Listen Now
Pledge Now


West End News

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

What's On:

West End News - April 25, 2018

West End News   by   Clare Shirley    4/26/18

The Tofte township is still accepting applications for the Town Treasurer position. The Treasurer is a paid position, with minimal time commitments. There’s a bit of bookkeeping that you do from home, and you attend the monthly meetings with the Supervisors. It’s also a wonderful way to contribute and stay connected to the current events in the township. Outgoing treasurer Nancy Iverson is available to help guide you through your first couple of months, so don’t be nervous about bankrupting the town your first day on the job! If it sounds like a good fit for you, let the town clerk Barb Quade know. You can reach Barb via email at

Spring is still springing over the hill in the West End. Sawbill lake is sporting 15 inches of solid ice with about 9 inches of rotten ice on top of that. On Wednesday we attempted to drive in to check on the status of Brule and Homer Lakes but had to turn around about halfway down the Brule Lake Road due to deep drifts of melty snow. I can only assume this means those lakes are frozen in for a while yet.

The snow is starting to recede, leaving great deep puddles in its wake. It’s sort of like a small scale glacial melt, leaving puddles behind instead of lakes.

Our 2-year discovered one such lake-like puddle just today. She is sporting a new pair of rain boots and is thrilled when the temps rise above freezing and the puddles magically turn from slippery ice rinks into splashy, muddy, wading pools. Her personal mission each afternoon seems to be to leave no puddle un-stomped. This afternoon, she got a little more than she bargained for when the puddle turned out to be a washed out corner of the Sawbill Lake canoe landing. Instead of standing in inches of water she found herself submerged up to her shoulders. Luckily her daddy was close at hand to pluck her from the slush and rush her back up to the house where a warm bath made everything better.

This should serve as a cautionary tale for all of us this time of year. Even ice that is a foot thick can be unsafe as it honeycombs in the warm weather. Ditches are deceptively soft. Puddles might turn into accidental polar plunges. So be safe out there and keep thinking warm thoughts!

Another happier spring surprise is that Lutsen Mountain is open for skiing on the weekends, through May sixth! The snow is silky corn in the morning and soft bumps in the afternoon. If you don’t know what that means, then you don’t know what your missing and you better go check it out! Season passes for next year are already available and on sale with a special early bird rate. If you buy one now, it will also cover the rest of the weekends this season, bonus! As if that wasn’t enough, on Saturday, April 28th Papa Charlie’s is hosting the Beer Lover’s Dinner. For $75 you can enjoy a four-course dinner paired with local Voyageur beer.
 For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - April 5, 2018

West End News - by Clare Shirley    April 5, 2018

This weekend, April 6th through the 8th marks the last weekend that all four mountains at Lutsen Mountains will be open for skiing. As usual, a celebration is in order. The annual Mountain Meltdown starts at 1 on Saturday, with live music on the outdoor stage. The stage will be full until 5 on both Saturday and Sunday. When the sun goes down on Saturday night, White Iron Band will take the party indoors at Papa Charlies at 9:30.

It’s true that skiing season is winding down all around the West End. The Sugarbush Trail association reports that the Onion River Road is still in pretty good condition and is the only trail being groomed right now. There’s plenty of snow on the rest of the trails too, for the time being. It’s spring skiing so snow is often crusty in the morning and soft in the afternoon. Skiers are reporting good days skiing on waxless or skin skies. The Ober Mountain warming cabin will be open for maybe another week, so get your last fix on the trails in while the snow is good and the sun is shining!

The lake skiing is still good too. Sawbill Lake, for one, still has 24 inches of clear hard ice with 15 inches of solid hard-packed snow on top of that.

Many of you have probably heard of the very successful and helpful tech nights provided in Grand Marais where you can show up with all your technology questions and high school students will help guide you through the problem. But did you know there are also tech support opportunities at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland? Every Thursday from 1 to 3 pm you can get the same sort of support and information on how to use your new phone or computer. They do ask that you call ahead to make sure they have space for everyone. You can reach them at 218-353-0300 to make an appointment.

Many West Enders have been enthralled by the irruption of owls this winter, especially along the Shore. On Saturday, April 7th at 10 am Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center will have an hour and a half long program called Tracking Minnesota’s Owls. This program will talk about the Owl Monitoring project, which was developed due to growing concern about changes in the distribution, population status, and habitat loss for many species of owls. Most existing bird surveys don’t account for owls very well, so the Owl Monitoring project worked to fill that gap with a volunteer-based owl specific survey conducted in April every year, starting back in 2005. Dave Grosshuesch, Wildlife Biologist from the Tofte District on the Superior National Forest will be presenting. Come hear the answers to questions like which years were exceptional for northern owl species like great Gray and Boreal owls? What has the project learned about Minnesota’s owls? What is the Superior National Forest doing to aid the owl populations? It’s sure to be an interesting and informative time!

