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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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Cloud, looking dejected after running off from her owner in the wilderness during a thunderstorm

West End News: September 5

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I was surprised to receive a call from the Duluth News Tribune last weekend, asking me to comment on the permanent closing of Satellite’s Country Inn restaurant in Schroeder.  I don’t get out much in the summer, so I hadn’t noticed that the landmark café had not opened this summer. 
 
Marion McKeever and her family have been operating the restaurant and cabin business since 1980.  The McKeevers are famous for their well drilling business, but back in the ‘80s they also operated a satellite TV business, so they just carried the business name over to the café and cabins.
 
Over the years, many locals and visitors enjoyed the family atmosphere and the good food at Satellite’s.  It always felt more like you were in Marion’s home than in a restaurant. That personal touch that comes from a Ma & Pa-style business is largely lost in the United States now, as corporate business models inexorably take over.  The small café and independent corner store are slowly going the way of the small family farm.  The new model may be more efficient, but the loss of community connections is a sad thing to witness.
 
Marion says that she is still open to organizing the wonderful fish cake fundraiser that she does every year for the Birch Grove Foundation. The cabin rental business is still going strong as well. Only the food service part of the business is closing.
 
The McKeever family is very well respected in the community and they have made countless contributions over the years.  Hopefully, Marion will now have some time for some well-deserved relaxation and fun.
 
By now, everyone knows that Highway 61 will be under construction in eastern Lake County for most of the next year. But you may not know that Highway 1 between Ely and the North Shore will be closed off and on this fall.  Detours will be provided whenever a section is closed, but some of the detours will be fairly inconvenient and routed on gravel roads, so plan accordingly if you are headed up to Ely.
 
Our Congressman, Rick Nolan, was in town this week for a fundraiser hosted by Dennis Rysdahl at Surfside Resort in Tofte. Nolan talked for about an hour and a half to a good-sized group of local citizens.  He commented that it’s hard to be a member of a Congress that is best known for doing nothing.  He noted that the current Congress enjoys approval ratings that are lower than the Communist Party and root canal. 
 
Nolen previously served in Congress back in the 1970s. His 34-year hiatus is the longest in the history of the institution.  He noted that during his first hitch, the House of Representatives held more than 5,000 committee meetings per year, where legislation was debated, refined, and eventually brought to the floor of the house for a vote.  This year, they only will have around 500 committee meetings.
 
In spite of the gridlock on the big issues, Congressman Nolan has managed to pass some significant local and regional bills, including funding of Great Lakes infrastructure and clearing some red tape for Cirrus Design in Duluth, allowing them to add almost 200 good jobs in the last year.
 
Nolan is pretty disgusted with the influence of money on the current Congress. He’s working hard to institute reforms that would allow our legislators to start working on the people’s business again and be free from the continuous fund raising that characterizes today’s Congress.
 
I’ve been to a lot of political fundraisers in my time, but I have to say that the food at the Surfside Resort was the best I’ve ever had.  The influence of well-known Chef Judi Barsness was immediately evident.  Judi is back at the Bluefin Bay family of resorts after many years of running her own restaurant in Grand Marais.  She is working part time for the next two years, consulting, revamping the menu, and generally lending her amazing skills to the Bluefin eateries.  We are all the beneficiaries of this arrangement.
 
What is the deal this year with lost dogs in the wilderness?  Over the Labor Day weekend, we had this summer’s third dog, and the third collie-type dog, run away from its owner during a thunderstorm. 
 
The first was a collie lost on Brule Lake that was returned to its owner after several days.  That story made statewide news.  The second was a border collie that survived alone in the wilderness for two weeks before being lured into a campsite, captured and returned to his grateful owners.  The latest was a sheltie collie named Cloud that was found on a portage, brought here to Sawbill, and returned to her grateful and relieved owner about 24 hours after she ran off into the wilderness.
 
Apparently, collies really don’t like lightning and thunder – who knew?
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

note on photo:  Moments after this picture was taken, Cloud was joyously reunited with her favorite human.


 
Sawbill Lodge during its heyday in the 1930's.

West End News: August 29

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Colleen Evans, who graduated from Silver Bay’s William Kelley High School in 1996, has joined the Duluth Clinic as the only gynecologic cancer specialist in northern Minnesota.
 
After growing up in Silver Bay, Dr. Evans got her medical degree at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Maine, served her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, then took part in a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
 
Dr. Evans chose to return to northern Minnesota for the outdoor and seasonal lifestyle, but also for the opportunity to offer treatment to women with gynecological cancer much closer to their homes.  Until now, women seeking this type of treatment had to travel to the Twin Cities or Rochester, which made an already distressing illness all the worse.
 
It’s always great to see another successful North Shore kid return to the area.
 
The Cook County Go Team is a group of more than 20 community leaders who have been working for more than a year to analyze the Cook County economy and identify its strengths and weaknesses.  After a ton of work, the group has produced a vision for the future and a list of economic development issues that they believe should be the focus for Cook County’s government and business community.
 
As part of its work, the Go Team commissioned a detailed analysis of Cook County’s economy and conducted opinion surveys with residents and business owners.  The reports from these efforts can be found online at: gocookcounty.blogspot.com. 
 
On Thursday, Sept. 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Birch Grove Community Center, members of the Go Team will present their findings and recommendations to the West End Community.  In classic West End style, the meeting also includes a wood fired pizza bake, organized by the Birch Grove Foundation.  For a small donation, you will be provided with pizza dough, sauce and cheese.  You bring your own toppings.  If you want to participate in the pizza bake, email Patty Nordahl at bgf@boreal.org so she will know how much dough to make.
 
It should be an interesting and lively discussion, so bring your vision for the future of Cook County to share.  As always, you can get full details on the event by contacting WTIP.
 
We had a visit this week from Arby Arbogust and Joy (Arbogust) Powell.  They are the grandchildren of George Arbogust, who brought his family to Cook County in 1932, during the depths of the depression and built, from scratch, Sawbill Lodge, which became one of the premier resorts in Minnesota. 
 
Hedge Arbogust, Arby and Joy’s father, was 15 years old when his family moved here.  He attended local schools and spent his summers renting boats, building cabins and guiding guests at Sawbill Lodge.  He joined the Air Force for World War II and ended up making a full career in the service. 
 
The Arbogust family all left the county during the war years, except for their stepmother, Jean Arbogust.  Jean became better known by her name from her second marriage, Jean Raiken. She continued to run Sawbill Lodge until the 1960s, was a long-time Cook County Commissioner, unsuccessfully ran for the legislature and eventually retired in Tofte.  Sawbill Lodge was sold to the Forest Service, torn down and returned to nature in 1981.
 
The modern day Arbogusts, who now hail from Texas, grew up hearing many stories from that incredible time in their father’s life.  His family’s story is a classic American tale of carving a thriving business, literally out of the raw wilderness.  For years, they have talked about coming to Sawbill for a visit, so this year, Joy’s daughter, Meredith, made it happen. 
 
They visited Solbakken Resort in Lutsen, where the main Sawbill Lodge building is preserved, along with some of the original furniture and fixtures.  Then they came up to Sawbill for a tour of the old lodge site.  I was able to place them in positions to look at the exact scene that they had being seeing in pictures for their whole lives. 
 
Back in the ‘30s, the Arbogust family was well liked and respected in Cook County.  They were known as being honest, hard working and very innovative entrepreneurs.  After having spent a few hours with the current generations of Arbogusts, I can report that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  It was fun to hear them tell their late father’s stories, still vibrant after all these years.


 
Once on the lips, forever on the hips

West End News: August 22

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Construction has begun on the rebuilding of Highway 61 in the east end of Lake County.  The Minnesota Department of Transportation is resurfacing 5.3 miles of the highway between the Manitou River and Kennedy’s Landing.
 
We should expect intermittent delays and single lane flagger-controlled traffic.  There is a temporary single lane bypass that will be used from Sept. 3 until Nov. 1 while a new bridge is built over the Little Marais River.
 
This week, there will be a detour up County Road 6 to Finland and down Highway 1 while they replace culverts and construct a retaining wall.  This will add a half hour or so to the trip to and from Duluth, so plan accordingly.
 
The project will not be finished this fall, so we can expect a slower than normal trips up and down the shore until it wraps up early next summer.  This is inconvenient, but that stretch of road is in truly horrible shape right now.  Part of the reconstruction is to expand the shoulders to a 5-foot width, which will be a significant safety improvement.
 
The Sawbill Trail is in tough shape these days.  In the last few days we’ve had two people report broken brake lines, several people have lost all four of their hubcaps, a couple of roof racks have fallen apart and a camping trailer broke its springs. This is all due to brutal washboard that forms when the traffic exceeds the capability of a gravel road.
 
Wherever people accelerate or put on the brakes, washboard patterns form on the road.  Once they start, they deepen quickly and pretty soon they cause your vehicle to pound itself into teeth shattering oblivion.  Back in the day, the county used to grade the road every two weeks or so, which kept the washboard to a reasonable level.  I guess budget cuts must be taking their toll because we only see the grader once or twice a summer now.
 
Last winter, the county engineer told me that he was planning to pave another 14 miles or so of the Sawbill Trail next year.  There was a time when I thought it would be nice to keep the Trail gravel, but with the reduced maintenance schedule, paving is clearly the way to go.  According to the Cook County News Herald, the plan for paving of the Sawbill Trail has been delayed and reduced, so I don’t know what will happen now. 
 
Meanwhile, the current state of the road is keeping local mechanics very busy, so I guess there is a silver lining in everything.
 
Are you wondering how climate change will affect the forests of the North Shore?  Will there still be white pine?  Will the weather be wetter or drier, colder or warmer? Hilarie Sorensen, Minnesota Sea Grant climate change educator, will be at Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center Saturday, Aug. 31 from 10 a.m. until noon, talking about what scientists think the impact of climate change will be here in the West End.  The program is free. Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center is located at milepost 73 on Highway 61, about 6 miles south of Schroeder.
 
Congratulations to Taylor Baham of Lutsen on his recent graduation from UMD and commission as an officer in the U. S. Air Force.  Taylor is a graduate of Birch Grove Elementary School and Cook County High School.  He was a popular kid and a standout athlete all through his formative years here in the West End.  He is currently enrolled in flight school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.  Taylor’s parents are Jeff and Christy Baham of Lutsen.
 
The most dramatic nature moment of the last week here at Sawbill was the discovery of a large garter snake in the act of swallowing a big toad – head first.  By the time a camera arrived to document the grisly, yet fascinating scene, a much smaller garter snake had arrived and was intently watching the larger snake slowly swallow the toad.  I have no clue what that behavior was about – jealousy, hoping for scraps, moral support? – who knows what a snake ponders as it watches its species-mate devour a good meal?
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News. 

{photo courtesy of Cindy Hansen}


 
The Land of Dreams

West End News: August 15

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I can’t stop talking about the blueberries this year.  It has to be one of the best years in history for both the quantity and the size of the fruit.  A couple from Minneapolis, Pat Nash and Katie Nulicek, camped at Sawbill for just over 24 hours this week.  Right after they set up camp, they headed for the blueberry patch and picked an incredible three gallons in just four hours.  They said the berries looked like large blue flowers on the bushes when viewed from a distance.
 
When you head out to pick berries, throw a compass in your pocket and make sure you pay attention to which side of the road you are on as you head into the woods.  It is very easy to get turned around when you wandering in circles with your head down and your eyes focused on delicious blueberries.  I’ve been seriously lost four times in my life and it is not a fun experience.
 
I’m a little behind the curve on mentioning the ongoing Brimson Market.  This lively farmer’s market is in Brimson on Highway 44 next to Hugo’s General Store.  It features fresh produce, baked goods, other treats and local arts and crafts.  Live music is also featured, to round out a fun small-town experience.  Their motto is “Taste the Northern Summer” and it is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon through Sept. 7.
 
It was interesting to read an article this week about the 40th anniversary of the iconic Time Magazine cover that featured a picture of Gov. Wendell Anderson holding up a northern on a stringer with a bold headline proclaiming “The Good Life in Minnesota.”  It was that article that coined the term “Minnesota Miracle,” referring to a progressive legislative agenda that was quickly improving the quality of life for most Minnesotans.
 
Some might say that it was the last time that Minnesota had such a thoughtful and bipartisan legislative agenda.  No matter what your politics are, you have to look back wistfully to a time when compromise was the watchword, as opposed to the gridlock that is so prevalent in recent years.
 
The timing of that magazine cover anniversary is meaningful because Schroeder resident Tom Berg has recently written a memoir of that period, called “Minnesota’s Miracle: Learning From the Government That Worked.”  As I mentioned last week, Tom will be presenting a talk about his book and his years in the legislature during a time that is still being held up as an era of good government some 40 years later.  Tom had a ringside seat and has many interesting insights to share.
 
The talk will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.
 
While we’re on the subject of books, we are on the brink of a publishing event that is bound to make big news here in the West End.  Next month, the University of Minnesota Press is publishing an English translation of a popular Norwegian mystery novel called “The Land of Dreams” by Vidar Sunstol.
 
The book, which is set in our very own West End, won the Riverton Prize for best Norwegian crime novel a few years ago.  It is the first of a trilogy that is set here in the West End.  The books have been out for a while, but have never been available in English until now.
 
I originally heard about “The Land of Dreams” from a Dutch friend who read it in the Dutch translation several years ago.  She called me because there is a character in the book that is basically me.  The character has my exact name, lives at the end of the Sawbill Trail and operates Sawbill Canoe Outfitters with his family. 
 
My first concern when I heard this news was whether or not I was the murderer.  I was relieved to learn that I am a minor character and commit no crimes.  I did get in a little trouble from my wife, Cindy, when she learned that my wife in the book is named Barb.  My ex-wife’s name happens to be Barb, so this did not sit well with Cindy.
 
It will be interesting to see if I survive in the translated edition, but in any case it should be fun for West End residents and visitors to read about dark fictional crimes happening in our own backyards, and try to recognize who the local characters are based on.
 
I’ve had a few hints that the publisher plans some publicity when the book is actually released, so we should be hearing much more about this in the near future.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen, international man of mystery, with the West End News.


 
Virginia Kingsolver

West End News: August 8

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Well, this is hardly news, but if you’ve just arrived in the West End, or if you live under a rock, the blueberries are ripe, plump and plentiful.
 
It’s an ancient tradition to keep your favorite blueberry picking spots classified at the same level that the C.I.A. uses for its most sensitive classified intelligence.  Even immediate family members can lose their “need to know” status if they fall under suspiscion of being a blabbermouth.
 
At the risk of turning myself into a traitorous whistleblower, I can say that right now, in the West End, you can go to almost any clearing, and you will find blueberries.  Look for clearings that have lots of low ground cover and abundant sunshine.  Berry pickers are reporting harvests of more than a quart per hour, without even trying.
 
Long story short, if you have any spare time at all, get out there and pick.
 
There are a lot of fun activities scheduled in the next couple of weeks around the West End:
 
The North Shore Stewardship Association at Sugarloaf Cove in Schroeder is offering a two day exploration of North Shore geology, on the weekend of Aug. 17. 
 
The Sugarloaf Cove is home to what most geologists would say is the best place on the North Shore to explore basaltic lava flows and all their features. The class will begin with a good look at these world famous lava flows, learn the basics of recognizing the different local rock types, then expand beyond Sugarloaf to recognize features seen at other fascinating locations along the Shore. 
 
Pre-registration is required and the class size is limited.  You can get more information and register by putting “Sugarloaf North Shore” in your Iinternet search engine, or by calling 218-525-0001.  As always you can contact WTIP for full contact details.
 
The North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte will be dedicating their new Grindbygg-style timber frame boat shelter Saturday, Aug. 24 at 2 p.m.  The new world’s leading expert on Grindbygg-style timber framing and foreman of the construction crew of this beautiful building, Peter Henriksen, will be on hand to talk about the amazing history of Grindbygg-style building. 
 
Refreshments will be served.  Call the museum at (218) 663-7050 if you need more details. 
 
Schroeder’s annual festival, John Schroeder Lumberjack Day, is coming up Saturday, Aug. 17.  As always, there will be a number of fun events for the whole family. 
 
A pancake breakfast at the Schroeder Town Hall kicks things off from 8 to 10 a.m.  Vendors and kids activities will be found at the Heritage Center in downtown Schoeder. Skip Lamb will be leading his famous walking history tours of Schroeder starting at 10 and 1.  A sawmill tour and demonstration will be hosted by Tony and Deonn Cicak at 11:30 and 2. 
 
Also at the Heritage Center in Schroeder, the next weekend, Aug. 24 at 1 p.m, part-time Schroeder resident Tom Berg will be speaking about his recenly published book, “Minnesota’s Miracle – Learning From the Government That Worked.”
 
Tom was an influential legislator back in the ‘70s when Minnesota was renowned for its effective and productive bipartisan law making.  Much of what is best about Minnesota’s government was put in place during his tenure in the legislature.  In this day of legislative gridlock, Tom has many suggestions for good government.  Tom’s experiencce and personality make him an engaging speaker, so don’t miss the chance to hear this important presentation.
 
Of course, there will be lots of good food, fun and conversation at both Schroeder events.  If you have questions, call Susan at the Heritage Center, 663-7706 or look for the posters that are scattered around all the public spaces in the West End.
 
Many people will have heard of the best selling author, Barbara Kingsolver.  She is one of the best contemporary American authors, both in fiction and non-fiction. 
 
What many people don’t know is that she used to vacation in the West End with her parents when she was growing up.  After she left the nest, her parents, Dr. Wendell and Virginia Kingsolver, continued to camp at Crescent Lake Campground for two weeks every year.  
 
Avid birdwatchers, they enjoyed becoming experts on the habits of northeastern Minnesota’s feathered wildlife. They have also been good friends to many other campers at Crescent Lake and to the extended Sawbill family.
 
I am saddened to report that Ginny Kingsolver passed away July 1 after being diagnosed with lymphoma two years ago.  She was 83 years old.  Ginny led an incredibly full life and was one of the most cheerful and generous people that I’ve had the pleasure to know.
 
She took great pride in the accomplishments of all her children, but of course was most often asked about her famous daughter, Barbara.  Ginny told me that she wished the parent figures in Barbara’s books were portrayed in a better light, because most people assume that the novels were at least somewhat autobiographical.  Barbara’s reply was that happy childhoods don’t make for compelling plots, but she assured her mother that her own childhood was happy and fulfilling.  Knowing Ginny and Wendell, I have no doubt of that.


 
Nicole Paradise and Greg Rohleder reunite with their dog J.J.,  two weeks after he was lost in the BWCA Wilderness.

West End News: August 1

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During the mega-storm back on July 17, two dogs were lost in the BWCA Wilderness.  A collie named Tomah was lost on Brule Lake, and a border collie named JJ was lost on the portage south of Cherokee Lake.
 
Tomah was found a few days later by members of the Minnetonka High School cross-country team and returned safely to his owners.  The feel-good story was reported statewide. 
 
Meanwhile, JJ stayed lost.  And here, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story:
 
Rich Werner is an American who lives and works in China.  Every year, he returns to Minnesota to visit friends and take a solo canoe trip in the BWCA Wilderness. He enjoys taking a dog with him in the wilderness, so for years he has borrowed a dog from his good friends, Nicole Paradise and Greg Rohleder.  This was the third trip that Rich had taken JJ on, with no problems in the past.
 
July 17 was the day of the mega-storm that included giant bolts of lightning, deafening thunder and torrential rain.  Rich and JJ were making their way out of the wilderness on the 180-rod portage south of Cherokee Lake, headed for Sawbill Lake.  Partway across the portage, they experienced a terrific flash of lightning with a simultaneous crash of thunder, while at the exact same moment another person came into view on the portage.  The combination was too much for JJ and he bolted into the woods.
 
Rich stayed on the portage for 24 hours, searching and calling in vain for his friends’ dog.  Heartsick, he returned to Sawbill, left word of JJ’s loss and headed back to the Twin Cities to break the bad news to his friends and their two children, ages 10 and 11. 
 
Two days later, a canoe party saw JJ on the portage, but he ran off when they called to him.  For the next 9 days, no one saw hide nor hair of JJ, and hope started to dwindle for his safe return. 
 
Then, on July 29, a couple day-paddling on Sawbill Lake reported seeing a border collie when they stopped for lunch.  They called to him too, but once again he ran off.
 
The Sawbill crew updated all the social media sites where the family had posted lost dog notices and within minutes, the owners were in their car and on their way north.  Early on the morning of July 30, they headed up Sawbill Lake to the campsite where JJ had been spotted. 
 
Meanwhile, two men from Lakeville, Dave Krings and Mike Raub, had been camped on Sawbill Lake for several days.  While Nicole and Greg were searching at one campsite, JJ appeared at Dave and Mike’s campsite, about two miles farther south.  They recognized that he was probably a lost dog and tried to call to him, but he was wary and kept his distance.  They were able to feed him some pancakes, but he turned his nose up at the apples and carrots that they offered, so they cooked up some broccoli cheese pasta.  JJ accepted the pasta but wouldn’t let them get close enough to capture him.
 
Soon, word spread that JJ was at their site, so several members of the Sawbill crew showed up with a couple of packs of hot dogs.  By then, JJ had taken off again.  Word reached his owners and they came to the site, where they waited and called for the rest of the day with no success.  Discouraged, tired and bug-bitten, they paddled back to Sawbill and returned to their lodgings in Lutsen. 
 
Less than an hour after they left, JJ returned to the site.  At first he just watched the two men from a rock across the bay, but eventually he appeared at the edge of the site.  Dave and Mike patiently coaxed him closer and closer with a trail of hot dog bits.  After many false starts, they finally got JJ to enter one of their tents, which they quickly zipped shut behind him.  Although he could have easily in there, eating hot dogs and drinking water from a bowl. 
 
The next morning, July 31, Nicole and Greg headed out early and arrived at the campsite for a joyful reunion with JJ.  He was in amazingly good shape - his coat was sleek and clean, he didn’t have a scratch on him and he seemed to be in good spirits.  Other than a couple of wood ticks on his ears and looking a little skinnier, he was fine. 
 
Nicole and Greg had the great pleasure of calling their children, and their friend Rich, who was already back in China, with the wonderful news.
 
If only JJ could talk, I wonder what stories he would tell?  I know for a fact that there are a lot of wolves in that area, but somehow he managed to avoid them.
 
Mike captured the moment of reunion between JJ and his owners on his iPhone and you can find it on YouTube by searching for “Lost Dog Reunion 7/31/13,” or go to Sawbill.com where it is posted on the newsletter page.  I highly recommend having a hanky handy before you watch the video.

(Photo by Dave Raub)


 
Sasquatch???? (Or Jan Horak!)

West End News: July 25

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I join many, many people in mourning the passing of my friend, Steve O’Neil, last week.  Steve was best known as a St. Louis County commissioner and a long-time community organizer in Duluth.  His public accomplishments have been well documented since his death and at his memorial service, which had to be held at the DECC Auditorium in Duluth.  Suffice it to say that the word “saint” is most often used to describe Steve.
 
A less known fact about Steve was that he was an avid visitor here in the West End, especially at the Sawbill Lake Campground and in the BWCA Wilderness.  The picture on his Caring Bridge site was of him carrying a Sawbill canoe on a portage, and one of his last wishes was to paddle one last time on Sawbill Lake.  Sadly, he became too ill to fulfill that wish and died just a few days after his planned visit. 
 
A few days after his funeral, Steve’s wife, Angie Miller, along with his children, Brianna and Brendan, brought some of his ashes to Sawbill for a canoe ride up the lake. While our hearts ache for Steve’s absence from our community, I’m glad he was able to visit Sawbill one last time.
 
During the big storm last week, a border collie named JJ was spooked by lightning and ran off into the woods on the 180-rod portage between Cherokee and Scoop Lakes.  The owners searched in vain and finally had to return to their home.  They are asking that everyone in the West End keep an eye out for JJ.  Dogs have tremendous survival instincts and can sometimes show up far from where they are lost.  If you see JJ, you can call the sheriff’s department to report it.  
 
Another dog was lost on Brule Lake at almost the same time, but was found and returned to its owner after several days alone in the woods.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the same happy ending for JJ.
 
I am pleased to report that a new business is planning to start up at the Eco-industrial Park in Silver Bay.  Rocky Coast Brewing will include the brewing of fine, artisan beer, a taproom, food service, fire rings, live music and booths for local artists to display their art.  Head brewer, Jonathon Klinkenberg, is planning to make Rocky Coast a destination brewery, where people come to camp, hang out and socialize over some excellent beer.  He hopes to start operation this winter and have a grand opening in April.
 
This is the time of year when blueberries start to figure prominently in local conversations.  Up until recently, there was a consensus that this would be a good berry season, but that it would be late, due to the late spring.  Now it appears that it will be a good berry crop, but it seems like the berries are ripening right on schedule, with the peak coming around the first week or two in August, which is normal for this area. 
 
Serious berry pickers in the West End have already been able to find quarts of ripe berries in a single picking session.  But the good news is that they are reporting a heavy crop of green berries, just waiting for some warm sun to turn them blue, plump and sweet.
 
The areas burned by the recent Pagami Creek Fire should be loaded with blueberries this year, or next, at the latest.
 
I was interested to read in the Cook County News Herald about the Sasquatch Crossing signs that appeared, and were subsequently removed by the highway department, along the Gunflint Trail. 
 
I just want people to know that there is a Sasquatch crossing that has been marked by signs for many years on the Picnic Loop ski trail at the Sugarbush Trail system in Tofte.  In fact Sasquatch has been seen often at the crossing over the years, although some people believe that it might just be well-known Tofte resident, Jan Horak.


 
Jerry Vandiver

West End News: July 18

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Patty Nordahl, the wonderful and effective Director of the Birch Grove Foundation is organizing a community meeting to explore the idea of building a greenhouse at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.  The mmeting will be on Wednesday, July 24th starting at 5:45 pm and there will be pizza served from the Birch Grove hearth oven. Dough, sauce and cheese will be provided for a nominal fee.  You should bring your own toppings and beverage.
 
Diane Booth, will be there, along with the Birch Grove Greenhouse Advisory Committee, to brainstorm on what a greenhouse could do for our community.  Diane wears many  hats, but she is basically the agriculture guru for Cook County. 
 
I hope the committee will take a hard look at the combination fish farm and greenhouse that has been so successful in Silver Bay.
 
Everyone is welcome to attend and share ideas. Let Patty know at 663-7977 or email bgf@boreal.org if you plan to come.    You can always call WTIP for contact information.
 
Birch Grove will be hosting a very exciting event on Sunday August 18th starting at 3:00 p.m.  The Grammy Award winning “Okee Dokee Brothers” will be appearing.  The event starts with a children’s concert at 3:00, and trust me, kids love these guys. 
 
After the show, there will be a “West End Outdoor Recreation and Cultural Break” where people can explore the local hiking and biking trails, parks and museums.
 
Then, at 6 pm there will be another concert geared toward and all ages audience.  This fabulous event is co-sponsored by the Birch Grove Foundation and the North Shore Music Association.  The foundation will be selling hearth oven pizza and the music association will be selling beverages.
 
As you can plainly see, the wood fired hearth oven at Birch Grove is being kept busy.  Patty tells me that the regularly scheduled pizza bakes on Wednesday evenings have been a big success.  It works in the same way that I mentioned earlier, with dough, sauce and cheese being provided for a small fee and you bring the toppings that you like. It starts at 5:30 and continues until no one is hungry.
 
As a side benefit, the oven is still hot on Thursday morning, so anyone that wants to bake bread is welcome.
 
As you drive through Tofte, you can’t miss the Grindbygg timber framed boat shelter that has sprung up at the Commercial Fishing Museum. Although the building is designed to protect the historic fishing vessel, “Viking,” it is a work of art in itself and very appropriate to it’s purpose. 
 
Don Hammer, Director of the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum, told me that if the Tofte brothers could time travel to today, they would immediately recognize the building from their childhoods in 19th century Norway.
 
Greg Tofte and his construction crew will be roofing the new structure soon and the “Viking” will arrive as soon as they’re done.  A grand opening celebration is being planned for the latter half of August.  Keep an eye open for details here on WTIP and all the other local news providers.
 
Meanwhile, I highly recommend that you stop and look for yourself.  It is well worth the effort.
 
Nashville songwriter, Jerry Vandiver, has been hanging around Cook County for much of the summer.  Jerry has written hit songs for country stars Tim McGraw, Gene Watson, Phil Vassar, Lonestar, The Oak Ridge Boys, Lee Greenwood among others.  His songs, "It Doesn't Get Any Countrier Than This" and “For a Little While" are among the gold and platinum records on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
 
In addition to being a hit songwriter, Jerry is an avid canoeist.  While he’s around this summer, he’ll be playing house concerts on the Gunflint Trail and in Ely.  He’ll be bringing his band to Fisherman’s Picnic where they will be headlining the Harbor Park stage on Saturday night. 
 
Along with his well known hits, he’ll be singing a couple of locally inspired songs, “My Sawbill Journey” and a brand new song called “In Grand Marais.”
 
Last week, Jerry hosted his second annual songwriter’s campfire here at Sawbill.  He invites local songwriters to share there songs in a circle format, where each writer presents one of their songs and then the next writer takes a turn.  Jerry is highly complimentary about the songwriting skills of local musicians.  I must say, folks that were camped in the Sawbill Lake campground and stumbled across the campfire, were surprised indeed to hear big hits being performed by the author, way out here in the West End of good old Cook County.


 
Luna moth

West End News: July 11

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One thing we haven’t had to worry about in the West End this year, at least so far, is forest fires.  The late spring and the wet summer have kept fire danger very low. 
 
In spite of that, fire has played a large role in the news this summer.  Early in the season, massive fires out in Colorado and California destroyed hundreds of homes.  Then, Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte experienced their fire, which was destructive, but thankfully without human injury.
 
Most recently, Zion Lutheran Church in Finland was destroyed by fire after apparently being struck by lightning.  Although it is tempting to laugh about a church being destroyed by an act of God, in reality it is a terribly wrenching experience for any community, but especially a community with only one church building.  I’m sure I speak for the entire West End when I offer heartfelt condolences to the Zion congregation and the whole Finland community.
 
In many ways, the fire that hit home the hardest was the tragic fire in Arizona that killed 19 members of a hotshot crew.  In a community like ours, where many people are wild land firefighters who travel around the country, a story like this one sends cold chills down the spine.  And, after the big, dangerous fires we’ve had here in the last 10 years, the Arizona disaster leads one to think, “There but for the grace of God.” 
 
It is now self-evident that larger and more dangerous fires are the result of climate change and long-term forest management policies.  These are very complex and politically sensitive issues that will be debated for a long time. 
 
In my opinion, one thing is abundantly clear: If you choose to live in a community that is located in a fire ecosystem, you have the responsibility to protect your property from wildfire.  The FireWise system that combines choosing fire-resistant building materials, smart management of vegetation and sprinkler systems is now a well-proven way to prevent property loss from wildfires.  If government and insurance companies required that home and business owners protect their own properties, we would not only save a lot of money, but we wouldn’t have to put our fire fighters in harm’s way to protect buildings.
 
Back in the ‘90s, two fires started here on the Superior National Forest on the same day.  Both were lightning strikes and both were within the BWCA Wilderness.  One was allowed to burn until a rainstorm put it out.  The other, which was here in the West End, was fought in the usual manner.  It eventually cost more than $5 million and was ultimately put out by the same rainstorm that stopped the fire that cost almost nothing.
 
I asked the fire boss at the time why one fire was aggressively fought while the other was not.  Her answer was that the cabins at Gust Lake were threatened by the West End fire while no cabins were threatened by the sister fire.  I asked her why they didn’t just defend the cabins rather than fight the fire in the traditional manner.  She paused and then said, “We don’t do that.”  It might be time to re-examine how we think about wild fires in forests that are fire-based ecosystems.
 
Meanwhile, back in Finland, the Finland Co-op just celebrated their 100th year.  I heard once that the Finland Co-op is the oldest continuously running co-op in Minnesota.  Whether that is true or not, 100 years is a huge milestone.  Congratulations to the Finland community for supporting this fine local business for so long.
 
Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte is hosting a handmade card party on July 21 starting at 3 p.m.  You can bring your own card making supplies, or buy supplies at the event for a reasonable cost.  Instruction, ideas and inspiration will be freely shared.  Just think, you can make all your wedding, anniversary and birthday cards for the next year at the same time.  And, nothing says thoughtfulness like a handmade card.  Contact the Birch Grove Foundation, Lavona Czaplicki, or WTIP for more details and contact information.
 
On the deck in front of our sauna, we have a small wrought iron tree that is covered with LED Christmas lights.  We use it to give the deck a nice soft ambient light when a sauna is happening after dark.  A few days ago, the crew accidently left the lights on overnight after a sauna.  The next day I looked out at the deck from my house and realized that half a dozen beautiful green Luna moths were festooning the stark metal tree.  Attracted by the lights overnight, they looked for all the world like large green leaves sprouting from the metal tree.  Closer inspection revealed a dozen other moths that were a less conspicuous brown and orange color. 
 
It was just another pleasant and beautiful surprise from the rich natural world here in the West End.


 
Lutsen 99er

West End News: July 4

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[click above to listen to audio]
 
Congratulations to organizers, volunteers and riders in the recent Lutsen 99er mountain bike race.  More than 650 racers participated in the 99- and 39-mile races, along with another 100 or so in the kids’ races. 
 
The first West End finisher in the 99-mile race was Regan Bolduc from Lutsen in 176th place overall.  The fastest West Ender in the 39-mile race was Tom Wahlstrom, who just moved from Tofte to Grand Marais, with an incredible seventh place finish. 
 
There were dozens of local folks in both races - so many that I can't mention them all here.  One of the many benefits of this great event is that it motivates West Enders to get on their bikes and enjoy the wonderful trails that are right outside our doors.
 
Here at Sawbill, we had a number of customers who told us that they came up for the race and were making an extended family vacation out of the trip.  I can only imagine that many more families did the same thing along the north shore.  I also had a campground customer who mentioned that they were here to ride the new single-track mountain bike trails in Grand Marais and Tofte.  They were dedicated and knowledgeable mountain bikers and they were highly complimentary of the new trails, declaring that they were as good as any they had ever ridden.
 
The Lutsen 99er is sponsored by a partnership that includes the Cook County Visitors Bureau.  The bureau was created three years ago to combine the efforts of four different tourism groups and promote Cook County as a whole.  The results are really starting to show now, with many quality events attracting tourists and positive press from all over the country.
 
The bureau is funded by a lodging tax and the spending is directed by representatives from each of the four areas of the county, Grand Portage, Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, and the Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder area.  The funds are spent on each area in direct proportion to how much lodging tax is generated.  Although this makes for complicated accounting, it couldn't be more fair to each area.  The proof of success is not only the dramatic increase in tourism, but the fact that Cook County numbers are growing faster than any of our competitors.
 
The Bloodmobile will be in Tofte at Zoar Lutheran Church Tuesday, July 16 from 2:30 until 6 p.m.  If you would like to volunteer to donate a pint of blood, you can call Polly Erickson at 663-7398.  As always, you can contact WTIP for contact information.  Thanks to Polly for her tireless efforts in this important effort.
 
The turtles are out on the roads and at the boat landings right now.  Every year, female turtles seek out sandy soils to dig holes where they deposit their eggs.  The gravel road and parking lot shoulders make ideal nest sites.  Unfortunately, this leads many turtles to cross busy gravel roads during the height of tourism season.  If you see a turtle crossing a road, you can stop and carry them across in the direction that they are already heading.
 
Here at Sawbill, we've had two female snapping turtles that have been laying their eggs at the canoe landing for more than 40 years.  The scars and notches on their shells make them easy to identify as individuals.  They must be very old now, so every year we wonder if we'll see them again.  Last week, they appeared again, right on schedule.  Everyone has fun seeing them close up. I notice that swimmers are a little more tentative about jumping in the lake after they see the powerful beaks on these prehistoric-looking reptiles.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

{photo courtesy of Lutsen 99er}