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North Shore News Hour

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News

The North Shore News Hour includes up-to-the minute weather, North Shore happenings in local news, sports and entertainment, as well as a variety of features from WTIP staff and volunteers. If you miss the North Shore News Hour at noon, tune in for a replay Monday through Thursday beginning at 5:00 p.m.


What's On:
Forest Road 166 in the Tofte area is one of the North Shore's scenic roads. File photo Rhonda Silence

"Road Tested Radio" question: What is YOUR favorite road?

WTIP is in the midst of our “Road Tested Radio” membership drive. The Fall pledge drive celebrates the completion of construction on Highway 61. All of us drive on the highway and appreciate its scenic vistas, but we also know there are many roads enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence turned to the phones and hit the road as a roving reporter to ask, “What’s your favorite road?”
 

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North House Folk School has purchased this corner lot in Grand Marais 10-22-21

North House purchases more property in Grand Marais

There has been no official announcement from the North House Folk School in Grand Marais about the purchase of a nearby parcel of land in Grand Marais. However, when WTIP Community Radio learned of this recent real estate transaction and reached out to North House, the school’s Executive Director Greg Wright confirmed that the school had purchased land near the school’s waterfront campus.

The parcel is across Highway 61 from the North House main campus and is west of the “Green Building,” the one-time U.S. Forest Service building on the upper side of the road. Part of the lot is undeveloped and the upper portion was cleared when an old house was removed.

WTIP sat down with North House Director Wright and asked some questions about the purchase, namely, how can the nonprofit school afford to buy land in downtown Grand Marais? Wright expressed appreciation to the property owner, Bruce Leng, who Wright said, supports the work of North House Folk School. Leng wanted to help North House in its master planning efforts and offered the property at below market value, at $275,000.*

Wright said the purchase was possible in part by revenue received when the Folk School sold a small piece of property to the Angry Trout Café. That sale allows the Angry Trout to build a small addition and become a year-round restaurant, something that demonstrates the school’s efforts to work with partners in the neighborhood.

The other funds came from generous donors who support the North House Folk School mission, said Wright.

Another concern for some is the fact that the purchase of the land by a nonprofit removes a commercial lot in Grand Marais from the tax rolls. Wright acknowledges that fact but adds that North House does pay some property taxes. The North House Folk School spaces used by North Shore Title, The Fisherman’s Daughter, and North Superior Fisheries are not tax-exempt.

Wright further explained that because North House is a nonprofit such as universities, community colleges and churches, it must bring other value to the community. The North House director is passionate about that and easily lists the many education programs available to community members. He cites the free school programs for all 3rd – 5th-grade students in Cook County; the 25 percent tuition discount for Cook County residents; the timber frame projects in partnership with Cook County High School and more as things that North House brings to the community.

There have been questions in the past about the long-ago use of the land by the Anishinabe people. There are also concerns that there are possible burial sites at the location. Wright noted that North House is very cognizant of that. Wright has reached out to the Minnesota State Archeologist’s Office for assistance before any construction begins.

Wright also extended thanks to Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribal Chair Bob Deschampe and the Tribal Council for their advice and continued guidance.  

Wright stressed that there are no specific plans for the parcel yet, but said there are key needs that must be addressed, such as student parking, storage space for drying firewood/extra timbers, and living space for guest instructors. The folk school is just beginning the process of how the land will be used.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence joined Director Greg Wright on campus to talk about all this. Here’s their conversation. 

* This article was edited on Oct. 25 to accurately report the property sale price. See related information here. 
 

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The World's Best Donuts crew wrapping up the season in the cold weather, Oct. 22, 2021 - Photo by Rhonda Silence

A sign of fall -- the last days of World's Best Donuts

There are many signs of the changing season—cooler temperatures, shorter daylight hours, falling leaves—and the closing of World’s Best Donuts in downtown Grand Marais.

The popular spot for treats has been family-owned and operated since 1969. The little red and white building at the corner of Wisconsin Street and Broadway Avenue is a must-stop for visitors to the community and a mainstay for coffee gatherings for locals.

This weekend marks the closing of the donut shop—maybe. In this report from World’s Best Donuts, WTIP spoke with World's Best Donuts owner Dee Brazell and learned that there may be one more weekend.

Learn more about World’s Best Donuts on their website.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence stopped by to see how things were going at the donut shop this weekend. Here’s her report. 
 

