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West End News

Clare Shirley

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Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

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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West End News - February 8

West End News 2/8/18
There was a good turnout from west-enders at the 2018 caucuses held in Grand Marais this week. At the Democratic Farmer Labor caucus, there was a like-minded group from Tofte, and quite a few folks from Lutsen. I can’t speak to the GOP caucus but at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts it was a energetic gathering of neighbors who spoke passionately about a variety of issues. While the caucuses may seem quaint, boring, or just a waste of time to many, they are an important first step in the election process. Caucuses lead to conventions, where candidates are endorsed. This ends up affecting who you see on your ballot in November.

This year, our district Congressman Rick Nolan is facing another DFL challenger, Leah Phifer. Given the current political climate, both candidates deserve a serious look. If you aren’t familiar with Nolan or Phifer, take a peek at what they’ve been up to and what they stand for. Leah Phifer was recently in Lutsen meeting with potential supporters, and Rick Nolan sent an aid to Tofte to hear from constituents back in January. If the west end is on their radar, they should be on ours too!

Speaking of politicians, Presidents’ Day is coming up. The Sugarbush Trail Association is hosting a candle-light ski and snowshoe on Saturday, February 18 at from 6 to 8 pm on the Onion River Road. Just head on up to the Oberg Mountain Parking lot on the Onion River Road. The Onion River Road intersects with Highway 61 about halfway between Lutsen and Tofte.  Anyone can gather on Saturday evening whether you are there to ski, snowshoe or hike. This event is a wonderful way to enjoy the quiet beauty of the Northwoods after dark by the flickering lights of candles in the snow. There will be a bonfire going at the trail head, with cocoa, cookies and conversation in abundance.

The Monday and Wednesday singer/songwriter series continues at Papa Charlie’s. This Monday, the 12th, will feature the duo Dead Horses who have shared the stage with the likes of Trampled by Turtles, Mandolin Orange, and Elephant Revival. Wednesday night will showcase Reina del Cid, whose music has been featured by Paste Magazine and NPR. As a reminder these shows are free and start at 8pm. The shows are held in a listening room environment, which means concert goers should limit conversation during the performance. These shows are a great winter gathering spot in the West End.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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West End News - January 25

West End News 1/25/18

Before the winter Olympics start up, we have the opportunity to witness some Olympic quality four-legged athletes here at home. This coming weekend, starting on January 28 through the 31st is the annual Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. In it’s 38th year, the Beargrease is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states and serves as a qualifier for the Alaska Iditarod. This year brings over 60 world class mushers and over 500 volunteers from around the country.  In the full distance marathon you can cheer on local mushers Matt Schmidt from Grand Marais and Blake Freking from Finland.
There are a number of checkpoints in the West End where you can take pictures, hang out a campfire, drink hot chocolate, and of course, watch the amazing canine athletes come and go. Two great spots to see some action are in Finland or at the checkpoint on the Sawbill Trail. To get to the checkpoint on the Sawbill, just drive up the trail, which starts in Tofte at the Tofte General Store, for about 6 miles. You can’t miss the checkpoint as it’s always a big jovial gathering with the dogs napping amongst the trees. If you do come visit, please leave your pets at home, the sled dogs need to be distraction free!
A couple of reminders about the great many services offered in the West End. First, there are two computers with internet access, that are available to the public at Birch Grove Center in Tofte. The computers are in Community Room #1 and anyone is welcome to use them. Birch Grove is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm. Also located in Community Room #1 is a small community library. Many books have been donated so the shelves are full! Anyone is welcome to take books home to keep or you can exchange for books you are done with.
I know you’re all dying to hear how the great 2018 Minnesota Frozen Butt Hang went. If you recall, this group of hardy winter hammock campers was headed up to the Sawbill campground for a weekend of freezing their butts off in good company. It was quite the gathering with somewhere around 60 people attending. I heard from one fellow from New Orleans that he’d never seen this much snow in his life. Another camper from Kentucky was very impressed by my stroller fitted with skis in place of wheels. He thought it was a new fancy way of carting your gear into the campsite so imagine his surprise when he peeked in and saw an almost 2 year old little girl peeking back up at him!
The group passed the weekend with the time honored winter traditions of many hours next to the campfire and a quick jump in the lake via a large hole they spent the better part of a day cutting out.
Not much to report in the way of ice fishing this week. Last week’s brief thaw, followed by a dusting of snow in the last few days has created fast and slippery travel conditions out on the lakes. It’s a good time to be from the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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West End News - January 4

West End News 1/4/18

This coming weekend marks the third annual Ski Party at Lutsen Mountains. Billed as a throwback to the good old days, it’s a celebration of skiing and music. The party starts on Friday evening at 8:30 pm with Dead Man Winter, Charlie Parr and Black-Eyed Snakes. Saturday brings Roma Di Luna, All tomorrow’s Petty, and Invisible Boy. Tickets are available in advance or at the door.

