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West End News

Bill Hansen

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.


What's On:
Moose with tree.  Photo by Charles Petricek

West End News: September 13

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Cindy and I were watching the Twins game last week, when she suddenly said, "Wait, pause, go back!  I think I see our friend Walter in the crowd behind the batter."  I quickly rewound a few seconds and she said, "No, I'm sorry, it's not Walter."  At which point I said, "That isn't Walter, but look on the other side of the batter and you'll see Kyle Nelson and Diane Blanchett."  Sure enough, there were the two West End residents, big as life, at the Twins game.  They looked like they were having a good time.  All I want to know is how did they get those great seats and can they get them for us!
John Groth, from the Lutsen Fire Department and the Lutsen post office, called the other day to remind me of the 17th Annual Lutsen Fire Department Pacake Breakfast Fundraiser.  This year, it is being held on Sunday, September 16th, from 8 to 11 am, at the Lutsen Fire Hall.  The Fire Hall is located on the corner of the Caribou Trail and Highway 61 in Lutsen.  This isn't just your ordinary pancake breakfast.  The pancake recipe is a famous secret, if that's not an oxymoron.  The syrup is donated by local maple syrup producers, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that it is the best in the world.  The syrup alone is worth the price of admission.  Also, the new fire truck will be on display and you can also observe the progress in the construction on the new fire hall, although only from a safe distance.  Again, that's Sunday, September 16th from 8 to 11 am.  Call John at 663-7702 if you have questions.
As always, there is a lot going on at Birch Grove.  The new playground equipment is being installed by volunteers.  More volunteers are needed.  There is a work session scheduled for Friday, September 14th at  3 pm and Saturday, September 15th at 9 am.
The Birch Grove Community lunch is back with the return of the school year.  It is held on the second Tuesday of every month.  It starts at 11:30 and there is a small charge.  Everyone is welcome and the food is delicious.
The new wood fired bread oven at Birch Grove should be done by the time you hear this.  It was built in cooperation with North House Folk School and should provide us all with yummy bread and pizza for many years to come.  Thanks to the students, volunteers and North House for making this happen.
Tim and Charles Petricek from Racine, Wisconsin are frequent campers in the area.  They are amateur photographers and have a real knack for finding interesting wildlife.  Over the years they have photographed just about every big animal that we have in the woods.  Last weekend, they were fishing on a local lake when they saw a cow moose swimming across the lake.  They were too far away to get a picture of that moose, but within minutes a giant bull moose entered the water in pursuit of the cow.  The bull, which has one of the biggest racks I’ve ever seen, swam right past Tim and Charles and they were able to get good pictures.  The really interesting part was that the bull had a small tree stuck in it’s antlers.  Some people have all the luck.

