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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:
There was always a crowd at the Gunflint Canoe Races. File photo, Rhonda Silence 2019

Gunflint Canoe races canceled, but work of fire department continues

Although the work of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department goes on, sadly the event that so many folks look forward to each year, the Gunflint Canoe Races, has been canceled for 2021. WTIP checked in with fire department representative Michael Valentini to talk about the work of the fire department and about the role he had played at the canoe races in the past.

Valentini shared information about the Gunflint Fire Department, which serves probably the largest fire district in the state, covering over 200 square miles. The fire department is actually even larger, as there is an agreement with authorities in Ontario to respond to emergencies on the Canadian side of the border lakes, as Gunflint can reach that area long before Canadian responders could.

The fire department has three fire halls—the MidTrail or Poplar Lake Hall, the Gunflint Lake Hall, and Seagull Lake Community Center and Firehall. Each hall has a variety of equipment, but the halls on the upper Trail area are stocked with medical and search and rescue equipment. The ambulance is kept at the MidTrail Firehall as it is centrally located on the Trail.

Valentini notes that the majority of calls are for medical emergencies and search and rescue missions. In this interview, he shares details of just one of the recent long and difficult rescue operations in which the Gunflint volunteers participated, working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Asked if the Gunflint Fire Department is on edge with the current high fire danger, Valentini points out that the fire department and emergency medical personnel are always on high alert. However, he said residents are experiencing more tension with the smoke from Canadian fires in the air and the drought conditions. He said the fire department recommends that anyone with a fire protection sprinkler system get it running now.

Valentini also confirmed that yes, the Gunflint Canoe Races has been canceled in part due to the uncertainty around COVID-19 during upfront planning, but also because of the difficulty in finding volunteers at the event. Three property owners associations, the Gunflint Lake Property Owners Association, the MidTrail Property Owners, and the Seagull-Sag Property Owners Association have hosted the event for decades.

Valentini is one of those volunteers, serving as the emcee for the canoe races, as well as a MidTrail event. He has had a lot of fun doing that over the years and said he will miss it. There are some online activities, starting on July 26, to try to offer some feeling of the canoe race camaraderie. That information can be found on the fire department's website Gunflint911.org.

The proceeds of the canoe races benefit the Gunflint Fire Department, helping maintain the fire halls and keep equipment—such as the ARMER radios needed by responders—up-to-date.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Michael Valentini of the Gunflint Trail Fire Department to learn more about all of this, as well as a final question—will there be a Gunflint Trail Fire Department calendar for 2022? Click and listen to find out. 
 

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Joan Drury enjoys a treat at her beloved bookstore. Photo courtesy of Drury Lane Books

Community to gather to celebrate life of author, women's advocate Joan Drury

Joan Drury is a legendary figure here on the North Shore. The community lost this author, business owner, advocate for the arts and housing, and so much more in November 2020.

On Saturday, July 24, starting at 3 p.m., there will be a Celebration of Life for Joan. It will of course be held at her beloved bookstore at the end of Wisconsin Street in Grand Marais, Drury Lane Books.

There will be poetry, song, and remembrances.

Before the event, WTIP thought it might be nice to speak with one of the people who knew Joan best. WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with Joan’s daughter, Kelly Kager, to talk about writing, books, and Joan’s legacy of helping other women follow their dreams. 
 

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Changes are proposed for the zoning and covenants at the Cedar Grove Business Park. Image courtesy of ProsperityNorth.com

EDA special meeting for hiring new director, considering fire redevelopment funds

The Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) will be holding a special meeting Tuesday, July 20 at 4 p.m. The meeting will be held at the new EDA office at 425 West Highway 61 (most recently the pharmacy building).
 
There are two discussion items on the special meeting agenda. The EDA will consider the personnel committee recommendation for the hiring of the next executive director. Current Director Mary Somnis announced her intention to retire over a year ago. 
 
The other topic is a request from Joel St. John, a developer, for use of Fire Redevelopment Funds. The Northland Foundation established this fund after the devastating fire in downtown Grand Marais in April 2020. The EDA has oversight of the funds, which are meant to revitalize the vacant lots that once were home to the Picnic and Pine gift shop, the Crooked Spoon restaurant, and the White Pine North gift shop.
 
St. John is the owner of the Mayhew Inn on Wisconsin Ave. He is seeking funding from the Fire Redevelopment Fund to build something on at least one of the lots, along with the Joynes Department Store parking lot. According to EDA President Howard Hedstrom, St. John is in the process of purchasing the parking lot.
 
