Listen Now
Pledge Now


 
 

West End News

Bill Hansen

Contributor(s): 
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.

Podcast:
Subscribe

What's On:
Plucked Up String Band is going on its first national tour

West End News: April 7

I was saddened to read about the passing of Frank Dvorak, a long-time seasonal resident of Tofte. I knew Frank through DFL politics and was surprised when he wasn’t in attendance at the Tofte precinct caucus this year. He and his wife, Barbara, were faithful precinct caucus goers, even in the years when hardly anyone attended.
 
Frank was retired from a long, distinguished career as an attorney in Minneapolis. He was a law school classmate and good friend of Skip Humphrey, who went on to be Minnesota’s attorney general. Skip’s father was Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Frank said that he and Barbara helped the younger Humphreys move into their first home in Plymouth, right after they graduated. It was a low budget affair, with a bunch of the Humphrey’s friends making multiple trips with cars and pickup trucks. 
 
The Humphreys rewarded their helpers by throwing a party at the house after all the moving was done.  They were pretty broke, so it was a potluck and bring your own bottle. Frank said the party was in full swing when they heard approaching sirens and looked out to see a long black limousine pull up in front of the house. Stern secret service agents swept through the house to check for weapons. Close on their heels was Vice-President Hubert Humphrey with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. He announced to the stunned group, “I hear there’s a party and I hear it is BYOB!”
 
Frank spent his entire life working to bring justice to ordinary people and you can’t really do better than that. He will be missed and remembered by many.
 
Congratulations to Lynn Rose for her appointment as the newest Lutsen Township Supervisor. As everyone in Lutsen knows, Lynn is as close as you can get to a saint in this earthly realm and certainly knows the Lutsen community well. She’ll be a great Supervisor.
 
It is good to hear that a new initiative may be coming to Lutsen that will allow people with modest income to receive grants to improve their houses. The Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, better known as the A.E.O.A., is applying for a state grant that will provide tens of thousands of dollars to individual homeowners who qualify. The grants take the form of deferred loan over ten years. So, if you stay in your home ten years after accepting the grant, you pay nothing. If you sell the home before the ten years are up, you just pay back the remainder of the loan.
 
The program is to replace or refurbish roofs, doors, windows, or anything that makes the home more efficient. It cannot be used to increase the size of your home. Many people in Lutsen will qualify, even if they earn a fairly normal income, so if you are interested, go to the AEOA website to learn more.  This is literally too good of a deal to pass up.
 
I was ten years old when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Along with millions of other American kids, I resolved that day to be a rock and roll star, touring around America, playing and singing to adoring audiences. I even started a band with some buddies, but it came to a quick end when we discovered that playing and singing like the Beatles was hard.
 
Now, more than 50 years later, my dream is finally coming true, with the possible exception of the adoring fan part. Cook County’s own Plucked Up String Band, of which I am lucky enough to be a member, is heading out on its first tour this week.  Basically, we are driving to Montana where we have at least four appearances lined up, then we’re driving straight through from Montana back to Ashland, Wisconsin, where we are head-lining the Ashland Folk Festival, the oldest folk festival in Wisconsin.
 
It’s way too late, in more ways than one, for me to wind up in front of millions of people on the Ed Sullivan Show, but it should be fun, nonetheless.  And, I’ll be glad to be living my teenage dreams, however modestly, in my 60s.
 

Listen: 

 
Huckleberry inspects hole where 19” of ice was measured on Sawbill Lake this week

West End News: March 31

I was thrilled to hear that Mary Somnis is very likely the new Director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority.  Mary considers herself a West Ender, even though she has lived on the Range for the last 20 years. 
 
Back in the day, Mary lived in Tofte and was hired by the newly organized Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association as a secretary.  The LTTA was formed to administer the newly passed bed tax, charged to tourists who rented rooms in the townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder, used to promote and market the area. 
 
Mary was hired with the idea that she would answer the phones, open the mail, take minutes at the board meetings and that type of thing.  Very quickly Mary’s competence and work ethic had her taking on greater and greater responsibility. A misunderstanding of the law created some confusion that made it look like Mary could not be paid in keeping with her actual skills, but after that was straightened out, Mary was named the full time Executive Director of the LTTA.  Under her leadership, the Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder area had the fastest tourism growth in the state for several years in a row. In fact, Mary did such a great job, that she was hired away from us by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board to run their regional tourism program, which she has done with distinction for almost 20 years.
 
