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West End News

Bill Hansen

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Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

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Old steel bridge over the Temperance River along the 600 Road in Tofte

West End News: November 27

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This week, the venerable 60 Minutes television news program ran a piece about the atrocious condition of America’s transportation infrastructure.  They laid out a grim story of crumbling highways, dangerous bridges and backed-up airports.  They pointed out that mass transit in the United States is decades behind the rest of the developed world.
 
The reason for this sad state of affairs was attributed to out of date tax policy along with political gridlock, resulting in the long-standing erosion of transportation funding combined with a failure to develop a cohesive plan for the future.
 
Some economists, planners and engineers also suggest that we have overbuilt our road system as a part of a society that has organized itself around the flow of automobiles for nearly 100 years now.
 
This has all come home to roost in the West End.  The U.S. Forest Service has asked for local input on which of our local forest roads are important to us and which roads are we okay with closing.
 
So far, the reaction, and I include myself in this camp, has been to keep all the local Forest Service roads open and maintained.  This is logical to those of us who use the forest roads for hauling timber, hunting, fishing, biking, wildlife viewing, riding ATVs and snowmobiles, and so on and so on.
 
The truth is that we cannot maintain the road system we have, even if we wanted to.
 
The Forest Service alone maintains 380 thousand miles of roads across the nation.  As of today, they’re facing a maintenance backlog of more than 8 billion dollars.  They only receive 20 per cent of what they need for normal annual maintenance, so the backlog is growing and growing fast.
 
If you drive the Forest Service roads here in the West End, you’ll see a lot of washboard, erosion, collapsed culverts and other un-repaired damage.
 
A couple of weeks ago, the beautiful antique steel bridge over the Temperance River on the 600 Road in Tofte closed permanently.  There are no plans to replace it because there is no funding in the pipeline. 
 
The 600 Road is important to both the timber and tourism industries.  During the summer it carries a lot of logging truck traffic and many tourists who enjoy its scenic beauty.  During the fall color season, it is a favorite destination for thousands of tourists and locals who are drawn to the world-class beauty of its maple ridges.
 
In the winter, it is an important part of the state snowmobile trail system.  Snowmobiles will still be allowed to cross the bridge, but the trail groomer will not and that portion of the popular state trail will not be groomed.
 
So, even as I join the chorus urging the Forest Service to keep all their roads open and maintained, I know my position is the equivalent to believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  Or, perhaps more to the point, it’s like believing that Congress will take some action - any action - toward a long-term vision of a better future for our country – or that we taxpayers will agree to pay for that future.
 
On lighter note, I recommend that you travel back over the hill during this holiday season.  The recent light snow was wet enough to stick to every branch, twig and needle and is now frozen tight.  It’s a Currier and Ives painting everywhere you look in the West End right now - just one more reason to be thankful for the chance to live here in the beautiful West End of Cook County.
 
 
 

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 Lutsen resident Amy Freeman viewing Statue of Liberty from a canoe

West End News: November 20

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The West End’s prodigal son, Noah Horak, will be back in Tofte for the holidays.
 
For the last three years, Noah has been riding his motorcycle around the world.  After working for several years as an electrical engineer, Noah took his savings and embarked on the trip of a lifetime.
 
His motorcycle is designed for off-road travel and Noah has ridden back roads, sheep tracks and game trails across every continent except South America.  Along the way he’s had crazy adventures and met many, many interesting people. 
 
His original plan was to ride home via South America, but he announced this week that he is returning stateside for the winter and is planning to switch from his motorcycle to his snowboard.  He points out that South America isn’t going anywhere, so he can return there anytime to complete his incredible journey.
 
I hope he will give a public presentation while he is home. I have to admit that I’m extremely jealous of Noah, but would love to imagine myself on his wheels while hearing a few of his stories firsthand.
 
Another set of West End residents who specialize in long distance travel, Dave and Amy Freeman, are nearing the end of their trip from Ely to Washington, D.C. by sailboat and canoe.
 
They are paddling a canoe that is a floating petition signed by people who are concerned with the negative environmental and economic effects of the proposed sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota. 
 
The trip started by canoe in Ely in early September.  They paddled across the BWCA Wilderness then strapped their canoe to a sailboat for crossing the great lakes.  They returned to the canoe for the remainder of the trip, which brought them through eastern Canada and New England.
 
