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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.

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:

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 21

Our prelude to winter along the Gunflint Trail has mellowed some, settling back to more typical autumn conditions. Light winds and slightly warmer conditions are the order as the Wildersmith scoop begins flowing from my keyboard.  

In spite of a few days with dismal skies, nothing dramatic has disturbed the peace and quiet as Trail folks get more ready for winter. Scant episodes of moisture deposits have done little more than keep the dust down on backcountry roads since our last radio visit.  

Nocturnal illumination created excitement in this part of the universe with Aurora Borealis dancing across the heavens on at least one night, while clear skies favored a magnificent full, “falling leaves” “super moon” just after midnight last Saturday. The brilliance of the “old man in the moon” gave a “luster of mid-day to objects below”, especially those skeletal trees lurking over the wilderness. 

While the deciduous portion of the forest has been almost totally undressed of all leaves, tamaracks are at their peak. A trip up to end of the Trail last Sunday found the gold-needled spires a buttery blur under the rays of “old Sol.” Although they don’t last long, if one hasn’t experienced the tamarack radiance, there’s still a chance it would be worth a trip out this way to get a glimpse of this golden attraction.     

Also, not lasting too much longer will be a chance to visit the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The facility will be closing its doors for the season after Sunday.  

Gunflint community energy sparked again last Sunday as fifteen Historical Society volunteers showed up at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. The group spent the morning cleaning up brush, branches and downed trees left from the wind storms of June and July. Two huge trailer loads of debris was gathered and hauled away, really spiffing up the grounds. Thanks to all for sharing a splendid northwoods day, all in the name of a good cause.           

I’ve noticed many of the mountain ash trees along the Trail are still loaded with bright red-orange fruit. It makes me wonder what’s going on with the cedar waxwings. I don’t know if they might be late migrating from whereever, or perhaps have already passed through, before the berries were properly ripened to their liking. It seems as though the ravenous birds have cleaned them off by now in most years. Meanwhile, the bears seem to have taken their share of the lower hanging fruit based on calling cards left here, there and everywhere.     

Speaking of the north country “Brunos,”almost anyone I talk to has observed one of the critters in past weeks. However, there have been few serious reports of bear vandalism, except for the theft of a bag of sun flower seeds from one couple’s garage, and the destruction of a half-dead apple tree here at Wildersmith. Settling in for a long winter's nap will soon be on their minds. 

I spotted a snowshoe hare in my headlights one night last week. Winter must not have been on its mind yet, as there was no sign of exchanging its summer apparel. It makes me wonder if this could this be a result of our extended warm fall, or perhaps a late arriving cold season, or possibly a warmer than normal winter, or maybe none of these at all, just a silly “wabbit.”   

Then again, I observed a red fox a night or so earlier. This furry creature appeared to be in full winter regalia, with a tail fluffier than one of those household dust-catching utensils.  

Another sign of potential significant weather change might have subtly come to me earlier this week. Whereas chickadees are always around, they seldom come close begging for a hand-out during the warm season. An up-close visit from some chickadees last Sunday surprised me when a couple of the pert little black caps came swooping in at me and landed but a foot away in a lilac bush, chirping excitedly. So I guess it's time to start carrying a handful of seeds in my pocket.                                          

Thinking of all these wild pre-winter notions, it would probably be better to just wait and not contemplate too much. Only “Mother Nature” knows what she has in store for all the beings of our Gunflint neighborhoods.    

On a final note, as Trick or Treat night approaches, don’t forget a treat for our community radio station. The WTIP fall (and final 2016) membership campaign gets underway this next week. Join in the fun of "giving" during this Halloween season at WTIP, beginning Wednesday ebvening, the 26th!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where northwoods days are great and some are even better! 

(photo by Linda Baird-White via Wikimedia Commons)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 14

The upper Gunflint Territory has experienced a gamut of atmospheric conditions since our last radio meeting. Over the past seven days, we’ve seen the splendor of a few marvelous warm and sunny fall days succumb to a brief winter preview during the weekend.    

Wouldn’t you know, this cold season prelim happened just as some great friends arrived at Wildersmith to bring the dock ashore. So here we were, in the fifty-five degree Gunflint Lake white capped water, heaving and hoeing amongst drizzle and a snow squall, toting dock sections to their winter storage quarters. Alas, we prevailed over the elements, and thankfully, the job is finished! As might be expected, after all was done, the sun, then made an appearance.      

