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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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Hudson Bay

West End News: May 8

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The second annual Cook County Ramble held last week at Cascade Lodge was a huge success again this year.  About 20 local musicians played songs inspired by the late American music icon, Levon Helm. The place was packed and everyone seemed to have a good time. My hat is off to the staff at the Cascade Pub who labored mightily all night long to keep everyone fed and watered.  They got into the spirit of the evening by donating some of their tips to the fundraising cause, which is Cook County High School's instrument repair and replacement program.
 
Present company excepted, I can only say wow to the level of musicianship that we have walking around in Cook County. If you haven't gone out to hear any local music lately, you might want to give it a try.  Our local musicians have a lot of opportunity to perform in public and they just keep getting better and better.  Special thanks to Jessa and Eric Frost from Tofte for organizing the Ramble, and to Maureen and Michael O'Phelan for hosting.
 
It's not too early to sign up for the third annual North Shore Landowners Workshop, which will be held this year at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland Friday, June 13 from noon until 4:30 pm. This has become a very popular and fun event for landowners along the North Shore. Sponsored by the North Shore Forest Collaborative, the event is part of their effort to restore the forest of the North Shore to a healthy and high functioning ecosystem. The workshop connects landowners with professional foresters, tools and resources to help in the effort.  It's also a great opportunity to meet your fellow landowners - from up and down the shore - to compare notes and get to know each other.
 
The event is free and open to everyone, but registration is required, which you can do by calling Molly Thompson at 218-525-0001 or just search online for the Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Association.  As always, you can contact WTIP for details and contact information.
 
A lot of people are thinking about the health of the forests and Lake Superior recently after the latest National Climate Assessment was released this week. The assessment observes changes in the climate based on the best scientific methods available. The report leaves no doubt that our climate is changing at a rapid rate and is mostly caused by human beings burning fossil fuels.
 
In our region, it is easy to observe some of the effects, including dying birch trees, declining moose population, deeper and longer droughts which can lead to larger forest fires, more intense rain events and flooding, among many others. In my opinion, if we human beings don't get serious now about climate change, we will be remembered as the generation that left a much more difficult and unpleasant world to our children and grandchildren.  The report deftly bats away the various arguments of the climate change deniers, who are now thoroughly discredited by the obvious facts.
 
Reacting to climate change doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Switching to more local, non-polluting energy and food sources would be good for Cook County's economy, keeping the money circulating here instead of sending it out of the area.  This is a big issue for the West End and for the world and I urge you to look at the surprisingly clear and readable report. You'll easily find it online by searching for "National Climate Assessment."
 
April Knight is a nurse from North Carolina who visits the BWCA Wilderness every few years for a canoe trip.  A few years back, April met Andy Keith, a former Lutsen resident who now lives in Mexico.  Many years ago, Andy and Herb Wills, also from Lutsen, canoed from Sawbill Lake to Hudson Bay over the course of several months.  April was intrigued by Andy and Herb's adventure and is planning to canoe the same route this summer.  She will start the trip alone, but is scheduled to join a group once she reaches the big Canadian rivers in order to be safer in the big rapids there.  She was planning to embark on May 8, but will be delayed a few days by the late spring ice.
 
April is no stranger to adventure travel, having used her nursing skills to help people in some of the most remote parts of the world.  She has certainly done her homework and has tapped Andy's experience for practical advice.  Hopefully, I'll be able to update her progress for you occasionally as the summer goes on.
 
I just like knowing that it's possible to throw a canoe in the water a few steps from my front door and travel ancient routes almost to the Arctic Circle.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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West End News: May 1

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As of today, Sawbill Lake is still sporting 27 inches of ice.  This is only a few inches less than I reported two weeks ago, news which could just aggravate the chronic late winter depression that is epidemic in Cook County these days.  However, the ice is quite a bit more degraded that it was two weeks ago and there is some hope that open water will arrive eventually.  Based on recent weather trends, I would guess that it will be at least two more weeks until the lakes clear, taking us well past the opening day of fishing season for the second year in a row.  I can only imagine the joy we will all feel when the next warm sunny day arrives.
 
