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West End News

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

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.

What's On:
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 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 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}

Photo courtesy the North Shore Stewardship Association

West End News: June 27

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Congratulations to Eileen Netland, of Tofte, on the occasion of her 90th birthday.  A gathering of the large Netland clan was held last week to celebrate the event.  Eileen is one of Tofte's most-loved residents. She's smart, funny and easy to get along with, not to mention being the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to many of our region's most respected citizens.  Happy birthday Eileen, and many happy returns.
You may have noticed the pile of wood in front of the Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte.  That is the timber-frame, built at North House Folk School, that will soon be erected to protect Walter Sve's historic fishing boat, Viking, in front of the museum. This is the frame that stood in the North House plaza most of the winter and is built in the ancient "grindbygg" style.  Although the pile of timbers seems small, it will make an impressive structure when it's completed, which will happen yet this summer.  The "grindbygg" style utilizes timbers that are cut from naturally curving tree parts, and uses round timbers for the roof joists.  This produces a strikingly beautiful frame that is durable enough to stand for centuries.  Everyone should keep an eye on the museum to enjoy the frame raising and the subsequent arrival of the Viking.
Sugarloaf Cove in Schroeder, the facility owned by the North Shore Stewardship Association, is holding a really interesting workshop next week.  It's a master class with Peter Juhl, who is an acknowledged expert in the balancing of rocks.  That may sound silly until you see pictures of his rock-balancing masterpieces.  They are jaw-droppingly amazing, and taking the class will give you the skills to impress your friends and family.  The class runs over two days, with an introductory session Saturday, July 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. and then a hands-on master class Sunday, July 7 from 9 a.m. until noon.  There is a charge for the class, unless you are a Sugarloaf member, and registration is required.  You can register online at, by emailing or by calling 218-525-0001.  As always, you can call WTIP to get full contact information.  I look forward to seeing balanced rock sculptures all over the West End once the class is complete!
I attended an interesting lecture last week by Dr. Thomas M. Power, the retired chair of the economics department at the University of Montana, who spent most of his career studying the economies of communities located near mines.  Dr. Power is neither pro- nor anti-mining, but he does encourage communities that are near a proposed mine, especially the mining of ore from sulfide-bearing rock, to proceed with extreme caution.
His main points were that, almost without exception, communities near large mines struggle with lagging economies, persistent poverty and high unemployment.  He pointed out that every prospective mining project starts with high hopes for tremendous wealth and promises of high-paying jobs.  The reality, though, is usually pretty grim, because the mining companies, and often the political leadership, only tout the benefits of the mine and rarely consider the costs, both economic and social. 
Dr. Power recommends that a full accounting of the costs be publicly explored before a new mine is permitted. Those costs include that fact that mines drive away amenity-based businesses and population gains, create a boom-and-bust economic cycle, leave no sustainable jobs after closing and, in 100 percent of past mining that involves sulfide-bearing rock, leave a legacy of really bad pollution. He also points out that automation is drastically reducing the number of workers that are needed to operate mines, something we've seen firsthand over the last 30 years on the Iron Range.
Dr. Power's studies show that before every mine in the country has opened, the company and politicians have promised that "this time it will be different" and no pollution will result from the mining activity.  He advises communities to be very skeptical of these claims and only accept absolute proof that no lasting harm will be done.
I wonder if Minnesota isn't giving away its minerals too cheaply. In my opinion, out-of-date mining laws and policies, on both the state and national levels, tend to let the vast majority of the wealth from mining leave the region.  While mining does create some short-term local job opportunities, the vast majority of the wealth goes out of the country to further enrich already-wealthy investors.  These investors, who are really driving the push to open new mines, don't live here and don't care what happens to our communities.
In any case, it is all food for thought…

