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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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Alton Lake before the storm.  Photo by Crista Clark

West End News: December 13

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Everyone knows that Olympic medalist Cindy Nelson is a West End native, who grew up in Lutsen, skiing at her parents’ ski resort.  But what other world-class athlete grew up - and still lives - in Tofte, competing at the highest level in his chosen sport?  As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now….  the rest of the story.”
 
Sometime in January, Ron Gervais, Sr., will play in his 6,000th game of curling. That works out to an average of 120 games, every year, for 50 years.  Along the way, Ron won 11 state titles and four national titles. In 1980, Ron was chosen for the American team competing at an international tournament in Scotland. In the second game of that tournament, Ron threw an eight ender, which is the equivalent of a royal flush in poker or a perfect score in gymnastics. Only a handful of eight enders are thrown worldwide every year and almost never in a major tournament. The U.S. beat Scotland that year for the first time in the history of the tournament.
 
Ron started curling in 1962, the same year that the Cook County Curling Club was founded by Cook County High School bandleader Harold Ikola.  Young Ron gave it a try and has never looked back.  He’s so well respected in the curling world that he has umpired for the Silver Broom, which is the World Series of curling, not once, but twice. 
 
Although there is no way of knowing for sure, Ron may well have played more games of curling than any living American. He reports that there is a curler in Wisconsin who is about 1,200 games behind him, but can’t possibly curl enough to catch up. Ron attributes his success and longevity to rarely getting sick and staying in shape by cutting firewood. He also gives credit to his wife, Carol, who accompanies him to almost every tournament, sharing the driving and offering support.
 
One more little statistic about Ron’s curling career: Each game of curling requires a player to throw 640 lb. of stones down 150 feet of ice. Just in tournament play, Ron has thrown a total of nearly 2,000 tons of stone. I can only guess that if you include practice, that figure is probably easily doubled or tripled. Maybe curling is keeping him in shape for cutting firewood, not the other way around.
 
Keeping to this week’s ice theme, Carl Hansen and his friend, Crista Clark, were at Sawbill this week, taking care of the business while Cindy and I spent a few days in Duluth. They discovered that Alton Lake was in perfect condition for skating. The entire lake was smooth, black ice from shore to shore. Carl and Crista enjoyed several hours of skating on blades that are specially made to attach to cross-country ski boots. Sadly, the big snowstorm arrived just as we returned from Duluth, so we missed the opportunity. On the upside, the new snow repaired the damage done to the ski trails during the recent warm spell. It also replaced the snow on the trees and, once again, everywhere you look back here in the woods, it is a picture postcard.


 
Lady of the Lake statue - photo courtesy www.BWCA.com

West End News: December 6

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A few weeks ago, the Cook County News Herald ran a picture of the so-called “Lady of the Lake” statue that used to be a prominent feature on Brule Lake. It brought back a lot of memories for me. When I was a young child, I used to spend weeks at a time on Brule Lake with Vi and Ken Osman, who owned a beautiful cabin on the far west end of Brule. The Osmans retired to Brule Lake around 1955.  They had married late in life and had no children, so they adopted me as kind of a surrogate grandchild.
 
As we fished and commuted across Brule Lake, we would see the “Lady of the Lake” statue, as it was visible from miles away. I remember that the Osmans were casually dismissive of the statue. When I commented on its beauty, Ken detoured the boat so we could see it close up. It was actually a crude and frankly ugly statue, amateurishly constructed from cement and chicken wire. It was one of many life lessons that I learned from the Osmans.  Sometimes things that look beautiful from a distance are actually quite ugly when you see them close up. 
 
A few years later, I had a conversation about the statue with Art Osman, Ken’s younger brother.  It turned out that Art had helped construct the statue in 1942. Art said that when most people asked him about the statue, he told them that it was an Indian maiden, built to watch over the lake. That was probably the basic truth of the matter, but Art told me that it was also part of an elaborate practical joke. 
 
Art was part of a group of friends from Rochester were regular visitors to a private island resort on Brule Lake.  One of the friends had recently married. I remember Art’s description of the new bride vividly because it was the first time I heard the expression “battle axe.” Art said that the groom’s fishing buddies warned him that his new wife would forbid him from going on the annual fishing trip.  Sure enough, the first year after the marriage, the groom was not able to attend, due to some other circumstance, not wifely prohibition. The joke was that the statue was built as a caricature of the young bride, who Art described as a large and imposing woman. The following year, when the friend did arrive for the fishing trip, the group pointed to the statue and said, “Look, your wife is watching you!”
 