WTIP checked in with EDA Board President Hedstrom after the last regular EDA meeting to learn more about other EDA activities, such as lot sales at Cedar Grove Business Park for a commercial laundry operation, about changes to zoning that will offer more uses in the business park, and about the possible formation of a county Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).
The formation of an HRA is also on the agenda for the Cook County Commissioners at their committee of the whole meeting  Tuesday, July 20. That meeting starts at 10 a.m. in the county commissioners’ room at the Cook County courthouse.

Here’s Rhonda Silence, speaking with Hedstrom about all this and more. 
 

Listen: 

 
Highway 61 in this section will be opened later this week.  Photo by Rhonda Silence 07-18-21

Changes coming to the Highway 61 construction this week

Motorists traveling through the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Grand Marais Highway 61 construction project will see some changes this coming week.

Starting Monday, July 19, the construction area between 8th Avenue to 3rd Avenue will move to the lakeside of Highway 61. When motorists head into Grand Marais from the south, they will still be directed to one lane of traffic, with a concrete barrier separating them from construction. However, they will now travel on the lakeside of Highway 61.

The work in that area will likely be ongoing until September.

Sometime this week, the highway from 3rd Avenue West to Broadway Avenue will be reopened, probably by July 22.

A final layer of pavement will be added when all the work is done, so for now there may be some uneven surfaces, so motorists should be mindful and pay attention to direction signs.

Pedestrians too should be careful as work is being done on the bike/walking trail alongside the highway.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Edward Welch, the MnDOT Grand Marais project engineer to learn what’s ahead for the project.  
 

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The Fisherman's Picnic fish toss event will be back in 2021. 2016 file photo, Rhonda Silence

Fisherman's Picnic 2021 is on!

The Grand Marais Lions Club Fisherman’s Picnic is typically held on the first full weekend of August. Last year the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled most of the activities—log sawing, kiddie rides, music on the Harbor Park stage, the fish toss, and the parade.

But it looks like much of the Fisherman’s Picnic will be back in 2021, including the famed Lion’s Fishburgers.

Road construction is wrapping up from 3rd Avenue to Broadway Avenue, so the Fisherman’s Picnic parade will be taking place along it usual route. The parade starts at 1 p.m. on August 8. The Lion’s give prizes for the first, second and third place entries in the categories of marching, class reunion float, and funniest.

There are many opportunities for community members to take part in the celebration—volunteers are needed to operate the Kiddie Rides and of course to help out in the Fishburger Stand. For information on the Fisherman’s Picnic or to sign up for an activity, visit the Grand Marais Lions Club Facebook page.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence learns more about this year’s event in this interview from Lions Millie Spry and Harry Peterson, who shares the musical interlude that is sometimes heard in the Fishburger Stand. 
 

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The new Fall River bridge was featured in the Gitchi-Gami Trail Association newsletter, courtesy of Christian Dalbec

Gitchi-Gami State Trail from Cutface to Grand Marais nearly complete, but not yet open

For about a year now, curious passersby have been watching the progress of the newest section of the Gitchi Gami State Trail, wondering when the trail from the Cutface Creek Wayside to the outskirts of Grand Marais will be open.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with some of the folks involved with completing the trail, Oliver Liu of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Trails division and Michelle Pierson of the Gitchi Gami State Trail Association about the current almost completed project in Cook County.

WTIP also learned more about what’s ahead for the Gitchi Gami Trail. 
 

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The interesting women starring in The Breakfast Club--Jaye White, Claire Smith, Diane Stoddard and Amanda Hand. Photo R. Silence

Grand Marais Playhouse starts in-person theater with a comedy

Rehearsals are underway for the next Grand Marais Playhouse production, The Birthday Club.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence stopped by rehearsal this week to talk with the actors in The Birthday Club. She caught up with four of the five women who seem to be having the time of their life bringing this eclectic group of friends to life on the Arrowhead Center for the Arts stage.  

Cast members include Diane Stoddard as Cheryl, a married, successful business owner, with perhaps some “control issues.” Claire Smith is Emily, a twice-divorced high school teacher, and prolific Tinder-dater. Alyssa Hedstrom plays friend Abbie, a stay-at-home with an elegant house with a pool and luxuries such as pocket doors. Amanda Hand plays the “rough around the edges” Kathy who is married with four kids and who works in law enforcement—although she “can’t talk about it.”

