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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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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.

 

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(Big Swede Guy /Flickr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 8

           
The Smiths’ are home in the woods once more and I’m back at the keyboard again. After my annual stint as a member of the referee team for the Drake Relays in Des Moines, it seems like I’ve been away from this northern paradise for months not two weeks.                                
My return to the keys finds us having passed the Ojibwe “budding flowers” moon (Zaagibagaa Giizis) and chalking up one week of month five. My how the days whiz by!                              
With only a few white remnants left in shady spots along the Mile O Pine, “old man winter” has passed the baton to spring in the upper Gunflint. Such was marked by “ice out” on our Gunflint Lake May 3rd. If other area larger bodies of water haven’t already followed suit, the disappearance of their solidarity can’t be far away.                                                                                      
Our first segment of ice free water found brisk west winds rolling the happy liquid against our granite shore line just as it was before it ceased last December. It’s always joyous when ripples begin lapping up on the rocks.                                                                                                
Many smaller lakes have been open for several days now, and with these open waters have come the return of many “quacker” species and of course our charming loons. It’s such a delight to hear the happy yodeling from up and down the lakes.                                                                                               
And if these winged creatures aren’t creating enough excitememt, angst is noted as the first regiment of “skeeters” is buzzing about. Of course these mini drones are the non-biting reconnaissance crew that’s doing GPS work on us humans for the next real terrorists. To take this discussion further, I heard a report from a couple early season hikers who returned to base covered in wood ticks, ick! Guess we have to take the bad with the good in regard to this warm weather happening.                                                                                                                                               
The territory remains longing for a good spring soaking. Our open water is finding everyone scurrying to get their wildfire sprinkler systems up and running. At least properties can be soaked down artificially until “Mother Nature” breaks loose. A fellow I know had to dig his WFS pumping line out of snow bank in order to get his system going last weekend.                                         
Another rite of spring took place last Saturday with the eighth anniversary of the Ham Run half marathon and 5K. The day was spectacular, one of the few times for the event, and a far cry from last year when conditions were not the most favorable with still frozen lakes and frosty air. Nearly one hundred entries enjoyed the experience of the two races from Gunflint Pines Resort for the 13.1 mile race and Seagull Fishing Camp for the 5K. Thanks go out to all in the Gunflint Community for volunteering their time in making this event a marvelous tribute to the memory of our infamous 2007 Ham Lake fire.                                                                            
The next exciting activity is due to reconvene this weekend with the Minnesota Walleye fishing opener, as usual on top of Mothers’ Day. Remembering last year on opening day when ice fishing could have been more appropriate, this year an auger will not needed.                                                                                                                                         
 Happy angling to all casting their first line of 2015 but be particularly careful in floating craft as water temps are still dangerously cold! Yours truly can attest to it as I was briefly in the Gunflint Gal’s high thirty degree water earlier this week to set my WFSS lines. Even in my wet suit, the chilly waters got my attention!                                                                                                                                                       
Whereas many folks living in these parts have deep concern over any number of invasive plants and animals, another new one seems to be lurking and bears watching in the years to come. Not only are we being ambushed by the Emerald Ash Borer, an article in the April issue of National Geographic magazine, “The Bug That’s Eating the Woods”, calls attention to another critter ravaging Ponderosa/Lodgepole Pine forests in the western US and Canada.                     
Our warming climate nemesis is fostering epidemic proportions of the mountain pine beetle. It has devastated more than 60 million acres of forest from New Mexico through British Columbia since the nineties, and their movement in heading eastward along the northern US/ Canadian border.                                                                                                                                                                 
Most everyone knows that Ponderosas/Lodgepoles are not native to northern Minnesota, but Jack Pines are, and the gnawing critters are also known to enjoy the JP species as well. With the flourishing natural reforestation of Jack Pines in our fire ravaged areas of Gunflint Country, we now have one more invasive issue for which to be on the look-out.                                                    
According to the Nat. Geo article, the beetle movement is not near us yet, but one has to assume our MNDNR and local Cook County Invasives Team is monitoring the progress of this western migrant as it moves eastward in the coming years.                                                                                   
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor Gunflint sky blue waters once again! Happy Mother’s Day!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 17

What a difference a week can make! This area of borderland went from minus something on Easter morning, to almost sweltering seven days later. Whew, put away those layers and break out the Speedo! I’m betting what moose we have left were sweltering in their winter coats.

Last weekend saw temps soar into the forties, fifties and even some sixties. There was wide disparity dependent upon one’s locale and whether the thermometer was in the sun or shade.