All through those years, Mary kept ownership of her home in Tofte, visited frequently and took a keen interest in local goings on.  She always maintained that her heart was in Cook County and that someday she would like to move back here.  Well, that day has come and we will all be the better for it. Welcome home, Mary.
 
Everyone who loves speed and excitement will be glad to know that the Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge will be returning to Lutsen Mountains April 15th through 17th.  This is a huge event that will attract more than 500 riders, including some of the best racers in North America.  The Lutsen event is perhaps best known for the hill climbing competition, which provides a thrilling experience for spectators.  The purse this year should be around 40 thousand dollars, so you can be sure the riders will be taking this seriously. 
 
A few people have questioned if Lutsen Mountains will have enough snow for the event and the answer is an emphatic yes. The Mountain management plans carefully for this event and with their ever-expanding snow making capability, they have plenty of snow for a great event.  You can go to Lutsen.com for details.  As I always say, “be there or be square.”
 
Speaking of snow, there is still at least a foot of snow still covering the ground once you get a few miles back from Lake Superior.  Even though it’s melting fast, it is not unusual at all to see significant snowfalls in April and even occasionally in May. In spite of a very warm winter overall, the snowfall back in the woods was pretty hefty.  As of this writing, I’ve recorded 85 inches of snow this winter here at Sawbill.
 
The warm weather, combined with early snow did do strange things to the lake ice this year.  The ice never got more than two feet thick, which is at least a foot less than normal and half of what we’ve seen in cold years.  The average ice thickness right now on Sawbill Lake is 19”, but some of the narrows are already opening up, making lake travel treacherous already.  I can’t recommend going out on the lakes anymore this season, but if you do, go with a friend, take your rescue picks, a throw rope and enough dry clothes in a waterproof bag for a complete change from the skin out.  As my dad always used to say, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

Listen: 

 

West End News: March 24

Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen will be presenting information regarding scams that are being perpetrated on local citizens, especially senior citizens, in a talk at the Cook County Senior Center in Grand Marais on Wednesday, April 13th starting at 12:30 pm.  He’ll share information on what the most popular scams are, how to recognize them and how to avoid being taken in.  There will be time for questions after the presentation.
 
I just finished reading a fascinating book called, “The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova.  Ms Konnikova delves deeply into the psychology of scams, why they’re so common and why they are so successful.
 
Although the term “confidence game” only dates back to the mid-1800s, the technique of swindling people by gaining their confidence goes back to earliest recorded human history and most likely quite a bit farther back than that.
 
“Confidence game” was coined by a scammer in New York City who would approach strangers on the street, strike up a friendly conversation and then ask them if they had the “confidence” to loan him their watch until the next day.  By appearing reasonable, friendly and trustworthy, he had a nearly perfect record of talking people into loaning him their watches, which they never saw again.
 
The stages of a successful swindle are pretty standard.  It starts with careful observation and gathering information about the victim or mark.  The victim is approached in an innocent and friendly way, to establish a small kernel of trust.  Then the victim is invited to participate in an activity that will benefit them in a small, but certain way.  The scheme quickly and easily earns the mark a little money, further cementing the trust between the new friends.  This step is often repeated, with the payouts getting slightly bigger each time.  The next step is a manufactured crisis, seeming to put both the scammer and mark in serious danger of losing everything. The biggest step comes when the scammer miraculously finds a way out of trouble for everyone.  All the mark has to do is temporarily put up a large sum of money, which the scammer often will match, promising a way out of the dilemma, with a huge payout as a bonus.  Of course, the money and the scammer disappear forever, leaving the mark much poorer and very embarrassed.  Many scammers add an additional step, called “the fix” where they manipulate the mark into the decision not to report the crime. By some estimates, more than half of criminal scams are never reported.
 
It turns out that confidence swindlers are actually taking advantage of some nearly universal quirks of the human brain.  Although effective scamming was no doubt developed by trial and error, it has long become so sophisticated that it is nearly impossible to resist. 
 
Think about magic shows that you have seen.  Magicians, or illusionists as they are sometimes called, can make you believe that they are doing impossible things before your very eyes. They are exploiting the same brain quirks and bits of human behavior that the scammers do.  The difference is that illusionists do it for entertainment and acknowledge that they are fooling you.  Scammers take your money and ruin your life.
 