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - March 22, 2018

West End News 3/22/18

You may have noticed a lapse in the West End News last week. Well, rest assured, I have a good excuse! I was out of town on my first trip to our nation’s capital, Washington DC. I had the good fortune to be invited to join a group of intelligent, well-spoken, and extremely well-informed people to lobby Congress. We were there to visit with Senators and a few Representatives regarding the proposed land-swap that would give almost 7,000 acres of Superior National Forest land to the Glencore company, the parent company for the PolyMet mine outside of Duluth.

The Forest Service already approved the land-swap, but the agency valued the land at 550 dollars per acre. In case you haven’t looked at the price of land in Northern Minnesota recently, that’s pretty darn cheap. The valuation is being challenged in court in four separate lawsuits. This is the normal process for a land-swap of this nature. An important part of the process is the opportunity for public input and judicial review. If Congress decides to force the land-swap through, it will nullify these lawsuits and remove any opportunity for public input. Effectively taking our public lands and putting them in the hands of a foreign corporation for a song. This is a bad economic deal for Minnesotans, never mind the environmental consequences.

Our Minnesota senators are silent on this issue at best. At worst, they are actively supporting the passage of this legislation. Congress is working on a budget bill, as this West End News airs, and rumor has it that the land-swap bill will be added on to the budget bill as a rider. If you, like me, don’t think this the right avenue for this project, please call senators Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith, and Chuck Schumer, today and let them know.

Speaking of the water quality of Lake Superior…
This Saturday, March 24th at 10 am Sugarloaf Cove will be presenting the program “Taking Lake Superior’s Temperature.” You don’t have to be a scientist to know that Lake Superior is big and deep. These factors make it difficult to collect data such as temperature and water quality. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Large Lakes Observatory and the EPA have come up with a solution – gliders.

On Saturday, you can join EPA researcher Tom Hollenhorst at Sugarloaf Cove where he will take you on a journey through the waters of Lake Superior. Tom will explain gliders, also known as autonomous underwater vehicles, which collect data by diving down into the water column and back to the surface as they travel according to programmed GPS coordinates. All the while they continuously measure things like water temperature, particles in the water, chlorophyll and colored dissolved organic matter.
There is a suggested donation of $5 per person or $10 per family for this event. Sugarloaf Cove nature center is located on the lakeside of highway 61 just past mile marker 73.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - March 8, 2018

West End News 3/8/18
March is here and with it some of the best skiing weather. Longer hours of sunlight, temperatures in the positive twenties instead of the negative twenties, and dedicated groomers all make for primetime ski time. Whether it’s downhill or uphill, this is the time to get out there. The sugarbush cross-country ski trails have a great packed base between 6 and 12 inches, and all the groomed trails are open and in good condition. The downhill scene is just as good. Lusten Mountains has at least 30 inches, and as much as 60 inches of snow base on all their primary runs.

Another good reason to visit Lutsen is another Family Fun Night, coming up on March 31st. Families get to take a ride on the Summit Express Gondola up to the top of Moose Mountain where they can enjoy a delicious dinner and all sorts of entertainment. There will be a magician, art projects, kids music with koo koo kanga roo, all culminating in some fireworks. Call Lutsen Mountains or hop on their website for tickets.

You can head right back to Lutsen the following morning for Lutsen Resort’s annual Easter brunch buffet. An early Easter year, on April 1st the Resort has seatings at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m.

Birch Grove’s monthly community lunch will be happening on Tuesday, March 13th at Noon. Everyone is invited to come, it’s 5 dollars for adults and 3 for kids. This is a great opportunity to have lunch with your neighbors and kiddos.

While we’re talking food, start planning ahead to attend Bluefin Bay’s 2018 Spring Food and Wine Lover’s Weekend. This year, on May 4th through the 5th the resort is partnering with Guest Chef Steven Schulz from the Toasted Frog in Fargo. Friday night is a four-course dinner with wine pairings, and Saturday features an afternoon wine tasting and a five-course dinner with wine pairings. Reservations can be made by calling the Bluefin Grille at 218-663-6200.

If you’re more of a beer than wine person, do check out Caste Danger Brewery’s season spring IPA. Dubbed the White Pine project IPA, this is a beer with a purpose, so you can feel good about drinking it. White pines were once a staple in the landscape of the North Shore, Castle Danger Brewery is working to help reinstate the white pine population here in our own backyard. Proceeds from the sales of this beer will go directly to planting targeted areas along the North Shore. The hope is that these stands will thrive for future generations to enjoy. So do the earth and the North Shore a favor and stock up on some beer.
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - March 1, 2018

West End News 3/1/18

Rumor has it that the sap has started running in the West End. The syrup producers, commercial and individual, have been hard at work setting their taps in the sugar maples. For the big commercial operations, this means two full weeks of tromping through the woods, tapping thousands of trees and checking miles of lines. With so much snow this year, it’s quite the aerobic task.  Of course, that’s just the beginning of the hard work. Boiling the gallons and gallons of sap down into syrup is not for the faint of heart. After you see how much hard work goes into making that delicious liquid gold, you’ll come to judge people by how much they leave behind on their plate.

Mark your calendars for March 16 through the 19th for this years annual DuLutsen music and ski festival in Lusten. Sponsored by The Current and Bent Paddle Brewing this years North of North celebration will feature the likes of the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, Two Many Banjos, and Charlie Parr, among others. DuLutsen celebrates the convergence of the vibrant North Shore music scene with the talented artists from Duluth. It’s a great way to shake off that cabin fever!

This year marks the 20th anniversary of our beloved WTIP radio station. To kick off the membership drives we have Still the One this week. I grew up with WTIP everywhere in my life. It was in our house, in our business, in the car. I took it for granted that having local voices delivering everything from music to news to sports broadcasting was something that everyone must have. When I moved away from home, I soon learned, this is in fact NOT something you can find just anywhere.

When I moved back to Cook County I was happy to hear even more local programming making its way onto WTIP’s airwaves. Even more personally, WTIP has given me the opportunity to carry on my grandpa Frank’s West End News. It’s a weekly reminder for me of all the good he did for his community.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. One of my favorite parts of WTIP is the archived West End News’s on their website. There, I can find a treasure trove of my grandpa’s voice talking about news, history, and, of course, telling stories. Not only is WTIP enriching our daily lives, they are creating a living record of our county’s voices.
Of course, they can only do this because of those same voices who also show their support for the station by becoming members. This station is truly by the people for the people. If you’d like to join the community, it’s easy, just give them a call or drop by the station this week, everyone is welcome.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - February 22

West End News 2/22/18

The recent winter storm has breathed some life into the mid-winter in the West End. If you haven’t been on the slopes at Lutsen Mountains in a while, now is the time to go! Lutsen got hit with about 13 inches of snow in the last storm and they know how to make the best of it. The snowmobile trails are also in excellent shape. The Lutsen Trailbreakers Snowmobile Club is hosting its third annual vintage snowmobile ride at Cascade Lodge on Saturday, February 24. Registration starts at 10 am and the ride begins at 12. It’s $10 per sled for the 20 mile trail ride with prizes for best-of-show and both the winner and loser of the fun run.

The cross-country ski trails are also in prime condition. On Saturday, March Third the Sugarbush Trail Association is hosting the Sugar Tour. From 10 am to 2 pm at the Oberg Mountain Trailhead in Tofte, there will be fun non-competitive ski routes set up with activities and personal challenges. Adults and children can choose a loop of 5, 8 or 18K. There will, of course, be treats and hot chocolate waiting for you back at the trailhead.

With March peaking over our shoulders, it’s time to start gearing up for the annual St Urho’s Day bash in Finland. Featuring a parade, music, and general merriment, St. Urho’s is a great excuse to go explore our neighbors to the west. The Clair Nelson community center has put out a call for vendors for the Urho’s day craft fair. It will be held on March 17th from 8 am to 3 pm and vendors can rent an 8foot display space for $20. If you’re interested in selling, call them at 218-353-0300 to reserve your spot.

There is also a Clair Nelson vocational scholarship available for anyone about to start a 2-year vocational program. The deadline to apply is March 1st so you still have a few days if you’re heading to vocational school and could use some extra help, check out friends of finland dot org to apply.

 Coming up on March 8th Bill Blackwell, Jr. will be leading a Social Justice Conference in Grand Marais. This talk is aimed at preparing parents and the community to continue the conversation around race, identity, and culture. The talk is free and begins at 6:30 at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts. I know, personally, that it is difficult to motivate yourself out the door and all the way into town on a Thursday evening. If you have kids in the school system here or have an interest in how our community handles these conversations, then you should make the effort to be there.

Bill Blackwell Jr is a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and a graduate of Cook County High School. Recently, he has been the recipient of the Distinguished Diversity Leadership Award from the Minnesota state colleges and university’s academic and student affairs division and the Martin Luther King Commitment to Service Award.

Conversations surrounding race, identity and culture are important to have across our county. I hope to see many of us come together for this important step in moving that conversation forward.
 For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - February 8

West End News 2/8/18
There was a good turnout from west-enders at the 2018 caucuses held in Grand Marais this week. At the Democratic Farmer Labor caucus, there was a like-minded group from Tofte, and quite a few folks from Lutsen. I can’t speak to the GOP caucus but at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts it was a energetic gathering of neighbors who spoke passionately about a variety of issues. While the caucuses may seem quaint, boring, or just a waste of time to many, they are an important first step in the election process. Caucuses lead to conventions, where candidates are endorsed. This ends up affecting who you see on your ballot in November.

This year, our district Congressman Rick Nolan is facing another DFL challenger, Leah Phifer. Given the current political climate, both candidates deserve a serious look. If you aren’t familiar with Nolan or Phifer, take a peek at what they’ve been up to and what they stand for. Leah Phifer was recently in Lutsen meeting with potential supporters, and Rick Nolan sent an aid to Tofte to hear from constituents back in January. If the west end is on their radar, they should be on ours too!

Speaking of politicians, Presidents’ Day is coming up. The Sugarbush Trail Association is hosting a candle-light ski and snowshoe on Saturday, February 18 at from 6 to 8 pm on the Onion River Road. Just head on up to the Oberg Mountain Parking lot on the Onion River Road. The Onion River Road intersects with Highway 61 about halfway between Lutsen and Tofte.  Anyone can gather on Saturday evening whether you are there to ski, snowshoe or hike. This event is a wonderful way to enjoy the quiet beauty of the Northwoods after dark by the flickering lights of candles in the snow. There will be a bonfire going at the trail head, with cocoa, cookies and conversation in abundance.

The Monday and Wednesday singer/songwriter series continues at Papa Charlie’s. This Monday, the 12th, will feature the duo Dead Horses who have shared the stage with the likes of Trampled by Turtles, Mandolin Orange, and Elephant Revival. Wednesday night will showcase Reina del Cid, whose music has been featured by Paste Magazine and NPR. As a reminder these shows are free and start at 8pm. The shows are held in a listening room environment, which means concert goers should limit conversation during the performance. These shows are a great winter gathering spot in the West End.
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - January 25

West End News 1/25/18

Before the winter Olympics start up, we have the opportunity to witness some Olympic quality four-legged athletes here at home. This coming weekend, starting on January 28 through the 31st is the annual Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. In it’s 38th year, the Beargrease is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states and serves as a qualifier for the Alaska Iditarod. This year brings over 60 world class mushers and over 500 volunteers from around the country.  In the full distance marathon you can cheer on local mushers Matt Schmidt from Grand Marais and Blake Freking from Finland.
There are a number of checkpoints in the West End where you can take pictures, hang out a campfire, drink hot chocolate, and of course, watch the amazing canine athletes come and go. Two great spots to see some action are in Finland or at the checkpoint on the Sawbill Trail. To get to the checkpoint on the Sawbill, just drive up the trail, which starts in Tofte at the Tofte General Store, for about 6 miles. You can’t miss the checkpoint as it’s always a big jovial gathering with the dogs napping amongst the trees. If you do come visit, please leave your pets at home, the sled dogs need to be distraction free!
A couple of reminders about the great many services offered in the West End. First, there are two computers with internet access, that are available to the public at Birch Grove Center in Tofte. The computers are in Community Room #1 and anyone is welcome to use them. Birch Grove is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm. Also located in Community Room #1 is a small community library. Many books have been donated so the shelves are full! Anyone is welcome to take books home to keep or you can exchange for books you are done with.
I know you’re all dying to hear how the great 2018 Minnesota Frozen Butt Hang went. If you recall, this group of hardy winter hammock campers was headed up to the Sawbill campground for a weekend of freezing their butts off in good company. It was quite the gathering with somewhere around 60 people attending. I heard from one fellow from New Orleans that he’d never seen this much snow in his life. Another camper from Kentucky was very impressed by my stroller fitted with skis in place of wheels. He thought it was a new fancy way of carting your gear into the campsite so imagine his surprise when he peeked in and saw an almost 2 year old little girl peeking back up at him!
The group passed the weekend with the time honored winter traditions of many hours next to the campfire and a quick jump in the lake via a large hole they spent the better part of a day cutting out.
Not much to report in the way of ice fishing this week. Last week’s brief thaw, followed by a dusting of snow in the last few days has created fast and slippery travel conditions out on the lakes. It’s a good time to be from the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - January 4

West End News 1/4/18

This coming weekend marks the third annual Ski Party at Lutsen Mountains. Billed as a throwback to the good old days, it’s a celebration of skiing and music. The party starts on Friday evening at 8:30 pm with Dead Man Winter, Charlie Parr and Black-Eyed Snakes. Saturday brings Roma Di Luna, All tomorrow’s Petty, and Invisible Boy. Tickets are available in advance or at the door.

The snow is actually pretty good at Lutsen Mountains this year. If you can bundle up with the right Arctic appropriate clothing, you’ll have plenty of room on the slopes. The cold may scare away the less hardy, but that just means more powder for us. So bust out those extra layers, then dance the chill away the Ski Party.

Speaking of music in Lutsen, Papa Charlie’s is once again hosting the winter songwriter series. On Monday and Wednseday evenings, from 8-10 pm Papa’s transforms into a listening room. The idea is to create a theater-like setting with a more intimate atmosphere allowing the audience the opportunity to be immersed into the stories and craft behind the songs. These evenings are free and draw songwriters from around the country. On Monday, January 8th, local favorite Erik Koskinen will be gracing the stage. It’s worth mentioning that the purpose of the listening room atmosphere is to really experience the music. So if you’re looking for a place just to hang out, catch some tunes and chat with your neighbor, this is not the scene.  

In this time of New Years resolutions, if you are committed to being more active in your community or giving back to the youth or volunteer, then you might be a good fit for the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland. The Center is putting out a call for adults to lead evening activities on weeknights. You’d be in charge of opening the building, monitoring activities like volleyball or basket ball in the gym, filling out the use sheet records and closing up afterwards.

Really what you would be doing boils down to providing a safe and fun space for young people to be. If you don’t have the time to donate, monetary donations can help these programs continue too. You can find out how you may be of help by visiting their website, friends of finland . org or by calling the Executive Director Honor Schauland at 218-353-0300.
Whatever your goals for 2018, I hope they include a visit to our beautiful West End.
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.



West End News - December 28

West End News 12/28/17

Not to state the obvious, but it’s been cold this week in the West End. One benefit of the sub-zero temps is the opening of the Tofte ice rink at the Birch Grove Community center. The ice rink is open all day every day, and even has lights that stay on until 10pm each night. There is also a warming hut which comes in especially handy in this weather. The warming hut has shelves full of skates that are free to borrow. Please return them to their spot neatly when you’re finished, and if you have some skates gathering dust you can donate them by simply adding them to the shelf. The rink and skates are free, but donations are much appreciated. The rink takes a lot of time and skill to maintain so donations and respectful use are much appreciated.

A week or so ago we got an email from someone asking if they could charge their camera batteries at our house while they were up filming an event called the 2018 Minnesota Frozen Butt Hang. Having no idea what he was talking about I let him know that he probably had the wrong outfitter. A quick google search later, however, I discovered that, yes, in fact, the Frozen Butt Hang will be taking place at the Sawbill Campground the weekend of January 18th. Being that the Sawbill Campground is more or less my backyard, I commenced a much more thorough google search to find out what the heck this event was all about. Was it a polar plunge? A nudist winter camping gathering?
It turns out the hang is referring to hammock enthusiasts. Specifically, cold weather hammock enthusiasts. The colder the better it seems for these hardy hangers. Then event began with a small group of enthusiasts getting together for a winter camp in 2011. Since then it’s been growing, and this year over 60 people are signed up to attend. It’s organized and run on a completely volunteer basis, and they even have over a dozen sponsors, many of which are sending sample gear along for folks to test out.

It seems the event draws people from all over the world. Many come from the Midwest, but there are some brave southerners headed up from the US also. I even heard a rumor that someone is coming all the way from Germany to experience our west end winter. There’s nothing like enduring a weekend of below zero weather in a hammock to bring people together, I guess. It’s amazing how far the advancement of outdoor gear has come.

The end of the year is creeping up on us. We plan to celebrate out on the ice of Sawbill Lake, as tradition dictates.  Cheers to 2018 from the West End!
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.