The Birch Grove Foundation and Tofte Township invite you to the second community conversation at the Birch Grove Community Center on May 7.  The event starts with a wood hearth pizza bake at 5:30 p.m. and the conversation starts at 6:30.  The goal is to prioritize the ideas and goals that were identified at the first community conversation last month.  Once the priorities are set, strategies will be discussed for practical steps for attaining the goals.  Everyone who cares about the future of the West End should attend. 
 
If you plan to participate in the pizza bake, you should RSVP so they know how much dough and sauce to prepare.  As always, bring your own toppings.  Email bgf@boreal.org or call 663-7977 to let them know.
 
While on the topic of Birch Grove, don’t forget to buy your tickets for Gala for the Grove scheduled for May 17 at Surfside Resort in Tofte.  This is the social event of the year and an important fundraiser for the Birch Grove Community School, which is the heartbeat of the West End. 
 
It’s not too late to donate an item to be sold at the exciting live auction that is a big part of the gala.  Contact info is birchgrove@boreal.org and 663-0170.
 
The Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder is offering an interesting free program comparing our ecosystem with the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.  The Osa Peninsula has been called the most biologically intense place on Earth by National Geographic magazine.  It contains more than 700 species of trees alone.  The program is free and open to all on Saturday, May 10 at 10 a.m.  I suggest that it might be very pleasant to watch a slide show of lush, green, sun-dappled forest at this particular point in time.  I’m just saying…  
 
The cell tower that has been standing on the hill above the power plant in Schroeder is finally fully operational.  This is only good news if you are an AT&T customer because that is the only service it supplies at the moment.  The plan is for Verizon Wireless, which is the carrier most of us have, to also provide service in Schroeder in the near future.
 
Meanwhile, the cell tower in Tofte, which was supposed to provide Verizon Wireless service last fall, is still just a tower with no service available.  Hopefully, that will come online as soon as possible.  I have heard reports that the AT&T signal from Schroeder is pretty reliable in Tofte.  The plan is for the Tofte tower to offer AT&T service sometime in the future.
 
The best news of all though, is the report that Arrowhead Cooperative is actually hooking up broadband Internet customers in Schroeder.  A couple of homes have had high-speed connections for a few weeks as a test and regular customers are being hooked up as I speak.  The connections are starting at the county line and moving east.  Only a couple of crews are working now, but more crews will be added as summer gets under way.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!
 
Finally, it’s my privilege to report the end of an era at the Forest Service District Office in Tofte.  As of May 1, Meg Tofte, who has been the den mother of the Tofte office for 25 years, has retired.  I’m personally shocked that Meg can be retired at such a young age, because she and I are the same age. 
 
All kidding aside, Meg’s ability, intelligence and caring personality will be deeply missed by Forest Service crew and all of us who have cause to spend time at the district office.  Fortunately, she will be hanging around Tofte with time on her hands, so we can all continue to enjoy her friendship and wisdom.  Now, if she can just get Greg to retire…
 

 
 

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Cook County Ramble

West End News: April 24

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It’s a well-established fact that affordable housing for working people in Cook County is a problem.  That problem is particularly acute for young people who are just starting out and don’t have the assets that lenders want to see as collateral.
 
We suffer from what I call “the Aspen Syndrome” where much of the already scarce private property is occupied by expensive vacation homes, which in turn, drives up the cost of all available properties.  Add the high cost of a septic system and general construction, and the dream of home ownership is effectively out of reach, even for double income families.
 
If you live and work in the West End – and want to own your own home or start your own business, you should attend the information and strategy session, that is designed specifically for you, on Thursday, April 29th, starting at 7 pm at the Lutsen Resort Ballroom.
 
A panel of people knowledgeable in housing and business in Cook County will go over, in detail, the resources that are currently available for buying or building a home and/or starting a business in the West End.  
 
There will also be time to talk about what strategies can be brought to bear on these long-standing problems.  We are not alone in this problem, so we can learn from other communities.  I urge everyone who is interested in the local housing issue to attend and contribute ideas.
 
You can contact WTIP for details and contact information.
 
Birch Grove Community School in Tofte is once again offering its popular Campsite Kids summer program for children from Kindergarten to 5th grade.  The program runs every weekday from 7 am until 5 pm in June, July and August.  It includes many creative and stimulating activities, including field trips, S’Mores and much more.  You can find all the details by googling Birch Grove School.  Call Diane at 663-0170 to register your child for this excellent program.
 