I am personally amazed that someone can be so cold as to make their living by taking advantage of others, especially the most vulnerable members of our society.  As it turns out, one of the major traits that define a psychopath is a complete lack of empathy for others.  While not all psychopaths are scammers, all scammers are, at least to some degree, psychopaths.
 
Of course, Konnikova’s book goes into much more detail, especially in looking at how modern brain science is revealing how the hard wired parts of our nature allow the con artists to take advantage of us.
 
All of this leads me back to Sheriff Eliasen’s important upcoming presentation.  The only effective way to avoid being scammed is to educate yourself about common scams and the methods behind them.  Armed with that knowledge, you are not only less likely to fall for a scam, but the con artists will recognize your knowledge in the early stages of their game, which makes you a risky mark for them. They will likely move on to another, more naïve victim, before you even know that you’ve been targeted.
 
I hope Sheriff Eliasen will repeat his talk in the West End soon.  If you want more information about the April 13th session, call the Sheriff’s Department or WTIP.
 
On a more pleasant subject, the word is out that conditions are quite good on local snowmobile and ski trails.  Inland lakes are also in good condition for recreation travel right now and will probably stay that way for a couple of weeks.  Downhill skiers are reporting nearly perfect conditions at Lutsen Mountains.  With the longer, warmer days ahead, it is the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the fabulous West End.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

Listen: 

 
When not chasing rabbits, pine martens can sometimes be found eating bird seed

West End News: March 17

 
Everyone was pleasantly surprised this week by the announcement from Cliffs Natural Resources that they would re-open Northshore Mining in mid-May.  The plant in Silver Bay has been in shutdown since December, causing the layoff of 540 employees.  The good news came because the domestic steel market has picked up a little faster than many industry experts were predicting. Even the threat of curtailing sales of below cost steel from foreign producers seems to have perked up the market, along with a number of other factors.
 
The bottom line for the West End, though, is that many of our immediate friends and neighbors will be back to work full time – and that’s a relief.
 
I was a little distressed to hear that the Silver Bay city council banned the sale of Bent Paddle Beer in their municipal liquor store. The reason given was Bent Paddle’s membership in the Downstream Business Coalition, which is a group of about 80 regional businesses that support clean water and sustainable economic development. Full disclosure: I’m a member of the coalition, so I’m biased on this subject. However, I think the city council would reconsider if they could have a good conversation with the fine folks at Bent Paddle Brewery. The coalition is very supportive of iron mining and doesn’t even oppose sulfide mining. It is just opposed to the risk of water pollution that historically accompanies sulfide mining.
 
It’s all a bit of a tempest in a teapot, but I would like to point out that the only purchase that I made in the Silver Bay liquor store this year was a couple of cases of Bent Paddle Beer. I do think, no matter where people stand on the sulfide mining issue, that spirited discussion is healthy for our communities and people should not be threatened with business retaliation for their honestly held political opinions.
 
Mining news continued last week with a couple of serious setbacks for the proposed Twin Metals mining project near Ely. Governor Dayton wrote a public letter to the company expressing his grave concerns about sulfide mining directly upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  The Governor said he was unwilling to allow the risk of pollution in the wilderness, calling it “a crown jewel of Minnesota.”
 
Just a few days later, the Bureau of Land Management denied automatic renewal of two key federal mineral leases that have been held by Twin Metals for decades. These two developments, along with a depressed global metals market, may well spell the end for the Twin Metals project, at least for the foreseeable future. Time will only tell.
 
The 2016 Great Place Project is accepting applications until the end of March. The Great Place Project a collaborative effort of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic’s Moving Matters initiative. The Great Place Project is a friendly, local opportunity for funding of high impact, low cost ideas to create great places in our communities. Funding amounts range from $250 to $1,250 per selected project. This year, the Minnesota Power Foundation has joined as a major sponsor of the Great Place Project.
 
The theme for 2016 is “playability.” Projects that enhance or create a place that welcomes people with a playfulness or whimsy, especially for children, will be favored. You can find more details, examples and some really fun and well-produced videos by googling “Great Place Project – Cook County.”
 
It was a good week for animal viewing on the back roads. I saw a pine marten chasing a snowshoe hare down the road. The pine marten ducked into the woods as I drew near, but the exhausted rabbit could barely climb over the snow-bank. Moments later I passed a second marten that was closing in on the rabbit from the other direction. I have little doubt that the rabbit became lunch not too long after I passed.
 
