West End News April 1

Camping sarongs are soon to be famous thanks to Bill's wife Cindy Hansen
Camping sarongs are soon to be famous thanks to Bill's wife Cindy Hansen

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This is the time of year when I start fielding inquiries about when the ice is going out on Sawbill Lake. The ice out phenomenon provides a lot of entertainment every year. It might be an interesting phenomenon - or it may just be a symptom of Cook County's long winters. Here at Sawbill, we've been keeping track of ice in and out dates for Dr. Ken Stewart from the State University of New York at Buffalo for 35 or 40 years. Dr. Stewart is gathering ice data from dozens of lakes across North America for no other reason than curiosity and the possibility that someone might want to use it for research someday. Every five years or so, I forget to return his post card and Dr. Stewart calls to remind me and we get to have a little chat. He says that there is no doubt that the ice out dates have been trending earlier since he started keeping track.

Here at Sawbill Lake, last year set the early ice out record in the 55 years that I've been around here, going out on April 4th. In 2009 the ice cleared Sawbill on May 7th, and in 2008 is was May 6th. In 2007 it was April 24th and in 2006 it was April 17th. Over the last 35 years, the average ice out date is right around May 1st.

Predicting the ice out date is nearly impossible. I remember one season, about 20 years ago, when we had a betting pool going. On the last day of April, it was 63 degrees and the ice was black and barely floating. We almost gave the money to the person who had the closest guess because it was obvious to all that it was going out that night or early the next day. But, that night the temperature plunged below freezing and it snowed. The cold snap lasted and it was two full weeks before the ice went out. In 2007, on the other hand, the ice was a solid 18 inches thick and perfectly safe to walk on - and then was gone six days later.

Last week we actually added ice when the temperature dipped below zero for five nights in a row. Now that things have turned more seasonable, we can start the guessing game and get the bets laid down. As I do every year, I'm putting my money on May 5th because that's my birthday. In 55 years, I've only won the bet once.

Sam Cook, the popular outdoor editor at the Duluth News Tribune, put out a call a couple of weeks ago for readers to let him know what their favorite canoe trip gear is, for inclusion in a column that will run when the canoeing season starts. Sam said most reader's submissions were pretty much what you would expect - great boots, carbon graphite paddle, super duper tents, etc. What he didn't expect was Cindy Hansen's contribution of the favorite item from her annual ladies' canoe trip. That would be colorful sarongs that she and her companions use for camp-wear, beach towels, picnic blankets and even occasionally portage attire. Cindy claims that Carol Perkins from Lutsen invented the canoe trip sarong. I think she got it from some long time customers of ours - a group of mature women who call themselves the BWISBs, which is an acronym for Big Women In Sports Bras. Sam called and wondered if Cindy had pictures, so watch the Duluth paper next month for several lovely ladies of the West End canoe camping in sarongs.

The first results of the 2010 census came out recently and they show that Cook County's population grew by .2% over the last ten years as compared to a 7.8% increase for Minnesota as a whole. Of course, statistics get a little strange when the population is small. The 2010 population is reported as 5,176 up from 5,168 in 2000. I'd like to personally welcome the 8 new people.

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