The snow is actually pretty good at Lutsen Mountains this year. If you can bundle up with the right Arctic appropriate clothing, you’ll have plenty of room on the slopes. The cold may scare away the less hardy, but that just means more powder for us. So bust out those extra layers, then dance the chill away the Ski Party.

Speaking of music in Lutsen, Papa Charlie’s is once again hosting the winter songwriter series. On Monday and Wednseday evenings, from 8-10 pm Papa’s transforms into a listening room. The idea is to create a theater-like setting with a more intimate atmosphere allowing the audience the opportunity to be immersed into the stories and craft behind the songs. These evenings are free and draw songwriters from around the country. On Monday, January 8th, local favorite Erik Koskinen will be gracing the stage. It’s worth mentioning that the purpose of the listening room atmosphere is to really experience the music. So if you’re looking for a place just to hang out, catch some tunes and chat with your neighbor, this is not the scene.  

In this time of New Years resolutions, if you are committed to being more active in your community or giving back to the youth or volunteer, then you might be a good fit for the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland. The Center is putting out a call for adults to lead evening activities on weeknights. You’d be in charge of opening the building, monitoring activities like volleyball or basket ball in the gym, filling out the use sheet records and closing up afterwards.

Really what you would be doing boils down to providing a safe and fun space for young people to be. If you don’t have the time to donate, monetary donations can help these programs continue too. You can find out how you may be of help by visiting their website, friends of finland . org or by calling the Executive Director Honor Schauland at 218-353-0300.
 
Whatever your goals for 2018, I hope they include a visit to our beautiful West End.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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West End News - December 28

West End News 12/28/17

Not to state the obvious, but it’s been cold this week in the West End. One benefit of the sub-zero temps is the opening of the Tofte ice rink at the Birch Grove Community center. The ice rink is open all day every day, and even has lights that stay on until 10pm each night. There is also a warming hut which comes in especially handy in this weather. The warming hut has shelves full of skates that are free to borrow. Please return them to their spot neatly when you’re finished, and if you have some skates gathering dust you can donate them by simply adding them to the shelf. The rink and skates are free, but donations are much appreciated. The rink takes a lot of time and skill to maintain so donations and respectful use are much appreciated.

A week or so ago we got an email from someone asking if they could charge their camera batteries at our house while they were up filming an event called the 2018 Minnesota Frozen Butt Hang. Having no idea what he was talking about I let him know that he probably had the wrong outfitter. A quick google search later, however, I discovered that, yes, in fact, the Frozen Butt Hang will be taking place at the Sawbill Campground the weekend of January 18th. Being that the Sawbill Campground is more or less my backyard, I commenced a much more thorough google search to find out what the heck this event was all about. Was it a polar plunge? A nudist winter camping gathering?
It turns out the hang is referring to hammock enthusiasts. Specifically, cold weather hammock enthusiasts. The colder the better it seems for these hardy hangers. Then event began with a small group of enthusiasts getting together for a winter camp in 2011. Since then it’s been growing, and this year over 60 people are signed up to attend. It’s organized and run on a completely volunteer basis, and they even have over a dozen sponsors, many of which are sending sample gear along for folks to test out.

It seems the event draws people from all over the world. Many come from the Midwest, but there are some brave southerners headed up from the US also. I even heard a rumor that someone is coming all the way from Germany to experience our west end winter. There’s nothing like enduring a weekend of below zero weather in a hammock to bring people together, I guess. It’s amazing how far the advancement of outdoor gear has come.

The end of the year is creeping up on us. We plan to celebrate out on the ice of Sawbill Lake, as tradition dictates.  Cheers to 2018 from the West End!
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 
 

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West End News - December 21

West End News 12/21/17
Ski Trails
Merry Christmas from the West End! It is easy to get into the spirit here this year as we have a cold and sparkly landscape that is quite evocative of Santa’s North Pole. When you turn inland from the Shore you have the increasing sense that you are driving deeper and deeper into a snowglobe. Fresh snow on the roads help to reveal our winter neighbors, wolf and fox tracks mingle with moose prints and the ever-present snowshoe hares are abundant as ever.