Noah Horak - on the road

West End News: September 6

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Noah Horak is a native son of Tofte. His parents are Jan and Kathy Horak, who own Cobblestone Cabins. Noah, who is 28, quit his job as an electrical engineer several months ago and is riding his motorcycle around the world for at least the next two years.  He spent the first few months exploring Canada, Alaska, and the western United States.  He was home in Tofte for the month of July, then headed for Europe.
After being in Europe for just a short time, his motorcycle was stolen, in broad daylight, in Dublin, Ireland.  What could have been a disastrous ending to his adventure turned into a real blessing when he was adopted by the motorcycle community in Dublin.  He was not only given outstanding hospitality, but they arranged for a replacement cycle and gave him shop space to put it into condition to continue his trip.  They also pulled out all the stops to find his stolen cycle, and eventually the bike was located and recovered.
Noah is now back on the road, currently in Scotland where he reports great scenery, friendly people and good trout fishing.  He is writing a blog and posting many spectacular pictures documenting his adventure.  You can find it by googling "rtw with noah," as in “round the world with Noah."  It’s clear from his blog posts that Noah’s outgoing and friendly personality is serving him well in his travels. The only really bad part of this story is how jealous I feel every time I read his blog…
Speaking of big adventures, Dave and Amy Freeman, from Lutsen have just passed a major milestone on their epic journey around North America.  Dave and Amy technically live in Lutsen, but in reality, they live on the trail, while they complete a 12,000 mile trip by kayak, canoe and dogsled through the U.S. and Canada.  They started out from Seattle in 2010, traveled by kayak to Alaska, hiked over the mountains, paddled a canoe up the Yukon River – yes, you heard that correctly, they paddled upstream on the Yukon - then dog sledded across the Northwest Territories and canoed from Great Slave Lake to Grand Portage.  That would be enough for most people, but Dave and Amy headed east down the Great Lakes in kayaks this spring and just this week they entered the Atlantic Ocean between Maine and New Brunswick.  They have turned south and will wind up in Key West, Florida eight months from now.
This is not vacation for them.  They do it as part of a web based curriculum that they offer to schools all across the country.  They now have hundreds of thousands of students that follow their travels in real time.  The students become quite involved in the trip and learn a variety of valuable lessons along the way.  Right now, the trip is scheduled to end in Key West, but the last time I talked to them, they were toying with the idea of continuing around the Gulf of Mexico and on down to Central and South America, with the possibility of ending up back in Seattle a few years from now.  You can follow Dave and Amy’s adventure online at  Again, the sin of jealousy arises every time I read their blog, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying their adventures vicariously.
For those of us holding down the fort here in the West End, there is a wonderful opportunity to pursue higher education without having to travel outside the county.  Cook County Higher Education, based in Grand Marais, has been quietly helping people achieve their dreams by going to college right here in Cook County.  In the last fifteen years, more than 500 people have completed college degrees or certifications through this innovative program.  The wonderful staff at Cook County Higher Ed will help you form your education plan and will support and encourage you while you complete your studies.  They charge nothing for their services, as they are a non-profit supported by public funds as well as considerable foundation and private support.
I especially encourage any West End residents who would like to go, or go back to college, to check out Cook County Higher Education.  They are especially skilled at helping people who have been out of school for a long time, or people who didn’t have a good experience with school in the past. They will do whatever it takes to make sure that you are successful.  There are many other interesting things happening there, but they are too numerous to mention here.  You can find them on the web by searching Cook County Higher Education, or call them at 387-3411.
The recent holiday weekend was noteworthy for its great weather and great fishing.  The weather was essentially perfect, which usually isn’t good for fishing, but contrary to tradition, fishing was excellent.  In the more than 50 years that I’ve been in the Cook County tourism business, I’ve never seen a holiday weekend that was so ideal.  It’s so unusual, that it makes me worry that it might be the first sign of the coming apocalypse.  Mark my words, within the month it will be raining frogs around here.   Or maybe we just get lucky once and awhile.