Lutsen Mountains has hit the news all over the Midwest by announcing that they will be open for skiing through the first weekend in May.  This is a first for the hill and probably a first for any ski area in Minnesota. 
 
For locals who know the hill, only the Eagle Mountain runs will be open, with only the Bridge chair lift running.  It is Saturday and Sunday skiing only.  The hill is closed on weekdays now.  There are very reasonable local lift tickets available, including a two fo the price of one offer, but you have to purchase them 72 hours in advance on the Lutsen.com website.
 
I was at the hill all day on Easter Sunday.  Not only was there plenty of great snow, but sitting on the chalet deck and watching the experts ski the moguls on Hari-Kari was endless entertainment.
 
The second annual Cook County Ramble is being held at Cascade Lodge on Friday, May 2nd starting at 7 pm.  The name references the famous Midnight Rambles organized by the late American musical legend, Levon Helm, at his farm in New York.  The Cook County Ramble features a bunch of local musicians playing songs that were previously performed by Levon Helm. 
 
Last year’s event was a smashing success, so I expect this year’s event to be even more fun.  There is a suggested donation at the door and the proceeds go to the instrument fund at Cook County High School. Last year, the event raised a thousand dollars for the instrument fund, which more than doubled their budget.
 
Many thanks to the O’Phelans at Cascade Lodge for donating their restaurant space for this great event.  As I always say, “Be there, or be square!”
 
 

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Eric "Frosty" Frost

West End News: April 17

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It’s time again for the annual West End guessing game called “when will the ice go out?”  Sometimes this is a game of casual interest even when it involves small amounts of money being wagered. On the other hand, in a year like this one, when it seems like the ice might not be out by the opening day of fishing, it gets serious.
 
Here’s what I know.  At the moment, there is 31” of good ice on Sawbill Lake.  The snow pack in the woods is about 20” on average.  The creeks and rivers are open where the water is moving.  The grackles, purple finches, juncos and robins are back.
 
If I were subjected to enhanced-interrogation techniques, I would say that ice-out will be just in time for opening day.  However, I’ve learned over the years that nothing makes you look foolish faster than predicting the ice-out date.
 
Every year about this time, Lutsen Mountains holds its “Mountain Meltdown” celebration.  Last Sunday, four local bands performed for what amounts to the defacto end-of-the-year party for the ski hill.   At the height of the Meltdown celebration, local musician and all around good guy, Eric Frost, from Tofte, was treated to a great surprise. 
 
Last fall, Frosty recorded a handful of his original songs at the recording studio of Jerry and Dusty Levine in Silver Bay.  Jerry and Dusty are the long-time sound engineers at Papa Charlie’s nightclub in Lutsen.  Frosty recorded only the vocal tracks of his songs, with the intention of adding the instruments sometime in the future.  Jerry and Dusty took the vocal from Frosty’s song call “Mr. Moonshiner” and added all the instruments in the style of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the iconic southern rock band, including a blistering rock guitar solo by Dusty.
 
All the other musicians had been alerted by Jerry, so Frosty was lured to the middle of the room and Jerry unleashed the song with all the considerable audio power that Papa Charlie’s sound system can muster.  It was great fun to watch Frosty’s face as it changed from listening to just any song, to realizing it was his song, which caused him consternation, to the dawning realization of what Jerry and Dusty had done.  His smile was priceless.  Listen for it soon on a radio station near you.
 
The Tofte and Gunflint Ranger Districts of the US Forest Service are looking for full time wilderness volunteers for the upcoming summer season.  The volunteers are full-fledged wilderness rangers, spending 8 days at a time in the BWCA Wilderness, working on campsites and portages.  Volunteers receive reimbursement for expenses, which amounts to about $200 per trip and free housing when they are off the trail.
 
This is a great opportunity for someone who is contemplating a career with the Forest Service or who just loves wilderness.  You should know that the work is physically very demanding and requires a high level of fitness.  The wilderness rangers travel, work and camp together in small groups for 8 days in a row, so it helps to have an easy-going personality.
 