The heavy snow combined with high winds have created great travel conditions, especially on the lakes. The coming week promises some very cold temperatures too, which will only improve the hard packed snow cover out there. There’s nothing quite like skiing into the Wilderness on a crisp winter day. The snow muffles the sounds of the forest it can be so quiet you can hear your heartbeat louder than ever. Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve heard that the Boundary Waters is one of only a handful of places left in this world where you can go for 15 minutes, or more, without hearing a single human made sound. That is especially true in the winter when you are often the only human for miles.

With a busy holiday season upon us, it’s nice to know that there is a place of cold quiet just out the back door.
Closer to the Shore, the Sugarbush Trail Association has been busy grooming and tracking the vast cross country ski trail system. With somewhere around 400 kilometers of trails, Cook County boasts some of the best cross country skiing in the state. In the West End, word on the trail is that the Onion River Road is the best skiing right now, for both skate and classic. The groomers spend long grueling hours, often overnight, out on the trails keeping the conditions in tip top shape. It’s often thankless work so I’d like to take a moment right now to send out a big grateful THANK YOU! to those folks.

You may have heard that the West End has a new representative on the ISD 166 school board. Tofte’s own Dan Shirley was appointed to fulfill the remainder of Jeanne Anderson’s term. Dan grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico before making his way to Minnesota via Oregon and Montana. He is the co-owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, and full disclosure, if you hadn’t already guessed, he is also married to me. Tune in to the WTIP news hour to hear more from Dan about his new position.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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Ice Skating.jpg

West End News - December 14

West End News 12/14/17  by Clare Shirley
 
The Birch Grove kiddos will be putting their seasonal cheer on display in the annual winter musical this Tuesday, December 19th. The performance, entitled a Bear-y Merry Holiday, will run twice. Once at 1pm and again at 6pm. After each performance you can squeeze in some last minute holiday shopping at the Scholastic Holiday Book Fair, also at Birch Grove.

Former Birch Grover Joshua Schmidt is coming home for the holidays. While that might not seem all that newsworthy, it is worth noting that he will be playing music at the Poplar River Pub at Lutsen Resort while he is back. Josh is part of the successful Twin Cities based band The Step Rockets and he will be bringing an arrangement of classic folk rock with a modern flavor to the north woods. He’s playing on Tuesday, December 19 from 6-8pm. If you can’t make it then, don’t worry, he’ll be back at the Pub again on Thursday December 21 also from 6-8pm.

We’ve had quite a bit of snow this past week in the West End, especially up over the hill. There are roughly 18 inches on the ground up here, with about six inches of new sparkly snow covering the trees. The inland lakes are more frozen every day. Jessica Hemmer drilled a hole in Sawbill Lake just yesterday to measure the ice. She reports that there are 12 inches of clear, solid, ice. We ventured out on the lake not 2 hours after her report and found that the hole she had drilled was already frozen over, enough that we couldn’t break through it. Brr! All the recent snow brings an end to ice skating season. However, the high winds have created a nice firm wind-packed snow on the lakes making for a fast start to cross country ski skating season.

Lutsen Mountains is making good use of the cold temperatures and fast falling snow. As of this Friday December 15, the ski hill will be open daily. Daily lift ticket rates are still pre-season, meaning a little cheaper, until December 21st so now is the time to go if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Whatever your winter activity, I hope you are out and about enjoying the glittery landscape and soaking up the last sunsets of 2017. I can’t think of a better way to close out one year and begin the next here in the beautiful West End. 
 

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Zoar Lutheran Church

West End News - December 7

West End News 12/7/2017
 
While many of us don’t find much to celebrate about the long dark nights of winter, especially as the shortest day of the year creeps closer, the fine folks at the North Shore Winery in Lutsen are helping to ease the cabin fever. They have released a new white wine blend named Borealis. Made with Minnesota grapes, it is a nod to the dazzling night skies we sometimes get here on the North Shore. On Thursday, Friday and Saturdays during December, the you can enjoy a glass of the new release by firelight at the winery and even if the real lights aren’t out, you can still enjoy some new art pieces by Anna Hess.
 