They recently paddled through New York City, which they described as the most dangerous and frightening portion of the trip so far.  It wasn’t the 8 million people of New York City that scared them.  In fact, they were met on the water and warmly welcomed by members of the North Brooklyn Boat Club.  They spent the night at the club’s headquarters, sitting around a campfire, telling stories and eating delicious food.  I’m guessing this is not the usual activity for people visiting the Big Apple.
 
They were frightened by the intense ship and ferry traffic in the New York Harbor and the surrounding rivers and canals.  Dave and Amy are pretty resourceful though, having traveled more than 30 thousand miles by canoe, kayak and dogsled over the last 10 years, so they cleared New York without a scratch.
 
They are due in D.C. around the first of December and then will be returning Minnesota for the winter.  I don’t think they are planning to canoe back, but with Dave and Amy, you never know.
 
Last week I mentioned that the West End lakes were not suitable for ice skating this year, but I overlooked Caribou Lake in Lutsen that had smooth black ice for several days, including last weekend.  Dozens of people took advantage, especially on Sunday, making for a festive atmosphere on the lake.
 
The recent snow has now covered quite a bit of Caribou, but wind has kept some smooth rink-sized areas open.  If you go, never skate alone and be sure to carry hand picks to rescue yourself if you fall through.  It’s a good idea to pack an extra set of dry clothes to keep back in the car, just in case.
 
Speaking of snow, my friends on the North Shore seemed surprised when I mention that we have 6 inches of snow here in the backwoods.  It has come in little dribs and drabs every other day or so, but is definitely starting to add up.  If we get another inch or two, I should be able to set a track on the unplowed campground roads and get the cross-country skiing season under way.

(Photo courtesy of Wilderness Classroom)
 

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Alta McQuatters

West End News: November 13

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Shirley Bierbaum, longtime Schroeder resident, is turning 90 years old this month. Her many friends and family are organizing an open house celebration at the Cross River Heritage Center Saturday, Nov. 29 from 1 until 4 p.m.  Coffee and cake will be served.
 
Shirley and her husband Bob founded Schroeder’s Northland Hardware in the mid-1950s.  Long before Home Depot, Northland was our own local version of the hardware superstore, selling everything from nails to chainsaws to pots and pans. 
 
Shirley practically lived in the store in those days and was the go-to person for locating obscure and hard to find items.  When you asked Bob if they carried a #10 left-handed lag bolt ratchet driver in stainless steel, he would just turn his head and call out the description to Shirley, who would calmly and cheerfully walk straight to the shelf where the item was kept.
 
Shirley is also a talented musician and was the steady organist at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte for many, many years, among dozens of other community activities.
 
I know the whole West End joins me wishing Shirley a very happy 90th birthday!
 
The Cross River Heritage Center will also be hosting the annual Holiday Bazaar and Quilt Drawing Saturday, Nov. 22, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The 2014 Wall Panel honors Alta McQuatters’ famous grandfather, White Sky.  Alta cross-stitched the dream catcher squares for the quilt and the Cross River Quilters created complementary squares.
 
Speaking for myself, I would be honored to own such a beautiful quilt with such a significant connection to the history of the West End. The drawing for the quilt is at 2 p.m.
 
I was at the Cook County Courthouse last week for the breaking of the election tie in the 1st District commissioner’s race. It was good to observe, firsthand, how competent and careful the whole election process is in Cook County.  County Auditor Braidy Powers and County Attorney Molly Hicken demonstrated their deep knowledge and fair mindedness, reminding me of what a gift it is to live in a county that has such dedicated and honest elected officials.
 
It reminded me of an election tie that I got inadvertently involved with many years ago in Tofte.  The race was for Tofte Township Supervisor between the late Steve Krueger and Tim Norman.  Township election results are announced at the township annual meeting, held in the evening of Election Day, just after the polls have closed.
 
I was at the meeting because my mom, Mary Alice Hansen, had recently broken her hip and couldn’t drive herself to the meeting.  She was the Tofte township clerk at the time.  For some reason, the people in attendance selected me out of the crowd to moderate the meeting.  It wasn’t too tough of a job until the election judges announced that Steve and Tim had received the exact same number of votes.  Of course, none of us had any idea of how to deal with the situation and back then there was no instant Internet access to find out. 
 
