard and bone-jarring potholes will continue for future generations.
 
As if that wasn’t enough activity for one little rural back road, there were also contractors that were placing some kind of foam protectors over recently planted trees along the Sawbill Trail. I assume it is a form of browse protection, but didn’t have time to stop for an explanation.
 
Very soon, the canoeists and fishermen will be mixing it up with all the workers along the trail, which will make for an interesting and lively summer.
 
I try not to put too much about my own family in the West End News, but I must break the rule to announce the arrival of my latest granddaughter, Kit Shirley, on May 7. Kit’s mother is our daughter, Clare, and father is our son-in-law, Dan.
 
The women on Clare’s side of the family have a reputation for fast deliveries, so that was a concern, now that hospital deliveries are no longer done in Grand Marais. When Clare’s labor started, she and Dan headed for Duluth as planned.  However, little Kit really wanted to be born in Grand Marais, just like her mother and grandmother, and that’s exactly what happened less than two hours later and just minutes after arriving at the emergency room. It was an anxious and hectic trip to town, but the result was perfect and healthy in every way. Kit is now firmly in residence at Sawbill, where her parents took over management this spring. She may not be washing canoes this summer, but I expect she’ll be completely in charge of public relations.
 
 

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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.

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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.

 

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West End News: April 21

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune issued their annual “Best of Minnesota” article last week and the West End made the list twice. The Lutsen 99er was named as Minnesota’s best mountain bike race.  Minnesota’s best resort spa was awarded to the Waves of Lake Superior Spa at Surfside Resort in Tofte. Neither of these are a surprise to West Enders. Of course, almost everything we have is the best in Minnesota, but we’re too cool to be conceited about it.
 
For instance, we have Minnesota’s best community school, in my humble opinion, at Birch Grove School in Tofte. At the moment, Birch Grove Community School is looking for three new school board members. Current board members Sarah Somnis and Rae Piepho were recently elected township supervisors in Tofte and Lutsen, so they are required to resign from the school board to avoid a conflict of interest. The third opening is to replace Jessica Cameron who moved away when her husband was transferred by the Forest Service.
 
The Birch Grove School Board has nine members and meets monthly on the fourth Tuesday. The board expects that members attend at least 80% of the meetings. There is a simple application form that is available from school director Caroline Wood. Stop by the school or give Caroline a call if you would like more information.
 
There is a fun, informal social gathering of dog owners in the Lutsen township park every Sunday at 3 pm. There is nothing organized about this, but it is a chance for some of the outstanding community dogs to spend some time playing and getting to know one another. I suppose there might be some socializing among the owners, too.
 
Matt and Mary Beth Farley, of Lutsen, will be traveling soon to visit their son Andy, who is now stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Andy has completed his basic training and is now training as a combat engineer for the 82nd Airborne Division. Matt said that Andy recently broke his collarbone, which put a short glitch in his training, but will soon be back to full speed. Andy is, of course, a proud graduate of Cook County High School.
 
I was sorry to hear about the dust-up that occurred when the Cook County Board of Commissioners proposed a resolution recommending that the BWCA Wilderness watershed be protected from the pollution that inevitably follows the mining of sulfide-bearing ores.
 
Like the silly banning of Bent Paddle Beer from the Silver Bay Municipal Liquor Store, it strikes me as a misguided attempt to intimidate people who want to express their honestly held political opinions.
 
The threat to remove Cook County from the Taconite Assistance Area strikes me as a particularly empty and unnecessary threat. The rail line between Taconite Harbor and Hoyt Lakes is still owned by a mining company. That railroad and the Taconite Harbor power plant may well end up being key parts of Minnesota’s mining efforts in the future.
 
Details aside, I believe that open and honest political discussion is always a good thing and coercion and threats are always a bad thing. Talking important issues through will ultimately result in a more vibrant and prosperous West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

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West End News: April 14

I’m reporting the West End News this week from the far west end, all the way out in Bozeman, Montana. I’m here on tour with the Plucked Up String Band.

Everyone knows that touring bands live a life filled with wild parties fueled by crazy substance abuse and excesses of every kind. Well, I’m happy to report that is not the case for our current tour.