Art said that they never expected the statue to survive more than a few years. He commented that they had built it around a dead cedar stump and he guessed that the stump was what gave it an unexpectedly long life.  After Brule Lake was included in the BWCA Wilderness, the presence of the statue became mildly controversial, with some people calling for its removal and some hoping it would be allowed to remain. The Forest Service decided to leave the statue and let it deteriorate on its own. Apparently, that decision didn’t sit well with some people, because someone thoroughly and carefully removed the statue a short time later. All trace of concrete was removed and the site was returned to a natural state.
 
My mom, Mary Alice Hansen, the unofficial West End historian, is publishing a little history of the statue in the paper this week and compiling a longer history of it for the Cook County Historical Society.
 
The whole statue story is kind of a metaphor for the history of Brule Lake. It is pretty well documented that Bob Marshall, one of the early architects of the national wilderness system, fought hard to keep development off Brule Lake and make it a wilderness lake. Almost literally on his deathbed, Marshall expressed regret that he had “lost” Brule Lake.  He can rest easy now, though, as Brule Lake is now the largest lake completely within the BWCA Wilderness, with no development except the canoe landing and a small Forest Service cabin just outside the wilderness boundary.
 
After all my bragging last week about the heavy blanket of beautiful snow that we had on the ground and in the trees, Mother Nature struck us low with warm and wet weather that left us with a mere 4 inches of hard, crusty snow. The driveway and paths are treacherous mine fields of ice patches that can take you down in a heartbeat, and the ground is iron hard, bringing to mind the old song lyric, “It don’t hurt you when you fall boys, only when you land.”


 
Peg Morris (Ed Landin)

West End News November 29

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I recently received word about the death of Peg Morris.  Peg and her partner, Ed Landin, were Cook County residents for many years. They started out with a cabin between Grand Marais and Lutsen while they operated a resort on Lake Superior just outside Two Harbors.  In 1994, they sold the resort, moved full-time to Cook County and were very active members of the community until they moved away in 2002.
 
Peg was a remarkable woman, with many talents.  She was a biologist by training and became a well-respected employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While living in Cook County, Peg served on the Governor’s Commission on the BWCA Wilderness, the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, Minnesota Resort Association, and both the Cook County and Arrowhead Library Boards.  She was a founding board member and eventually chairperson of the Northeast Initiative Fund, which later changed its name to the Northland Foundation. Peg was also a licensed bird rehabilitator and nursed many injured birds back to health.  I remember her delighted description of recovering wild birds flying around inside her house.
 
Peg changed my life when she called me back in the early ‘90s asking if I would consider serving on the Northland Foundation board of trustees. Before I could start making excuses, she said, “Serving on the Northland board has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in my life.” That stopped me in my tracks, because Peg had done many, many interesting things in her life. I agreed to serve and Peg was absolutely right about what a great experience it is. I will be forever grateful to her for steering my life in that direction.
 
Peg died back in September, after struggling with a mysterious and progressive brain and nerve degeneration for many years. It was never fully diagnosed, and while it robbed her of speech and muscle control, her eyes made it clear that she knew what was going on around her. She was 64 years old. 
 
Grand Marais State Bank in Tofte has several seasonal initiatives going on. I previously mentioned their “giving tree” where you can donate gift items to be placed under the tree in the bank lobby and they will be distributed to local families who can use a little extra holiday cheer this year.  They are also acting as a collection point for the Cook County Food Shelf. If you donate a food item between now and the middle of December, your name will be entered in a drawing for a $50 gift certificate. And finally, if you open a new checking or savings account during the holiday season, the bank will donate $5 to the Salvation Army Red Kettle collection effort. Thanks to Nancy Christenson and her great crew for their generous work.
 
The big news from here in the backwoods is that we’ve received more than 16 inches of snow since Thanksgiving.  When I tell people in town about this, they frankly give me a skeptical look. All I can say is, hop in your car and see for yourself. The first 11 inches that came on Thanksgiving night was wet, so every tree is just loaded with snow. Our little 6K ski trail here at Sawbill is open and in excellent condition. As a bonus, the snow on the trees makes every view down the trail look like a Currier and Ives Christmas card. While Sawbill Lake has been at least partially frozen for a couple of weeks, the heavy snow on top of thin ice has made lake travel sketchy and uncertain. Best to stay off the ice for a little while longer.
 