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Students went two-by-two or in groups of three to taking the plunge for Special Olympics - Photo by Rhonda Silence

Students, staff and community members take the Plunge at Cook County Schools

Cook County Schools became a "Cool School" on Wednesday, October 20 as the mobile Special Olympics Plungester pulled up outside the school. Brave students, staff and community members climbed the steps and took the plunge to show their support for Special Olympics--as well as one another. 

The event was organized by School District 166 Physical Education Teacher Kasha Hanson and Special Education Teacher Melissa Oberg as a fun way to bring the school and community together--while raising some funds for Special Olympics and the Unified Club. The Unified Club is an inclusive school program, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education, which aims to foster inclusive relationships between students with and without disabilities. 

The purpose of the club is to offer engaging and fun activities, create inclusion campaigns, promote physical health and bring people together to create and maintain relationships and self-esteem.  That was certainly the case on October 13 as a large crowd of students and their families gathered in the chilly fall weather to cheer for one another as they dived into a huge tank of water.

Anyone who would like more information about this "Cool School" event can visit the school's Polar Plunge page here

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence was there to watch the fun and provide this report. 

 

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City Hall building banner - File photo Rhonda Silence

City update on truck braking, bonds and more

The Grand Marais City Council met on Wednesday, October 13, and heard from citizens on a variety of issues, from engine braking to ATVs in the city.

Engine brakes or jake braking came up in the public comment period, as a local truck driver, Nathan Carlson talked about the use of this emergency braking system. Carlson responded to the city’s discussion of possibly restricting the use of jake brakes in the city. Hear Carlson’s thoughts on this here: Truck driver adds input on city's jake brake discussion

The council thanked Carlson for his comments and invited him to participate if and when the matter is discussed again.

Councilor Tracy Benson brought forward a citizen question about the use of all-terrain vehicles in the city, asking if they are licensed and where they can be ridden. City Administrator Mike Roth provided information from the League of Minnesota Cities on all the different types of vehicles that could travel city streets, ranging from mini-motorcycles and golf carts to ATVs. The city council agreed to reach out to Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen to learn about the regulations and enforcement.  

The city heard from Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers Associates and decided to proceed with refinancing bonds for the city, which should result in considerable savings on some of the city’s debts. Mayor Jay DeCoux tells WTIP that the city could see $125,000 -$150,000 in interest payments with the refinancing.

The council reviewed the various boards and committees on which councilors serve to decide what position city council-appointee Tracy Benson should serve on. After some discussion, it was decided that Benson would take on the boards on which former city councilor Kelly Swearingen served. Benson is now the city representative for the North Shore Management Board, the Cook County Community YMCA board, and the city’s personnel committee.

Swearingen’s resignation also left a vacancy for acting mayor. Councilor Benson said she was not “up to speed” enough to take that on. Councilor Anton Moody agreed to serve as acting mayor. The acting mayor chairs city council meetings if the mayor is not available.

The council also approved the hiring of Greg Lykins as an apprentice in the electrical department. Lykins was working for the city in the water/wastewater department. While pleased that the city had found someone to take the lineworker apprentice, it was noted that the city now had a vacancy to fill in the water department.

The city is still looking for a citizen to come forward to serve on the Grand Marais Park Board, Planning Commission, and Public Utilities Commission. 

WTIP's Rhonda Silence speaks with Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux about all this and more. 
 

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A 2021 Great Place Project - a fledgling butterfly garden by County Plumbing in Lutsen. Submitted photo

Great Place Projects continue to enhance community

Although 2021 had its share of challenges, according to Cook County Chamber Executive Director Jim Boyd, it was also a summer of incredible creativity for groups and individuals who received 2021 Great Place Project grants from the Cook County Business and Civic Partnership – the philanthropic arm of the Cook County Chamber.

It will take a little time before all of the projects funded will come to fruition, but Chamber Director Jim Boyd shared information on those that were completed this year.

They are spread throughout the county, with one project near the end of the Gunflint Trail, at the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Chik Wauk used its grant to commission five painted benches from Ojibwe artist and educator Sam Zimmerman of Duluth and Grand Portage.

The benches have been installed along paths at Chik-Wauk for the ease of visitors. Boyd told WTIP, “They are simply stunning, even more so when you are able to see them in their setting. Chik-Wauk is closing for the season, but these benches will be there to grace its trails and enthrall its visitors for years to come.”