We chose Montana for our tour because my son, Carl Hansen, a proud West Ender, lives in Bozeman, where he is a freelance filmmaker. Carl’s boyhood friend, Beau Larson, originally from Lutsen, also lives in Bozeman, making his living as a wildlife photographer. So, this is really more of a combination band tour and family visit.

The band has been warmly received in Montana, with appreciative crowds at every show and many invitations to return. In our down time, our activities have tended more toward hiking, disc golf and many hours of playing music while soaking up the unseasonable 70-degree sunshine that Montana has been experiencing. Other than a pleasant overall tiredness and some sore fingers, the tour has been fulfilling and fun.

We’re ending the tour in Ashland, Wisconsin, where we’ll be headlining the Ashland Folk Festival, the oldest folk festival in Wisconsin.

I’ve been reading, with interest, all the recent news about economic diversification on the Iron Range. Although the West End is not generally considered part of the Iron Range, we are directly affected by what happens in our greater region.

I’m no expert on the mining industry, but it seems that the experts are thinking that mining may be in a more serious decline that just the normal ups and downs of a commodity-based industry. Long story short, the situation is a symptom of the global market place.

Just in the last few weeks, the conversation around economic development in northeastern Minnesota has changed. Governor Dayton came out with a strong message about protecting our wilderness. The IRRRB held a conference on how the region can attract young residents by being “cool and creative.” The IRRRB also announced plans to reform their governance and move their grant and loan programs more toward quality of life projects and away from trying to attract smoke-stack industries. Minnesota Public Radio has hosted an event focused exclusively on diversifying the Iron Range economy and the Minneapolis Star Tribune is running a series of articles on the same subject. Aaron Brown has continued his well-written efforts to inspire economic diversification on his popular blog, “Minnesota Brown.”

All this news is very encouraging, with the obvious caveat that it must lead to some substantial progress and not just exist as a flash in the pan. It is also encouraging because it is driven by community members who are rolling up their sleeves and asking themselves what kind of community they would like to live in and leave to their children.

Unfortunately, it’s a case of the people getting out ahead of at least some of their leaders, who seem to be stuck in the old thinking that economic development will come from giant industrial development. I’m also afraid the influence of money in our politics is moving our leadership away from the wishes of the actual voters. I hope our political leaders are paying close attention to this new regional spirit and will get on board before the train leaves the station without them.

I am proud to say that Cook County is providing leadership in this new regional mood. In my opinion, the West End is in a particularly good position to take advantage.

As we toured around Montana this week and told people we were from the North Shore of Minnesota, the most common response was along the lines of “Oh, I love the North Shore” or, “I’ve been to the Boundary Waters” or, “Grand Marais is a great town.” I believe this is because Montana and the North Shore share a quality of life based on outstanding natural beauty and a largely unspoiled environment. But, for whatever reason, the wonderful West End seems to be well thought of, right across this great United States.

 

 

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Plucked Up String Band is going on its first national tour

West End News: April 7

I was saddened to read about the passing of Frank Dvorak, a long-time seasonal resident of Tofte. I knew Frank through DFL politics and was surprised when he wasn’t in attendance at the Tofte precinct caucus this year. He and his wife, Barbara, were faithful precinct caucus goers, even in the years when hardly anyone attended.
 
Frank was retired from a long, distinguished career as an attorney in Minneapolis. He was a law school classmate and good friend of Skip Humphrey, who went on to be Minnesota’s attorney general. Skip’s father was Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Frank said that he and Barbara helped the younger Humphreys move into their first home in Plymouth, right after they graduated. It was a low budget affair, with a bunch of the Humphrey’s friends making multiple trips with cars and pickup trucks. 
 
The Humphreys rewarded their helpers by throwing a party at the house after all the moving was done.  They were pretty broke, so it was a potluck and bring your own bottle. Frank said the party was in full swing when they heard approaching sirens and looked out to see a long black limousine pull up in front of the house. Stern secret service agents swept through the house to check for weapons. Close on their heels was Vice-President Hubert Humphrey with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. He announced to the stunned group, “I hear there’s a party and I hear it is BYOB!”
 
Frank spent his entire life working to bring justice to ordinary people and you can’t really do better than that. He will be missed and remembered by many.
 