We’re off to a good start on my favorite season, and my hope is that this is truly the arrival of winter and the holiday season will be snowy, fun and joyful.

Airdate: November 29, 2012


 
Beau Larson and Carl Hansen

West End News: November 22

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Beau Larson and Carl Hansen from Lutsen and Tofte are independent filmmakers who are both graduates of the University of Montana Media Arts program and Cook County High School.  They recently collaborated on the production of “Breaking Trail,” a film about the North Shore, Lutsen and the growing mountain biking scene here in the West End. There will be a Hollywood-style premiere for the film at North House Folk School Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., complete with a red carpet and paparazzi. Although there will be bouncers at the door with a “guest list,” it is all in fun, and everyone is welcome with no charge.  Snacks and refreshments will be served.
 
Carl and Beau were recently featured on the popular television program, The Playlist, hosted by Karen Sunderman on WDSE, Channel 8, in Duluth.  The well-done program highlighted the young filmmakers’ creativity and success by weaving together interviews with footage from “Breaking Trail” and other films they have made.  You can watch the Playlist story online at WDSE.org or just Google “Channel 8 Playlist.”
 
As everyone knows, the recent accidental explosion at the Taconite Harbor power plant in Schroeder caused serious injuries and burns to Joe Fredrickson from Silver Bay. Joe is recovering slowly in the burn unit at Miller Dwan in Duluth. He has undergone a series of painful and difficult skin grafts, but is showing continuous improvement and is expected to make a full recovery. You can follow Joe’s progress on the Caring Bridge website by searching it for Joseph Fredrickson.
 
At the most recent meeting of the Taconite Harbor Citizen’s Advisory Panel, power plant manager Dave Rannetsberger talked about the accident, Joe’s recovery, and the ongoing investigation into the cause. He said that three different investigation teams have conducted detailed inquiries. It will be a while until the results are made public, but it is obvious that the explosion was caused by coal dust coming in contact with an ignition source. Meanwhile the power plant has been, and remains, shut down while repairs are made and a new set of safety protocols are developed to prevent any chance of a similar accident in the future. 
 
The explosion was so powerful that it blew the ceiling off the room where it occurred. All four walls were bulged out and extensive damage was done to equipment. Dave commented that he was glad to have several well-trained first responders on hand to begin treating Joe immediately after the accident, which very likely helped reduce the severity of his injuries.  Dave also had high praise for the Schroeder, Tofte, and Lutsen fire departments.
 
Another piece of bad news was received this week with the announcement that Northshore Mining in Silver Bay would be shutting down two furnaces in the taconite plant.  It is estimated that 125 workers will be laid off in Minnesota, but it isn’t clear how many of those will be cut from the plant and how many from the mine.  Unfortunately, those most recently hired are most likely to be laid off, so breadwinners for quite a few young families will soon be out of work.  They will be eligible for unemployment benefits, but many have not accrued much supplemental wage support that the company pays to laid off workers. The plant’s owner, Cliffs Natural Resources, says that they are making the cuts quickly in response to market conditions, hoping that by doing so they can reduce the length of the layoff.  Although the announcement was made last week, the furnaces won’t be shut down until shortly after the first of the year.
 
The ice on area lakes continues to come and go with the big swings in our local weather conditions.  Sawbill Lake is about half thawed at this writing and appears to be on its way to losing most of its ice for the second time this season. Looking at the forecast though, I think the next freeze up will be the one that lasts until spring.
 
In this season of thanksgiving, let me wish everyone in the extended West End community a safe and happy holiday season.


 
Ice skating on a frozen lake - photo by Anneli Salo

West End News: November 15

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Time is short to make your reservations for the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum's third annual storytelling dinner.  This popular event will be hosted by Lutsen Resort Saturday, Dec. 1. The storyteller will be Adolph Ojard, who is currently the executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. Adolph is a Knife River native and the grandson of two distinguished North Shore fishing families, the Ojards and the Torgersens.  He will talk about his experience with commercial fishing in the ‘50s and ‘60s, as well as a peek into the future of commercial fishing in Lake Superior.  Social hour starts at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 6:30.  Call Lutsen Resort for reservations at 663-7212.  There is a reasonable charge for the dinner, as it is the main fundraiser of the year for the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte.
 