If you are interested, contact Cathy Quinn at 218-387-3240.  You can always contact WTIP if you missed that number.
 
One of the best things about small town newspapers, including our own Cook County News Herald, is reading the law enforcement briefs that often read like little haikus about the more difficult parts of life in our community.
 
Amongst the common complaints of keys locked in a car, noisy neighbors, and vehicle in the ditch, is the occasional report of something that is unintentionally hilarious.  The all-time classic, from a couple of years ago, was “caller reports three legged dog running in front of the library with a chicken in its mouth – headed east.”  The level of detail in that report made me spit out my coffee.
 
This week comes another classic: “Monday, March 31, 7:50 am – Caller said there was a deer sitting by the front door, unknown if it was injured or just hungry.  He gave it a bagel, but was unsure if the deer can get up.”
 
This report raises a bunch of questions for me.  Was the bagel toasted?  Was cream cheese involved?  Did the deer eventually get up and leave?  Did it return the next morning for breakfast?  I guess we’ll never know.
 
I do know that I like living in a place where law enforcement is called to help deal with a bagel-eating deer.
 

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West End News: April 10

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It’s not too early to mark your calendar for the “Gala for the Grove.”  The Gala is a gourmet dinner, live auction and dance, and is the largest annual fundraiser for the remarkable Birch Grove Community School in Tofte.
 
This year, the Gala is scheduled for Saturday, May 17th at Surfside Resort in Tofte.  Seating is limited, so reserve your place early.  You can also be a sponsor of the event at various levels.
 
You should also think about what you might have to donate to the live auction.  In the past, some memorable items have been auctioned, including a pedigreed puppy, free use of a vacation villa in Mexico, and a truckload of black dirt, among many, many other things.
 
This year, the Gala is looking for a local artist to donate a significant piece of art.  The artist will be given a lot of publicity and will have the chance to mingle and meet many local art buyers during the Gala’s social hour.
 
For reservations, sponsorships or auction donations, call Diane Blanchette at 663-0170.  You can always contact WTIP for that phone number if you missed it.
 
In every story that I read about job openings in Minnesota, welding is invariably mentioned as an area where many high paying jobs are currently available.  Cook County Higher Education is offering a 30-credit Welding Technology Certificate right here in Cook County.  Completing the course will qualify you to work in production welding, manufacturing, repair, maintenance work or the construction industry.  The program is geared for working adults and can be completed over two years.
 
The certificate can also be applied toward higher degrees including Applied Engineering and Technology Management.
 
Scholarship help is available, but the scholarship deadline is April 15th, so if you’re interested, contact Cook County Higher Education at 387-3411 right away.  The wonderful folks at Higher Ed will help you with every step of the process.
 
The Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District is offering low cost tree and shrub stock for sale this spring. A variety of species are available.  You can see images and descriptions on the District’s website.  Just google “Cook County Soil and Water Conservation” to find the site.  Orders are due by April 18th for pickup on May 15th in Grand Marais.
 
Many years ago, one of the trail food companies produced a package of freeze-dried water as a marketing gag.  We had the package on display in our store here at Sawbill and it drew a lot of comment.  A surprising number of people took it seriously and suggested that it would be perfect for desert camping trips.
 
Imagine my amusement when I heard that the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota is busy freeze-drying water samples taken from Lake Superior. 
 
It turns out that freeze-drying the water gives them a more accurate sample of what is dissolved in the water than the traditional method of evaporation.  Letting water evaporate gives volatile compounds the chance to evaporate too, giving the scientists -who are a picky bunch - inaccurate results.
 
Now if they can just figure out how their freeze-dried water can be used for desert camping…
 
 

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Sunset

West End News: April 3

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There are definitely some trade-offs to living in the West End.  We get to live in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.  We are
surrounded by compassionate and talented people.  On the other hand, it seems like we'll never get broadband internet and when we have an emergency, help can be far away.

In modern times, we've been lucky and smart to develop systems that provide emergency services - police, fire and emergency medicine - in a timely manner.  Locals can respond quickly to most populated parts of the West End and have the training to do what needs to be done to save property and life.