Jaye White as Sarah rounds out the cast as the newest member of The Birthday Club, an odd addition as she is a member of the very strict “Heemish” religion and quite naïve about worldly things.

The play debuts in front of a live audience at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts on Thursday, July 22. It will also be live-streamed that night.

There will be other performances on July 23, 24 and 25. All shows start at 7 p.m.

This is the first play before an audience in nearly two years.  Director Sue Hennessy, as well as the cast members of The Birthday Club, encourage everyone to come out for a good laugh as these five women get together for their birthdays,  to drink, celebrate, commiserate and support each other as they negotiate through marriage, work, divorce, birth and kids, while solving the problems of the world.

Photo information: The interesting women starring in The Breakfast Club--Jaye White, Claire Smith, Diane Stoddard, and Amanda Hand. Not pictured: Alyssa Hedstrom. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Here’s Rhonda Silence’s report from rehearsals. 
 

Listen: 

 
City hall in downtown Grand Marais. WTIP file photo

City council approves library budget, considers petition for paving

The Grand Marais City Council had a regular meeting on Wednesday, June 30 and for the first time in over a year, most of the councilors and Mayor Jay DeCoux were in the city council chambers at Grand Marais City Hall.

Because there were guests in attendance (in-person and online), a very important resolution was not the first item on the agenda. But the council got to it as quickly as they could, making a declaration to repeal city resolution 2020-03 giving the city authority to do what was necessary during the peacetime emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A unanimous motion passed to repeal the declaration. City Administrator Mike Roth reminded councilors that the repeal means they should now meet in person whenever possible. Roth said remote attendance is still allowed, as long as any citizens desiring to see and hear the discussion can still do so.

City approves library budget request
Grand Marais Library Director Amanda St. John and County Commissioner Dave Mills were at the council meeting to present the Grand Marais Public Library. The library is seeing an increase in its budget of 6.7 percent. The budget reflects a proposed 3 percent increase in salaries; an estimated 10 percent increase in health insurance, as well as anticipated increases in Worker’s Compensation and library building insurance.

Last year’s budget had a 4.99 percent increase, which meant a decrease in the library’s travel expenses and budget for books and other materials.

Under the agreement between the city and the county on the library budget, if the annual increase is greater than 5 percent, the county must also approve the increase. The library’s request will be on a future county board agenda.

Local improvements requested by downtown businesses
Following up on discussion at the last council meeting, six business owners submitted a petition requesting improvements to an alley and parking lot. Signing the petition were Visit Cook County, GunFlint Tavern, Joynes Department Store, Grand Marais Dairy Queen, Cook County News-Herald, Johnson Heritage Post, Buck’s Hardware. The business owners asked that the city pave the property abutting the alley between 2nd Avenue West, 1st Avenue West, and Wisconsin Street.

Administrator Roth said the petition officially sets the process in motion to do the work, assessing the improvement costs to the property owners. There was a discussion of whether the work should be done at the city’s expense or if the owners should be assessed. Roth said the project would be more complicated if special assessments were pursued. If the city wanted, it could take on the cost of the project.

Concerns were also raised about run-off if this area were paved. It was noted that if not done properly, it could cause water to enter the businesses surrounding the parking area. It was agreed to seek advice from the city’s contracted engineering firm, LHB on feasibility of paving the parking area and alley.

In other business:
The City Council approved a request for street and sidewalk use from the North Shore Federal Credit Union for its member appreciation event on July 22, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There was significant discussion of the Grand Marais Arts Festival, which was held in a different location this year due to construction. The festival was held at School District 166. In response to the Grand Marais Art Colony’s request for support, the city agreed to erect barriers to assist with traffic flow and to provide trash containers. City Administrator Roth said workers would not be available to empty the trash, as they are being kept busy in downtown Grand Marais. Mayor DeCoux and Councilor Kelly Swearingen volunteered to assist the Art Colony with trash removal.

The council reviewed two change orders for the Highway 61 project and approved one which resulted from the discovery of more fuel-contaminated soil in another section of the project. Because of that contamination, it was necessary to use different materials for the waterlines being installed. The cost to the city for the changed material is $27,070.

The council did not accept the other change order from the Minnesota Department of Transportation which would create a “force account” for field revisions. Councilors asked for more information from MnDOT on this.

The city council discussed the pending closure of the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Councilor Anton Moody asked if the city should send comments to the Coast Guard. Councilors agreed to consider this and discuss at the next meeting. Comments on the pending closure are due August 3.