Several projects enhance the Lutsen community, the first, a butterfly garden at County Plumbing in Lutsen. Confronted with a need to control runoff and also provide additional parking, Tanya Miller and Tim Goettl at County Plumbing came up with the idea of a butterfly garden.

When they received the grant, they lost no time in getting the butterfly garden installed. At one point, Tanya reported 30 Monarch butterfly caterpillars on the garden’s milkweed plants. Director Boyd said, “The garden is a terrific addition to a busy business area in Lutsen.”

Nearby, the Homyak family at Lutsen’s Clearview General Store created a welcome park-like retreat by adding Great Place Project picnic benches to the lawn beneath their splendid grove of spruce on both sides of Clearview. The Homyaks report that the benches are being well used by locals and visitors alike.

The third Lutsen project enhances the entrance to the Isak Hansen Lumber and Home Center. The hardware store crew created a promising young garden out front that should grow into a magnificent addition. The garden was part of a much larger effort to improve the looks of the building, including a coat of paint. 

In Tofte, the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum, a project of the Tofte Historical Society, supports a series of signs, including one with an oral Voice of the Past, along the Tofte lakewalk. The signs share the history of commercial fishing in the area. Two of the signs had become so damaged they were difficult to read, and the Voices of the Past needed a new battery. With a Great Place Project grant, the museum was able to effect repairs to both the signs and the Voices.

At the Cook County Community YMCA in Grand Marais, the Great Place Project has contributed significantly to the play area for toddlers out front. In 2021, YMCA director Emily Marshall requested funds to add plantings that would make the area more pleasant. Children at the YMCA daycare were recruited to plant the seeds and watch them grow.

YMCA Director Marshall reports, “Our little people learned a lot and took great pride in picking out plants to plan in their ‘Great Place.’ They loved watering the flowers and plants and especially loved watching them grow and eating them for snack! Thank you so much for turning this into a great place.”
 
The money to fund Great Place Project grants was raised from several large private donations plus the proceeds from an annual canoe raffle.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with Chamber Director Jim Boyd to hear what it has been like to be involved with projects in the past and about the 2021 awardees. Here’s their conversation. 
 

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No Jake brakes sign - Photo courtesy of Michael Rivera, Wikimedia Commons

Truck driver adds input on city's jake brake discussion

At recent meetings of both the Grand Marais City Council and the Cook County Commissioners, the subject of semis using jake brakes on city and county roads has been brought up.

Jake brakes are technically compression release engine brakes but are more often referred to as “jake brakes,” a reference to the Jacobs Vehicle System company which introduced the brakes as a safety feature over 60 years ago.

The problem with the safety feature, designed to help large vehicles maneuver hilly terrain at slower speeds, is that they can be quite noisy.

City councilors and county commissioners have questioned the need for use of these brakes and have been researching city and county ordinances on whether using jake brakes is a violation of any sound ordinances.

The city found that the ordinance governing jake braking is vague and asks only that truckers use jake brakes only in emergencies. The council considered whether it should tighten the language in that ordinance to restrict jake braking entirely.

Absent from this conversation was any input from someone who drives a truck—until the city council meeting on October 13. Grand Marais resident and truck driver Nate Carlson spoke during the public comment period at the start of the meeting.
Carlson reminded the council of a truck losing its brakes and crashing into “Eckel’s fish house” at the bottom of Fifth Avenue West, the old Gunflint Trail.

Carlson agreed that jake brakes are loud and can be annoying. He said he prefers not to use them himself, but spoke of the importance of the engine brakes as a safety feature. He noted that the new Gunflint Trail is now the truck route, however, there is still a steep grade. And, Carlson added, it passes a schoolyard and ends on Highway 61.

Councilors Craig Schulte and Tracy Benson added their own reminiscences of trucks losing their brakes on the old Gunflint Trail, including one crash in which the truck driver was killed. They thanked Carlson for his comments. 

Mayor Jay DeCoux said the use of jake brakes will be on a future agenda and invited Carlson to come back for that discussion. 

Hear Carlson's own words in this report by WTIP's Rhonda Silence. 
 

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The Kennedy family has grown along with the businesses established by Beth and Tim. Submitted photo

Tim and Beth Kennedy reflect on being Grand Marais business owners

Birchbark Books & Gifts on First Avenue in downtown Grand Marais is closing its doors after over 25 years in business. The store is one of several businesses launched by Tim and Beth Kennedy.
 
WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with the couple to talk about their move to Cook County and their entry into the Grand Marais business community. They share their thoughts on the establishment of Beth’s Fudge & Gifts, Birchbark Books & Gifts, and Picnic and Pine, which was destroyed in the April 2020 fire.
 
Along with their reminiscences of creating the stores, the Kennedys offer some advice and hopes for the future for aspiring business owners. 

If you know of North Shore business owners who should be featured, give us a call at 218-387-1070 or email: Rhonda@wtip.org. WTIP would love to tell their story!
 

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Visit Cook County Director Linda Jurek and Chamber Director Jim Boyd - Photo by Rhonda Silence

A tale of two directors: Linda Jurek and Jim Boyd

For years the Cook County Chamber of Commerce and Visit Cook County have worked together in a variety of ways. The two executive directors—Linda Jurek of Visit Cook County and Jim Boyd of the Chamber—have attended many of the same meetings and working to support local businesses.

The two entities are close to officially joining forces through a “single executive director” model, with Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek serving in that position. Chamber Director Boyd will then become the director of policy and advocacy, working part-time.

Boyd jokes that he was initially appointed as Chamber director because he was one of the only founders of the Chamber back in 2013 that wasn’t working full time running a restaurant or resort. On second thought, in a conversation with WTIP, Boyd says that really was the reason he was assigned the task of leading the chamber. He had the time to fill that role. 

At the same time that the Chamber was being formed, the three tourism entities in the County—Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder Tourism Association, the Grand Marais Tourism Association, and the Gunflint Trail Association—were in the midst of creating Visit Cook County. That, Boyd and Jurek say, would not have been a good time to try to have a single director for both the Chamber and VCC.

However, the two now believe this single-director model is the best way to proceed for both organizations. Boyd told members in a letter, “I view these changes as essential to ensuring the long-term survival of a vigorous, thriving Chamber capable of meeting a broad range of member needs. I hope you will agree.”

Jurek certainly agrees and feels her staff at VCC can take on supporting the Chamber with minimal additional effort. She notes that things that the Chamber needs, membership outreach and networking, for example, come naturally to the tourism organization.
Jurek adds that a joint Chamber-tourism model is very common throughout the country.

The new executive director model is not in place yet. A contract is being drawn to ensure that VCC and the Chamber would remain independent, with separate boards and finances. There are still details to be worked out, but Jurek and Boyd are excited about this effort, which will provide significant administrative support for Director Boyd so he can focus on policy and advocacy and will give the VCC crew the opportunity to develop an expanded program of member recruitment and member services.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with the two directors to talk about the process of this administrative change, the plans to keep Visit Cook County and the Chamber separate, and more. Here’s their conversation. 
 

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Eagle Mountain trailhead - Photo by Jimmy Emerson, via Flickr

Extreme weather hampers medical rescue on Eagle Mountain trail

While most of the county was hunkered down waiting out a thunderstorm and tornado warning, some Cook County volunteers were out on the trail on a medical rescue effort.

A call reporting a 70-year-old man possibly having a heart attack came in to the Cook County Law Enforcement Center just before 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 10. The caller said the man from Ramsey was about two miles in from the Eagle Mountain trailhead. The man had been hiking for four hours before symptoms came on.

Rescuers staged as the weather worsened. Lutsen First Responders reached the patient at 4:25 p.m. and began transport of the patient as heavy rain and high winds began. At 5:41 p.m., the rescuers halted to take shelter on the trail as large hail fell. They also kept a watchful eye on the sky as a tornado warning was issued until 6:15 p.m.

The storm lessened and the emergency responders were able to continue, arriving at the Eagle Mountain trailhead and parking lot at 7:29 p.m.

The patient was taken by Cook County/North Shore Health Ambulance directly to St. Luke’s Hospital. There is no word on the man’s condition.

The North Shore Health ambulance, Cook County Search and Rescue, Lutsen and Grand Marais First Responders and Cook County Sheriff’s Office deputies all took part in the emergency call.

Of the responders, Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen said, “They deserve much respect for the job they perform under some very dangerous conditions. I cannot express enough gratitude for these folks and the sacrifices they make.”