Hovland is in the same boat, if you will, and has developed similar fire and rescue systems at roughly the same time.  In recent years though, Hovland has pioneered a new volunteer service called STOP. STOP stands for Safety Team Operational Patrol.  Because so many of our most serious emergencies happen on or near Highway 61, the STOP volunteers have been trained to provide safety and control along the highway so everyone involved in the incident can avoid further injury.

The Hovland Fire Department is hosting a STOP training session soon to encourage the spread of the STOP program throughout Cook County.  The one day training begins at 8:30 AM on Saturday, April 12th at the Hovland Town Hall.  Lunch will be provided and a social barb-e-que is planned immediately after the training.

You don't need to have any prior emergency training to take the course - just a desire to help out your community and provide crucial aid to the heroes who are there for us in the worst moments of our lives.  I strongly encourage you to call 218-475-2766 for more information.  You can always call WTIP for information as well.

The concept of stewardship is a powerful notion if you think about it. Taking care of ourselves, our families, communities and the world we live in, is really the most profound function of our lives.  We are all on this earth for only a short time and the reality is that we don't really own anything - it's just ours to take care of for awhile. My friend Hal Greenwood put it well a couple of years ago when he donated a valuable autographed baseball to a local charity.  He said, "My stuff is just someone else's future stuff."

Some folks around the region are working on an exciting new stewardship project.  It doesn't have a name yet, but they are forming an organization to coordinate volunteer efforts in and around the BWCA Wilderness and the Superior National Forest.

The idea of the new organization is to make it easy and painless for people to get their boots on the ground and hands on tools to help protect and improve the wild lands in our corner of the world.  There are a lot of volunteers working in the woods now, but there is a lot more work to be done and many more people willing to do it.  Having an umbrella organization will make it easier for the many agencies, clubs and groups to recruit, train, supervise and reward volunteers.

This new group does not plan to be an advocacy group but plans to help anyone who needs work done, including, but not limited to, the US Forest Service, Minnesota DNR, Cook County, snowmobile clubs, ski clubs, biking clubs, ATV clubs, hiking trail clubs, and other groups who operate in the forest.

This idea has been kicking around for awhile, but it has really caught on around the country, with dozens of similar groups having success all over the U.S.  Right now the Superior Forest group is just a steering committee, but they hope to have the organization normalized and funded in the next year in time to put their first volunteers in the woods during the summer of 2015.

As a side benefit, the new organization should provide a few professional level jobs in the future, which, if I have anything to say about it, will be based in good old Cook County.

It's just another way that we can provide stewardship in the short time that we are blessed to live in the beautiful and interesting West End.
 

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West End News: March 27

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A couple of weeks ago, Cook County Higher Education met with businesses in the West End to explore training and education needs for people who work in the West End. Leadership training for managers and employees who want to move into management positions was identified as the number one priority.
 
Following up quickly, Higher Ed will be offering a certificate course through Lake Superior College called "Success Strategies for the Effective Leader." The course is tentatively scheduled to start May 20; the tuition is subsidized by the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce. 
 
The plan is to have two groups with up to 16 students in each group. One group would be for entry-level employees and new managers. The other group would be for owner/operators and experienced managers.
 
Participants will gain skills in motivation, coaching, communication, team leadership, workforce diversity, employment law and much more. A certificate will be awarded upon successful completion. The course is open to all Cook County residents. If you are interested, talk to your employer or call Higher Ed at 387-3411.
 
Here is another cool thing that Higher Ed is doing, this time in cooperation with the Cook County Community Fund. They are organizing a series of brown bag lunches for all the nonprofit organizations in the county. 
 
The first discussion will revolve around issues that the county will face in the future, how can nonprofits be more effective, and how can the nonprofits work together?  This is something that should happen on a regular basis.  As best I can remember, Cook County has more than 70 nonprofits, including everything from sports clubs, to health care, to philanthropic groups, to churches.  It's valuable for all these groups to let each other know what they're doing, but even more valuable when they can move together in the same direction.
 
The first brown bag event is scheduled for Thursday, April 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  RSVP to Higher Ed at 387-3411.
 