Sauna - photo by Pete Kratochvil

West End News: August 30

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For a couple of days this week, the pace of the summer tourism slowed down and all West End residents took a collective deep breath.  I had lunch at a local restaurant and the staff was commenting that it was slow that day.  Looking around, I thought that in any other restaurant, it would have been considered a busy day.  All things are relative.  Of course, the few slow days before the Labor Day weekend are just an illusion, blown out of the water by the slightly crazy holiday weekend.  We'll have to wait for the sales tax figures to confirm it, but it feels like this was one of the busiest July and August seasons in many years.
My mom, Mary Alice Hansen, was going through some old boxes recently and came across my kindergarten and first grade report cards - or "growth records" as they were called in the late 1950s.  I was relieved to see that my growth back then was satisfactory to my teachers.  They both described me as "cooperative and well groomed."  My kindergarten teacher, Miss Pedersen, wrote a nice little paragraph about my interest in music. She noted that my singing was enthusiastic and on key.  She added that I was particularly interested in listening to music.  I guess it's true what they say about everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten.
My first grade teacher was named Miss Eich and she was well into her 70's when she taught me in 1959.  I distinctly remember her telling us that she started teaching when she was 18 years old.  That meant that she started teaching right at the beginning of the 20th century.  Back then you could get a teaching job with a high school diploma.  She was an excellent teacher, commanded the absolute respect of her students and had high expectations.  Her methods were definitely old school, but effective.  I wasn't exactly scared of her, but I made sure to never get on her bad side.
The reason I bring all this up is that a customer came in this week and in the course of chatting, we discovered that she too had been taught by Miss Eich at Endion School in Duluth, although several years earlier than I.  I ran to my mailbox to retrieve my old report card and we reveled in the nostalgia of seeing Miss Eich's beautiful, flowing cursive again after all these years.  We both were slightly shocked to see her first name, Estelle, because we never would have dreamed that she actually had a first name.  She was, and always will be, Miss Eich to us.  It is a testament to good teachers everywhere that we both remember her so clearly and favorably more than 50 years later.
The construction projects at Birch Grove School and Community Center are progressing nicely.  Although much work remains, the basic elements are now clear.  Next week, the HOBBITs invade Birch Grove to start construction of the community, wood fired bread-baking oven.  If you are passing by, stop in and take a look at all the progress.
Mark your calendar now for the Cross River Heritage Center's wine and beer tasting gala on Thursday, September 20, from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.  Also keep in mind the upcoming program titled: Lutsen Lumbering: Hall and Lyght Family Lumbering Operations, on Saturday, September 29 at 1:30 pm.  This should be a fascinating presentation on two of Lutsen's most respected pioneer families.  Both sound like a lot of fun and details can be had by calling Suzanne at 663-7706.
Finally, you can catch Arnold Alanen speaking about his book "Finns of Minnesota" at the Silver Bay Public library on Tuesday, September 4 at 6 p.m.  The talk will highlight the the culture of Minnesota Finnish Americans, including their history of cooperative ventures, political involvement and, of course, saunas.  The program is free and sponsored by the Friends of the Silver Bay Public Library.  Maybe the whole audience can adjourn to one of the fine local saunas after the show!

Mink Frog

West End News: August 23

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I always love reporting on the activities of West End entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs are the engine of our economy, so it gives me great pleasure to report that the business formerly known as Nelson Towing in Tofte, is growing and thriving.  Pam James, from Tofte, along with her husband Paul, bought the towing business from the late Bud Nelson several years ago.  Recently, Pam has significantly grown the business.  The new name, Cook County Towing, reflects her expansion of the business to cover all of Cook County.  She purchased new equipment and now has service based in Hovland in addition to Tofte.  Jay Messingbring will be manning the Hovland tow truck, bringing his valuable mechanical knowledge and excellent reputation to the business.  Cook County Towing has been also now been authorized to offer AAA towing in all of Cook County.  We use Pam's services fairly often here at Sawbill and I can vouch for her professionalism and quick response times.  Congratulations to Pam and Paul on their continuing success.
I was driving into Tofte late at night last week, when I was startled to see a number of unidentified flying objects out over Lake Superior.  I've seen several strange lights out over the lake during my lifetime and almost every West End resident seems to have had similar experiences.  This time, the mystery was quickly solved though.  As I drove by the beach near Bluefin Bay Resort, I saw that a group was launching small, home-made hot air balloons, made from plastic garment bags and birthday candles.  I've seen this done before, but the difference this time was the sheer number - there must have been 50 or more of glowing orange objects in the air.  It was a breezy night, so the balloons were quickly swept out over the lake as they gained altitude.  While I was watching, some of them even disappeared into the clouds.  It was undeniably a beautiful sight to behold, but it may raise some questions about safety and littering.
Tom Berg, who is a part time resident of Schroeder, and an all around good guy, has written a book that will soon be published by the University of Minnesota Press.  The title is "Minnesota's Miracle" and is a political history of a time when Minnesota's state government was famous for it's efficiency and effectiveness.  Tom was an influential member of the legislature during those years and had a hand in creating a lot of well-respected legislation.  He describes the book as a "highly readable political science text book."  The book will be available in bookstores around October 1st and hopefully Tom will be doing local book signing events shortly after that.  For a political geek like me, this is big news indeed.
The big cell tower that AT&T wants to construct near Ely will now be built after a law suit has run its course through the courts.  The 450-foot tower, equipped with flashing lights, is controversial because it will be visible from some lakes within the BWCA Wilderness.  While some people view this as a wilderness issue, I see it more of a cell tower issue.  I feel like most people don't want a huge tower visible from where they live, work or play.  In my opinion, it would be better public policy to have more shorter towers that are sited and/or disguised so they have the least possible impact on the local scenery - especially in places of outstanding natural beauty.  For the phone companies, it is an issue of cost, with the taller, uglier towers being cheaper and quicker to amortize.  As I look at my monthly cell phone bill, I quickly lose sympathy for the phone companies' cost argument.  With the money they are making, they could easily absorb the slightly higher costs for the good of the community. 
That said, I am becoming increasingly annoyed by the lack of cell service in Cook County's West End.  It is long past time for reliable cell service to be available here, not to mention all of northeastern Minnesota.  It's an embarrassment that we as so far behind the rest of the world in this important part of modern life.  With all the traffic that passes through here, it has got to be profitable for the phone companies to offer service.  In any case, cell service should be universal now in American society, in my opinion. 
Has anyone else been seeing more frogs this year?  On a recent overnight camping trip, we witnessed a minor infestation of mink frogs on our campsite.  Since then, I've been noticing more mink frogs and wood frogs than I've seen in many years.  I've even seen a couple of leopard frogs, which I haven't seen for a long time.  Several frog species have all but disappeared from our woods over the last 30 years or so.  I'm hoping that my observation of more frogs this year signals a reversal of that trend.