For the under 21 crowd, you can still enjoy a night out in Lutsen. On December Lutsen Mountains is hosting Family Fun Night up at the summit chalet. It starts with a gondola ride up to the chalet on top of Moose Mountain. At the chalet, there will be a dinner, magic show, kid friendly music, art and face painting, all culminating with some fireworks. Tickets are 20 dollars per adult and 12 dollars per child (that applies to ages 6 through 12). It’s an even better deal if you have a ski pass! Visit lutsen.com for more info.
 
Zoar Lutheran church of Tofte is once again hosting their winter season Wednesday evening soup dinners. Each Wednesday from 5:30 til 7 soup is provided and served by Zoar church members and friends, often accompanied by music. It is just one of many ways Zoar contributes to the fellowship of the West End.
 
I was particularly disheartened to hear that Zoar has been the target of a series of threatening notes recently. The Cook County Sheriff is of course investigating the threat, but as of yet has not much information has surfaced. In the meantime, Pastor Daren Blanck and the church congregation have taken several steps to increase the safety and security of the church and its worshipers.
 
It’s hard to come up with words that accurately describe how disappointed I am that this kind of insidious fear and animosity has reared its ugly head in such a way here in our little corner of paradise. We should not spend too long being bewildered, though. We need to continue to talk to our neighbors, especially those we disagree with. We can’t continue to let hateful comments go under the guise of humor.
 
Along with Sunday service and Wednesday soup suppers, the church is planning caroling at the Veterans Home in Silver Bay and the Care Center in Grand Marais, as well as around the Tofte-Schroeder area.  Let’s all take their lead and make time to spread some Christmas cheer and maybe a little extra dose of love this holiday season.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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West End News November 16

West End News 11/16/2017
 
While I’m pretty familiar with the onset of winter in the West End, having grown up here, this year I’m experiencing my first winter season with a toddler in tow. Our adventurous 18 month old is pretty used to spending lots of time outside, but is still adjusting to the boots and hat routine, not to mention walking through snow that comes up to her thighs already. Moving through deep snow in 6 layers of puffy clothing has certainly slowed her, and therefore me, down quite a bit. This has actually been a welcome change. While standing around the woods we’ve seen flocks of grosbeaks, many a chickadee, one friendly pine-marten, and several snowshoe hares. The hares are mostly sporting white bellies and ears, with some brown spots remaining along their backs.
 
While the shore is relatively snow-free at this point, there is about a foot on the ground most places over the hill. So if you want to get a jump on some Christmas photos, head on up. Many inland lakes have frozen over at this point, with rumors of some wild ice in a few places. Many lakes, though, are still too thin to travel on.
 
If all the snow is leaving you and your little with some excess energy to burn, you can head on over to the Clair Nelson Center in Finland for their Toddler Playtime. On Tuesdays from 2-4 in the afternoon their doors are open to parents, toddlers and older siblings for an unstructured playdate.
 
Snow and ice also means I’m spending much more of my time stoking our wood boiler to keep the house nice and toasty. While I busily build the biggest hottest fire I can in the center of our log home, my mind often wanders to the good work of our local volunteer fire departments. We are so very fortunate to have such dedicated individuals who serve on our fire, ems and rescue squads.
 
 One easy way to support these fine folks is to attend the annual Lutsen Fireman’s Ball. This event is a fabulous excuse to get dressed up, enjoy a three course dinner, up-bid your neighbor in the great silent auction, and dance the night away with Big Wave Dave and the Ripples. And it’s all for a good cause! The Ball will be on December 2nd this year and there are still a few tickets available. Tickets are only available until this Sunday, November 19, so if you’re interested, now is the time! You can get a ticket by emailing Danielle Fortin. Her email is Danielle@kahneetah.com. That’s Danielle at kahneetah.com.
 
One last minute reminder that Birch Grove’s annual benefit silent-auction event is happening on Friday, November 17th  starting at 5pm at Papa Charlies. See you there!
 
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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West End News November 2

West End News 11/2/2017
 
A big thank you to all the volunteers who made this year’s Birch Grove Halloween carnival such a success. The rooms and hallways were packed full of costumed kids playing games, doing crafts, and even building bat houses thanks to the US Forest Service. I hadn’t been to the carnival since I was a costumed kid, and it was fun to see that it really is just as big and fun as I remember it.
 
There’s no rest for these industrious volunteers though, as the annual Birch Grove benefit at Papa Charlies is coming right up! The event will be on Friday, November 17th. There is a lasagna dinner and silent auction that will run from 5 to 8pm. Music by Mysterious Ways will be happening from 7:30 to 9:30. This event isn’t limited to Birch Grove families, everyone is welcome to come check out the great silent auction items and enjoy some socializing with your neighbors.
 