The international fascination with the disappearing Malaysian airliner reminds me of a couple of mysterious disappearances in the West End. Back in the late '60s a trout fisherman vanished while fishing on Plouff Creek in Tofte. His family searched for a day, then called in the sheriff, who searched for several days with larger and large numbers of volunteers. Tracking dogs were brought in with no success. There was no reason to suspect that the fisherman had run away, so the governor ordered in hundreds of National Guardsmen, who spent several days covering a huge swath of woods foot by foot. The fisherman was never found and his disappearance remains a mystery to this day.
 
A few years later, a young man disappeared while trout fishing on Six Mile Creek, also in Tofte. The search was pretty thorough, but there was a strong suspicion that the fisherman had run off to avoid military service. Quite a few years later, his skeleton was found by another fisherman. The best guess was that he succumbed to hypothermia.
 
It was some relief for his family to know that he had passed away, rather than living in a limbo of never-ending uncertainty. I know all West Enders join me in hoping the loved ones of the people on the Malaysian flight are able to find some peace and resolution.
 

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West End News: March 20

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The National Football League, yes, the National Football League, is supporting Birch Grove Community School in Tofte.  The NFL recently donated a picture board to the school, which is a group of photos and autographs of the following NFL stars: Dan Marino, Steve Young, Kenny Stabler, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Carl Mauck, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Mark Schlereth, Payton Manning, Tom Brady, Jim Kelly, Terry Bradshaw, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Carl Ferrill.
 
Even if you don’t follow professional football, you will probably recognize most of these names as the mega-stars of the game.  The one name that may not be a household name is Carl Ferrill, but he is the key to how this valuable collectable item came to Birch Grove. 
 
As the saying goes, “Here is the rest of the story.”
 
Birch Grove contracts with the Central Minnesota Educational Research and Development Council to provide some financial services, as is required by the regulations governing charter schools in Minnesota.  Over the years, Birch Grove Principal Diane
Blanchette has become a personal friend with some of the people who work at the council.  One of them, Sue Anderson, is a good friend of Carl Ferrill, who is a college-level coach with strong ties to the NFL.
 
Carl is involved with an NFL program that donates these valuable autographed picture boards to schools that need to raise money.  Sue suggested to him that Birch Grove was deserving, and the rest history.
 
Diane hasn’t decided exactly what to do with the donation yet, but needless to say, she is investigating how to maximize the benefit to Birch Grove, probably through an online auction for collectors.  Hopefully, it will be on the wall at Birch Grove for a while so the community can enjoy it first.
 
Here is a cool thing if you have the time.  The Lake Superior Binational Forum is offering a full-day program called “Mysteries of Lake Superior, from Top to Bottom,” Friday, March 28 in Superior, Wisc.  The seminar will include presentations from scientists, adventurers, business owners, Native Americans, and other who know of some mysterious or unknown aspects of the Big Lake and its surroundings.
 
For instance, robots are now visiting some of Superior’s most remote depths, and those surfers you see at Stony Point aren’t completely insane.  25 different sessions will be offered concurrently, so you can go where your interest leads you.  The day will be capped by a reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. featuring musical and visual artists who are inspired by the world’s biggest freshwater sea.
 
The event will be held at the Barkers Island Inn on the waterfront in Superior and is free and open, with no advance registration required.  It should be fascinating.
 
Regular listeners know that I am a big fan of Cook County Higher Education, the “little college that could” on the North Shore.  Anyone can get higher education through Higher Ed, which brings a world of opportunity to Cook County. 
 
What many people don’t know is that Higher Ed has access to three significant scholarship programs, so you shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing your dreams because of cost.
 
The Wes Hedstrom Scholarship honors the longtime community leader who was instrumental in founding Cook County Higher Education.  This scholarship is open to any Cook County resident who want to pursue a degree program through distance learning.  Awards are up to $300 and the deadline for application is April 15.
 
The Michel Beaupre Scholarship honors another longtime county resident and respected electrician, Michel Beaupre.  It is available to anyone who is working toward a certificate or degree in a skilled trade.  Awards are up to $300 and the deadline is April 15.
 
The Lloyd K. Johnson Scholarship is a new program that can be used for partial or full tuition assistance by county residents who are enrolled in an accredited distance certificate, diploma or degree program.  Awards are up to $2,000 and the deadline for application is again on April 15.
 