Tofte Township fireworks

West End News: June 20

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Planning is in full swing for the famous Tofte Fourth of July celebration.  The big news this year is that the fireworks will be on Friday, July 5, rather than on the Fourth.  This will allow fireworks fans to catch the fireworks in Grand Marais on the Fourth and then Tofte’s spectacular show on the fifth. 
The rest of the celebration will be on Thursday, July 4, around the Tofte Park and firehall, starting at 11 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m.  The parade, which is always a highlight, will start at 2 p.m.  There will be a dunk tank again this year with the proceeds going to the dunkee’s charity of choice.  If you’d like to be dunked and raise some money for your favorite cause, call Dorrie at 370-0518 for a time slot.
Another change in this year’s Tofte Fourth of July, is that all the children’s activities will be at the Birch Grove Community Center.  The balloon toss and bouncy house will be set up there.  The Birch Grove Foundation will be serving wood-fired breakfast pizza starting at 8 a.m. until all the pizza is eaten.
The Town of Lutsen is hosting an open house at their spanking new Town Hall and Fire Hall on Monday, June 24 from 5:30 until 8 p.m.  Fireman’s chili and tours will be offered, along with the chance to meet the dedicated volunteers from the Lutsen Fire Department and Rescue Squad.
The community of Finland was surprised to receive a state grant recently that paid off the remaining quarter of a million dollar debt owed on the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.  Representative David Dill was able to obtain the grant from excess taconite tax money that came available due to better than anticipated taconite production last year. 
The Clair Nelson Community Center, named after the late Lake County Commissioner Clair Nelson, is a wonderful new facility that is paying big dividends to the Finland community.  Thanks are due to Rep. Dill, along with congratulations to all the volunteers who have worked so hard to make it a reality.
Andie Peterson, author, award winning teacher, former mayor and all around renaissance woman, just completed a 10-year term as the president of the Schroeder Area Historical Society.  She was acknowledged at the recent annual meeting, where more than 70 members enjoyed a delicious ham dinner.  Andie will be staying on the board, so her wisdom won’t be lost to the organization.  Congratulations to Linda Lamb, who was elected to be the new president.
The next upcoming event at the Cross River Heritage Center is a Vintage Tea on Saturday, June 29 at 1 p.m.  Everyone is welcome and is being asked to bring a vintage or historic item to share with everyone.  I can guarantee that many great stories will be told.  For more information about the Schroeder Historical Society and the Cross River Heritage Center, call Susan at 663-7706.
I recently caught wind that the Human Development Center in Grand Marais is offering new mental health services for young children.  Cecilia Bloomquist is currently being trained to offer therapy for children from 2 to 6 years to help with disruptive behavior.  The therapy is evidence based and includes training for the parents.  Appointments can be made now and she will start providing the service when her training is complete in a couple of weeks.
This is a great new service being offered to our community, because research clearly shows that young children with mental health problems can often be treated very effectively.  Early treatment can prevent serious problems later in life.
Cecilia, who is a clinical social worker, also is offering in-home mental health diagnostic assessments for children ages 0 to 5.  You can reach her at the Human Development Center by calling 387-9444.
In my humble opinion, the day that the dragonflies emerge should be a county-wide holiday.  The dragonflies emerged in force this week and the black flies were gone within a day or two. 
Back in the ‘60s, my dad actually researched the possiblity of raising dragonflies in tanks and adjusting their environment to get them to hatch early. This was right after local resorts were forced to stop spraying their properties with DDT fog.  It turns out that the dragonfly life cycle is complicated and probably impossible to manupulate.  It was a good thought, but as we seem to learn over and over again, it’s not wise to mess with nature.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

{photo by Molly Breslin}

Firefighters at Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte, June 15, 2013