Congratulations to Lynn Rose for her appointment as the newest Lutsen Township Supervisor. As everyone in Lutsen knows, Lynn is as close as you can get to a saint in this earthly realm and certainly knows the Lutsen community well. She’ll be a great Supervisor.
 
It is good to hear that a new initiative may be coming to Lutsen that will allow people with modest income to receive grants to improve their houses. The Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, better known as the A.E.O.A., is applying for a state grant that will provide tens of thousands of dollars to individual homeowners who qualify. The grants take the form of deferred loan over ten years. So, if you stay in your home ten years after accepting the grant, you pay nothing. If you sell the home before the ten years are up, you just pay back the remainder of the loan.
 
The program is to replace or refurbish roofs, doors, windows, or anything that makes the home more efficient. It cannot be used to increase the size of your home. Many people in Lutsen will qualify, even if they earn a fairly normal income, so if you are interested, go to the AEOA website to learn more.  This is literally too good of a deal to pass up.
 
I was ten years old when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Along with millions of other American kids, I resolved that day to be a rock and roll star, touring around America, playing and singing to adoring audiences. I even started a band with some buddies, but it came to a quick end when we discovered that playing and singing like the Beatles was hard.
 
Now, more than 50 years later, my dream is finally coming true, with the possible exception of the adoring fan part. Cook County’s own Plucked Up String Band, of which I am lucky enough to be a member, is heading out on its first tour this week.  Basically, we are driving to Montana where we have at least four appearances lined up, then we’re driving straight through from Montana back to Ashland, Wisconsin, where we are head-lining the Ashland Folk Festival, the oldest folk festival in Wisconsin.
 
It’s way too late, in more ways than one, for me to wind up in front of millions of people on the Ed Sullivan Show, but it should be fun, nonetheless.  And, I’ll be glad to be living my teenage dreams, however modestly, in my 60s.
 

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Huckleberry inspects hole where 19” of ice was measured on Sawbill Lake this week

West End News: March 31

I was thrilled to hear that Mary Somnis is very likely the new Director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority.  Mary considers herself a West Ender, even though she has lived on the Range for the last 20 years. 
 
Back in the day, Mary lived in Tofte and was hired by the newly organized Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association as a secretary.  The LTTA was formed to administer the newly passed bed tax, charged to tourists who rented rooms in the townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder, used to promote and market the area. 
 
Mary was hired with the idea that she would answer the phones, open the mail, take minutes at the board meetings and that type of thing.  Very quickly Mary’s competence and work ethic had her taking on greater and greater responsibility. A misunderstanding of the law created some confusion that made it look like Mary could not be paid in keeping with her actual skills, but after that was straightened out, Mary was named the full time Executive Director of the LTTA.  Under her leadership, the Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder area had the fastest tourism growth in the state for several years in a row. In fact, Mary did such a great job, that she was hired away from us by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board to run their regional tourism program, which she has done with distinction for almost 20 years.
 
All through those years, Mary kept ownership of her home in Tofte, visited frequently and took a keen interest in local goings on.  She always maintained that her heart was in Cook County and that someday she would like to move back here.  Well, that day has come and we will all be the better for it. Welcome home, Mary.
 
Everyone who loves speed and excitement will be glad to know that the Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge will be returning to Lutsen Mountains April 15th through 17th.  This is a huge event that will attract more than 500 riders, including some of the best racers in North America.  The Lutsen event is perhaps best known for the hill climbing competition, which provides a thrilling experience for spectators.  The purse this year should be around 40 thousand dollars, so you can be sure the riders will be taking this seriously. 
 
A few people have questioned if Lutsen Mountains will have enough snow for the event and the answer is an emphatic yes. The Mountain management plans carefully for this event and with their ever-expanding snow making capability, they have plenty of snow for a great event.  You can go to Lutsen.com for details.  As I always say, “be there or be square.”
 
Speaking of snow, there is still at least a foot of snow still covering the ground once you get a few miles back from Lake Superior.  Even though it’s melting fast, it is not unusual at all to see significant snowfalls in April and even occasionally in May. In spite of a very warm winter overall, the snowfall back in the woods was pretty hefty.  As of this writing, I’ve recorded 85 inches of snow this winter here at Sawbill.
 