The good people at Cook County Higher Education will not only help you apply for these scholarships, but they will also do whatever it takes to help you plan and complete your education.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of school, or what your experience was in the past; they will see you through to your goal. Look up Cook County Higher Education on the web, or call 387-3411 for more information.
 
Lutsen Mountains announced this week that they are extending the downhill skiing season by a week, which puts their closing day on April 20, Easter Sunday. To acknowledge the important holiday, they have scheduled a “Sunrise Easter Service at Lutsen Mountains.”  The Right Reverend Mike Larson, who is not actually a minister, but a popular lay preacher, coach, financial advisor, marriage counselor, and fashion guru to the Lutsen community, will be officiating.
 
The service will be held at the Moose Mountain chalet at 8 a.m.  The gondola will start running at 7 a.m., as it is the only way up to the chalet.  It should provide an inspiring view of the forest and lake to get you in the mood for the service. There will be music and, with Mike presiding, plenty of laughs and fun.  Be there, or be square.
 
 

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West End News: March 13

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A lot of West End News was generated around the township annual meetings held in Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder this week.
 
In Lutsen, no one had filed for the township supervisor seat being vacated by the retiring Marland Hansen.  At the last minute, Andrew Beavers was encouraged to throw his hat in the ring by some of the Lutsen elders and he was elected as a write-in candidate.  He’s lived in Lutsen for 10 years while working as a manager at Lutsen Resort.  However, it’s been a busy week for Andrew, as he has just learned that he is leaving the resort to accept a staff position with North House Folk School in Grand Marais.
 
I think it’s wonderful that a bright and capable young person is willing to get involved in township government.  However, that doesn’t take anything away from the huge contribution made by retiring Supervisor Marland Hansen.  Marland has not only served with distinction, but has made a thousand other contributions to his community – too numerous to mention here.  Marland has been spending some time at the Mayo Clinic recently, but is now home and on the mend.  Be sure to wish him well when you see him.
 
In Tofte, Jeanne Larson won a hotly contested race for the supervisor position left vacant by the retiring DC Olsen. The margin of victory was razor thin with Judy Motschenbacher receiving 29 votes and Jeanne getting 31.  It was really a case of having two excellent candidates on the ballot.  This is reflected by the large turnout of 60 voters, which is the second highest voter count in the history of the town, as best as anyone can remember.
 
Judy Motschenbacher is another West Ender who has made huge contributions of her time and talent to the community and will continue to do so in a number of capacities.  I’m know the whole West End joins me in thanking her for all that she does.
 
DC Olsen has likewise been a stalwart in the West End since he returned after retiring from his first career.  Like his contemporary, Marland Hansen, DC grew up here and has quietly done so much for the town, that he is basically Tofte’s own George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
 
Last, but not by any means least, Louise Trachta announced her retirement as the head of the Tofte Rescue Squad after 15 years of service.  Louise has built a professional crew of skilled first responders who donate a good chunk of their lives preparing to save our lives in that half hour between catastrophe and the arrival of the nearest ambulance.  It is not going to far at all to call her a hero.  Hers will certainly be big shoes to fill.
 
All three townships voted in favor of a special donation to the Birch Grove Community School to help them over a period of low enrollment.  The school is the heartbeat of the West End and the money spent will return to us many times over.  Having a strong school will encourage young families to live here, which will strengthen the school, and so on…
 
The Birch Grove Foundation also reported some exciting news at the town meetings.  They are talking to the new Cook County YMCA about offering significant programming and activities at the Birch Grove Community Center. Apparently, the Y has some equipment in storage, which they could bring to Birch Grove, as well as scheduling popular classes in the West End.  This is particularly exciting in light of the Birch Grove senior housing development that is coming soon.
 
In a virtual cascade of Birch Grove Community Center news, they have just received their first grant toward the erection of a large greenhouse that was donated last year.  They are also talking to the Grand Marais Library about a branch library at the Center.
 
Cook County Higher Education is offering a short course that may be of interest to West End residents.  It’s called Mental Health First Aid Training.  This groundbreaking 8-hour class helps people respond to mental health problems.  This is handy knowledge for anyone who works with the public, including hospitality professionals, public safety workers, social workers, employers, etc.
 