I want to give a shout out to Senja Ahlgren and her staff at the AmericInn - Tofte for a recent effort that they made to support military veterans and their families in Cook County. As part of a national effort by the AmericInn hotel franchise, Senja and her staff gathered donations from local businesses and individuals to make up bags of products and certificates that were distributed to Cook County veterans that encourage family activities and togetherness.  As always in the West End, everyone got behind the effort and 70 bags were distributed to veteran families in Cook County.  Thanks to AmericInn - Tofte and all the volunteers and donors for their good work.
 
And while I'm on the subject of good works, The Tofte Branch of Grand Marais State Bank will have a "Giving Tree" again this year for the holidays. The bank is collecting referrals of anyone who could really use an extra surprise or two this holiday season. In order to keep it confidential, they ask for the gender and age, and the person or group who will be responsible to pick up the gift at the bank by Dec. 18 for delivery before Christmas.  For information, talk to Nancy at the bank in Tofte or e-mail Patty Nordahl at Birch Grove Community Center at bgf@boreal.org or call 663-7977.
 
I was very impressed, again this year, by the amazing energy created by the annual Bluegrass Masters weekend at Lutsen Resort, sponsored by the North Shore Music Association.  For the last 22 years, this event has filled Lutsen Resort to the gills with musicians and music fans for a weekend of jam sessions, workshops, concerts and musical networking. I only mention this event after the fact because I think it flies a little under the radar with local folks. It's a really interesting and entertaining thing to witness, just as a cultural event, if nothing else. The public is welcome to walk through the resort and listen to the dozens of jam sessions that break out in every nook and cranny. The level of musicianship is amazingly high, with some of the best acoustic musicians from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario mixed in with amateurs and beginners. 
 
I urge every Cook County resident to check it out when it rolls around next year on the first weekend in November. In addition to the musical fun, it is a great model for promoting tourism during the shoulder season when business drops dramatically. I can picture any number of events that could make use of excess resort capacity, contribute to the local economy and provide great entertainment for local people.
 
This continues to be a dramatic year for ice formation on Sawbill Lake.  The lake froze over about 70 percent back on Nov. 2.  By Nov. 7, the ice had completely disappeared in the face of warm temperatures and rain. Then, on the night of Nov. 13 it skimmed over again. Based on the forecast, it is very likely that it will thaw again. It is a rare phenomenon for the lake to freeze, thaw and re-freeze in a given year. If it does indeed thaw and freeze again, it will be first time in almost 60 years, at least, that it has frozen and thawed twice before the final freeze up.  And who knows… maybe it will freeze four times before we're done.  As I've discussed this interesting phenomenon around town, the conversation always ends with people saying to me, "Let me know if it freezes smooth enough for skating."  Rest assured that I will post to Boreal News if that happy condition develops!

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)


 
Skim ice on Sawbill Lake.

West End News: November 8

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Congratulations to everyone involved in the recent elections. It isn’t very comfortable for most Minnesotans to put themselves out there in the public scrum.  My hat is off to anyone who decides to serve in elected office, regardless of political philosophy.  It’s popular to be cynical toward elected officials now days, but in reality they work very hard and take more abuse than they deserve.  Sometimes it’s two steps forward - one step back, but in the long run our democratic system gradually makes life better for everyone.

The annual Papa Charlie’s Birch Grove School benefit at Lutsen Mountains is Friday, Nov. 16.  This long-standing event is not only generously supported by Lutsen Mountains, but also the food and beverage suppliers and countless volunteers.  It begins at 4:30 p.m. and features a lasagna dinner, silent auction and dance music by the popular and talented local band, D’Merritt.  Diane Blanchett, administrator at Birch Grove, is still looking for donations for the silent auction.  Call her at 663-0170 or email at birchgrove@boreal.org if you can help out.

One last reminder that the bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte from 2:30 until 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12.  There are still openings for appointments, so call Polly at 663-7398 to do your part.

Former Congressman Jim Oberstar will be in Grand Marais Wednesday, Nov. 14 as the keynote speaker for the Active Living Summit.  The summit is designed for business people, policymakers and community leaders to learn about how active living contributes to health and quality of life in our community.  Representative Oberstar served us in Congress from 1975 through 2011.  He was chair of the powerful Transportation Committee from 2007 through 2011.  Throughout his career in public service, he has been a strong advocate for cycling, hiking and other active pursuits.  He was instrumental in including funding for biking and hiking trails in the transportation budget.  His accomplishments on our behalf are too numerous to list here, but I will say that he is an amazing public speaker and a walking encyclopedia on transportation policy issues, among many other things.  Admission to the summit is free, but registration is required.  Contact Kristin Wharton at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais for registration or more information. I plan to attend and it sounds like a good time.