The city council’s next regular meeting will be Wednesday, July 14, starting at 6:30 p.m. On the agenda for that meeting will be a “check-in” with the Grand Marais Lions Club regarding Fisherman’s Picnic activities. There will be a follow-up on a request for alley/parking lot improvements by the Gunflint Tavern and Grand Marais Dairy Queen and on the Tobacco 21 initiative. Councilors will also talk about the pending closure of the Coast Guard Station.  
 

Listen: 

 
Visit Cook County's Murray the Moose with a fan during the October Moose Madness Festival - File photo by Rhonda Silence

Visit Cook County begins effort to renew local lodging tax

Visit Cook County, the countywide tourism organization, gave a presentation to the Cook County Board of Commissioners in June. Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek and Financial and Administrative Manager Lily Nelson-Pedersen shared the history of their organization and about what is ahead, which includes a renewal of the county-collected 1 percent lodging tax.

To extend the lodging tax past its sunset date of October 2023, Visit Cook County needs to go back to the Minnesota Legislature. Before doing so, it must gain the endorsement of the Cook County Commissioners.

At the June meeting, the representatives shared that Visit Cook County started as the Cook County Events and Visitors Bureau in November 2008 with the approval of the 1 percent county-collected lodging tax, which is paid by visitors spending the night in local hotels and resorts. The lodging tax sunsets in October 2023.

The CCEVB became Visit Cook County in 2010 when three tourism groups—Grand Marais Tourism Association, the Gunflint Trail Association, and the Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association—joined forces, along with business partners, Lutsen Mountains and Grand Portage Lodge and Casino.

Jurek and Nelson-Pedersen shared what they know about the establishment of the 1 percent lodging tax, which is unique to Cook County. Jurek points out that neither she nor Lily were there when the tax was enacted through special legislation. However, she stressed that this is not a tax that county residents pay. It is what is charged to guests at county lodging facilities.

This 1 percent local lodging tax is in addition to the 3 percent lodging tax that was already being collected by the State of Minnesota. The 3 percent state tax is strictly earmarked for tourism promotion. The county’s 1 percent lodging tax is designated for events, such as support for the Moose Madness Festival in the fall or the waterfalls tour in the spring.

Nelson-Pedersen said these events are geared toward bringing people to the county in the off-seasons, in hopes to stabilize business for the lodging community.

Jurek also noted that these events are also enjoyed by community members, such as the Oh Ole Night holiday celebration and demonstrations at the Cook County Historical Society’s Bally’s Blacksmith Shop. Jurek said some of the area nonprofits that host events have come to rely on financial support from Visit Cook County.

Jurek also stressed that the campaigns in the last year have recognized the difficulties that the community faced during the coronavirus pandemic. She said because of COVID-19, the organization had to pivot its marketing to focus on education and letting visitors know and understand what to expect when visiting the community. She said they are also working to let visitors know about the staff shortages and weekday closures of many restaurants.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek and Financial and Administrative Manager Lily Nelson-Pedersen to learn more about all of this. Here’s their conversation. 
 

Listen: 

 
Campfires at disbursed campsites and within the BWCAW are banned effective July 9, 2021. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Forest Service enacts campfire ban in Superior National Forest including BWCA

WTIP has some very important breaking news for anyone heading into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Effective today, July 9, campfires are prohibited in the Boundary Waters wilderness and at dispersed campsites outside the wilderness. 

The Forest Service says the following are prohibited:
Igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire, fire including charcoal grills and barbecues, or coal or wood-burning stoves.

The use of a camp stove solely fueled by liquid petroleum or propane is still allowed.

Until this restriction is lifted, campfires are only allowed in approved fire structures that have been installed and maintained by the Forest Service in fee campgrounds, such as the Two Island or Devil Track campground. See the list of fee campgrounds here.

All other campfires are prohibited.

This ban on campfires will remain in effect until terminated by the Forest Supervisor.

The campfire ban follows the closure of some areas of the BWCA due to a fire in the Ely area. Because of the fire known as the Delta Fire, BWCA closures are now in effect at entry points: #56-Kekekabic Trail East and #74-Kekekabic Trail West/Snowbank. 
Also closed are following lakes, campsites, and portages: Parent, Disappointment, Jitterbug, Ahsub, Becoosin, Benezie, Adventure, Rifle, Bridge, Fire, Drag Primitive Management Area.