I must tell you that the rumors are true, we do in fact have quite the blanket of white fluffy snow up here in the woods. We got almost 7 inches overnight last week and have had about another inch since then. I’d say we were about 95% ready for the snow, the canoes are in storage and the water drained from our summer buildings. Of course, there were a few odd ladders and other things that did get buried. We’d been telling ourselves that we’d finish the last round up of outdoor things once this first snowfall inevitably melts. After waiting a week and closely watching the forecast though, we resorted to winter jackets and shovels. The lakes are not yet frozen, of course, so we have a somewhat unique window where there is open water but very wintery woods. The trees are covered in white and the water is a dark grey. It’s beautiful, but not particularly inviting.
 
All this snow, and the passing of Halloween, has got me in the mood for the holidays. Don’t hold it against me, but I’m ready for twinkly lights, cookies, caroles, the whole bit! Lucky for me, I can get some Christmas shopping in at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland this weekend. The Finland Community Bazaar will be on Saturday, November 4th from 10am to 3pm. The Bazaar features many local vendors and crafters, as well as food and music.
 
Speaking of Finland, we had a lovely couple from the actual country visit the outfitter recently. They were staying on the shore for a portion of their US vacation. I of course asked if they had heard of Finland, Minnesota. In fact, they had! They had visited the town just the day before, purely because they saw the name on a map and had to see it for themselves. They said they very much enjoyed their visit and got a real kick out of all the, quote unquote, “Finnish” wording used around town. They reported that while the spelling and grammar were creative, they were able to understand the meaning most of the time.
 
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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Bill Sarah Adam

West End News October 5

West End News 10/5/2017  
 
If you haven’t had a chance to sneak out and take part in the Art Along the Lake Fall Studio Tour, this weekend is your last chance. The fall studio tour is a fabulous time for locals and visitors alike to meet artists in their studios. Stops on the tour include home studios as well as galleries, and some are featuring guest artists. The locations are all open daily from 10am to 5pm until Sunday, October 8th. Of particular note is the tour stop at Mary Jane Huggins’ place in Tofte. She has many demonstrations going on each day, including bracelet weaving and scarf dying workshops as well as basket weaving and spinning demonstrations. If you haven’t yet spent some hours chatting with Mary Jane, don’t miss your opportunity this weekend!
 
Birch Grove Community School is off to a running start this fall. The new curriculum has arrived, purchased thanks to funds provided by the Lloyd K Johnson Foundation. The school also just received a $500 donation from the Library Friends of Cook County, thanks friends! Community lunches have also started up again, with the next one this Tuesday October 10. Come on down to Birch Grove for a delicious lunch and a chance to chat with the west end’s youngest residents. A reminder that there is no school on Friday October 6th, and the school board meeting will be taking place on Tuesday October 17 at 6pm.
 
While I know the Gunflint Trail has had more than its fair share of bear trouble this year, up here on the Sawbill Trail we are having a different kind of wild life issue. Every fall the red squirrels go into overdrive it seems, storing up food for the impending snow storms. This year though, instead of simply collecting seeds out of the towering white pines, the little buggers are using us for target practice with their pinecones. There is a constant barrage of banging with the cones dropping out of the trees onto our metal roofs. Walking between buildings almost requires a hard hat at this point. Some folks in our campground had a particularly vindictive squirrel that they swore was dropping cones on them on purpose. When they mentioned it to their neighbors, they fessed up that they had originally set up in that same site but moved after they realized the squirrel was out to get them! I wonder if filling our bird feeders will ease the squirrels aggressive fall actions?
 
Honorary west ender, Bill Hansen, and his son Adam are currently vacationing in Kenya. Adam studied abroad in Nairobi in college and this is the second time the pair have travelled back to visit Adam’s old friends and host family. This visit, they have decided to forego the dog and pony show of public transportation and have rented a car, allowing them some freedom to visit out of the way places. One such place, was the home of Barack Obama’s grandmother, Sarah. On a whim, the guys looked her up and drove to her house. Outside was a security guard, on an even crazier whim, they asked him if they could say hello and pay their respects. The guard called the 95 year old woman up and she promptly invited them in for a visit. Bill reports that they had a wonderful chat about her life as a farmer. Her main concern now, though, is the importance of promoting education for all. It’s a good reminder how, even a world away, peoples’ values and goals can be so very similar.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley with the West End News.
 

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