The next day I saw three lynx on the road. The largest of the three cats stayed on the road, but kept glancing toward the woods, where I spotted two adolescent kittens. Once the kittens ran off, the adult followed, disappearing with two effortless leaps.
 
It’s always a thrill to see wildlife in the woods. It reminds me why we love living here in the West End.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Listen: 

 
Sarah Somnis

West End News: March 10

Another year and another set of West End Township annual meetings is in the record book.  On Tuesday, Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen all held township elections and the grand meetings where the township budgets and tax levies are discussed and settled.
 
This was a pretty harmonious year for the townships in the West End, with very little in the way of hot topics. Congratulations to all the candidates for supervisor, clerk and treasurer, who ran unopposed and won overwhelmingly. 
 
The only contested election was for township supervisor in Tofte, where Birch Grove Community School Board member Sarah Somnis defeated six-year incumbent supervisor Jim King by a nearly two to one margin. Both Sarah and Jim gave heartfelt speeches when the results were announced, expressing their admiration for each other and wishing the best for Tofte. Jim said that he is turning 76 soon and is looking forward to having a little more time to enjoy retirement. He also mentioned his pleasure in seeing younger members of the community, which he defined as under the age of 50, stepping up to take leadership roles.
 
Sarah wanted everyone to know that she had nothing to do a somewhat negative political cartoon that was put in some mailboxes in Tofte just a few days before the election. The cartoon, which was based on the Angry Birds smart-phone game, was pretty mild by today’s political standards, and did show some real creativity. But, it’s unfortunate to see any negativity when the two candidates are so friendly and respectful to each other.
 
I would like to join the entire community in thanking Jim for his service and tireless work on behalf of Tofte over the last six years. I know he will be helping as much as he can in the future, too.
 
Congratulations to Julie’s Hardware in Silver Bay for the major store renovation that is nearing completion. Owners Faron and Angie Meeks had been thinking about upgrading their already thriving store for a couple of years. When they heard the news that Cliffs North Shore Mining was shutting down for an unknown period of time, they considered putting their own plans on hold.  But, after thinking it over carefully, they decided to demonstrate their faith in the Silver Bay community by moving forward with a significant investment. Do stop by to see their impressive hardware store the next time you are in Silver Bay.
 
Finland’s own virtuoso guitar player, Gordon Thorne, is offering a couple of cool community events in the near future. Starting last week, Gordon will be hosting a guitar workshop at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland every Tuesday night from 6 to 7 pm.  On April 8 and 9, Gordon will be hosting the 6th Annual Fingerstyle Masters Weekend at the Bluefin Grille in Tofte. This year’s masters will be guitarist Pat Donohue and fiddler Tom Schaefer. Pat is a longtime member of “Guy’s Shoe Band” which is the house band for the nationwide radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.” Tom is a well respected Twin Cities musician who plays in many groups, including the Mark Krietzer Band and Cousin Dad. In an interesting bit of West End trivia, the band known as Cousin Dad was actually given their unusual name here at Sawbill back in the 1980s.
 
You can find workshop registration information at the WTIP website. You can buy tickets to the April 9 Saturday night concert at Bluefin Grille at the door or instructions for getting them in advance are also on the WTIP website. As I always say, be there – or be square.
 
Dan and Clare Shirley, who have recently returned to make their home in Tofte, were alerted to good northern lights last week by a Facebook post from Amy Freeman, who has been camping in the BWCA Wilderness, without coming out even once, for the last six months. Clare reported a decent display over the north end of Sawbill Lake that was made even more special by the repeated calls of a nearby Barred Owl. Clare and Dan did their best imitation of howling wolves, but weren’t able to raise a response from the real wolves.  The whole experience took place under remarkably clear star-filled skies with temperatures in the comfortable lower 40 degrees with no wind.…just another night of routine entertainment here in the remarkable West End.
 
 
 
 
 

Listen: 

 
Cascade River

West End News: March 3

Birch Grove Community Center was hopping on Tuesday night when 88 people showed up for the Democratic Farmer Labor Party caucus night. In Cook County as a whole, 462 Democrats participated in their party caucus. I’ve attended the caucuses pretty reliably for my whole adult life and I’m pretty  sure that this year set the all time participation record. It even beat 2008, when Senator Barack Obama was causing a lot of interest in the presidential race.
 