Sawbill Lake and many of the smaller area lakes formed skim ice on the night of Nov. 2.  The ice got a little thicker over the next few days, but now has melted off in the face of a warming trend.  Back in the old days, it was a pretty good bet that the ice would form during the first week of November.  The first time we paddled on Thanksgiving was in the late ‘80s and it was considered a big fluke.  Now, we can paddle on most Thanksgivings.  As always, I have my fingers crossed for a freeze-up that leaves smooth ice for skating.  It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had really perfect skating conditions, so I figure that we’re due.  Flying down the lakes on skates is not only a sublime experience in itself, but it’s a great excuse to cut out on work and have some pure fun.


 
Canoeing in the BWCA Wilderness in November

West End News: November 1

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The late Senator Paul Wellstone was in the news last week as his family, friends, the state and the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that took the lives of eight people. I was a friend of the Wellstones, albeit one of several thousand other people. Although they were very, very busy people, they had an amazing capacity for caring and friendship and I treasured the time I was able to spend with them.
 
What many people don’t know is that Paul and Sheila Wellstone were honorary West Enders.  During the 12 years that he served in the Senate, they vacationed regularly in Tofte at the home of a family friend.  Sheila’s idea for their time in Tofte was to have it be a real disconnect from their otherwise hectic schedules – a time for reading, reflection, deep relaxation and taking time to be a couple. Paul was on board with the plan, but his natural tendency to seek out contact with people couldn’t be completely denied. 
 
His routine was to grab a borrowed overcoat that was several sizes too big for him and hike the half mile to the North Shore Market. There he read the daily newspapers, visited with store patrons and enjoyed the company of Henry and Florence Wehseler, who owned the store at the time. Paul led discussions with the customers on the issues of the day, often failing to mention that he was a U. S. Senator. He told me that he particularly enjoyed debating with Henry.  Although they were both life-long Democrats, they didn’t agree on every issue, but Paul told me more than once that he respected Henry’s insight and principles.
 
The Wellstones were scheduled to be in Tofte for a week beginning the day after the 2002 election. They invited Cindy and me to dinner on the second day after the election and when he made the invitation, Paul said that we would spend the entire evening at Bluefin, enjoy hours of conversation and would not mention politics even once. I agreed, but thought to myself, “Fat chance of that!”
 
West End residents Dave and Amy Freeman are on the home stretch of their epic multi-year journey by kayak, dog sled and canoe around most of North America.  Last year, they had a huge forest fire burn right past them in northern Canada. This week they were paddling down the east coast in New Jersey, just in time for Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, they had plenty of warning and were able to take themselves to safety in the home of a friend about five miles inland. The day after the storm, they reported that they were kayaking over to the friend’s place of business to assess storm damage. They are scheduled to end their trip at Key West in a couple of months although, knowing them, I don’t expect they’ll let the grass grow under their feet for long.
 
The Memorial Blood Center bloodmobile is scheduled to be a Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte Monday, Nov. 12 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. The recent accident at the Taconite Harbor Energy Center and the disaster on the East Coast are just the most recent reminders that having an adequate supply of blood on hand is important.  If you are in good health, give Polly Erickson a call at 663-7398 for an appointment.  You can find more information and fill out the health questionnaire online at MBC.org.
 
Here is the rundown of upcoming activities at Birch Grove:
 
As always, Senior Lunch is on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. On Nov. 7, Ginny Danfelt will be there to give a brief presentation about the Residential Energy Efficiency Project.  If you are not a regular, please call ahead so they know how many to expect. You can just leave a message at 663-7977 or drop an email to bgf@boreal.org.
 
There is a lot of interest in a senior exercise class this winter, but a teacher is needed, so contact Patty at Birch Grove if you are interested. The seniors are also planning a lunch at Bluefin in December and possibly a trip to Gunflint Lodge in the spring to try out their new zip line nature tour.
 
Did you know that you can swim in the AmericInn – Tofte swimming pool for a small fee and the money is donated back to Birch Grove School?  Well, it’s true.
 
The weekly open gym for pre-schoolers, their parents and/or caregivers starts next week on Friday, Nov. 9 from 9:30 until 10:30 a.m.  This is a little later than advertised in the Birchbarker newsletter, so be advised.
 