The class will be held at the North Shore Campus in Grand Marais Thursday, Mar 20.  Registration is required by Mar. 17 and there is a fee, but it has been reduced thanks to a grant from the North Shore Health Care Foundation.  Call Higher Ed at 387-3411 to get more information.
 
Now that the weather has finally moderated, the abundant snow has all the area trails in beautiful condition. As I travel the trails, the almost universal sign of bobcat and lynx is amazing. For about 30 years, starting back in the ‘70s, I didn’t see a cat track anywhere.  Now, I see them everywhere.  I’ve even taken to scanning the trees as I ski and snowmobile, thinking I might spot a big cat perched on a branch.  It is so great to have these fascinating creatures back in the woods.
 
During that really warm, sunny day last week, I spotted a cat track on the ski trail that was so large that I thought for a moment it might be from a cougar.  It turned out that it was just the sun working on a bobcat track - which is just as well.
 

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Tofte Town Hall

West End News: March 6

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The annual meeting of the West End townships is coming up Tuesday, March 11.  Townships are the bedrock of local politics and the town meeting is a unique opportunity for citizens to be involved in government.  While a board of three elected supervisors governs each township, binding decisions can be made by a majority vote of the citizens attending the annual meeting.
 
While I encourage everyone to attend their township annual meeting, it seems like the Tofte Township will have the most activity this year.  Judy Motschenbacher has filed for the open supervisor seat in Tofte being vacated by the retiring DC Olsen.  I’ve seen posters indicating that Jeanne Larson is mounting a write-in campaign for the same seat.  Both women are deeply involved with the Birch Grove Center.  Judy is on the board of the Birch Grove Community School and Jeanne is on the board of the Birch Grove Foundation.
 
According to Skip Lamb, also a Birch Grove School Board member, the school will be asking Tofte for some temporary financial help to tide the school over a period of low enrollment.  In my opinion, this is money well spent.  Birch Grove Community School is critical to the economic and social health of Tofte.  Every indication is toward economic growth here in the West End and having an award-winning school is critical to continuing that trend.
 
The township elections run from 5 until 8 p.m. on the same day as the annual meetings, Tuesday, March 11.  The annual meetings begin at 8 p.m. The meetings are held at the Lutsen, Tofte, and Schroeder town halls.  The elections are held at the town halls in Lutsen and Schroeder, but Tofte’s polls are located at the Birch Grove Community Center.
 
The annual kindergarten round-up at Birch Grove Community School is also scheduled for Tuesday, March 11 from 8:30 a.m. until noon.  This is a fun day for preschoolers who may want to attend Birch Grove as kindergartners next year.  The kids can be dropped off or you can arrange for them to be picked up by the bus.  There will be a variety of fun and educational activities for the prospective students until 11:30, when the parents are invited to join their scholars for community lunch in the cafeteria.
 
I strongly urge all parents of preschoolers in Cook and Lake Counties to attend the kindergarten round-up to see first hand how Birch Grove can get your child started on a life-long educational journey. Birch Grove has everything you want in a school: small class size; dedicated and skillful teachers; lots of personal attention; deep involvement with the community; involved and supportive parents.  My two children who are Birch Grove alumni certainly built on their excellent early education to find success through college and beyond.   For more information or to register, call Diane at 663-0170. 
 
The deadline for commenting on the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Polymet Mine near Hoyt Lakes is Thursday, March 13.  The implications of this proposed mine are crucial to the West End because it lies in the Lake Superior watershed.
 
You can find all kinds of information online, both pro and con, including sample letters for input.  You can submit your input by email or though online forms, so it’s very convenient.
 
In my opinion, this type of mining is a non-starter for northeastern Minnesota.  While it is always certainly tempting to jump on the jobs bandwagon, the reality is that this kind of mining has been both an environmental and economic disaster everywhere that it has occurred.  I’ve said for years that northeastern Minnesota is to fresh water what Saudi Arabia is to oil.  To accept a high risk of pollution to our precious water resource in exchange for 20 years of jobs is just a bad deal.
 
But, whichever way you come down on this issue, I urge you to educate yourself and let your opinion be known to the Department of Natural Resources.  This is the most important issue affecting our lifestyle in this generation.
 

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