I couldn’t find specific numbers for the four Republican precincts in the West End, but county wide, 109 Republicans participated in their caucuses. Best guess is somewhere between 30 and 40 West Enders caucused with the Republicans, which is also a very good turnout.
 
One of the most interesting outcomes on the Democratic side was a resolution opposing the sulfide mining in Minnesota that passed easily in the precincts from the North Shore all the way through the greater Ely area. New polls are showing growing resistance to this new form of mining across the northland and around the state. The resolutions were careful to distinguish the difference between mining sulfide ores and the existing taconite mining, which is supported by the DFL Party.
 
The Birch Grove Community Center sure is looking busy and successful these days. It was great to see it bursting with happy and engaged community members, cheerfully engaged in making their community and country a better place for all.
 
As always, it was fun to see the students’ artwork on the walls. One especially eye-catching display featured the students work in a slide show displayed on computer tablets mounted on a hallway bulletin board.
 
Birch Grove Community School Board member, Sara Somnis called to tell me about ten computer tablets that were recently purchased for students to use. This is part of a major trend in education as sophisticated learning apps are becoming cheap and commonplace. This trend works especially well for small, but highly motivated rural schools like Birch Grove. Sara also reported that new laptops were purchased for each teacher, making their work easier and more efficient.
 
Birch Grove is selling its old desktop computers and accessories to community members. So far the sale has raised more than $600, which will be used to buy more tablets. Much equipment remains to be sold, so if you’re looking for an old, but serviceable desktop computer, or other computer furniture and equipment, call Caroline at Birch Grove to schedule a shopping trip.
 
In a not-unrelated item, remember that the annual meetings for the Townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder are on Tuesday, March 8. Voting stations at the town halls are open from 5 until 8 pm with the annual business meeting starting right away at 8. 
 
Township annual meetings are the essence of the old saying that “the world is run by those who show up.” The annual budget and the priorities for the coming year are literally proposed and voted up or down by the residents who attend the meeting.  It’s also a great way to meet your neighbors and eat a few cookies together.
 
I urge everyone to attend their township annual meeting and I especially urge all to vote in favor of significant township investment from all three towns in the Birch Grove Community School and the Birch Grove Community Center. In my opinion, it is money very well spent and provides tremendous benefit to the entire West End.
 
Word is out the Cascade River is in great shape for skiing. You can hike up past the falls from the highway to ski up the river, or you can get dropped off at the Pike Lake Road Bridge and ski down to the highway. My sources said the trail is solid, smooth and well broken for both ski and snowshoe travel.
 
The Temperance River is also looking good. When we get into the warm/cold-night cycle next week, it is likely to develop a good crust, which will make it an ideal track for skate skiers. Of course, any time you travel on a river you should travel in a group, stay alert for hazards and carry rescue ropes and dry clothing.
 
My motto is, “When the river skiing is good, drop everything and go!” I doubt that anyone ever lay on their deathbed and regretted too many river skis. It’s just one of the perks to living in the beautiful and ever-changing West End.
 

(Photo courtesy of Cascade Property Rentals)

Listen: 

 
Snow fleas

West End News: February 25

I was very excited to see a healthy looking cow moose on the road the other day. It seemed to have a thick winter coat and was not wearing a collar.  Why was I excited? Because I drive the back roads of the West End as much as anybody and I almost never see a moose anymore.
 
When our kids were in school, which was less than 10 years ago, we saw many moose – so many that the kids became blasé – barely willing to be roused from their reverie to take a look at even the most magnificent moose. It was so routine as to be bordering on boring.
 
Everyone knows that the moose are disappearing from Minnesota, but no one really seems to know why. In the last year, I’ve read conflicting expert opinions, including too many wolves, too many ticks, too much hot weather in the summer, not enough cold weather in the winter, climate change in general, over-hunting, habitat loss, viruses, not enough logging, too much logging and most recently, too many deer.
 
With all due respect to wildlife biologists, it really seems that nobody knows. And, none of the expert opinions strike me as being completely objective and non-political, no matter how well intentioned.
 
I certainly don’t claim to know what the problem is, but I’m beginning to suspect that it may be unknowable. It may be the case that the sheer complexity of a functioning ecosystem is beyond the ablility of the human brain to fully understand. In other words, life in the forests of northeastern Minnesota may be connected in so many subtle and intricate ways that it may not be possible to tease out the one, six or a dozen causes for moose population decline. It is at least possible that the there are hundreds, if not thousands of ecological relationships that can alter forest dynamics resulting in the simple fact that the moose can no longer survive here.
 
