It is always hard to find news for the West End immediately after one of the annual peaks in the tourism industry. It really is kind of a “no news is good news” situation. When things are going well, as they did last week during that magic time between Christmas and New Year’s day, it seems like all West End residents are either working or enjoying the company of their own visiting friends and family.
This year, the weather cooperated with the holiday season to give everyone a wonderful winter experience. Based on what I saw around the area, it was busy, busy, busy. I think it’s likely that it was busier than last year, which continues a multi-year trend rising out of the recession that began back in 2008. The county-wide lodging tax figures through November confirms the trend of a slow but steady increase in business. Comparing apples to apples, May through November lodging revenues rose 6.5% compared to last year.
Speaking of tourism, the Los Angles Times recently published a story about the declining moose population in Minnesota. The article was generally pretty favorable to our area, even though the focus was on kind of a sad subject. The reporter, Andrew Khouri, contacted Sally Nankivell, who directs the Cook County Visitors Bureau, for background information as he was writing the article. Sally found herself in the awkward position of trying to describe the annual moose rut to a thoroughly urban reporter. Sally tried to use gentle euphemisms, but when it became clear that the reporter was just getting more confused, she had to give it to him straight. The conversation caused a few uncomfortable silences, but eventually professionalism on both sides carried the day. In the article, Kourhi refers delicately to the “moose mating season” and leaves it at that.
If you are fascinated by the habits of moose and all the other flora and fauna of the West End, the North Shore Stewardship Association is offering a Northwoods/Great Lakes Master Naturalist course at Sugarloaf Cove in Schroeder. The course consists of six Saturday sessions, starting in February and ending in May. You will study the fascinating geology, plant and animal communities, inland lakes and bogs, ecology and human interactions of the Northwoods and Lake Superior. Field trips are a key part of the curriculum. At the conclusion, you will be a certified Minnesota Master Naturalist by the University of Minnesota Extension service. You can register at the Minnesota Master Naturalist webpage.
Here at Sawbill, we host an annual reunion of our summer staff, both current and former, over the New Years holiday. This year we had about fifteen young people here, playing broomball, skiing, snowshoeing, eating and generally celebrating the time between canoeing seasons. We are lucky to attract very accomplished and interesting employees who quickly become honorary family members during their summers at Sawbill. A number of them are living in the region now, scattered between Duluth and Grand Marais. Over the years, at least a dozen of our summer employees have settled permanently in Cook County. I’m pleased that they are all productive citizens of our beautiful community. Who knows how many of next year’s crop will end up here as well?