Mink frog photo courtesy

Clear skies have led to happy visitors this week!   Photo by Carl Hansen.

West End News: August 16

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The train that is summer in Cook County is continuing to roll on down the tracks.  From my informal poll of business owners at the Cook County Visitors Bureau meeting last week, it sounds like business is booming for everyone.  Of course, the weather has been nearly ideal, and so far we’ve managed to avoid the drought that is plaguing most of the country. 
I was able to sneak out for a one night campout in the BWCA Wilderness with current and former West End residents Corey Belt, Andy Keith and John Oberholtzer.  I can see why the visitors are all happy right now.  The temperature was perfect, the bugs were non-existent, the scenery was sublime and, of course, the company was excellent.
The Oberholtzers, who live in Lutsen on Deeryard Lake, and a number of other West End residents, have been busy working as models for renowned photographer Layne Kennedy.  Layne, who is no stranger to Cook County, has been hired by the Cook County Visitors Bureau to provide photographs and video for a new, comprehensive web site that the CCVB has in the works.  The crew descended on Sawbill recently to shoot campfire scenes in the Sawbill Lake campground.  They chose to use the existing campsite of Kristin Lundgren, who worked at Sawbill with O.B. a number of years ago.  It was the usual chaotic West End scene with old friends reconnecting, marshmallows being roasted, camera shutters clicking, stories and jokes being told – with everything happening at once.  When darkness finally descended, the film crew rushed off because they had to be up before dawn the next morning to catch the sunrise at Paradise Beach.  Never a dull moment here in Cook County.
Attention all West End parents.  If you have pre-school or Kindergarten through 5th grade aged children, then mark you calendars for the Birch Grove Community School and Saplings Preschool “Dress to Play” Open House on Friday, August 24 from 4 to 7 p.m. and again on Saturday August 25 from 11 am until 2 p.m.  Fun activities will include bouncy house and maze inflatables in the gym, an outdoor water balloon battle, free hot dogs from the grill and cold beverages.
Oh, and by the way, it’s your chance to tour the beautiful school facilities and meet the friendly and competent staff.  You can also check out the brand new outside facilities including a new ice skating rink, warming house, tennis court, playground and pavilion.  Registration materials will be available both days.   You don’t have to be the parent of a prospective student to attend.  Everyone is welcome.  Just remember to come dressed to play!  You can call Diane Blanchette at 663-0170 or email her at if you have questions.
I see that the Cook County Historical Society is soliciting ideas and items to be placed in a time capsule commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Cook County Courthouse.  The items must fit through a 12” diameter opening and the interior dimensions of the capsule are 12” by 12” by 20”.  The Historical Society is specifically asking for items that represent the different parts of the county, so let’s try to get something meaningful in there from the West End.  Maybe a Lutsen Mountains lift ticket or bottle of pickled herring?  The possibilities are endless.  It’s always important to remember that current events are tomorrow’s history.  Submit your ideas by email: or by calling 387-2883.
I’ve been interested to see the effort of some folks in Two Harbors to start a low-power community radio station.  They’ve given it the working name of radio station KTWO. The Federal Communications Commission has changed some licensing rules resulting in the possibility of starting many more small, low powered radio stations.  The KTWO group is hoping to broadcast local meetings, sporting events, new, weather and local music.  Their early organizing meetings have drawn interest from Silver Bay and Finland as well.  With the new broadband technology on the horizon, it’s possible that they could even construct a cooperative service among all the communities in Lake County.  The possibilities are exciting and I wish them the best of luck.