The moose are not the only species that is in flux during the last decade. All over the world, animal populations are declining or growing in unexpected ways. Even a casual observer here in the West End can tell you that there have been many changes over the last half century – literally dozens of species that used to be common and are now rare, and dozens more that were never seen here and are now common. It could be reasonable to conclude that whatever is causing this general trend may be causing the moose decline.
 
Switching from large wildlife to tiny wildlife, I was delighted to see a large outbreak of snow fleas this week. Snow fleas are tiny black insects that mysteriously appear on snowbanks in the middle of the winter.  They are called snow fleas because, although they are no larger than a speck of dust, they are prodigious jumpers. They appear in flocks, or perhaps swarms might be more accurate, and as you draw near to inspect them they jump so fast and far that they give the illusion of just abruptly disappearing.
 
I should point out that they are not actually fleas and do not bite. Their taxonomic name is Collembola, and while they are in the group that includes insects, they technically are not classified as insects. Their eyes are not proper compound eyes, their abdomen has fewer segments and some special extra appendages that insects don’t have. They are commonly known as springtails, due to a couple of appendages that look like tails that play a large role in their incredible jumping ability.
 
The sources I read are a little vague about why the snow fleas emerge on the surface of deep snow during warm late winter days. I feel like they are more common when the snowpack is deeper. It is a fact that they are cute and interesting, occupying one of the more unique ecological niches in the woods.
 
There is plenty of snow over the hill this year for the snowfleas and everyone else who enjoys snow. I measured 32” on the deck this morning. That is down a little since the rain we had last week.

Slush remains a serious impediment to travel on the lakes, at least in the Sawbill area. The slush has been bad all winter, but finally started to freeze up during the last cold snap. Sadly, just a day or two later the rain brought it back with a vengeance. It has been common this year to see camping parties head out on Sawbill Lake with full camping gear only to see them return a few hours later, get in their cars and leave.
 
Hopefully, the late winter cycle of freeze and thaw will soon create a crust on the lakes and rivers that will make travel a joy and the epic slush of 2016 an unpleasant memory.
 
 

Listen: 

 
FAFSA

West End News: February 18

The news that a Dollar General Store is being planned for Cook County has certainly caused a flurry of discussion recently.  As with any public policy issue, there are many interests at play and almost as many opinions as there are people, including good reasons for and against building a Dollar General store in our fair city of Grand Marais.  And, the same arguments would apply to just about any part of Cook County, including the West End.
 
In my opinion, it boils down to how we want to organize our society.  Dollar General is part of a giant corporation that exists for one reason and one reason only – to return profit to their stockholders.  In fact, they are required by law to make every reasonable effort to maximize shareholder profit.  Beyond their legal responsibility, ruthless competition forces outfits like Dollar General to cut their costs to the bone – and sometimes beyond the bone – in order to generate those profits. 
 
It’s easy to imagine mustachioed Dollar General executives in stovepipe hats scuttling around their dank offices plotting the destruction of small town America.  My hunch is that the reality is much more banal, and in some ways even more frightening. 
 
It is much more likely that there is a bland office full of highly educated financial experts who spend their days poring over spreadsheets in order to save a dime here, a nickel there and a penny over yonder.  In the corporate cubicle, the systems they devise for cost cutting and efficiency make perfect sense, especially to the bottom line. 
 
However, in the real world of rural America, their decisions have real impact on real people that cause real damage with distressing predictability.  Wages, work schedules, work rules and benefits are lowered to the point where employees can’t make a living, or worse, are actually hurt by their employment.  Control of the supply chain provides leverage to easily drive independent, locally owned stores out of business, which in turn creates more leverage, which allows the profits to flow more freely out of the community.
 
In my opinion, business has three responsibilities: first to their shareholders, second to their employees and other stakeholders and, last but not least, to the communities where they operate.  The latter two are lost if we organize our society completely on a corporate profit model.
 
Most of the existing businesses in Cook County – even the biggest – are owned by people who live in the community and understand the triple bottom line.  I think that situation is valuable and it’s in our own self-interest to protect it.
 
One last reminder that the precinct caucuses for the Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor Parties are being held on Tuesday, March 1st, with sign-in starting at 6:30 pm and the caucus process starting at 7 pm.  The Republican caucuses for Cook County are all being held at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais.  The DFL caucuses for all the West End precincts will be held at Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.
 