Two dates have been chosen for the ever-popular boot hockey tournaments at the new Birch Grove skating rink and warming house facility this winter: Jan. 25 and Feb. 9. Get your team together and sign up by calling Patty at 66-37977 or email at bgf@boreal.org.
 
Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at Birch Grove will be open Nov. 5 and Nov. 28.  Contact the clinic in Grand Marais for appointments.
 
My friend and customer from Hayward, Wisconsin, Tom Heinrich, is a frequent visitor to the West End.  Tom is a teacher and a fanatic wilderness canoeist, spending several weeks each year in canoe country.  He was on Brule Lake in the BWCA Wilderness last week and sent me some interesting observations when he got home:
 
“.....noticed these things happening along the North Shore in the last two months....
more businesses seem more friendly to canoers...not only the owners, but the help...lots more questions about we're I/we've been, what's it like, and please stop again....one attendant at a Holiday Gas Station explained the dynamics of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and how warm air will get pulled into the area next weekend, in time to canoe...genuine discussion and this happens at a lot of places that I stop in. It wasn't always that way. I have gained some much needed winter weight snapping down those good sandwiches now created at the Tofte General Store....

Second, WTIP is probably the best station right now in the world...lots of things that focus on being in northern Minnesota without the glitz...WOJB in Reserve, Wisconsin rates a close second...

Third, despite all the traffic that the BWCA gets, the campsites are amazingly clean. Granted I don't paddle here in the summer, but hanging out surfing the waves on Brule, which gets some good fall use, I find little if any debris in the camps...opposite of camps in the busier spots in the Woodland Caribou which usually have a fire ring with lots of tin foil and instant soup 
packages half burnt....

....and there is an advantage to global warming, which is being able to canoe longer. Never dreamed of paddling in November in the BWCA like I have the last few years and hopefully will this year also with the mild warm up...”
 
While it may be true that climate change is extending the canoeing season, I worry that phenomena like the July 4th blow down, the Ham Lake and Pagami Creek fires, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and other extreme weather will cause larger problems that will affect the economy in the West End.  Time will tell, I guess.

(Photo by Bill Hansen)


 
Photo by Luke Opel

West End News: October 25

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The West End community was shocked and saddened by the explosion at Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor power plant this week.  Just a week ago, plant manager Dave Rannetsberger had reported nearly three years of operation without a lost-time accident.  Safety has long been the number one priority for Minnesota Power in all their operations, so it’s particularly disheartening for that great record to be broken with such a serious accident.  In our small community, a disaster in any family touches almost everyone.  We all send the sincerest best wishes to the entire Fredrickson family.
 
There are several interesting things happening at Birch Grove School and Community Center, as usual.  The annual PTO Halloween Carnival is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 28, from 2 until 4 p.m. The carnival is fun for all ages and is a significant source of funds for Birch Grove School. If you’d like to donate a cake for the cakewalk, drop it off on Friday before 6 p.m., or just bring it to the event. 
 
I have many happy memories from the carnival, but one of my favorites is from the cakewalk many, many years ago. Greg Tofte was running it that year and Kathy Horak had donated one of her famous apple pies that was still warm from the oven.  I won the pie, which was great, but I always suspected that Greg might have rigged the result so I couldn’t lose. He denied it at the time, but my suspicion lingers. 
 
The Birch Grove Foundation is thinking about offering Early Childhood Family Education in the West End again after a long absence. I attended ECFE with each of my children and I can’t say enough about what a wonderful and productive program it is.  The benefits are many, but I know my kids enjoyed the experience and I learned a lot from the other parents.  Raising children, like many other things in life, is harder than it looks. Being able share tips and techniques sure made my life easier at home, and my kids have turned into wonderful adults.  Birch Grove Director Patty Nordahl would like to hear from you if you are interested.  You can email her at bgf@boreal.org, leave a message at the Birch Grove Foundation Facebook page, or talk to her when you see her at the carnival.
 
A presentation titled: “The Cook County Economy: It’s not in great shape and why that matters,” is scheduled for Wed., Oct. 31 starting at 11:30 am at Cook County Higher Education’s North Shore Campus in Grand Marais.  Randy Lasky, from the Northspan Group, and Josh Bergstad from the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, will share the research they’ve conducted on Cook County’s economy. They’ve been working at the request of the Cook County GO Team, which is an ad hoc committee of 22 community leaders that are exploring ways to strengthen Cook County’s economy.  Their stated goal is “creating sustainable development for all.”
 