The Ross Sisters: Michelle, Jill, and Julie - photo by Christine Ross.

West End News: August 9

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One of the great joys of being in the tourism business is renewing the annual friendships with the faithful customers who return year after year.  I’ve been around long enough that I’m starting to become acquainted with the fourth generation in some families.
The Ross family from Merrillville, Indiana are well into the third generation camping at the Sawbill Lake campground.  Their three daughters are kind of unusual because they still like to go on vacation with their parents, even though they are now 21, 19 and 17 years old.  The reason is that they are self professed fishing addicts.  They are ferociously protective of their fishing spots and extremely skilled in their techniques. 
This year they told me that they suffer from the common affliction of sibling rivalry and often have spirited arguments.  But, they never fight when they are fishing, because it is too loud and would scare the fish.  This further reinforces my theory that fishing is the answer for world peace.
John Schroeder Day is fast approaching in Schroeder.  Saturday, August 18, is the big day, with a full slate of fun activities planned.  It all starts with the Fire Department’s pancake breakfast at the town hall from 8 to 10 in the morning.  At 10:30 and again at 12:30, Skip Lamb will lead his popular and interesting history walk, starting at the Cross River Heritage Center.  At 11:30 and again at 1:30, Tony and Dion Cicak will demonstrate their sawmill at their house across the river from the Heritage Center.  At noon, a movie will be screened at the Heritage Center.  It’s called “Long White Boards” and is a look a the history and current state of logging in northern Minnesota. Jim Norvell will speak about the history of Father Baraga’s Cross at 1 p.m.  Meet him at the cross.  Zoar Lutheran Church will have a brat booth going all day, along with several other food and craft vendors.  As always, be there or be square.
My good friend, Steve Wilbers, will be in the area on Saturday, August 11.  Steve is a prolific professional writer and a dedicated canoeist in the BWCA Wilderness.  His last two books are personal histories of the BWCA Wilderness.  The first book is organized around Steve’s experience with his father and the second around his son, Eddie.  Published by the Minnesota History Press, the books are very well written and engaging, especially for anyone with a personal history in the wilderness.  Steve will be having a book signing at Drury Lane Book Store in Grand Marais at 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 11.  Yours truly, who wrote the forward for the first book, will be joining him.  Steve is one of the nicest people that I know, so stop by and meet him if you have the chance.
The North Shore Stewardship Association will be presenting a program called: The Storm of the Century and the Building of Split Rock Lighthouse on Saturday, August 18, at 10 a.m.  Jennifer Niemi, program manager at Split Rock Lighthouse, will present the amazing story of the construction of the light station and the lives of the light keepers and their families who have made it their home.  The program is free, open to the public and is at the Sugar Loaf Interpretive Center just off Highway 61 on the Duluth side of Schoeder.
Fishing has remained remarkably good in the West End for this late in the season.  The conservation officers report good catches on Lake Superior and the stream trout are still biting due to higher than normal water levels.  Small mouth bass are downright suicidal right now and even the walleyes are biting in the evening.  I saw a picture of a 29-inch walleye that was caught and returned to an area lake by a ten year old visitor this week.

Songwriters gather at Sawbill for a jam sesson: photo by Jessica Hemmer

West End News: August 2

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A couple of weeks ago, West End seniors took at trip to Grand Portage. They enjoyed a picnic and fellowship at Elderly Nutrition Services, and then toured the new visitor’s center at Grand Portage State Park. Some of the items in the interpretive display were contributed by avid Birch Grove supporter Iola Wojtysiak. The new, critically acclaimed historical documentary about Grand Portage was screened and enjoyed by all.

On Wednesday August 8, the West End Seniors are once again taking advantage of Grand Marais State Bank's generous gift of the AEOA bus for a trip to Finland Community Center for lunch and music. There is a small charge for lunch. The bus leaves around 10:45 from Birch Grove, and will probably have extra spaces, so feel free to join in for a fun day. There will be no senior lunch at Birch Grove that day.

Senior lunch will continue to be every Wednesday after that with a delicious menu prepared by Barb Merritt. Everyone is welcome, but give a call ahead if you are not a regular to make sure enough food is prepared.

Keep in mind the annual fall color tour to Trestle Inn in September. Details will be announced as the date draws nearer. As always, you can call Patty at 663-7977 for details about activities at Birch Grove. Or, stop by for a visit and a look at all the construction that is underway this summer.

The renovation of Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder is now nearly complete. Volunteer Ginny Storlie from Lutsen quipped that it is an ecumenical project as the Lutherans did most of the work to spruce up a memorial to a Catholic priest. Stop by to see the results of all the recent labor.

I was pleased to read that the new cell phone tower in Tofte is moving ahead. Another cell tower is reportedly scheduled to go up in Schroeder this summer. It is long past time that the entire West End had reliable cell service. When I was traveling in rural Kenya in 2010, I mentioned to my hosts that my community didn’t have reliable cell service. The folks I was talking to are subsistence farmers, in their 70's, who have never had electricity or running water, and they were appalled to hear about our lack of cell service. They not only had good service on their farm, but they had a choice of three providers. Granted, they had to take their phones to a shop in the village to be charged by a small generator, but once charged, they used their phones routinely. The patriarch of the family, a lovely man named Dixon Oolu, remarked that he was under the impression that the United States was a well-developed country and he couldn’t imagine how we got along without cell service. I’m glad that we’ll soon be catching up to rural Kenya technologically.

Shelby Gonzalez, marketing manager for the Cook County Visitors Bureau, wants people to know that there is a new resource available for information about bicycling on the Bureau’s website, found at Along with general information about all the wonderful biking opportunities in Cook County and especially the West End, the website allows you to print out detailed maps and descriptions of bike routes that are customized to your, or your customers, personal preferences. Call Shelby at 387-2788 if you have questions or suggestions.

Last week, a friendly and outgoing fellow named Jerry Vandiver paid a visit to Sawbill. Jerry is an avid canoeist and a frequent and well-known visitor to the county, especially around Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail. When he’s not canoeing, Jerry is a professional songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee. He basically goes to the office every day and writes songs for country music stars. His name is on tens of millions of recordings, including some major hits for country music legend Tim McGraw, among others.

While visiting here at Sawbill, Jerry invited local songwriters Bump Blomberg and Eric Frost to a jam session around the campfire. The Sawbill crew and lucky campers were treated to hours of top quality music from three accomplished songwriters. Jerry, the consummate professional, was highly complimentary of our local songwriters skills. Jerry is planning to return next year, for another songwriter’s jam here at Sawbill. He is also working with North House Folk School to explore teaching a songwriting class there in the future.

Photo by Carl Hansen

West End News: July 26

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Mother Nature delivered some very entertaining shows this week. The northern lights have made several appearances and a couple of times were nothing short of spectacular. There have been some amazing thunderheads drifting around the area too. I was at Moguls Grill and Tap Room in Lutsen this week when a spectacular thunderhead developed out over Lake Superior at Tofte. From Moguls' mountain vantage point, the towering storm was magnificently lit by the setting sun. As if that wasn't enough, huge webs of lightning played over and through the clouds. For more than an hour, a large group of people sat outside, oohing, aahing and applauding, as if they were at a light show or fireworks display. In between all this, blue skies and warm temperatures have put everyone in a sunny summer state of mind.

In addition to the natural light shows, here at Sawbill we were treated to an impromptu show by two canoeists who are professional fire performers. Eddy Wilbers and Star Williams, both from Minneapolis, make a good part of their living by twirling and juggling burning objects while dancing and doing acrobatics. The night before they started their wilderness canoe trip, they offered the Sawbill crew a short sample of their skills around the campfire with the stars shining overhead. We all sat open-mouthed and amazed as they juggled burning objects and set their own bodies on fire, including spewing great long flaming jets from their mouths. Lest that makes them sound reckless, let me assure you that they take safety very seriously. Eddy did say that he does get burned sometimes, but only small blisters that heal in a day or two.

Congratulations to some folks with West End connections who won the Lake Superior Binational Program’s ninth annual Environmental Stewardship Award. Lise Abazs, Jan Karon, and Mary Doch accepted the award on behalf of WaterLegacy, a grassroots non-profit that has as its mission protecting Minnesota's water resources from environmental degradation and supporting the human and ecological communities that depend on clean water for their well being. They are, of course, particularly concerned with the new mining proposals in northeastern Minnesota, that want to mine precious metals from ore that contains sulfides. Similar mines have led to disastrous pollution all around the world. You can learn more about their work at

My life and business partner, Cindy Hansen, just returned from her annual canoe trip with some other lovely ladies from Lutsen and Tofte. This year, they chose to paddle the international border from Moose Lake in Ely to Saganaga Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail. On one lake, they spotted an eagle in the distance that was flying short gliding circuits from a tree on the shore. When they got closer, they realized that it was an adult eagle demonstrating beginning flight techniques to a fledgling chick. The chick was protesting and copping an attitude like all teenagers do from time to time. As they watched, though, the chick took the plunge and unsteadily glided out over the lake and back to the tree. The parent flew alongside and chirped encouragement to the youngster. All the ladies on the trip are moms who have seen their own chicks leave the nest, so they could all relate to the tender and terrifying scene that they had the privilege to witness.

Peter Harris, who lives in Little Marais and has worked at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center for many years, told me that Wolf Ridge is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. There will be a celebration in Duluth on September 28 that will, among other things, feature founder Jack Picotta and the stories he has about the early years. They will also be holding a staff reunion on September 29 and 30 this year. Peter asked me to announce the dates in the hope that any former staff who listen to this program will mark their calendars and plan to attend. There are quite a few former Wolf Ridge staff that have settled in the area and the reunion should be great fun for them. I've played my guitar at quite a few square dances at Wolf Ridge over the years, but I don't think it qualifies me as a staff member.

I can't believe that I missed the West End Garden Show that was held last week. My dad, who used to do this commentary and the weekly newspaper column for years before that, never missed announcing the annual garden show and reporting on the activities. By all accounts, it was another successful year for the show and I am resolved to cover it thoroughly next year.

Speaking of flowers, the Schroeder community, under the capable leadership of Jim Norvel, and with many other volunteers, has done a major renovation of the Father Baraga's Cross memorial. On Saturday, July 28, starting at 9 am, volunteers are needed to place the plantings that are the finishing touch on the renovation. Lunch will be provided. Call Jim at 663-7838 for details.

Photo byPeter Juhl - courtesy of the Cross River Heritage Center

West End News: July 19

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Linda Lamb, from Schroeder, called the other day to remind me that there are some fascinating art exhibits currently on display at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.  Kathy Gray-Anderson is displaying her beautiful wildlife photography.  Bruce Palmer is exhibiting his masterful acrylic paintings.  And, last but not least, Peter Juhl is exhibiting photos of his astounding temporary sculptures that he creates by balancing rocks on top of each other along the shore of Lake Superior.  You can see pictures on his website at  In addition to the pictures, Peter’s website has a tutorial, so you too can learn to balance rocks on each other in amazing ways.

It turns out that rock balancing as art is something of a world-wide phenomenon.  It even has its own Wikipedia entry.  In fact, Linda told me that Peter had attended an international rock balancing conference in Italy earlier this year.  She also mentioned that Peter’s family has a long connection with the North Shore, not the least of which is staying as guests at Lamb’s Resort in Schroeder for three generations.

The Cross River Heritage Center is located right on Highway 61 in downtown Schroeder and is open from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Tofte and Schroeder both received surface treatments to Highway 61 this week.  A contractor to the Minnesota Department of Transporation was spreading pea gravel embedded in thick oil.  It was kind of a noisy mess while it was being applied, but will give the road surface a new lease on life for the next few years at least.

The Cook County Highway Department was also busy this week applying calcium chloride to many of the secondary gravel roads. Calcium chloride is a salt compound that looks like oil.  It’s main purpose is dust abatement, but it also helps the road tolerate the sharp seasonal increase in traffic, prevents, or at least slows down, the formation of the dreaded washboard and reduces the amount of grading needed to keep the road surface reasonably smooth.  All West End residents who travel the back roads applaud the Highway Department for their good work.

A customer came in yesterday with a good wildlife story from Alton Lake within the BWCA Wilderness.  The person, who will remain anonymous to protect her dignity, was sitting on the privy yesterday morning when she heard the bushes moving nearby.  Right away she could see that a large animal was moving through the brush, but she couldn’t see it well enough to indentify it.  As she watched, the animal picked up speed and then burst into clear view just a short distance from where she was sitting.  To her complete surprise, is was a full grown timber wolf, headed nearly straight for her.  She involuntarily exclaimed “Holy Bleep!” in a loud voice.  At that moment, the wolf noticed her for the first time, gave her a look that could easily be traslated as “Holy Bleep!” and sprinted off in the opposite direction. In all my years here on the edge of the wilderness, I’ve never before heard of a wolf sighting from that particular vantage point.

Tofte Citizen of the Year Mary Alice Hansen - photo by Lee Stewart

West End News: July 5

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Last call for the Schroeder Historical Society’s annual Lundie Vacation Home Tour. Saturday, July 14th is the date of the eighth annual tour of homes and cabins designed by renowned architect Edwin Lundie. This year, the tour will also include some vacation homes designed by architect Dale Mulfinger, who will be on the tour in person. There is a charge for the tour, but the proceeds benefit the Schoeder Historical Society. Call Suzanne at 663-7706 for more details and registration.

The big Tofte 4th of July celebration is in the record book for another year. I call it the biggest small town celebration in the northland. I’m not sure if I coined that phrase, or if I heard it somewhere. The highlight for me this year was my mother, Mary Alice Hansen, being named Tofte Citizen of the Year. It is a great honor for her and she got to ride in a convertible in the big parade. Mary Alice was instrumental in the founding of the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum and served for many years at the Tofte Town Clerk. It was nice of the town officials to honor her, especially because she now lives in Grand Marais.

The Memorial Blood Center Bloodmobile will be in Tofte, at Zoar Lutheran Church on Tuesday, July 17 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Contact Polly at 663-7398 for an appointment.

As I write this, the Forest Service is working a wildfire near Parent Lake north of Schroeder. After one day, the lightning caused fire is 3 to 5 acres in size. It’s only a quarter of a mile from last year’s big Pagami Creek fire. The Forest Service is working it with a big water bomber and it will likely just be another routine fire for them. The amazing thing is just two weeks ago we were recovering from one of the biggest rain events in the history of the forest. It is an excellent example of how fast things change with the weather and fire danger. The lakes are still very high, but two weeks of hot dry weather have driven the fire danger right back up.

We lost a good friend here at Sawbill this week. Ed Erickson, from Chetek, Wisconsin, was a favorite visitor here at Sawbill for at least 40 years. Ed retired as a school counselor about ten years ago. It is hard to describe how attentive and empathetic he was with other people. For starters, he remembered the name of every person that he ever shook hands with. He would question them closely about the spelling and pronunciation of their name, at which point you could almost see him consciously commit it to memory. It was remarkable how just this small courtesy endeared him to people. He was a relentlessly positive and upbeat, but he was very serious when it came to fishing. His wife caught a 13 pound walleye on Alton many years ago and they had it mounted in what can only be described as a shrine in their rec room.

About ten years ago, Ed got seriously lost while grouse hunting. A search was organized and John Oberholtzer of Lutsen found Ed, who was tired and hungry after nearly eight hours of wandering through swamp and thicket. Ed and OB have had a special bond ever since. As I told Ed’s family, he will be missed by all who knew him, but we can take consolation in knowing that he is in a place where the fish are always biting. That is Ed’s heaven, for sure.