The caucuses can be kind of sleepy affairs sometimes, but this year there will be a lot of interest because you can cast a preferential ballot to nominate a presidential candidate to represent your party in the general election this November.
 
There are two things that are important to know about the party caucuses.  The first is that you don’t have be a “registered” member of the party to participate.  You can just show up at the caucus of the party that you think most closely represents your political inclination. The second thing to know is that you don’t have to stay for the evening to indicate your presidential choice.  In fact, you can show up, sign in, fill out your presidential candidate ballot and leave, if you want to.
 
If you, or a loved one, are planning or wishing to attend college anytime soon, Cook County Higher Education has an event coming up that you should not miss.  It is a brown bag lunch that will address financial aid and how you can pay for your college education.  It will focus on how to complete the dreaded FAFSA form. FAFSA is an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
 
Financial Aid Director LaNita Robinson will walk you through the FAFSA form, including the changes that are new for 2016 and 17.  You can bring a laptop and work on your form with coaching right after the lunch. Or, you can schedule an appointment for some private help later.
 
This is all happening from 11:30 until 1 pm on Friday, March 11th at the North Shore Campus in Grand Marais.  It is a free event and everyone is welcome.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

Listen: 

 

West End News: February 11

Congratulations to the Cook County High School Alpine Ski team on their highly successful season.  The girl’s team recently won the Section 7 championship, competing against more than 20 other teams, including some perennial powerhouses. 
 
Head Coach Charles Lamb, from Schroeder, has done a terrific job with the team.  He has sacrificed nearly all his fishing time to his coaching duties.  If you knew how much Charles likes to fish, you would really appreciate his commitment to the cause.
 
I’d also like to point out how lucky we are to have the premier ski area in the Midwest right here in the West End.  Not only is Lutsen Mountains a great facility, they have a long history of supporting the high school team.  They also support a strong junior program that is clearly paying off at the high school and college level for kids across Cook and Lake Counties.  Who knows when and where the next Cindy Nelson or Lindsey Vonn will appear.
 
It was fun to see Lutsen’s own Willard Nelson on virtually every regional media outlet as he celebrated the 75th anniversary of his induction into World War II military service. I saw Willard interviewed on Channel 6 while he was attending a reunion of other veterans at the Pickwick in Duluth. 
 
Many people who don’t know Willard may have been surprised to hear him say he is 101 years old. Here in the West End, no one is surprised that Willard is still going strong after an eventful 100 plus years of life. His quick wit and outgoing personality have made him a West End legend. He mentioned in his TV interview that he is the oldest resident on the North Shore. Knowing Willard, I’m sure that it’s an accurate statement.
 
Just a quick second notice that the Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte on Tuesday, March 1, from 2:30 through 6 pm. Call Carla at 663-0179 for an appointment. That is the same day as the Republican and Democratic precinct caucuses, so you can make a life saving donation and then nominate a nation saving presidential candidate in rapid succession. That’s what I call a productive day.
 
The recent Powerball frenzy reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad when the state lottery authorization was on the ballot back in 1989.  Without giving it much thought, I had drifted into thinking that a lottery was harmless fun that would generate significant tax income dedicated to improving Minnesota’s environment. When I offhandedly mentioned my opinion to my dad, he reacted forcefully, giving me a quick five-minute lesson on why lotteries are misguided and immoral.
 
His points were that a lottery is basically a tax on people who can afford it the least. Research shows that Minnesotans spend $82 each on lottery and scratch-off tickets every year. Even more disturbing is a 1999 Duke University study finding that people with an annual income of less than $10,000 average just under $600 annually on lottery games.
 
It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of gaining unimaginable wealth through pure luck. The reality is that winning is basically impossible. In 2015, Powerball changed the game to make the winning odds even worse, which drives up jackpots, which in turn drives up ticket sales. You are 246 times more likely to be struck by lightning, but the odds don’t really matter when people imagine themselves as a billionaire. Just to add insult to injury, the majority of people who win large jackpots usually regret it after a few years. It ruins their friendships, family relationships, and often ends in heartbreak and even broken physical and mental health.
 
What about those taxes for the environment and education? That must be a good thing, right? In fact, in the last Powerball cycle, Minnesotans spent 87 million dollars on tickets - 66 million dollars left the state while 21 million was received by the state. In other words, we are burning four dollars for every dollar of tax revenue. 
 