The event is part of a monthly series of business networking luncheons sponsored by Cook County Higher Education.  Lunch will be catered by Cascade Lodge Restaurant and there is a reasonable charge. It would be a good idea to RSVP to Higher Ed at 387-3411 or email highered@northshorecampus.org.
 
All the signs of impending winter are here. The tamaracks are a deep gold and are painting the ground beneath them the same color.  The deer have become suicidal along every road in the West End, flinging themselves in front of cars with reckless abandon.  The weather has thankfully provided the late fall moisture that we count on, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the smaller lakes freeze up in the first week of November.  Here at Sawbill, our last canoeing party has returned from their trip and I suspect there will be no others this season.
 
Everyone in Cook County should have received their election ballot in the mail by now. If you haven’t, contact the Cook County Auditor.  You can also vote in person on election day at the courthouse in Grand Marais.  Exercising our right to vote is our most important act of citizenship and is the bedrock of what makes civil society function.  In my opinion, there is way too much secret money and special interest influence in American politics these days.  But, at the end of the day, it’s your vote that determines the future.  As the late Paul Wellstone used to say, “We’re all better off, when we’re all better off.”


 
Bull Moose

West End News: October 18

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I was honored to be a part of an event that involved many West End residents last week, when Trevor Huggins of Tofte was married to Erin Bonner on the beach at Kadunce creek.  The couple asked me to preside over their marriage vows.  Many people are surprised to hear that I could do this, because they know full well that I am not a minister or an officer of the court.  I became a minister a few years ago by sending $15 to a church in California that sent me a nice certificate proclaiming that I am ordained by the Universal Life Church and have all the rights and privileges to perform the duties of the ministry.
 
I originally thought, as anyone would, that this is a somewhat sketchy arrangement from a dubious church.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I went to the church’s website.  It is a real church, but it is completely ecumenical, welcoming members of any, all or no faiths.  They were very up-front about saying that their $15 ordination program was specifically designed to enable friends to legally perform weddings, funerals and baptisms for their friends.  They made a strong pitch to take any such ceremonies seriously and warned against representing yourself as a “real” minister.  They also recommended that engaged couples seek out professional marriage counseling, from someone with real training, before they tie the knot.
 
I think Trevor and Erin’s wedding was certainly a lovely success, with a meaningful ceremony on the beach, followed by an amazing potluck and dance at the Hovland Town Hall.  Congratulations to the lovely couple and my profound thanks for including me in their special day.
 
Al Hodnick is the CEO and Chair of Allete, which is the parent company of Minnesota Power, who operates the Taconite Harbor power plant in Schroeder.  He was in the West End recently to have a conversation with the Taconite Harbor Community Advisory Panel, which is a representative group of citizens from Lake and Cook counties that meet monthly to learn and discuss on issues related to the power plant.  Al is certainly not your typical corporate CEO.  He was born and raised in Aurora and worked his way up through the company from the entry level to the top leadership.  His style is friendly, forthright and familiar to anyone from northern Minnesota.  He has a complicated job, to put it mildly, but the main concern for Taconite Harbor is that sometime in the not-too-distant future, the 50-year-old, coal-burning power plant may be forced to shut down due to concern about carbon dioxide and its contribution to climate change.  Some coal-fired power plants will be able to switch to natural gas and keep operating, but this is unlikely to happen at Taconite Harbor because gas isn’t available here and would be too expensive to bring in.  Minnesota Power has always been a good corporate citizen in this region with deep ties to the community.  I appreciate that they are being up front about the potential closing of the plant and keeping everyone well-informed as the process plays out.
 
Care Partners recently gave a presentation at Senior Lunch at Birch Grove in Tofte.  Trained Care Partners volunteers provide friendly visits, phone check-ins, and presence at the end of life. They may visit, play cards, or work on a legacy project. Care Partners focuses on supporting the family and caregivers.  You can call the Care Partners Nurse for more information at 387-3787 or email carepartners@boreal.org.  More info is available on the North Shore Health Care Foundation website.
 
Birch Grove School PTO's Halloween Carnival is Sunday, Sept. 28 from 2 to 4 p.m.  There will be bingo, a spooky house, prizes, lunch, games and a cakewalk.  If you can bring a cake, people will be there until 6 on Friday. Or, you can just bring it with you on Sunday.
 