West End News: June 13

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Several months ago, I mentioned my friend Art Wright, who was about to turn 100 years old.  Art did turn 100 four months ago, but unfortunately he passed away last week. 
Art was born in Duluth.  His father was the purser on the steamship America before any roads were built up the north shore.  Art’s mother was the teacher at the Maple Hill School in Grand Marais and met Art’s father on the America while traveling to her new teaching post at the ripe old age of 17. 
The Wright family lived in Grand Marais for a couple of years when Art was a young boy.  Of course, all of his playmates from that era are gone now.
Art took many canoe trips starting from Sawbill. He could remember every detail from his first Sawbill canoe trip in 1938. 
A lot of history died with Art, but fortunately, the Cook County Historical Society has many of Art’s best memories on videotape for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
Art had many friends from Duluth to Grand Portage.  He was always good company and will be missed.
I was sad to read of the death of my friend, Roger Maxfield, who grew up in Taconite Harbor and graduated from Birch Grove School and Cook County High School.  Roger was a gentle and genial soul with many friends. 
He and I are the same age and were the last group of young men to participate in the Selective Service lottery at the end of the Vietnam War.  I was lucky enough to get a high number, so I knew I wouldn’t be drafted.  Roger had a very low number, so he was essentially sure to be drafted.  He waited on pins and needles for at least a year, but the war wound down and he never got the call.  I know it was hard on him though, to live with the uncertainty for so long. 
Roger worked at Erie Mining for a few years before moving to Honeywell, where he followed his father Floyd’s footsteps by making his living as an electrician.  We’ll miss you buddy.
The Lutsen 99er mountain bike race is just around the corner.  The fast growing, 99-mile, main event is scheduled for June 29 and starts at Lutsen Mountains.  If you aren’t already signed up for that race, you better take a pass on it for this year, unless you happen to be a well-trained mountain bike rider.
However, there is a 39-mile race that starts at the same time.  If you have put in a reasonable number of miles this spring, there is still plenty of time to register for the shorter distance.
If you are not a trained cyclist, or a kid, there are some fun opportunities for you.  On Sunday, June 30, starting at 9:30, there are three kids’ races.   The Micro Niner is for ages 5 to 7 and is a half-mile race.  The Mini Niner is for ages 8 to 10 and is nine-tenths of a mile.  The Junior Niner is for kids from 11 to 13 and runs over a 1.9-mile course.  All the kids’ races are free and will be a ton of fun.  Pre-registration is requested, but no kid will be turned away.
If nothing I’ve talked about so far is your cup of tea, there is an open house fun ride Sunday, June 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., sponsored by the Superior Cycling Association, at the Pincushion Trails on the hill right above Grand Marais.
There are plenty of opportunities for watching the race or becoming a volunteer.  You can find full details for all things 99er at  Or, you can contact WTIP and they will give you full contact information.
The Lutsen 99er is growing fast and is a wonderful event in itself, but it is really just a part of a fast growing bicycle scene in the West End.  Single track mountain bike trails are still being built and improved at the Sugarbush Trail system in Tofte.  Last week, another section of the Gitchee-Gami state trail was opened in Silver Bay.  The new section is a 2.3-mile section of paved trail between Rukavina Arena in Silver Bay to the West Road in Beaver Bay.  It provides a connection, via a short stretch of gravel, to the longest completed section of the trail between Beaver Bay and Gooseberry State Park.
Another 1.1 miles of trail will be completed this summer between the Onion River Road and the Ski Hill Road in Lutsen.
When the Gitchee-Gami state trail is completed, it will extend 86 miles from Two Harbors to Grand Marais and will be a major contributor to the economic and physical health of the West End.
Every West Ender experienced a feeling of dread last week when word spread that there was a serious fire at Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte.  Although five condo units ended up being heavily damaged, no one was hurt in either the fire or the firefighting effort.
It was indeed a bad incident, but it would have been a whole lot worse but for the efforts of Tofte Fire Chief Rich Nelson, the entire Tofte Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, and every other volunteer fire fighter in Cook County who turned out in support. 
These dedicated folks put in untold hours of training and routine maintenance, but it is all worth it when they can efficiently and effectively save a major community asset like Bluefin Bay and keep everyone safe in the process.  I know that the whole community joins me in saying thank you, thank you, thank you for all you do.

(Photo courtesy Bluefin Bay Resort)