At my suggestion, the candidates agreed to decide the election by the toss of a coin. Steve made the call in deference to his status as a founder of the Tofte township and his long service on the town board.  He won the toss, which was great, because he retired at the end of his term and Tim got his chance to serve after that.  There were no hard feelings and everyone seemed satisfied.
 
About a year later, a citizen confronted me at the post office and told me that I had violated the law by deciding the election with a coin toss. It worried me enough that I called both Steve and Tim to see if they thought I’d done something wrong.  They both very kindly assured me that the coin toss was fair and they were completely satisfied.
 
Sawbill Lake froze over during the day on Monday, Nov. 10.  It probably was ready to freeze a day or two before that, but persistent winds kept it open.  All of the lakes in the West End are now officially iced over, and looking at the forecast, it looks like they’ll stay that way.
 
Unfortunately, it does not look like ice-skating will be good this year because there is too much snow on the ice.  I never give up hope, because freakishly warm weather or rain can resurface the ice into perfect smoothness, but that seems unlikely at the moment.
 
The snow-covered roads caused me to comment to my partner, Cindy, how I learned in Ding Dong School that the slipperiest road surface is packed snow at 22 degrees Fahrenheit.  She was unimpressed with my knowledge of road conditions, but was highly amused by my reference to Ding Dong School. 
 
Ding Dong School was the common name for the Driver Improvement Clinic that was a class specifically for 16- and 17-year-olds who got speeding tickets. A very nice Hennepin County judge gave me the no-brainer choice of Ding Dong School or a three-month suspension of my driver’s license.
 
My Ding Dong instructor, Mr. Erickson, was actually a very good teacher.  His first request to our particular group of juvenile delinquents was that we not refer to his class as Ding Dong School.  I wondered then - and now - what horrible crime he had committed in order to be sentenced to teach Ding Dong School.

I learned many defensive driving tips from Mr. Erickson that I still use today, 45 years after my one and only brush with the criminal court system. I do question his teaching of the 22-degree mark for maximum slickness of packed snow.  I feel like the roads are greasier up near the freezing mark.
 
But who am I, as a Ding Dong School graduate, to question his wisdom?

(Photo courtesy of the Schroeder Area Historical Society with Alta McQuatters of Lutsen, and the quilt honoring her grandfather, White Sky)
 

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Sawbill Trail in 1939 (showing old telephone lines)

West End News: November 5

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The North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum is holding its fifth annual story telling dinner at Lutsen Resort Friday, Nov. 21 starting at 6 p.m.
 
This year, Art Fenstad will share his recollections about how telephone service first came to the North Shore.  His talk is titled, “Broadband, Then and Now,” referencing the similarity between the availability of telephone 100 years ago and the broadband internet that is being installed now.
 
It’s hard to imagine what a profound effect the telephone had on daily life in the West End back in the early days of the 20th century.  At that time a simple exchange of letters with someone in Duluth would take a couple of weeks at best. Suddenly, you could crank up your phone and ask the operator to connect you instantly.
 
When I first came to Tofte in 1957 the old crank phones and local operators were still a recent memory. For quite a few years after that, when you wanted to make a local call you only had to dial the last four digits. 
 
Here at Sawbill, we had a private telephone line that Sawbill Lodge had taken over from the CCC. It consisted of two bare, #10 steel wires on 12-foot cedar poles and was originally built to provide communication with the Kelso Mountain fire lookout tower.  The simple system could only handle one call at a time, so we had to have a party line with our neighbor.  One ring meant it was for them and two rings meant it was for us.
 
Every time there was a stiff wind, a tree would fall across the line causing the phones to go dead.  Someone would have to drive down the Sawbill Trail, locate the break and splice the heavy wires back together.  This crude system lasted until the late 1960s when a big windstorm finally knocked several miles of poles down and we started thinking about new fangled radiophones.
 
Now, we are just a few weeks away from abandoning those radiophones in favor of a high capacity wireless internet link and cell phones.  I foresee a time in the relatively near future when all communication will be done via portable devices talking directly to low orbit satellites.
 
Instant, universal and cheap access to limitless information and communication will doubtless have as profound an effect on our lives as the coming of the telephone did 100 years ago.
 
If you want to hear Art Fenstad tell his stories, call Lutsen Resort at 663-7212 and make your reservations by Nov. 12.  The event is a major fundraiser for the museum, so there is a charge, but it’s a small price to pay for hearing wonderful stories in a beautiful historic lodge while eating delicious food.  
 
In the time-honored tradition of “too many fun things to do in the West End on a given night,” the Birch Grove Community School is holding their annual fundraiser dinner, dance and silent auction Friday, Nov. 21 at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen. 
 
This is a really fun event and important to the school, so the challenge will be how to support both events. My strategy is to get to the Birch Grove event early, because is starts at 4 p.m, have a beverage, pay the small fee for dinner but not eat it, visit, get my silent auction bids down and then head down to Lutsen Resort in time to hear Art’s stories and eat a delicious dinner.  As soon as that event starts to wind down, I’ll hotfoot it back up to Papa Charlies’s to dance to one of my favorite bands, “Cook County’s Most Wanted,” and pick up my fabulous auction purchases.
 
And when I get home, happy but tired, I’ll make a phone call and do some high speed browsing on the internet - just for fun.

(Photo courtesy of Forest History Society)

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Icy dip

West End News: October 30

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As I speak, the parking lot here at Sawbill is empty for the first time since May 16.  Every year, I think there will be a car or two left over after the season, but miraculously, they all disappear when the lakes start to freeze.
 
It makes sense to me that our culture has evolved the holiday that celebrates spookiness at this time of year.  The woods are very eerie right now. With the leaves fully down, the forest is a collage of vertical grey lines, leading the eye up to an implacable leaden overcast sky. 
 
Even the loons have turned a dull grey. They seem to float lower in the water this time of year, rarely diving, and trading their wild summer laughter for tiny, muted hoots.  I guess they’re conserving energy for their upcoming marathon migration flight to the Gulf of Mexico.
 
The strangest part of being in the woods now is the sound - or the lack thereof.  The wind through the bare branches takes on a shrill and brittle moaning note. If the wind isn’t blowing, there is complete and utter silence, punctuated only by the occasional report from a chick-a-dee or blue jay.  And just when you think you’re all alone, you hear the wolves howling in the distance or the grunt of a rutting moose, to remind you that the wheel of life is turning, even as the edge of the snow blanket inexorably creeps toward us from the north.
 
Once we get past All Hallows Eve, it’s time to celebrate the storms of November and the clear, crisp, brilliant winter days that are just over the horizon. The Cook County Visitors Bureau has declared Nov. 7 through 9 the second annual Lake Superior Storm Festival.  There are many fun events scheduled, but the one you really don’t want to miss is the “wave dash” at Lutsen Resort Saturday, Nov. 8.  At high noon, you can join with a large group of other crazy - I mean courageous -people sprinting into the welcoming bosom of Lake Superior to enjoy a brief swim. This invigorating event is a fundraiser for the Lutsen Fire Department. By the way, if you don’t see me there by noon, please feel free to start without me.
 
I was dismayed to see that the Northwoods Cafe, a community institution in Silver Bay, was closed.  Luckily, the closure is only temporary while new owners extensively remodel and update the popular gathering spot. 
 
The new restaurant will be called the Northwoods Family Grille and will feature award-winning hamburgers and barbeque, along with other American food classics and all day breakfast.  Online ordering and take-out services will be available.
 
Congratulations to the new owners, Floyd Baker, Jessica Moen-Baker, Everette Haselow and Anne Haselow.  They expect to open their doors in mid-November.  Once they open, I encourage all West Enders to show their support by eating there frequently.
 
This radio station, WTIP, is a miracle in our community. WTIP is our community.  The proof is that nearly every time you turn it on, you hear the voice of a friend and neighbor. More often than not, they are volunteers, just like me.
 
Recently, I got my hair cut in a small town outside of Cook County. The barber had his radio tuned to an ordinary commercial radio station. I was appalled to hear a nearly continuous stream of vitriolic political attack ads.  These ads are paid for by people and organizations that don’t live anywhere near here  - with interests that have little or no connection to our community.  Personally, I harbor bipartisan resentment toward all attack ads.
 
In contrast, WTIP’s contribution to the political season has been thoughtful, in-depth candidate forums with questions directly from the voters. This reflects the dignity and importance of our democracy and demonstrates the mutual respect that allows a community to flourish in a way that is fair to all.
 
Last, but not least, I wonder which child listening to WTIP now will be inspired to become the next Bob Dylan, the next Jim Oberstar or the next Martin Luther King.  Or maybe they will be inspired to become a city councilor, or a great teacher, or an informed and effective citizen.
 
Please join me in supporting this vital community asset.

(Photo courtesy of Visit Cook County)
 
 

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Throwing for the spare under the disco lights at the Silver Bowl in Silver Bay

West End News: October 23

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The West End resorts are all reporting that the fall color season was gangbusters this year.  This makes the annual tourism slow-down of late October and November a welcome respite before the busy winter season kicks into gear.
 
Although many of our visitors have temporarily deserted us, there is still a lot going on in the West End. 
 
Don’t forget about the two events I mentioned last week: The bluegrass music gathering at Lutsen Resort from October 31st through November 2nd; and the bloodmobile at Zoar Lutheran Church on the afternoon of November 11th…but those are just the tip of the iceberg.
 
The umteenth annual Birch Grove Halloween party is happening again this year from 6 to 9 pm on Friday, October 31st, at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.  I don’t have many details, but it’s always a good time for kids of all ages.
 
The Lutsen Lutheran Church is reaching out to engage the West End in helping with the Ebola epidemic West Africa.  The church is generously offering to match any community donations, dollar for dollar, up to $5000.  The gifts will go to Lutheran Disaster Response where 100% will be directed to Ebola relief. 
 
Donations can be sent to the Lutsen Lutheran Church at Box 145 in Lutsen, 55612.  Make your checks payable to the church with Ebola Relief written in the memo line.  If the community is as generous as it usually is, this will mean $10,000 in much-needed aid to the hard hit communities in West Africa.
 
The University of Minnesota Press has just published the second book in a murder mystery trilogy that is set here in the West End.  Norwegian mystery writer, Vidar Sundstol, lived in Lutsen at one time and wrote much of the series while living here.  They were published several years ago in Norway, but are just now being released in English translation. 
 
The main character in the series is a fictional Forest Service law enforcement officer named Lance Hansen.  The tense, psychological novels revolve around a bloody murder discovered at Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder.
 
Many of the characters in the novels are clearly based on real people from Cook County.  All have fictional names that are similar to their real names, except for Sid Backlund, from Grand Marais, who randomly has a small part using his real name and occupation.
 
I have a bone to pick with the author because he based a character on me, who the protagonist suspects of having an inappropriate love affair with a young female employee.  The suspicion is based on rather flimsy grounds, in my opinion. The worst part is that he never resolves whether or not there actually is an affair and that branch of the story line is never mentioned again in the rest of the series.  I would at least like to know definitively if my character is a scumbag or just a guy who is unusually friendly with his employees.  Sheesh!
 
That aside, the books are great fun for West Enders to read.  The first book is titled “Land of Dreams” and the second, available now, is called “Only the Dead.”  The third and final book of the series, titled “The Raven,” has been published in Norwegian for some time, but will be available in English this April.
 
I’m happy to report that Logan and Jolene Fischer have purchased the “Silver Bowl” bowling alley in Silver Bay. The Fischers are young entrepreneurs with deep roots in Silver Bay.  They’ve made a bunch of improvements already to the facility that was built, along with the rest of the town, in the late 1950s.
 
In addition to remodeling and equipment upgrades, they’re offering deep discounts on Tuesdays and Sundays in an effort to reacquaint people to this area landmark.
 
We took the Sawbill crew bowling this week and found the Fischers and their two young children to be friendly and competent hosts.  I urge everyone to support local business by stopping in to enjoy some great bowling, pizza, pop and beer. 
 
I don’t know if it was the new ownership, but I actually bowled a score that broke triple digits, a rare experience for me.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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West End News: October 16

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If you have even a passing interest in music, there is an event coming up at Lutsen Resort that you should know about.
 
Historic Lutsen Resort will host the 24th Annual Bluegrass Masters Weekend the weekend of Oct. 31 through Nov. 2.  This long-running event, sponsored by the North Shore Music Association, passes under the radar of many local people.
 
Bluegrass is a uniquely American music that features fiddle, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar and standup bass fiddle.  Many of the songs are rooted in traditional music from the Appalachian Mountains.  Similar to jazz, the song is sung or played through once in a straightforward manner.  After that, each instrument takes a turn through the melody, improvising as they go.  It is also common for the group to sing in three-part harmony.  The shared musical vocabulary of bluegrass makes it very accessible to amateur musicians, both to learn and to play together.
 
The Masters of Bluegrass Weekend brings together avid bluegrass musicians from all over the Midwestern U.S. and northwestern Ontario. From the moment they start arriving on Friday afternoon until they depart on Sunday morning, every nook and cranny of the resort is filled with groups of people playing music.  Anyone can drop in to experience this amazing musical smorgasbord by just wandering around the main lodge building.  Even if you aren’t a Bluegrass fan, I recommend a visit just to witness the phenomenon. I guarantee that you will be entertained.
 
Many of the participants are very serious amateur or professional musicians with incredible talent and skill. On the other hand, they warmly welcome beginners and encourage them to learn and practice by joining the jam sessions, so if you’re a closet or wannabe player, don’t be shy about joining in.
 
By the way, there are organized workshops and a formal concert on Saturday night that features some of the best bluegrass musicians in the world.  This year, mandolin virtuoso Emory Lester will be the featured performer.  There is a modest cost for the workshops and concert. You can get more information online at the North Shore Music Association website or by contacting Lutsen Resort. 
 
The bloodmobile will be returning to the Zoar Lutheran Church parking lot in Tofte Tuesday, Nov. 11 from 2:30 until 6 p.m.  You can search online for Memorial Blood Centers to find out if you are qualified to give blood.  Or call Julie at 663-7111 for information or to schedule an appointment.
 
I completely missed it, but Oct. 9 was officially Louise Trachta Day in Tofte.  I’m not too upset about missing it though, because in my book every day is Louise Trachta Day. 
 
Louise has headed up the Tofte Rescue Squad for 15 years and is a true hero in our community.  She not only has come to our aid in our hours of greatest need, but she’s built the rescue squad into a professional and well-staffed unit.  She’s kept up with the latest trends in emergency care, trained the squad to state standards and done a ton of paperwork.
 
All of this was done strictly as a volunteer, so the next time you see Louise, give her a hug and a big thank you. She is the best of the best.

(Photo courtesy of Tofte Township)
 

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West End News: October 9

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‘Tis the season for your annual flu shot and, as usual, the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic is making it convenient for West Enders to get their shot without driving all the way to Grand Marais.
 
The flu shot clinic will be in the West End Wednesday, Oct. 22 – at the Moondance Coffee Shop in Lutsen from 9 until 10:30 a.m. and at the Birch Grove Community Center from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
 
There is a reasonable charge for the shot, which is payable by cash or check only. If you want to charge the shot to your insurance, bring your information and card along.
 
I’m sorry to say that I’ll be missing the flu clinics this year because I got my flu shot at my recent “every-eight-year” annual physical. The flu shot clinics are a great place to catch up with your neighbors and personally thank the wonderful caregivers from the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.
 
I was interested to read in the Duluth News Tribune that the taconite industry is having a hard time shipping their product to the steel mills due to a lack of railroad capacity, among other reasons.  Apparently, the coal and oil industries are using up so much rail capacity that some other industries are experiencing a shipping bottleneck.
 
This makes me wonder why the railroad line that terminates at Taconite Harbor in Schroeder is still in mothballs and not being used? 
 
When the Taconite Harbor power plant was sold to Minnesota Power, Cliffs Natural Resources, the former Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company, retained ownership of the rail line that runs between Hoyt Lakes and Tac Harbor. At the time, there was speculation that Cliffs would use the line to ship taconite from the Iron Range, reducing both the distance traveled by rail and the distance traveled by Great Lakes ore boats, saving time and money over the existing shipping routes.
 
The recent rail shipping bottlenecks are being blamed on a shortage of locomotives, which again makes me wonder what happened to the cool old locomotives that used to serve Taconite Harbor?
 
It seems a shame to leave such an important piece of railroad infrastructure left to slowly deteriorate. Also, the jobs associated with an active shipping conduit would be welcome here in the West End.
 
I’m always distressed to read about the decline in voting in the United States. For a long time, low voter turnout was blamed on confusing and awkward registration and voting systems, along with changing demographics.
 
Recently, voting experts are learning that the real reason voter turnout is declining is a lack of motivation.  Determining people’s motivations is always a tricky business, but some causes seem self-evident.
 
The two major political parties used to focus on grass roots organizing and large get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. Increasingly, both parties have become fundraising machines that use the money to fund television ads, especially in the last couple of weeks before the election.  Most of the ads are negative in tone and specifically designed to dampen enthusiasm for a particular candidate.
 
Another effect of the negative tone in political advertising is to give the impression that voting is choice between bad and worse. I certainly notice that attitude in many conversations that I have and, to be honest, I often feel that way myself
 
The Republican Party has spent the last few decades campaigning on the premise that we need less government. Voting is perceived as a government function, so it’s possible that the anti-government message is contributing to voter discouragement.
 
However, I’m an optimist at heart and I still think democracy is the best thing going in this country and around the world. I strongly urge you to exercise your right to vote in the election that’s just around the corner.
 
Here in the West End, our voting is done by mail, so the election really starts next week. The ballots go out early next week, so you should be receiving yours around Oct. 15.  You have until Election Day to return it, but I urge you to vote as soon as your mind is made up so you don’t forget.
 
This year, you can complete your voter registration online. It’s easy to find the site with a simple web search. You need to provide a valid Minnesota driver’s license or I.D. number, or the last four digits of your social security number. 
 
You can also register and vote anytime between now and Nov. 4 at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais.
 
To be eligible to vote you must be 18 years old by Election Day and have resided in your local precinct for more than 20 days. You also can’t be a convicted felon or otherwise had your voting rights revoked by a court of law.
 
As discouraging as the current political climate is, the right to vote is still the basis of our civil society. All the outside money and influence in the world can’t stop us if we use our vote to make our local community – and the rest of the world – an even better place to live.
 

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Alex Boostrom

West End News: October 2

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The West End was saddened recently on receipt of the news that longtime Schroeder resident, Joyce Kehoe, had passed away at the age of 85.
 
Joyce lived in Schroeder for 50 years, where she raised her children and was a strong thread in the fabric of the community.
 
When my parents started business here at Sawbill in 1957, Joyce and her husband Danny were the suppliers of gas and oil for the West End.  Our families became close friends with connections on many levels.
 
When they were little kids, Jeff and Joanne Kehoe in particular were eager to ride along with their father when he made his deliveries to Sawbill.  My dad would invariably treat them to a candy bar and a bottle of orange pop while their dad pumped the diesel and gasoline tanks full. Those are great memories for both families.
 
Joyce Kehoe will always have a special place in our hearts here at Sawbill, as she does in the entire West End. 
 
Jack Blackwell is a native son of Grand Marais, who is the grandson of Alex Boostrom, a renowned Cook County pioneer, trapper and woodsman.  When Jack was young, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, trapping, hunting and traveling through what eventually became the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
 
Jack left Grand Marais for a distinguished career in the Forest Service.  He retired several years ago and now lives in Idaho.
 
He was back in Grand Marais last week and I was thrilled to get a preview of a book he is writing about his grandfather’s colorful life in Cook County.  
 
Although Alex lived most of his life in Grand Marais and on the Gunflint Trail, his main trapping territory was in the northern reaches of the Tofte and Lutsen townships.  Jack’s detailed memories of Alex’s stories about trapping and hunting in the area around Long Island and Frost Lakes bring that whole era vividly back to life.
 
One day when I was a small child Alex stopped by Sawbill to chat with my dad on his way out of the woods from his latest trapping trip.  My dad had just purchased a new brand of aluminum canoe and he asked Alex if he would like to try one out.  I think my dad meant for Alex to take the canoe down to the lake for a short paddle, but instead Alex put the canoe in his pickup and drove away.
 
A year went by with no contact from Alex until he stopped in the following spring after another round of wilderness trapping. After a few minutes of chewing the general fat with my dad, Alex gave his review of the canoe, which he liked very much.  But, with a little chagrin, he said that he no longer had the canoe.  He never explained what happened to it, but he quickly offered to trade some items that he thought would easily cover the value of the canoe.  He went to his pickup and pulled out five hand-carved cedar paddles – one for each member of our family.  He also gave us five raw wolf hides, which were legal to trap at that time.
 
My dad sold the hides immediately and their price easily made up the cost of the canoe. The paddles became prized possessions of our family, which we used for many, many canoe trips. I quickly grew out of my small paddle, but I used the paddle made for my dad on every canoe trip I took for 35 years, including a trip to James Bay. 
 
The two child-sized paddles eventually disappeared, but the three larger paddles have survived, although one is broken.
 
The paddles are wonders of craftsmanship, made entirely with hand tools out in the wilderness.  They show a deep understanding of how the material and the form are shaped to maximize strength, efficiency and usefulness.
 
They are an apt metaphor for the life of Alex Boostrom, who was well-known for his good humor, competency and deep skills in everything he did.  I can’t wait for Jack’s book to be published, hopefully within the next six months or so.
 

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West End News: September 25

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I’m happy to report that the Highway 61 construction projects that have been plaguing travel both ways from the West End are finally nearing completion. 
 
The 5-mile construction site centered on Little Marais is now completely paved with the first layer of asphalt.  The detour up through Finland and the bone-jarring stretches of potholed gravel are now just fading, unpleasant memories. The flag-person stops are now quite a bit shorter in duration.
 
The Lutsen resurfacing project is also making nice progress. It also seems to have its first layer of asphalt.  The bridge and culvert repairs are done and the traffic stops are quite a bit shorter.
 
Both projects are due to be completed in October.  Even though the construction has been a major pain in the neck for West End residents and visitors alike, there is no doubt the highway desperately needed repair. The smooth ride will make all the hassle well worth it.
 
A few days ago, I found the time to play hooky from work and ride my vintage motorcycle up Highway 1 to Ely. It was a glorious 70-degree day with no wind, a deep blue sky and fall colors at their peak. 
 
Nearly half of Highway 1 has been either rebuilt or resurfaced in recent years. The design engineers wisely kept the wonderfully curvy nature of the road, while making sure the curves are predictable and safe. It is a peak experience for any motorcycle rider, which was evidenced by the dozens of other bikers I saw during my ride.
 
I returned to Sawbill via the Tomahawk Trail and all the other gravel roads that follow the southern edge of the BWCA Wilderness. These roads have recently become popular with a group who identify themselves as adventure motorcyclists. They ride bikes that are for use on trails, gravel roads and paved highways.The riders who stop at Sawbill tell me that the back roads of Cook and Lake counties are listed as great riding destinations for this subset of the motorcycle world. 
 
All of this is good for our tourism industry, of course.  I personally contributed to the success of the Ely Dairy Queen in the middle of my recent ride.
 
In just two days last week, we enjoyed contacts with four of the most glamorous animals found in the West End.
 
After almost five years of zero bear problems, we had a funny visit from one local bruin. Our crew left a case of beer out on the back deck of the crew quarters.  In the morning, the case was discovered broken open and the cans strewn in a trail into the woods. Several of the cans had large caliber bite marks in them and had been drained of beer.
 
That same morning, a large bull moose strolled down the Sawbill Trail and straight through the Sawbill Lake Campground, much to the delight of the campers. The bulls are in the rut right now and not quite in their right minds.
 
That evening, someone heard wolves howling in the distance. One of our employees had never heard wolves, so she asked Cindy Hansen to howl into the night in the hope of provoking a response from the wolves. Cindy has a well-earned reputation for her ability to get wolf packs howling. After a few attempts, a wolf cut loose with a classic set of howls from less than 100 feet from where we were standing.  It was a deep baritone howl from an obviously large wolf. 
 
The next morning a lynx wandered through the campground and was spotted by several campers. 
 
I don’t know if all this animal activity is just coincidence, or if the turning of the season or phase of the moon is causing a wildlife gathering around Sawbill. No matter what the case, it has been great fun.
 
The fall colors are now at or near their peak.  I like it best when there is still some green on the trees for contrast.  The change is happening very fast now, so if you plan to get out for a color drive, now is the time.
 
The Honeymoon Trail is in full, blazing glory right now. The 600 Road north of Tofte and Schroeder is also gorgeous, but the Forest Service will be permanently closing the old iron bridge across the Temperance River to vehicle traffic soon, so get over there soon.
 
The gondola ride at Lutsen Mountains is at its peak right now too and makes a great outing for residents and visitors.
 
This is a glorious season here in the West End, so get out in the woods before the arrival of the grey season.
 

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