On Nov. 1, the Violence Prevention Center will host a facilitated small group discussion titled "Focus on Safe/Healthy Relationships" at Birch Grove. This is part of the Violence Prevention Center’s ongoing work to figure out how we can all work to maintain and promote a safe community for everyone. Please call the Violence Prevention Center at 387-1237 or sign up on Birch Grove Foundation's Facebook page.
 
Congratulations to Silver Bay Fire Chief John Fredrickson, who has been nominated to be Minnesota Fire Officer of the Year by the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs’ Association. John is a Silver Bay native who has made many contributions to his community over the years and the honor is well-deserved.
 
Moose season ended last week.  It has become a pretty low-key affair with so few moose and so few hunters.  Of the groups I talked to, about half got a moose and about half went home empty-handed. 
 
Three Sawbill crewmembers were driving home from a climbing tip to Carlton peak last week when they had an uncomfortably close encounter with a huge bull moose.  First it ran in front of the car, then turned and charged straight back at them. The driver was able to gun it away from the unhappy bull, but just a short distance later was forced to pull over with a flat tire.  They changed the tire with one nervous eye cast behind them, in case the angry moose caught up to them.  Fortunately, everything ended peacefully.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

Airdate: October 18, 2012

Photo courtesy of Visit Anchorage PR via Flickr.


 
Jacob Schmidt sings the National Anthem

West End News: October 11

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Our local rock and roll legend, Jacob Schmidt, who also goes by Cobi Mike and Jacob Michael, is already pretty famous as the singer and lead guitar player for the band Gentleman Hall.  Gentleman Hall tours widely, but is based in the Boston, Massachusetts area, where Jacob formerly attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music.  Last week, his national fame went up another notch when he sang the national anthem at the New England Patriot's Gillette Stadium before their sell-out game against the Denver Broncos.  The national anthem is notoriously difficult to sing and many good singers have embarrassed themselves while performing it.  I'm proud to say that Jacob represented the West End well with his powerful, expressive and mistake free version. And it drew an enthusiastic response from the huge crowd.  Jacob's mother is Carol Perkins, from Lutsen, and his father is Jim Schmidt, from Grand Marais.  I suppose it won't be too long before we see Jacob accepting an Emmy Award!
 
Among the other important political races that are being run in front of next month's election, is a proposed constitutional amendment to require voters to present a piece of photo identification to be eligible to vote in any election in Minnesota.  In my view, this is the most cynical, anti-democratic and un-American political effort since the dark days of segregation and legal discrimination.  The effort is all the more insidious in that it sounds perfectly reasonable on its surface.  For most of us, showing a photo ID is not a problem and who could oppose a measure to prevent voter fraud?  The reality is that there is no significant voter fraud in Minnesota elections and this Voter ID amendment is a deliberate attempt to prevent certain people from voting.  It is not coincidence that the people who will have trouble voting under the new system are more likely to vote Democratic and those that support the amendment are more likely to vote Republican.  I strongly believe in strict election standards, but resorting to trickery and confusion to gain an electoral advantage is deeply un-American.  They are essentially saying that some Americans have more right to vote than others.  This is just plain wrong and we should send a strong message from the voting booth that all Americans have the right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice.  I urge everyone to support the concept of one person - one vote, and vote no on the Voter ID amendment.
 
We were deeply saddened last week when a couple of canoeists lost their lives on Alton Lake.  They apparently died of hypothermia when there canoe overturned in high winds.  Although the couple embarked from Sawbill, we did not know them.  They were, by all accounts, experienced and careful campers who were properly dressed and equipped. They were found floating in the lake, near their overturned canoe and were wearing their life jackets.  We may never know why they weren't able to swim to shore and save themselves.  Our hearts go out to their family and friends.
 
I must say that the quick response and professionalism of the Cook County Sheriff's Department, the Cook County Sheriff's Rescue Squad, the Minnesota Highway Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service was impressive.  Even though this was a recovery effort and not a rescue, it was heartening to see such a high level of preparedness and competence.  My sincere thanks to these public servants who perform such difficult jobs on our behalf.
 
This was the week when I performed the annual resort owner’s ritual of draining down the summer water system.  In the past, this chore was traditionally done in September, ideally a few days ahead of the first really hard freeze.  The goal is, of course, to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting.  In recent years, we've been able to keep the water flowing well into October.  Of course, nearly every year, once the pipes are drained, a bit of summer returns with a week or two of balmy weather.  So you heard it here first, I predict the next week or two will be warm and sunny.