Regardless, “Mother Nature” took over with some big-time snow and ice melting. If the “old gal” wasn’t in enough of a hurry to get spring moving, the melting liquid was, as it spilled out of the hills in rushing torrents toward area lakes.

Our winter was on the wimpy side so to speak. Nevertheless, snow left in its wake was enough to make rivers etch cavernous gullies across and along the Mile O Pine. It seems all the white tried to depart at once last Saturday and Sunday. I’m confident other back country passages were equally gashed.

In all of our sixteen winters at Wildersmith, this is the worst winter aftermath of flooding and mud season observed, and it’s just getting going! If this nightmare of gushing water isn’t enough, a more subtle situation is building by the hour. There still has been minimal rainfall to dampen the growing expanse of dry forest brush. It’s a double-edged sword – we need the rain, but not more water.

Wildfire is just a campfire's spark or dry lightning away from dangerous sudden ignition. It seems implausible that the DNR would invoke much needed burning bans throughout the county while the US Forest Service is not placing a ban on campfires for the Superior National Forest & BWCA. Everyone out this way remembers all too well the 2007 Ham Lake tragedy which was started by careless use of a campfire in extreme dry times such as currently exist.

The concern for wildfire danger is further magnified for area residents and businesses with frozen lakes not allowing wildfire sprinkler systems to be made ready for emergency usage.

More rites of the season have been in evidence over the past week. On a recent trip to Grand Marais, the Smiths came upon a couple late date Easter bunnies along the Trail.

At the time, there was still plenty of windrowed snow along the blacktop and these two critters were taken for clumps of dirty snow. As our trek got closer, it was evident their snowshoe hare DNA has them in early stages of changing to warm weather attire. Yep, they were a little bit white and a little bit dusty brown.

To date, I’ve heard of the first bear sighting along Gunflint Lake, so the winter feeders have been put away. Another sign of the times finds robins flitting about while my open wood shop door has been inviting enough for chipmunks to come snooping around.

Our deck-side feed trough experienced activity beyond the usual seed munching last week. To describe the scene, the action involved feeding, moreover it turned out to be a food fight, and please understand sharing this story will take longer than the actual event.

The stage is set with two characters, a squirrel and a pine marten. Squirrels are here all hours of daylight and spend a good deal of time in two small feeders I’ll call squirrel lunch boxes. These little six-inch by six-inch units are enclosed with a hinged shed-like roof for entry. One side also has a plexiglass window. Meanwhile pine martens are daily visitors, too, coming in for a poultry treat from their own swinging door eateries.

On this day, a squirrel had taken up occupancy in one lunch box, peacefully brunching away. Happening by about the same time, a marten came cruising along the deck rail checking out its fast food chances. Finding a kin had already partaken of its allotment, the marten proceeded along the rail, stopping to sit on top of the squirrels’ lunch box.

At this moment the marten detected the unit to be occupied and hopped off to sneak a peek in the tiny window. Seeing lunch potential inside, in a flash, Mr./Ms. Marten popped up the feeder roof and dove in on the surprised squirrel.

From that point on, confusion reigned supreme as the squirrel sought to escape being the entrée in this fight for food, and the marten determined the rodent was its intended. Seeds scattered about in a flurry as the skirmish spilled out onto the deck rail.

A squirming squirrel, in the marten’s mouth, fought violently. In the end, the tiny red rodent apparently got a nip or two of its own in on the marten's cheeks. Remarkably, the much larger fur ball dropped its prey. Both animals fell to the deck and the squirrel made a mad scamper to apparent safety, not to be seen again while the marten disappeared, unrewarded.

One has to wonder if either animal sustained a major wound as evidence of blood-spilling was not found. Perhaps they were both back the next day – mysteries of life in the woods continues!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the adventures of spring!

(Photo courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 10

Ten days into April and suddenly it’s hard to tell if spring is going to take hold as easy as it seemed back in March. Area folks have had high hopes, but so far it’s been disappointing, especially with our frosty Easter weekend. Along with a couple sieges of howling winds during the past week, the topper was Easter Sunday at Wildersmith when we awoke to a semi-winter, minus four degrees on the mercury column. Added to the sputtering season at hand, the heavens continue to misfire on moisture over the upper Trail.

In spite of our atmospheric misgivings, life goes on in border country. And, I must say human energies abound with activities scheduled for the coming of summer vacation times. Planning is well underway for the eighth annual Ham Run. The half marathon/5K runts run events through the upper Gunflint Trail Byway Corridor are scheduled for Saturday, May 2. This enthusiastic event serves as a reminder of the tragic Ham Lake wildfire that ignited in 2007 on May’s first Saturday, and devastated many lives and thousands of wilderness acres. Details and registration "info" for the running can be found on the official race website, www.cookcountyymca.org , or call the Cook County YMCA.

Meanwhile, the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is heading toward another Memorial Day weekend opening. My how time flies! Since the awesome historic facility opened its doors on July 5 2010, thousands of visitors have filed through the doors to view and hear the Gunflint story.

Renewed energy springs to life once again in 2015 as a new temporary exhibit highlights the coming season in addition to the usual naturalist programs. This year's display, themed "The Paper Trail," focuses on cultural aspects of celebrated Gunflint Trail pioneers and characters with journals, diaries and writings for hands-on reading and review. The Gunflint Trail Historical Society has recently announced their first museum manager, Ada Igoe, has departed for other career endeavors. Ada created a strong foundation of leadership for the museum operations. Happily, the Society wishes Ada the best while welcoming her replacement, Bonnie Schudy. Bonnie, well known for many years of working at various Trail resorts and outfitters (most recently at Gunflint Lodge and Northwoods Outfitters), brings not only great knowledge of the Trail/back-country life, but also boundless energy and enthusiasm in taking the reins from Ada. Come opening day, area residents and visitors will want to stop out and welcome Bonnie as she kicks off the sixth year of sharing the Gunflint Trail of yesteryear.

On another note, GTHS plans are in the works to celebrate the Chik Wauk Museum's fifth anniversary of operations with a big fundraising benefit/feed. The bash will be held at the end of the Trail Community Center (fire hall #3) on Sunday July 5. I’ll share more details as they become available. Early into June, more Gunflint activity hits the Trail with the first-ever Boundary Waters Expo. Mark calendars for June 12-14 and get online at www.VisitCookCounty.com/BWCAexpo for more "info" on this family-friendly, hands-on event for all ages. The days will be well spent featuring speakers, activities, demonstrations and more!

Further inquiry about life along this historic corridor is renewed once more in a new book release. A snippet of the writing is featured in the newest edition of Boundary Waters Journal, and the article really whets one's appetite to get at the Jack Blackwell work titled, BOUNDARY WATERS BOY—The Alec Boostrom Story. The Alec Boostrom Story is being touted by one publishing enthusiast as the best historical account he has ever seen about this legendary territory. Alec, by the way, is a younger brother of the renowned Clearwater Lake resident, Charlie Boostrom, who in his own right, along with wife, Petra, is an acclaimed Gunflint Trail pioneer. Gunflint Trail historic fanciers will want to get this one when it hits the stands. Perhaps a contact with BWJ at 1-800-548-7319 might provide a potential release time.

The Gunflint Trail Community wishes to thank two members of our local volunteer fire department who have retired. Respecting their wish to remain anonymous, the Gunflint Community nevertheless wants these heroes to know how grateful we are for their commitment and dedication to service over these many years. All "Gunflinters" wish them well in future endeavors!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the adventure of renewal in Gunflint border country!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 3

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With a forecasted warm-up over the past few days, winter caught its breath and took another swipe at border country as Palm Sunday was memorialized. Perhaps this was the “old winter geezer’s” last hurrah until October/November. The day broke calmly, but by sunrise, the Wildersmith neighborhood was deluged with wet heavy blowing snow. In a matter of not quite two hours, we were all decked out in three to four inches of white lace.

I think it snowed harder than any other time observed this winter. I’m told driving conditions during the morning were horrendous in most parts of the county let alone out this way. Although the accumulation is sure to be gone in a short time, any moisture nowadays is a blessing.

Planet earth welcomes April, and with it, no foolin’, tomorrow's full “maple sugar” moon (Iskigamizige Giizis in Ojibwe). March slammed the door in a bit of a “lion's” tirade and many out this way are anxious for “April the Beautiful.” The “madness of March” has spilled into April, but this American craze will be history before we meet again on the radio. Timely or not, our attention turns to those overcompensated “boys of summer.” Play ball!

I just heard one of those “you just had to be here stories.” It comes from a fellow residing over on West Bearskin Lake. Although eagle cams from places south are already revealing 2015 hatchings, seems “tis just now, the season” for romance around forty-nine degrees north.

Not long ago a seldom seen mating ritual between an eagle pair took place near this guy's dock on the frozen lake surface. One would think this courtship would likely be consummated high in the heavens, but for reasons unknown, this “nationally recognized” couple decided this heaven on earth was a proper place for committing to a new generation. Guess it was some observation spectacle. Sadly, in the excitement of this awesome happening, remembering to do a little digital recording escaped those watching.

In another north woods incident, a local fisherman recently came upon a “race for life” over the Gunflint Lake ice. He observed a wolf/deer chase across the lake while cruising his power sled to a secret catching location. The wolf was pursuing from the Canadian shores (suppose it didn’t have a passport either) intent on silencing a growling stomach. Our ice out this way has transformed from crusted snow and/or slush covered to perfect hard water. With the mid-March meltdown and subsequent recurring freeze-up, it’s glass smooth in places. The angler guessed the lake surface was going to be a no-win situation for this white tail. Those deer hooves just weren’t made for speed skating. Deciding to “make this deer’s day,” the sled was maneuvered in a direction with hope for diverting Mr. Wolf back from where it had come. Guess it worked, as I’m told the pursuer did a turn-about and gave up the quest for venison. For this deer, the state of affairs had to be “happy days are here again,” relief, after a near calamity, at least for the moment. It could be “race back on,” with a twitch of an ear or blink of an eye!

On a final note, I don’t know when pine martens deliver new babies, but I’m guessing such might have been the case during the past few weeks. Without giving notice, the cuddly critters came up AWOL from their usual stops for a little poultry poaching at our deck side cafeteria. Apparently, it’s none of my business where they go, but we are engaged with them once again as they have returned, hungry as ever, day and night. They are just delightful to watch!

Keep on, hangin’ on, and savor the blooming of month four on the Gunflint.

(Photo courtesy of the USFS)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 27

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Since we last met over the WTIP waves, spring has backed off somewhat along the Gunflint. The final stanza of March is dwindling, and the “madness” of the month has consumed many of us with NCAA women’s and men’s events in basketball, hockey, and wrestling to name just a few.

The basketball bracket sheets in the Wildersmith house are amiss with red ink as we stumble along the picking trail. About the only thing that I can predict with any certainty is the “mania” video programming format will contain mostly marketing propaganda with a little basketball sandwiched in between. How could any of those round-ballers ever get tired with all those TV time-outs?

Back to the Trail, more seasonal temps returned with a couple nights below the zero mark here in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, the same old record is spinning from a precipitation standpoint, still dry as a proverbial bone and getting drier. When our snow is gone, border country is going to be in a world of hurt with fire danger as ground-level brush will be crunchy dry. We can only hope the decision makers will react with burning bans proactively and not wait for wildfire to break out like happened in 2007. Furthermore, a little message to the snow/rain gods is more than welcome!

With winter character on the wane, activities are nearly at a standstill. The last of what will be a farewell to trout season happens Saturday and Sunday with Trail Center’s annual catching event on Poplar Lake. For details, give Sarah a call at the restaurant.

Cross country ski trails are still useable but slick with frozen crust which cannot be endearing to the inexperienced. Snowmobiling pathways are pretty much beaten to death so the sledding season is about “kaput,” unless new snow would do an April curtain call (it does happen you know).

Speaking of the “s” word, our spectacular white landscape along backwoods byways is grudgingly taking on the ugly look of usual urban accumulations. Receding under watchful beams from a surging March sun, it’s sad to say goodbye to such nature-made beauty. With recent daytime temps back at hanging out below the freezing mark, “Old Sol's" rays are doing just enough to barely melt exposed surfaces on roads and walkways causing them to re-freeze to Zamboni exactness.

In my brief time up here, I’ve not seen walking and driving conditions in many protected locales so scary slick and they seem to be worsening. There’s a growing icy concoction on the Mile O Pine now giving vehicle operators a stern test of maneuvering skills. Urban dwellers who whine about winter driving obstacles ought to see this mess. I thought it was bad last year, but the 2015 rendition of deep icy ruts in the mini-glacial build-up near the North Loon Lake Road intersection may be the topper during my time of watching spring rituals. It’s the ultimate in “speed bumps.” Key to getting through is four-wheel-drive and don’t stop, or one might be there until June.

A week ago I mentioned the return of crows in our area. That the crows are back is an understatement. The last few days has seen hordes of them in the yard picking through winter's remains. It seems they find some undigested items in “deer droppings” to their liking, yuck. It’s amusing to watch when they are spooked, and take flight. It’s like a dark storm cloud swooshing through the forest.

Deer visitors in our neighborhood have been in absentia for several weeks. I don’t know what is going on other than wolves have been managing the herd over the past several years so there’s just not many left. We did have a couple come by and hang out in recent days, but they had to share the corn hand-out with two adopted “chicken birds” while avoiding those under-foot ebony pickers at the same time.

Pussy willow buds are burgeoning with anticipation in a few spots along the Mile O Pine, and our forest floor is taking on the look of a spotted dog. Where the winter wind whisked snow away, melting has left bare ground. Then there are other places where the white stuff remains a couple feet deep.

It's sugar time in the forest as sweet juices of life begin oozing into spires of the wilderness.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a thought of green leaves and rippling sky blue waters.

(Photo by Mo Barger on Flickr)
 


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 20

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Out Gunflint way, it turns out that “old man winter” is exactly as the phrase denotes -- he’s old. Like us other “old geezers,” he can’t carry on with much zest anymore. The old guy of the north coughed, sputtered and limped away last week, and caved in to “old Sol.” In addition to shrinking snowbanks, he left us with dripping roof tops, backwoods roads in various states of ice, slush, mud, and running water along with a few grumpy winter season fanatics.

Yep, today kicks off official spring, ending the winter and sending us northern folk into “mud” season. Then it will be back to getting ready for winter. This area is luckier than most in the upper Midwest, as we still have a goodly amount of snow left where the sun can’t reach, but too many more days like the past week and our white landscape, too, will be history. Ours has hung on because we are still freezing back up at night. Thus, the month of the “crust on the snow” moon is fitting.

A positive in regard to this early thaw is the Gunflint black-top is now clear and dry. Since November, “hold your breath” winter driving conditions have been the order. At least for the time being, those slippery hazards have disappeared. The daily meltdown definitely has drawbacks as most wilderness walking surfaces are treacherous ice due to nighttime “Zamboni” re-enactments, my driveway included. A fall on such ice a few years back reminds me of my age and difficult recuperative capacities. Now, my daily runs down the drive are more like creeps (toes down first, followed by “baby steps”). So far so good, as I’ve maintained an upright position during 2014-15.

One more adventure this time of year is bringing my vehicle down the same greasy incline. Those who might be familiar with my passage situation know it’s a bit steep. And I know I don’t have a lock on difficult private roadways, others out this way have similar driveway scenarios. Over the years, learning to navigate the descent has taken some time. After initial “white knuckle” attempts during our first winter (1999-2000), while hoping to not end up in the snowbank and/or lake at driveway's end, I finally figured things out. The process is simple; put the “tranny” in neutral, creep it down foot by foot, caring not to lock up the brakes and pray a little. However, in spite of currently being pretty sure of myself, trepidation still commands my attention. So much for the look at a few idiosyncrasies of north woods life.

The woods are alive, not with “The Sound of Music,” but with the racket of returning crows. A “murder” of the ebony critters flew into the Wildersmith neighborhood on recent thermal wings, setting off noisy morning jabbering. There’s real off-beat harmony when both the crows and bluejays announce daylight is breaking. Along with the black and blue voices, there seems to be a renewed energy among the smaller avian, both winter residents and migrants headed back north.

I’ve noticed an unusual number of north woods “chicken birds” (grouse) scurrying the byway roadsides. I would guess this could be a dangerous time of survival for them as crusted snow makes for less than easy access to hiding places under snow cover. Another couple weeks of this warmth and those sleeping growlers will be coming out, among them, many momma bears with new babies.

I did see another of those cold season sleepers out and about the other night. A skunk crossed the path of my vehicle in the mid-trail area. So all kinds of slumbering beings are, or will be, getting our attention soon. Speaking of garnering attention, trout fishing season has minimal days left. Many anglers are still waging the finny wars through the ice. It would be well they pay close attention to those troublesome spots where ice is known to decay upon early warm-ups. Guess there’s already some open water around the access to North Lake from Little Gunflint and the narrows from Gunflint Lake into Magnetic Lake also looks to be open. All are encouraged to be safe in their on-ice exploits until lakes are liquid once again.

In closing, a sad note has been received of another Gunflint Community member passing away. Ms. Douglass Cutcliffe, a seasonal resident of Loon Lake, departed this heaven on earth for one higher up not long ago. Survived by husband, John, the couple enjoyed many summer visits to their cabin on Loon. The Gunflint Community extends peace and comfort to her family.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beginning of renewal time along the Gunflint!

(Photo by Len Matthews on Flickr)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 13

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A week into daylight savings time and we are March-ing along to a hint of spring. Already coming up on the halfway point of 2015 segment three, we at Wildersmith saw our first temps above the freezing mark in many weeks. Miracles of March are soon to be observed. Winter resident avians are pairing up; wolves, foxes and coyotes are gestating the new generation; sap in sugar maples will be oozing upward; our snow cover will be receding from the base of trees; snow fleas will pepper our white carpet under warming rays and pussy willow buds are soon to swell. Yes, there’s renewed oomph in old Sol.

Prelim to our current vernal prelude, the mercury still had the gall to bury itself below zero a few days out here in week one of the month, and a few inches of white were added to our less-than-normal seasonal tally. It’s hoped by yours truly, and a few others, that winter does not give up the ghost just yet. Based on the puny winter precipitation tally thus far, it stands to be an unnerving spring fire season should the landscape dry up earlier than usual.

Winter outdoor activities remain on our mind though, and were even more tolerable last weekend. Compared with terrible cold conditions last year, Sunday’s annual trout fishing derby had this year’s participants thinking they’d died and gone to heaven with moderate winter conditions. Ninety entries signed in, building an immediate ice community on Gunflint Lake. The atmosphere was abuzz with conversation and occasional screaming snowmobiles. By posting time at 2 p.m., the trophy board was impressively full. The winning “laker” was turned in shortly before the closing deadline, weighing in at 8 pounds 11 ounces. Jordan Ekroot was the lucky catcher and took home the $500 first prize. Congratulations to Jordan and organizers for making this another great event!

 Meanwhile, back down the Trail at Trail Center Lodge, a huge turnout enjoyed a marvelous day at the “Dog days of Winter.” With leadership impetus from Sarah Hamilton and organizational assistance from many contributors and volunteers, a number of snow-related activities were held on the ice of Poplar Lake. Observers took great interest in the short run dog sled races for participants of all ages. There were 32 dog team entries so it was a yelping good time. Another event, skijoring, captured considerable attention. Seventeen teams (dog/s & skier) took to either of the three- or five-mile courses. From the smiles on everybody’s faces, one could see the “Dog Days of Winter” possibly becoming an annual event. It had the nature of being great family fun! Thanks to Sarah and all for making it happen!

It appears the upper Trail sky line could be taking on another character. Cook County and the state of Minnesota are now planning to build an additional communication tower near Seagull Lake at the end of the Trail. The addition to the viewscape of the area is being requested of the state by Cook County to apparently fill some weak spots in communication coverage by existing equipment. The tower would be located about one and one-half miles from Seagull Lake and could be seen from everywhere in the blow down/fire scarred corridor and far into the BWCA wilderness. It would be the most prominent visible feature on the landscape for miles around. This proposal is causing considerable angst among some residents and business owners of the area. It’s not that these folks are against enhanced communication capabilities for safety reasons.

They would just like to see proponents’ exploration into alternative technologies that would not involve erecting an unsightly tower in this visually sensitive area. It seems hard to believe with all our American know-how and ingenuity that some type of communication amplification system couldn’t be produced to better fit into the natural Trail’s End surroundings.

Sharing concerns on this issue, like any other, is your right and responsibility!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor winter as it winds down!


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 6

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The Smiths have returned to the woods. We enjoyed a pleasant trip to Iowa for a visit and time with our kids, but it sure is great to be back in the peace and quiet of border country. Oh that hubbub of our so-called civilized society, too many cars and too many people!

Month three has pulled into the station, with a week-long layover already, how time flies! And speaking of time flying, we spring forward this weekend to the nonsensical manipulation of our clocks with regard to the sun (Daylight Savings Time). When will we ever learn?

Our short-lived February is into the books. A reflection of the month weather-wise found the Gunflint Trail more like January than what we would have normally been accustomed to, very cold. Could it be March will be our February? Perhaps our northland weather sequence might be off by a month. Guess time will tell, we’ll talk again after the 31st! In any event, the Ojibwe month of our full “crust on the snow moon” didn’t exactly come in like a lion, instead more like a domestic kitten. I’m still hoping we’ll do some snow catching up before winter takes down the tent.

It’s always captivating to return to Wildersmith following one of our excursions southward, especially with regard to the many critter visitors having passed through the yard. Fresh snow happened during our absence, so there were uncountable tracks headed in infinite directions to contemplate. One’s imagination can run wild wondering about the adventures of who and what made those impressions in the frosty landscape. I’m betting we missed plenty of untold stories.

Our homecoming brings further enjoyment when the local “wild” receive vibes via the “moccasin telegraph” that the Smiths are home. Having consumed every possible morsel on the feed trough during our leave, all who usually dine here are ravenous with excitement knowing of the nourishing possibilities. Then, once the goodies are laid out, it’s almost comical to watch the onslaught get under way. Within moments, they are on foot or wing. The scene takes on a “natural world” look, like we humans on “Black Friday.” Such enthusiasm!

It’s a big weekend here on the Trail! Sunday will provide two opportunities for wintertime fun. The annual trout derby picnic and fishing contest will take place on Gunflint Lake. Entry to the lake can be gained at the west end boat access with registration between 9 and 11 a.m. (one must be registered before drilling that hole and you must have the DNR trout stamp on your angling license). The contest entry fee is $10 for sponsoring Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club members and $20 for non-members. All fish must be weighed in for posting by 1 p.m. The usual cookout will proceed throughout the day and there will be raffles and an award ceremony announcing the derby winners. Should be another great day on the north woods ice!

Back down the Trail on Poplar Lake at Trail Center Lodge, another time of free family fun is in the offing. It’s the “Dog Days of Winter.” Many activities are planned including a snowman competition, snow sculptures, skijoring, dog sled derby (8-,6- & 4-dog kid runs), a bonfire to keep warm, along with hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting with hot cocoa too. For more details go to: dogdaysofwinter.info or dogdaysofwinter.net Perhaps you can catch both events. Whatever the choice, there’ll be plenty to do! Come on out and up the Trail!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some Gunflint winter magic!

(Photo by Skijor 13 on Flickr)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 20

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Our third stanza of February is complete, and we round the bend in this short month with the March express bearing down on us. Reflecting on the sweetheart time of last week, we had a really cool Valentine’s holiday. More emphatically, “cool” is an understatement. The cold outside was downright frightful. The Wildersmith neighborhood and northward experienced several days well below zero leading into the “big red celebration” and these minus temps have lingered.

A typical February happening found our thermometer hitting minus 36 this past Sunday, while Valentine’s Day saw the daytime high not making it up to 20 below. Those temps are actual (none of that hokey wind chill sensationalism). We north woods people readily know when it’s dangerously cold and don’t need to be told about it. Seems amazing we have to continually dumb things down to protect people from themselves.

To make weather matters a bit more difficult out this way, fresh snow a day or so in advance of the new blast was packed by howling winds and instantly frozen into beautiful works of north-country sculpture. So although the outcome is magical, movement about during the time was nightmarish.

The big drag races for power-sledders this past Saturday went off as scheduled over on Hungry Jack Lake, in spite of the bitter conditions. Over 20 racers entered the four-class , with some running in multiple classes. Three of the classes (700 cc, 800 cc & open categories) were dominated by Greg Gresczyk, while Jeff Doegee won in the 600 cc division.

A third event in the hat trick of winter activities sponsored and organized by the Cook County Ridge Rider Snowmobile Club is just around the corner. Their annual fishing derby on Gunflint Lake is scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 8. Fishing, food and fun is the order of the day so plan on coming out and dipping a hook.

Signs, signs, signs, everywhere’s got signs! If there isn’t enough already impaling the earth along our nationally recognized pathway, apparently the Gunflint Trail is falling prey to more, as was announced at a recent Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee (GTSBC) meeting. The bombshell was dropped by Cook County highway department engineers, leaving byway committee members in a state of shock and dismay.

The crux of the new project is to line every tight winding curve, from Trail’s beginning to end, with a wall of reflective chevron warning markers. All in the name of safety for Trail users, these new installs will be in addition to existing curve and speed reduction warnings that have been in place for years. Several members of the Gunflint Scenic Byway Committee aired less than favorable opinions on the plan, as it will surely make the natural aspects of a trip through the woods far less scenic. With the mission of this Committee being “to act as advocates and stewards for the preservation, protection, understanding and maintenance of the natural historic intrinsic values of the Gunflint Trail and its corridor,” the plan does not sit well. Though wanting safe travels for all Trail users, the GTSBC believes this plan is unnecessary overkill.

Taking this discussion a step farther, additional signage can do nothing to avoid driver related behaviors of inattentiveness, speeding, DUI or dozing off, the most common causes of accidents. The question being asked, is why create a complex “metropolis atmosphere” of directional symbols when such will do little to keep drivers on the paving. Having already passed previous warnings, certainly any attentive vehicle operator has plenty of directional assistance, if they just pay heed. The Scenic Byway Committee plans further discussion with hope to head off more signs throughout our unorganized territory. Stay tuned for more as it becomes available.

Opinions from residents and user friends in regard to this controversial sign issue could certainly be shared with our county commissioner (Heidi Doo-Kirk) and/or the Cook County Highway Department.

On a more exciting note, the needs of your community radio station are on center stage here and now. The 2015 spring membership drive is now under way, and is appropriately themed, “Because of You.” It’s “because of you” that we have this vibrant community radio station. Further growth and development of the great programming to which we are accustomed, will also only continue “because of you.” So it’s time to spring forth with a monetary token of your appreciation to keep WTIP moving forward. The drive lasts until noon on this coming Monday, but don’t put off calling any longer. Give operators a call right now; 387-1070 or 800-473-9847 or click and join at WTIP.org) and tell’ em the guy from Wildersmith said this, “because of you.”

Keep on hangin’ on and savor February in a Gunflint setting!

(Photo by Jay Kleeman on Flickr)


 
Pine Grosbeak

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 13

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Fresh snow has re-dressed the upper Gunflint. A welcome dose of fluff arrived last weekend, adding about another 6 inches to the landscape in this neighborhood. To go along with this snowy delivery, temps are holding in normal mode for mid-month two. The new flocking came just in time for sweetheart celebrations of roses, chocolates and other heartfelt delights. Pending a sudden reversal of weather consequences, our cool forest is dressed up in pearly white for the Valentine’s ball!

It’s with sadness I report one of our wonderful winter Gunflint amenities is ending its long run. After 20 years of yesteryear magic and splendid hospitality, the Patten Family Homestead Sleigh rides are “hanging up the harness, closing the barn doors and putting the hot chocolate pot away for the last time.” Depending upon snow conditions, the two-horse open sleigh will make its final trips through the Bow Lake woods on March 28. Mark, Nancy and their family have provided thousands with marvelous memories under many starlit northern nights. All Gunflinters thank them, wishing all the Pattens, “Happy trails.”

Our new snow enhanced conditions for the annual Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club (CCRRSC) fun run last Saturday. I don’t have results at this scribing, but the event must have been a huge success based on the 160-plus power sleds passing by Wildersmith on the Gunflint ice. Congratulations and thanks to event organizers!

By now, if you haven’t already heard, the “Mush for a Cure” is officially off for 2015. However, another Gunflint Community sledding event, organized by the CCRRS group, is scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday). Their annual drag races commence on Hungry Jack Lake, with registration at 11 a.m. and racing at noon. Musical entertainment is scheduled through the afternoon from 1 p.m. until 5. Should be a roaring good time, but put in your earplugs!

With February at the midpoint, some folks are already thinking spring. The green thumb gal from over on Loon Lake advised me she is thinking fresh summer vegetables and has her first seeds in growing pots under indoor sun. No doubt she’ll be the first in this area to be picking cukes and peppers, perhaps even by daffodil time?

Speaking of February and the recent Groundhog Day commemoration, there’s a humorous item floating about cyberspace. It features a wolf sitting in a stately position with the caption, “The groundhog came out and said six more weeks of winter, so I ate it!” Fitting for these parts, but it’s hard to know if Brother Wolf was happy or sad with the whistle pig’s prediction, or just hungry?

Since the DNR announced it is tightening walleye rules on three lakes in our area, there’s plenty of kibitzing both pro and mostly con about the plan. Of course the plan for Gull, Seagull and Saganaga is well intended, but is causing considerable consternation among guides/ professionals and everyday anglers. The revised regulations are intended to protect smaller walleye (14 to 16 inchers) in those bodies which all lie partly in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The rub between DNR and fisher folks is an apparent difference of opinion on data regarding population of those prime eaters. Whereas the DNR indicates diminished numbers of smaller walleyes, those fishing with regularity say there is plenty of this walleye population that are now slated for protection. This change will go into effect March 1 and extend for 10 years. The ruling provides that walleyes must be at least 17 inches long and lowers the daily bag limit to three instead of six.

The new bag limit is surely going to cause plenty of angst between enforcers and fisher people catching in Canadian waters (with a bag limit of four) and then crossing back through Minnesota waters. What an enforcement nightmare this will be!

Closing this week’s scoop, I’ve made an interesting observation about one particular area critter. Our wild neighborhood world is all about survival, “survival of the fittest.” In connection with survival, timing and patience is absolute. It would seem few critters have much patience when hungry. It’s “grab and git.”

Observing considerable bird traffic each day, I have found there is one avian with unthinkable patience. The Smiths have numerous pine grosbeaks visit each day, and they exhibit the patience of Job as it relates to other winged varieties, especially the blue jay bullies. I’m amazed the way these pink beauties sit in nearby trees waiting for an opening in the jaybird frenzy. Then they calmly gather at the trough until again driven back into the branches by the rude blue. Obviously, their stoic tolerance is incredible!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the winter loveliness along the Trail.