The warm weather, combined with early snow did do strange things to the lake ice this year.  The ice never got more than two feet thick, which is at least a foot less than normal and half of what we’ve seen in cold years.  The average ice thickness right now on Sawbill Lake is 19”, but some of the narrows are already opening up, making lake travel treacherous already.  I can’t recommend going out on the lakes anymore this season, but if you do, go with a friend, take your rescue picks, a throw rope and enough dry clothes in a waterproof bag for a complete change from the skin out.  As my dad always used to say, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

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West End News: March 24

Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen will be presenting information regarding scams that are being perpetrated on local citizens, especially senior citizens, in a talk at the Cook County Senior Center in Grand Marais on Wednesday, April 13th starting at 12:30 pm.  He’ll share information on what the most popular scams are, how to recognize them and how to avoid being taken in.  There will be time for questions after the presentation.
 
I just finished reading a fascinating book called, “The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova.  Ms Konnikova delves deeply into the psychology of scams, why they’re so common and why they are so successful.
 
Although the term “confidence game” only dates back to the mid-1800s, the technique of swindling people by gaining their confidence goes back to earliest recorded human history and most likely quite a bit farther back than that.
 
“Confidence game” was coined by a scammer in New York City who would approach strangers on the street, strike up a friendly conversation and then ask them if they had the “confidence” to loan him their watch until the next day.  By appearing reasonable, friendly and trustworthy, he had a nearly perfect record of talking people into loaning him their watches, which they never saw again.
 
The stages of a successful swindle are pretty standard.  It starts with careful observation and gathering information about the victim or mark.  The victim is approached in an innocent and friendly way, to establish a small kernel of trust.  Then the victim is invited to participate in an activity that will benefit them in a small, but certain way.  The scheme quickly and easily earns the mark a little money, further cementing the trust between the new friends.  This step is often repeated, with the payouts getting slightly bigger each time.  The next step is a manufactured crisis, seeming to put both the scammer and mark in serious danger of losing everything. The biggest step comes when the scammer miraculously finds a way out of trouble for everyone.  All the mark has to do is temporarily put up a large sum of money, which the scammer often will match, promising a way out of the dilemma, with a huge payout as a bonus.  Of course, the money and the scammer disappear forever, leaving the mark much poorer and very embarrassed.  Many scammers add an additional step, called “the fix” where they manipulate the mark into the decision not to report the crime. By some estimates, more than half of criminal scams are never reported.
 
It turns out that confidence swindlers are actually taking advantage of some nearly universal quirks of the human brain.  Although effective scamming was no doubt developed by trial and error, it has long become so sophisticated that it is nearly impossible to resist. 
 
Think about magic shows that you have seen.  Magicians, or illusionists as they are sometimes called, can make you believe that they are doing impossible things before your very eyes. They are exploiting the same brain quirks and bits of human behavior that the scammers do.  The difference is that illusionists do it for entertainment and acknowledge that they are fooling you.  Scammers take your money and ruin your life.
 
I am personally amazed that someone can be so cold as to make their living by taking advantage of others, especially the most vulnerable members of our society.  As it turns out, one of the major traits that define a psychopath is a complete lack of empathy for others.  While not all psychopaths are scammers, all scammers are, at least to some degree, psychopaths.
 
Of course, Konnikova’s book goes into much more detail, especially in looking at how modern brain science is revealing how the hard wired parts of our nature allow the con artists to take advantage of us.
 
All of this leads me back to Sheriff Eliasen’s important upcoming presentation.  The only effective way to avoid being scammed is to educate yourself about common scams and the methods behind them.  Armed with that knowledge, you are not only less likely to fall for a scam, but the con artists will recognize your knowledge in the early stages of their game, which makes you a risky mark for them. They will likely move on to another, more naïve victim, before you even know that you’ve been targeted.
 
I hope Sheriff Eliasen will repeat his talk in the West End soon.  If you want more information about the April 13th session, call the Sheriff’s Department or WTIP.
 
On a more pleasant subject, the word is out that conditions are quite good on local snowmobile and ski trails.  Inland lakes are also in good condition for recreation travel right now and will probably stay that way for a couple of weeks.  Downhill skiers are reporting nearly perfect conditions at Lutsen Mountains.  With the longer, warmer days ahead, it is the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the fabulous West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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