There was no snow accumulation here in comparison to a few other places in northern Minnesota. However, the growing season can be declared over in this neighborhood, as a hard freeze terminated things last Saturday and Sunday mornings. Thermometers in some places found the mercury at about twenty degrees, with nineteen being the low at Wildersmith Sunday AM.  

It was frosty enough to make ice in the bird waterer, freeze a couple small Mile O Pine puddles, see summer garden plants wilt with a good bye, and bring on ignition of a cozy fire in the wood burning stove, ‘tis the season.  

Autumn's color spectacular got hit as weather took a turn. For a couple days, both rain and blustery winds sent a good deal of the seasonal aura packing.  

There are still a few patches of gold quaking, but we will see most of them on the ground by the time this scribing airs. One neat aspect of this deciduous leafy drop is the ability to see deep into the forest for the first time in months.   

The final blush of our pigmentation spectacle, is picking up the slack from the leaflet letdown. Tamarack needles can be observed taking on their flaxen tones in select places along the Trail. There are few fall affairs to top the romantic awe of a feathery tamarack in blooming 24-carat.   

While things of fall are settling into their winter resting place, tourist business is winding down along the Scenic Byway. It appears to have been a bustling summer and has even extended well into early fall.  Proprietors, from whom I’ve heard, indicate the season has been great, with one wondering from where all the people keep coming.    

I’m told it was a record breaking season for the fabulous pie maker over at Clear water Lodge. Guess she normally produces about one hundred seventy pies a summer. 2016 has been overwhelming as in excess of three hundred fifty of her tasty pastries came out of the oven. Wow, that’s a lot of pie crusts and fruits of the forest!   

With grouse hunting season underway, I hear success has been moderate to good, depending upon the day's weather and, of course, the shooter's aim. Recently, one of the seemingly unintelligent Minnesota “chicken birds” made a landing on our avian feeding trough. It was, maybe, seeking refuge from the sound of gunshots down the lake. Due to possibly attracting a marauding bear, the seed cafeteria was not open, so it just sat for a while then winged off into parts unknown.

Hunting isn’t just for the two-legged beings this time of year. A sleek wolf was observed doing a little food service reconnaissance recently along the Hungry Jack road in the mid-Trail area. The northwoods warrior was digitally captured by a Hungry Jack Lake couple. A photographic recording can be seen alongside my Wildersmith column on the www at       

Those same HJ residents have also been enjoying regular visits from some kind of hawk over the past several weeks. Since appetite satisfiers have not been offered, reasons for the stop-overs are unexplained, but it must involve an easily accessible, natural, nourishment supply somewhere nearby.      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where cool Gunflint days are energizing, and oh so special!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 7

The Smiths are back in the woods following a migration south to visit kids and grandkids. Our trip home to these northern latitudes was, as usual, dwindling traffic with each passing mile from metropolis. What a joy it is to see the urban hub bub in the rear view mirror.  

What began as a trek in sunshine and clouds from along the Mississippi in northeast Iowa, found the horizon growing thick as we passed into the land of aspen and conifers. The heavenly ceiling grew leaden, and while steering northward I had a sudden thought that the skies looked very winter-like, maybe even filled with snow. But with October only banging at the gate, it was surely not to be as we rolled into the village.

Our trip out the Trail brought me back to reality. Autumn was in glorious bloom as we putzed along the by-way. To say this time of year is magnificent is an understatement.    

While the Trail is not blessed with all the maple tree flavor of the lake shore drive along Superior, we are rewarded in gold. As I’ve said before, there’s gold in “them thar Gunflint hills,” and plenty of it. Whereas this is the land of “Vikings” pride, currently, the landscape looks more like “Packer Land” with the glory of golden birch and aspen tokens nestled amongst a mixed green bag of a trillion pines.                                                                                                                                                     
During a drive along the upper Trail last Sunday, I was pondering just why we call it “fall” this time of year. I don’t know, but would guess there is possibly a sophisticated reason out there in space somewhere. Maybe it has to do with the fall of summer's rule, or perhaps it could be that falling leaves play a role in the autumnal nickname. Regardless, “fall” is what it is, a brilliant “fashion show” along our international border.  

With a week of October under our belt, the month of the Ojibwe, “falling leaves moon” is hitting on all cylinders. Shadows are noticeably lengthening; our Sawtooth Mountains seem to be rising later with each fleeting morning; “old Sol” is turning out the lights sooner; flurries of leaves are showering down with even the slightest whisper of breeze; and mellow aromas of the season are caught wafting through the forest. And catch this, on a cool night or two. I’ve even scented a whiff of smoke from a wood burning stove. Oh how sweet it is!   

The mention of falling leaves finds me drawn to how they seem to get so neatly windrowed along our back country roads. Although there is little traffic on the Mile O Pine, any passing vehicle contributes to whisking the whimsical leaflets into tidy rows, like winter plowed snow.   

Beyond these roadside gatherings, and further back into the forest, the rhythmical process of layering “Mother Earth” with remnants from a withering growing season is well under way. Not only is the terrain gathering deciduous items from on high, but our coniferous forest has shed a good share of its “senior” needles , recarpeting the landscape in a tawny hue. The soft, delicate arrangement of this eternal earthen blanketing is always something to behold, kind of likened to the magic of first fallen snow. 

The beat goes on with getting ready for winter just south of Canada. Completed is my annual five building staining project with several winterizing jobs on tap. The dock will come ashore this weekend, I’ll be draining wildfire sprinkler lines, putting deck furniture into storage, and emptying summer flower pots, to cite but a few.

Those already checked off include: the wood shed which is filled, the snow blower has been checked out, and the boat has been stowed, however, mounting of the snow plow can wait ‘til Halloween is near.  

Unless, we should get an unexpected surprise, I feel pretty safe my “getting ready” plans are right on schedule.   

Regardless of the tasks to be done, it’s an inspirational thrill to be out in this breath-taking wilderness. Color all of us year-‘round Gunflint folks, happy!   

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where Gunflint days in the fall are splendid, and some are even better!
(photo by Anne Dirkse via Wikimedia Commons)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 23

The blush of fall is now fully engaged in the northwoods. The natural “east is east” and “west is west” equinox phenomenon has sent “old Sol” past the tipping point toward the southern hemisphere. 

Our border country “Technicolor” spectacle has shifted into high gear. While the intensity has been mounting rather deliberately up to this point, the official declaration, this past Thursday, seems to have set off an orange/red blitz in just a few days. This area will be a “leaf peepers” dream for the next couple weeks.  

Several cloudy days have been the order in this neighborhood during the last seven. Fortunately, the dismal time did not go to waste as the Wildermith rain gauge collected over an inch and three-quarters, with some upper Trail folks reporting even more.   

Speaking of wet happenings, a check of the Gunflint Lake water temp at the Smith dock, found the mercury in a state of decline to sixty-five degrees. This is down from our warmest summer reading of near seventy-five.  

Whereas several areas in the northland got nipped, this place in the woods missed the predicted frost of last week. It was close though, with two consecutive mornings at thirty-five on multiple thermometers. Yet I did detect what appeared to be frozen crystal in a few ditch locations during a trip to town on one of those days. 

I received an interesting report on some lake water testing conducted this summer here on Gunflint Lake. Some of our residents have long been concerned about the application of calcium chloride to roads adjoining the Gunflint Gal for dust control, as well as copious amounts of chemical treatment put on the Trail during the winter. Our interest of course, is whether this practice is having any adverse effect in regard to calcium (C++) run-off and a build-up of such in the lake water. 

Sample readings were taken in cooperation with County Soil and Water in mid-June. I’m told thirty-five lakes were tested in the County, and of all the lakes sampled, Gunflint was the third highest with analysis showing 8.2ppm. A rough calculation projects there could be nearly a thousand tons of excess calcium chloride in this lake. In comparison, Tucker Lake, just two lakes to the south, and not having close proximity road treatments, had a reading of 3.5ppm. 

The critical issue on excessive levels of C++ is a correlation between C++ and INVASIVE SPECIES, notably rusty crayfish and zebra mussels. According to our Gunflint Lake water monitor, Gunflint Lake, on the whole, does not have good habitat for “rusties,” but the invasive rascals could devastate the shallower Little Gunflint and Little North Lakes. What happens is that “rusties” destroy vegetation and hog available food, thus having a negative impact on fish habitat. This surely has potential implications for other upper Trail lakes as well. Apparently, research says that 5ppm (this could be found to be even lower) is a cutoff for sustaining rusty crayfish.    

Attempts are being made with MPCA to do some deep water testing this winter on the Gunflint to further assess the consequences of this C++ issue. In the meantime, Gunflint Lake property owners and other territory lake residents will no doubt be thinking about the value of keeping the dust down versus environmental costs to our pristine waters.   

A story of near tragedy and triumph took place on Hungry Jack Lake little more than a week ago. A loon was discovered near a resident’s dock in a seriously distressed state. The bird had a fish hook in its chest, and fish line tangled around its head, obviously making it difficult to eat, dive and/or swim. 

There are “good Samaritan” acts someplace every day. Fortunately for this Minnesota icon, Hungry Jack and Leo lake neighbors were in the right place at the right time and gathered quickly. A fish net was chosen as the implement for rescue, and a gal in a kayak with three folks in a canoe set out to corral the troubled animal. They soon netted the loon and brought it to the dock of Hungry Jack Outfitters.    

The terrified loon was wrapped in toweling, but nevertheless, inflicted numerous blows with its beak before rescuers were able to secure its head. The fish line was ultimately removed and the hook carefully cut off and pulled out.  With loving hands the handsome critter was released back into the lake where it gave a “hoot” (perhaps saying thanks), flapped its wings and swam away, for sure saved from an anguishing death. Congrats and thanks to the caring folks for helping a creature of the “wild neighborhood” to triumph over tragedy.  See pictures of the rescue effort attached to the Wildersmith column at   

Most of the time it’s difficult to retrieve lost fishing tackle, but if at all possible, anglers could do these floating critters a big favor by not leaving to chance that line and hooks with bait will never cause a problem. 

On a final note, The Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in concert with the GT Scenic Byway Committee and WTIP, is looking for stories, pics, and artifacts of the Ham lake Fire. Such are needed for the 2017 Chik-Wauk Museum temporary exhibit, as next year commemorates the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. The exhibit will feature remembrances of this flaming disaster, along with educational presentation of wildfire ecology in the territory.  

If anyone has items from the historic event and is willing to share them with exhibit organizers, please let the Society know by calling the museum at (218)388-9915 to be directed to project planners. Donations are being solicited to assist in funding this extraordinary undertaking.      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, where every border country day is great, and some are even better!

(photos courtesy of loon rescue team)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 16

It hardly seems possible we are at the half-way point of September. The northland universe will be celebrating the full “wild rice” moon with our Ojibwe neighbors this weekend, and by this time next week the seasonal equinox makes autumn official, heading us off toward many beautiful days until the white stuff arrives.  Time sure flies by when you’re having fun.  

Our fall prelude continues as the first leaves are parting ways with their summer connections. The original “golden arches” are convening over many back country roads with an aura of birch leaflets intensifying in a big way since we last met. Over the past few days, what sugar maples we have along the Mile O Pine have begun surrendering chlorophyll for their scarlet blush and some of the coniferous crowd is displaying ebbing tawny needles of years past. Last but not least, on a couple damp dreary days, I actually got a whiff of the magical harvest time forest aroma. How sweet all of this is!  

Atmospheric conditions have had their good moments over the past segment with both sun and clouds. While a heavenly blessing for this neighborhood came in a couple nice showers yielding three-fourths of an inch, thus keeping wildfire danger at bay.

Another sign of the times was a forecast of cooling temps, highlighted by a potential for our first frost.  By the time this scoop hits the air streams, we out this way will confirm if the prognostication was just one of those “ten percent” chances with which we are so often encumbered.       

Further evidence of our daily cadence changing has been seen overhead. Several flocks of those Canadian honkers have winged aloft in recent days. At least one flock has been observed setting down on the Gunflint Gal for an overnight. One of our Gunflint lakeside neighbors captured a spectacular digital rendering of them lifting off southward bound, after their brief stay. For a look, check this out on the Wildersmith column at  

Bear traffic throughout the territory seems almost more prolific than the tourists now. I see them with regularity, and if not the “Brunos” in person, their “scatty” calling cards.

In one amusing observation, I saw one standing upright along county road #20 (South Gunflint Lake road) near a mail box. The black bruin looked as if it might be checking for a sweet delivery as it sniffed at the unit and grabbed at the door. The entire happening had a distinct (time to get the mail) human look. Finally as my vehicle neared, the big “Teddy” spooked and scrambled off into the roadside brush.      

In another wild encounter, a huge bull moose was caught crossing Loon Lake Road by a couple residents. The big fellow lumbered across in front of their vehicle, then turned around and marched right at them before stopping a short distance away. Guess it might have been as curious about this humming machine, as were the occupants inside about him. Or maybe, since they are known to have poor eyesight, it might have been swooning over this large rumbling monster (with headlights for eyes) as a potential romantic encounter. In any event, he didn’t realize he was posing for a photo op. Several pics were snapped and one has been shared with me, and I in turn share one with you.  Yes everyone, there are moose in the woods! Take another look at and click on the Wildersmith commentary, this guy’s a beauty! 

Dock time along Gunflint Lake at Smiths’, as on other area lakes around sundown, mirrors unimagined beauty rippling across crystal border country waters. The gamut of colors can be mind boggling, sometimes changing from moment to moment and always based on happenings high in the stratosphere. From breathtaking cotton candy pink to dark charcoal and most every tint in-between, this glorious natural liquid pigmentation through heavenly reflection has been going on since the beginning of time.

Unfortunately, this aqueous daily occurrence is most likely taken for granted by the bulk of the human race, often putting such beauty in jeopardy through their decisions and actions. However, those of us living around the glacier filled basins of the Superior National forest cherish the creation of this blessing and the joy it can bring to everyone’s lives. One would hope an ever-expanding America might come to its senses soon and stop trying to tamper with what “Mother Nature” has provided here in the Northland. Clean, clear, “water is life.” 

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every northwoods day is great and some are even better!
 (geese photo by Betty Hemsted; moose photo by Joanne and Paul Johnson)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 9

One full September week is into the books for Gunflint Country, and all is well. The color of autumn is increasing with each passing day. Juvenile birch trees are beginning to light up the forest and the last flowering blossoms of our warm season add an accent to any trip along a back country path.

By the way, most tail-end blooms are asters, and they are the most vibrant lavender/purple tint I’ve seen in recent years. Makes me wonder if there is any atmospheric significance to this deep purplish hue; like it's been a great summer growing season, or could it mean a swell fall ahead, or could it be forecasting a mean winter. Regardless, the mini daisy-like flowers have month nine, “busting out all over.”

Shades of scarlet can be found twinkling in the September sun, too. Highbush cranberries, wild rose hips and mountain ash fruit are at their pigment pinnacle, shining like holly berries in December. Truly, Gunflint territory is on the verge of stained glass splendor. My advice, don’t miss it!

Caravans of vehicles paraded to Chik-Wauk last Sunday for not only a splendid time in the north woods but also the big pie/ice cream eat-a-thon. What a day for enjoying the sweetness of this special place, in addition to consuming several hundred pieces of home-made pie and dips of creamy frozen goodness. Thanks to GTHS organizer, Judy Edlund, and her great crew of pastry artisans and servers for dishing up a flavorful afternoon in border country.

Last week's commentary about minimal Ursus observations this summer had “bearly” passed over the radio/website waves when I was deluged with recent sighting reports. So bears are on the move. A number of folks along the Mile O Pine have reported “Brunos” in the past week, yours truly included. The one I observed was a medium sized critter while others have seen momma, poppa and/or cub examples.

Vandalism announcements are pretty quiet to date, although there has been one incident of a bruin breaking into and entering a guest cabin down at Gunflint Lodge. In this case guests found a bear sitting in the kitchen area munching on a plate of cookies. Guess the resident had left a batch near a window sill and this guy/gal just couldn’t resist, breaking the glass to get at the sweet morsels. One would suppose there were a few moments of commotion and the bear made a rapid exit by way of its entry. Other than broken glass and a lost batch of goodies, it was a no-harm, no-foul, ending, but surely a vacation to remember for those guests.

Speaking of pests, while sitting on the dock watching those magnificent “Canadian Sunsets” over the past week, it seems we’ve had a late hatching of mosquitoes. They are a bit smaller than cousins of the previous months, but are nonetheless just as pesky in terms of nipping, as the sun makes its daily descent.

As we have sailed past the Labor Day holiday, seasonal neighbors are starting to pack it up. A few have already headed to cold season digs southward. But then again, living at 48 degrees north, there are not many other ways to go.

I see boats being brought in for winterizing while summer docking units are coming ashore. Meanwhile, those of us year-around folks are tending to firewood stacks for 2017 as this coming winter's fuel is already in the shed.

Yours truly has been putting off staining efforts on Wildersmith buildings until bug season lessened. So, for the most part, there are no more excuses for putting it off, one down and four to go with even more “getting ready for winter” chores looming.

A reminder is extended to area residents and visitors about the last Gunflint Trail Historical Society membership meeting of the season. The group will gather at the Schaap (mid-Trail) Community center this coming Monday, September 12, at 1:30 pm.

In addition to treats being served, a sweet program is in the offing with Nancy Waver from Trout Lake Lodge speaking of their facility's 70 years of operations. And frosting on the day's program cake will come in a video/slide presentation of the recent GTHS volunteers shaping timbers for our boat shelter project. As we wood chippers learned during our sawing adventure, be there or be square!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where Gunflint days are always great, and some, are even better!

(Photo courtesy of srf1957 on Flickr)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 2

As the northland celebrates the coming of September, yours truly heads off into year fifteen of my weekly commentary on life along the Gunflint Trail. I would never have thought my retirement years would find me at the keyboard every Sunday evening scribing happenings   about this enchanting territory.

It’s been an experience for the ages as I‘ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and learn of their journeys along this scenic byway. I often feel it a daunting task following the footsteps of the iconic pioneer gal, Justine Kerfoot, who carried on Gunflint news reporting for decades. Although I’ll never have the firsthand experience she had in this adventure filled area, it's been an indescribable privilege to be able to carry-on sharing our wilderness goings-on over the past fourteen years.

The month of the “wild rice/harvest moon” has stepped off in marvelous fashion with near perfect weather. Since our last radio meeting, this neighborhood had seen only sprinkles from what few clouds have passed us by until our call was answered in the wee hours of Monday morning when a mini thunder boomer dropped little over one-half inch. 

The deciduous portion of the upper Gunflint forest will soon be dwindling like that of our daylight minutes. I can’t help but reflect on the lush flora growth which has been nothing short of unbelievable this past summer. “Mother Nature” has done a number in terms of obscuring views too far into the forest. After months of looking at nothing but leaves, I can hardly wait to gain a look into the woods and maybe see who or what might be looking back. 

Unless one has been in the territory watching for a number of years, you just can’t imagine how vegetation can consume us in such a short period of time. A long time path between the Wildersmith place and our neighbors to the west has grown to be an invisible mire of greenery during the summer months.  I elected to pass on keeping it clear, and if I didn’t know it had been there, no one would ever understand it had existed, except maybe the deer of yesteryear.       

Speaking of white tails, the sights of blaze orange out this way will probably be few and far between once again, as this hunting season nears. Few, if any, reports are being heard in regard to deer sightings from middle to Trail's end. One fellow did report a momma and her twin fawns in his yard recently, while we wood shapers saw singles on only three different days during our recent trips to Grand Marais, but those are about it.  

This scenario of a venison deficiency makes one wonder what is going on with the wolf population. Guess they must be finding some edibles as the Gunflint /Loon Lake pack is still heard making their “call of the wild” on an occasional summer evening. 

Another comment heard recently, concerns there being seemingly less bear activity than usual. I have caught sight of a couple here and there, but thankfully, none around Wildersmith, to date. I suppose I shouldn’t be boasting too much yet as berry picking season is about done and they’ll likely be scrounging for anything and everything, anywhere, in prep for their long winter's nap. With the “Bruno” hunt now in its opening days, it will be of interest to see how the bear harvest goes this year.  

Meanwhile, harvesting for winter has really intensified with the squirrels.  White cedar seed clusters are being cut and husked, while pine cone collection can mean an early wake-up call as they plummet onto roof tops around daybreak.  

The sweet treat weekend is finally at hand. The GTHS pie and ice cream social will sweeten everyone’s pallet, Sunday (the 4th) on the grounds at Chik-Wauk. Serving will be from noon to 4 pm, rain or shine. A $5 donation per person is suggested, with proceeds going to continuing Chik-Wauk facility operations.   

The Museum gift shop will also be holding their annual sidewalk sale in conjunction with the pastry delights from our local bakers. Plan to join in with friends and neighbors, as we bid summer farewell during the Labor Day weekend.                                                                                                                               
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and some are even better! 

(photo by Managementboy via Wikimedia Commons)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 26

My, oh my, August along the Gunflint has almost slipped away, barely noticed. Seeing September 2016 on the horizon is hard to comprehend. But it is what it is, so bring on month nine.  

With the last big summer season weekend just seven days away, vacation activities are fading fast and another school year has our attention. If this isn’t stirring enough interest, I see tinges of orange on maple leaves, and the berries of mountain ash and high bush cranberries are exchanging tints of green for fall-like decorations. 

Amidst this autumnal advancement, except for one day of clouds and rain during the previous week, the upper Gunflint has been sparkling. In fact, when beginning this commentary last Sunday evening, our neighborhood had been so “cool” windows around the house remained closed all day for the first time in many weeks. That in mind, the moose and I are in “hog heaven” hoping for more of the air conditioning. 

After ten days of working nine to five on the timber frame project, I’m back in the retirement saddle. It was a splendid, but challenging experience with fourteen other Gunflint Community volunteers and three other great new acquaintances from outside the county.                                                                            
Some interesting statistics were recorded by one of our group showing the enormity of our undertaking. To mention a few: of the eighteen volunteers, the average age was just shy of sixty-eight years; in terms of time spent, the group contributed 1440 hours and adding in 160 instructor hours, the project consumed 1600 total hours; also a good number of us commuted on a daily basis, spinning the odometer for some 8000 miles.   To top all of this off, there were few “sugar plums dancing in our heads” as several night time moments found us awake in the wee hours hoping for the next day's complicated cut, to be finished as designed. One of many interesting comments made during our shaping episodes included “my head is about ready to explode” when transferring blue print dimensions to actual cut lines on a raw piece of wood.  

Getting to the crux of this project, our sawdust/wood chiseling team crafted a total of 103 white pine timbers ranging in length from sixteen to twenty-eight feet. Being either eight by eight or eight by ten inches, they were monsters to move about.

Our vocabulary focused on the joinery jargon of shaping corner posts, king posts, tie beams, bents, knee braces, rafters, purlins and a ridge beam, all components of the 24 by 36 foot structure. Uncountable saw cuts, mortises, tenons and chamfers produced bushels of shavings and sawdust.  

In the end, we made it! No fatalities, one serious chisel drop accounting for ten stitches, and only four band-aids, all sandwiched in with comforting smiles, supportive tips and encouragement from teammates, and two splendid North House Folk School instructors. A job well done will be determined when all the puzzle pieces are joined together next summer.  

Another Trail topic over the past week fostered a bit of humorous entertainment for some passers-by, while understandably, raising the dander of others.   

 It all began as a situation where an apparent remodeling effort found someone with a used commode on their hands. Perhaps, either trying to elicit a laugh, or just being ill-informed as to the legality of dumping such a unit, it was set up along the Trail.  

The porcelain throne sat roadside for a few days before signage was added entitled “Rest Area.” As we wood chippers drove by on a daily basis, we found that the lid would be up one day and down the next. So others were obviously getting involved in whatever comedic relief was intended. A roll of TP being posted alongside must have been the tipping point.

With an implied image of this being a new Gunflint Trail rest area things were headed in a downward flush. One can only imagine what could have been next, and complaints were on the rise, so I found out via our district County Commissioner. This apparently led the county highway department to terminate the trickery. The obvious, non-compliant facility has since been removed, and things are back to normal with scenic Trail flora being the point of attention once again.   

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and some are even better!


Gunflint Volunteers at the Woodchippers Hall

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 19

The Gunflint Trail is alive with summer visitors as we head into week four of month eight. As luck would have it “Mother Nature” has provided some sparkling conditions over the past seven. Pleasant days with comfortable temps have been complemented by a couple night time rains yielding slightly over one and one-third inches here in this neighborhood.

Fall continues to nudge along as I’ve been watching on daily runs to Grand Marais for the timber framing class of which several Gunflint neighbors are participating. Speaking of this undertaking, it’s an energizing project that will end this coming Sunday.

It’s definitely been a lifestyle change for many of us as we put our retirement on vacation to go back to work each day from nine to five. I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to enjoy leisurely mornings until they went away.

Although the learning curve has been quite high for those of us with little to no experience, we are learning more each day and gaining comfort with reading prints and using tools of the art. As we hone out the components for this neat project, it might well be this is a crafty gang at the “wood chippers hall” and by “hall” I mean the red building at North House Folk School. One can view the mighty sawdust makers as they gathered for work one morning by hitting the website, and clicking on the Wildersmith column.

The annual mid-Trail homeowners summer celebration is into the books for another year following last week's flea market, gift boutique and auction. A big crowd turned out at the fire hall number one and when all was said and done, those folks raised $13,000 on behalf of the Trail Historical Society and our volunteer fire department.

By the way the ever-popular mid-Trail stitchers 2016 quilt raffle found Samantha Payne of White Bear Lake with the lucky ticket as the event came to a close. Congrats and thanks to Chair Judy Edlund and her wonderful group of volunteers for putting together another swell afternoon on the Gunflint Trail.

As if Judy Edlund didn’t have enough to do with this past event, she is looking for Trail pastry artisans to step up with the donation of a pie for our Labor Day weekend pie and ice cream social on the grounds at Chik-Wauk. The sweet treats will be served on Sunday, September 4, from noon until 4:00pm. Anyone wishing to donate a pie should contact Judy at 388-4400.

As we passed the full Ojibwe “blueberry moon” in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the fervor for blueberry heaven continues. Although many easily accessible patches have been picked over, those willing to go the extra mile into rough back country are finding buckets of the blue/purple gems.

The “Woods, Winds and Strings” concert held last Sunday was a melodious whisper through our Gunflint pines. Another sell-out crowd enjoyed many renowned musicians from our “tip of the arrowhead” talent pool. Thanks go out to organizer Susan Scherer, many of the usual Trail volunteers, all performers and of course a fine audience.

Up at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center this weekend, wildlife enthusiasts will want to be there for a program on the ever-changing Canadian Lynx population in the upper Trail territory. Making the presentation at 2:00pm will be USFS wildlife specialist David Grosshuesch.

A final note comes from one of our local resort owners. Last Monday while guiding a guest on Gunflint Lake near Campers Island, the scent of smoke was detected from nearby shore. Investigation found an unattended, still-burning campfire with brush placed on top of the flaming fire ring. Adding insult to an impending disaster, trash remains and plastic had been included in the blaze which is a recognized no-no for wilderness users.

Obviously Gunflint Trail residents dodged a bullet thanks to a good friend being in the right place at the right time. This carelessness is in-excusable regardless of whether the perpetrator was a visitor or a local. Campfires must be “dead/cold” out before departing any wilderness site!!!!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where all days are great and some are even better!!!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 12

As autumn rounds the bend, the “magnetic north” continues its attraction. Wilderness enthusiasts see their time in this spectacular place dwindling. Based on the idea of time in border country waning, vacationers are packing into area outfitters in droves. If parking facilities at both Seagull and Way of the Wilderness outfitters is an indication of what’s happening all along the Trail, business is booming as August heads into week three.

Added to the outdoor fanciers are blueberry pickers galore, making for perhaps more people in the BWCA/Superior National Forest right now than there are bears, or certainly moose.  

To make these wilderness adventures even more pleasant, Gunflint atmospheric conditions have been spectacular for paddlers, tent pitchers, and blue thumbed pickers. Moisture has been spotty though, but thankfully, what did fall came without the violence of storms experienced in June and July.   

Hopes for more fair weather are on the minds of eighteen Gunflint Trail Historical Society volunteers who will be starting an adventure into timber frame building at the North House Folk School as this report hits the air waves. Yours truly included, the group will be making sawdust and wood chips, while shaping timbers for the watercraft display facility to be erected on the bay-shore at Chik-Wauk Museum in the summer of 2017. Under the guidance of Folk House timber frame experts, the project will run daily beginning Friday the 12th and continue through August 21st. Wish us well in cutting a straight line and keeping all fingers intact!

A reminder to all seniors residing up the Trail, the AARP sponsored “Safe Driving” refresher course is being conveniently offered up this way on Monday, August 22nd. The class will be held in the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge from 10 am to 2 pm. Be sure to bring your own brown bag lunch. 

Last call is being made for the Woods, Winds and Strings concert this coming Sunday. Some tickets remain available for the 4 pm performance at the facilities of Fire Hall number one. Give the Chik-Wauk Museum a call @ 388-9915 to reserve your seating.

August is the perfect month to be planting. If area property owners are intending to enhance their woodland properties, the Minnesota DNR offers help through a Forest Stewardship Program. The program provides technical advice and long-range forest management planning. All aspects of the program are voluntary and are designed to meet landowner goals, while maintaining sustainability of the land. A Forest Stewardship plan is always prepared by a natural resource professional from our local area. For more information the following website provides a link to such at, or phone local DNR Forestry offices. 

News from the staff at Chik-Wauk is that the loon chicks hatched on the man-made nesting platform are back in the bay after a few weeks’ hiatus to somewhere. They are nearing adult size, complete with white breasts and darkening formal attire. It is heartening to note they have matured enough to escape the jaws of a hungry northern pike and the talons of a ravenous eagle. It won’t be too many weeks until loon young’uns will be gathering for their first trip south.   

The Wildersmith two have observed very few bears over the summer, and not one in a couple months. However, one did cross our path just days ago on a Smith trek toward end of the Trail. It was a little guy/gal, suggesting a birth date back around first of this year. Being a youngster, there was a strong probability a mommy and perhaps a brother or sister could be nearby. In the area viewed, it was more than likely to have been coming from or entering a blueberry patch. Pickers beware! It’s time for Brunos to start tacking on the pounds. 

On a final note, harvest time is entering early stages for the rodent critters around our yard. Pine cones high in the white pines and white cedar seed clusters will soon be cut to fall earthward and onto our roof tops, as the foraging race begins. Chipmunks have already begun the mad competition with squirrels for seeds, stuffing their jowls and scampering to unknown winter food banks, while their gnawing cousins seem not the least bit concerned right now. Let the games begin! 
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, thinking of “getting ready for winter” chores! 

(photo by Seney Natural History Association via Wikimedia Commons)