The windfall for the environment and education is a myth. Over time, the lottery revenue just replaces regular tax dollars, so there is no net gain in the budgets for the good causes. The displaced tax revenue is often returned as tax cuts, so at the end of the day, the lottery amounts to the poor subsidizing the rich. Does that sound like smart policy?
 
After hearing all this from my dad back in ’89, I voted no on the constitutional question allowing Minnesota to establish a legal lottery. After the question passed, I resolved to never participate in the lottery. Every time there is a huge jackpot and I have to wait in line at the store as people purchase their tickets, I joke that I expect to win the lottery even though I’ve never bought a ticket. The chances of my winning and the person buying the ticket winning are essentially the same.
 
A fair wage for real work is a much better policy for the country, the state and the beautiful West End.
 
 

Listen: 

 

West End News: February 4

Last week I mentioned a university study that is looking at what economic and social changes are coming to the North Shore due to climate change.  The two-year study is ready to report its initial findings at a meeting in Lutsen on Tuesday, March 15th.  You must RSVP to attend.  Contact Karen Katz at katzx096@umn.edu or 651-246-0974.  You can find Karen’s contact information on the WTIP website, or by calling WTIP.
 
I know that many people in Cook County are very concerned about the impact of climate change on our economy and life style, so the study results should be very interesting. 
 
By the way, there is a Cook County Chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  You can sign up to be a local member by searching for Citizen’s Climate Lobby online.
 
The next West End visit of the Bloodmobile is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1st at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte from 2:30 through 6 pm.  Call Carla at 663-0179 to schedule your appointment to donate blood.  All blood types are needed, but they are particularly interested in type O negative.  If you haven’t donated blood before, it is easy, almost pain-free and a fun social event. 
 
The Finland area 2016 Community Conversation was held on January 9th at the Clair Nelson Community Center with a contra-dance afterward.
 
More than 50 people attended the Conversation and enjoyed a lasagna dinner with ice cream dessert and a lively discussion on topics ranging from food and farming to housing, the economy and the arts. Each table recorded their discussion on paper and shared their findings with the larger group. Afterwards, everyone present marked community priorities with sticky dots.
 
Some of the priorities identified included the Finland Community Mural, which is currently in the works, a coffee/tea cafe, a wild rice processing facility, a community barter book and better onsite camping at the Clair Nelson Center.
 
Many other topics were raised and will continue to be worked on by those that are interested.  You can find the details by searching for “Friends of Finland” online.
 
Now that the Iowa caucuses are in the record book, it’s time to start thinking about our own Minnesota precinct caucuses. Here in Cook County the Republican and Democratic, Farmer, Labor Party precinct caucuses will all be on Tuesday, March 1st, starting at 7 pm. 
 
The Republicans will hold all of their precinct caucuses at the same time at the Log 4H Building at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais. 
 
The DFL precinct caucuses will be held in four locations this year.  Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen will be at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte, while the Grand Marais area precincts will meet at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais.  Hovland and Grand Portage will meet at the Hovland Town Hall and the Gunflint Trail precinct will meet at Trail Center.
 
You can go to the Minnesota Secretary of State website to discover which precinct you live in, if you aren’t sure.  You can also call the always-helpful Cook County Auditor’s office and they can tell you too.
 
Both parties will be conducting straw polls on presidential candidate preference. With lively contests for president in both parties, the caucuses should be a lot of fun.  You can throw your hat in the ring to become a delegate to the county-wide party conventions and on up the line to a state senate district conventions, congressional district conventions, state conventions and even the national conventions.  Participation can be very meaningful, especially in a big election year like this one.
 
You can also present resolutions at your caucus, requesting that your party take a certain position on an issue that is important to you.  The resolutions flow through the process right up to the state and federal level where, if they have enough grassroots support they become the official goals of the party.
 
I started participating in my precinct caucus when I was in high school.  I’ve been a delegate to the state convention many times.  It has given me the honor of meeting many of Minnesota’s most famous and well-loved political figures.  It was my participation that caused Senator Paul Wellstone to ask me to run for the legislature in 2002.  Although I never made it to the legislature, having the Senator’s trust and support is still one of the highlights of my life.
 
It’s truly a case of doing as much, or as little, as you like so the process is very user friendly.  It’s also the basis of our democracy so, you know…, important.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 

Listen: