Trail Center advice

I love Trail Center on the Gunflint Trail for many reasons. The big metal malt cups, the Fungi sandwich, the world’s smallest ice cream sundae, and the new artery-clogging but delectable, deep-fried bacon. I also like the tasty Camp Chow samples on the counter and the funky T-shirts and clothing items offered for sale.

But I think what I like best about Trail Center is the attitude of the place. Everyone is welcome. The décor says it all, from framed Royal Canadian Mounted Police posters to pink-glitter slippers; from campaign posters of many different county elections to the big bumper-sticker covered log chairs, it is clear the opinions of the owner are all over the board.

Sarah Hamilton and her “crew” welcome everyone, local or visitor; cross country skier or snowmobiler; hiker or ATVer; paddler or pontooner. As long as you are accepting of others, you will find yourself at home at Trail Center.

Chuck and I visited Trail Center recently with our wonderful Indiana and Minneapolis relatives. We were shocked by a line of people waiting to enter the dining room. We’re spoiled. Most of the time the restaurant signs says “Seat Yourself.”

But we didn’t mind. There are a lot of interesting things to look at on the little store shelves and of course Camp Chow samples to try. We weren’t in a hurry, we were just riding around on the Trail to give our relatives the Cook County experience.

We were seated within a few minutes and ordered shakes and malts.

My wonderful sister-in-law and me picking out our malts at Trail Center.

My wonderful sister-in-law and me picking out our malts at Trail Center.

The Trail Center staff was friendly and helpful as always, but they did look a bit frazzled. As we were waiting, I reread the note on the back of the Trail Center table top drink menu.

The note offers “a little food for thought while you wait for yours.” It goes on to remind visitors that Trail Center is a small restaurant in a small community that serves as few as 40 people per day during the off season (November through April). Amazingly—and the reason we had to wait—those numbers can reach 500 during the summer months.

The note continues, “We are sorry you have to wait, but expanding our restaurant to service these few months would put us out of business.”

Finally, in Trail Center style, the note finishes by saying, “We are very glad you are here and hope you can relax and enjoy us. We enjoy you.”

I think the Trail Center notice should be painted on a billboard and set up at the county line. Although Trail Center is the only business I know that verbalizes this frustration, there are many others who feel the same.

The entire county has the same problem. Most of our stores, gas stations and restaurants have a solid core staff year round. In the shoulder seasons, those of us who live here year round are able to waltz in just about any place at any time and receive almost instant and attentive service.

But then the opening of fishing comes and slowly and steadily, traffic increases and lines get longer at the checkout counters. Our quiet little community gets overrun with vacationers and by the 4th of July, the pace in our local businesses is frantic.

Most of the time we don’t mind. If visitors are happy—as they should be on vacation—and treat the service community kindly, it can be fun trying to keep up with it all. Servers dance between tables and joke with customers. Gift shop owners get shoppers through the line with utmost speed, smiling and chatting. As long as people are patient and cheerful, it all works.

That is why it would be nice to have the Trail Center note printed far and wide. As summer winds down, we could all use the reminder— relax and enjoy!

I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Simple as that.

Robert Michaels MD

More than a legislator

Like so many others in the Northland, I was shocked to hear that Representative David Dill had died on Saturday, August 8.

I had heard that his health was failing. David’s good friend Hal Greenwood of Grand Marais told me a month ago that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. But I couldn’t imagine that Dave wouldn’t come through this latest health battle as he had with his other challenges—diabetes and a kidney transplant. I remember telling Hal that I was sure he’d get through this.

I was so impressed with how David handled his failing kidneys, scheduling dialysis around the legislative session and the operations of his fly-in fishing camp. I’m sure he would have liked to keep that situation quiet too, but it’s difficult to keep something like that private. So, he matter-of-factly explained the kidney transplant and recovery process to the media and got back to work at the Capitol.

Our friend David Dill at the 2009 "World's Longest ATV Parade" in Silver Bay.

Our friend David Dill at the 2009 “World’s Longest ATV Parade” in Silver Bay.

David did an amazing job, finding time to listen to all the citizens in his huge district, from the Arrowhead to International Falls. He didn’t seem to mind the traveling; it was just another way to stay in touch with his constituents. He truly enjoyed the events at which he was invited to speak—the Birch Grove Community School grand opening; Gitchi Gami Bicycle Trail ribbon cuttings; Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s building renovation groundbreaking; the exciting groundbreaking for Superior National at Lutsen golf course; Higher Education luncheons; and Cook County Chamber of Commerce/Visit Cook County celebrations.

He worked tirelessly to get bills passed to benefit the people in his district. I can’t count the number of times he called the Cook County News-Herald to talk to someone on staff to get an idea of community opinion on an issue.

David worked well across the aisle and was able to get a lot of important legislation passed, but he wasn’t afraid to speak up if an idea or project wasn’t feasible. I remember one fundraiser for David and his friend and colleague Senator Tom Bakk. Group after group talked to them over hors d’oeuvres about the need for additional funding for this cause or that. When it was David’s turn to speak he didn’t pull any punches, he told the people who had voted him into office that it wasn’t likely he would get funding for all the pet projects. In fact, David told his supporters, it would be a year of trying to fight off cuts to current funding.

He was respected for that. Time and again this week as I’ve talked to people for an article on the passing of our District 3A representative, I’ve heard people say they didn’t always agree with David, but despite differences on some issues, they appreciated his willingness to work on other projects.

Like everyone I’ve talked to about his passing, I’m heartbroken. David was more than our legislator, he was a friend. I will miss his calls to the Cook County News-Herald to talk about issues. And even more, I’ll miss the many times he showed up at the newspaper unannounced, inviting someone for coffee at Blue Water Café just to touch bases.

Conversations with Dave were always lively. He felt strongly about issues and was happy to share his opinion—and sometimes, half of his caramel roll. But eventually, the discussion always strayed from legislative issues. He loved sharing news about his fishing camp or his dear wife Tucky and his hardworking son Drake.

He remembered names and faces. He wanted to know how kids were doing in school and how work was going. He wanted to know what everyone was up to and whether people were catching fish. David didn’t just care about politics or campaigning; he cared about the people of his district. We weren’t just his constituents; we were his friends. We will all miss him.


To measure the man,
measure his heart.
Malcolm Stevenson Forbes

Still a cool community

There may be some who are tired of the crowing about Grand Marais’s recent designation as “America’s Coolest Small Town.” But I’m not sick of it yet. Especially not after the recent Fisherman’s Picnic festivities.

I am exhausted, yes. It is always a challenge with our small News-Herald staff to be everywhere and to cover everything. We do our best to get to all the activities starting with the Wednesday night Grand Marais Lioness Club buffet through the Sunday parade and grand prize drawing.

Lions on the dock

Thank you Grand Marais Lions and Lioness Clubs for all the work they do in the community!

But seeing the community come together to throw the giant party tickles me. The Grand Marais Lions and Lionesses work for months setting things up and then they work like crazy all through the weekend, facilitating events, selling raffle tickets, directing traffic, cooking and selling fishburgers and much more.

Other community organizations lend a hand. The Cooperation Station adds to the carnival atmosphere with the dunk tank. The First Congregational Church hosts its Friday night Shrimp Boil. The North Shore Rollers give everyone who wants to give log rolling a try the chance to do so.

Businesses step up to offer activities, like Hedstrom Lumber with the cross saw contest and Sven & Ole’s Pizza with the famed pickled herring eating contest.

It takes a village to put on the Fisherman’s Picnic!

But even more important, what makes us America’s Coolest Small Town (and coolest county, in my opinion) is the caring attitude we so frequently see.

I can give two excellent examples of that caring, both occurred during our busy Fisherman’s Picnic weekend.

The first incident is smalltown service at its finest. My granddaughter RaeAnne is dealing with braces. She does pretty well, but on the Friday of Fisherman’s Picnic, when she was expecting to spend a fun day at open log rolling in downtown Grand Marais, a wire snapped on her braces.

In a larger city that may have meant a miserable weekend. However, her mom, Michele, gave the Grand Marais Family Dentistry office a call. There was a recording because the dental office is closed Friday. Dr. Alyssa Hedstrom gives her cell phone number in case of emergencies. Michele called and was amazed to reach Dr. Alyssa.

Not only did Dr. Alyssa answer the phone on her day off, she was willing and able to come to the rescue. She quickly fixed the problem and RaeAnne went on to have a fabulous Fisherman’s Picnic.

Thanks Alyssa for being America’s Coolest Small Town dentist!

Yet another act of kindness happened on Sunday. I stopped by the Fishburger Stand to get one last fishburger. I set my phone and notepad down on the counter—and after putting tartar sauce on the fishburger, I walked off and left them.

It took me a little while to realize I had lost them. I was taking a break in the American Legion bingo tent when I realized I had left them somewhere. I panicked. My phone could be replaced, although that would be inconvenient. But the notebook held all my notes from Fisherman’s Picnic. That is irreplaceable.

Fortunately fate and our small town were working with me. Before I even got out of the bingo tent, my husband Chuck had the phone and notebook in hand. Lion Mike Carlson had seen me set my things down and he pocketed them to get back to me. Mike knows my parents, so when he saw them, he passed off my possessions to them. They got them to Chuck and to me.

Thank you, Lion Mike Carlson, for another wonderful example of how we look out for one another in our community.

America’s Coolest Small Town indeed.


No act of kindness,
no matter how small,
is ever wasted.


Where are we in August?

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

Do you know where we spotted this relic?

Do you know where we spotted this relic?

We had many guesses in July, but only two were correct. The incorrect entries read like a Who’s Who of the fantastic hiking trails in Cook County. Some of the wrong guesses were the Lutsen Resort and Chik Wauk Nature Trails; the trail to Devil’s Kettle; to Oberg and Eagle mountains; at the Gunflint Hills Golf Course and more.

Congratulations to Lori Ericson of Minneapolis and Betty King of Tofte who both recognized the boardwalk on the trail to Carlton Peak in Tofte. Betty’s name was drawn and she will receive a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the August photo. If you think you know where we were when we took this picture, send us your answer.

You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.

Whoever is drawn from the correct entries will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Return answer by mail, e-mail or fax to:

Cook County News-Herald

PO Box 757

Grand Marais MN 55604

Fax: 218-387-9500

Answer to the August WHERE ARE WE? must be received by September 14, 2015.

Generations on the Lake

I sometimes say that my grandfather would be mortified by my sense of direction. I never know if I am traveling north or south or east or west. I can get lost in Grand Marais. Apparently the navigation gene has skipped a generation.

My grandfather, Captain Roy Oberg, at the helm of the Voyageur II.

My grandfather, Captain Roy Oberg, at the helm of the Voyageur II.

My grandfather, Roy Oberg, had an unerring sense of direction. He was a commercial fisherman on Lake Superior for many years, but is best known as captain of first the Voyageur and then the Voyageur II, transporting people and goods to Isle Royale for the Grand Portage- Isle Royale Transportation Lines. He carried the mail and groceries to the people living on the island and hauled backpacks and canoes for the island visitors for more than 50 years.

Best of all, he welcomed his family to stowaway on the boat. The memories of trips to “the Island” with grandpa are some of the best of my childhood. I remember trips spent huddling under blankets with my sister and cousins in the bow as the Voyageur slammed into waves, spraying us with icy cold, pure Lake Superior water. We stubbornly stayed outside, not wanting to miss a thing.

I remember the warm, slow cruises into the bays and inlets— the pause near the shipwrecked steamer America and the sail past the Rock Harbor lighthouse. It was so fun seeing the island people or National Park staff came out to get their mail, their groceries or just to say hello. Everyone was always happy to see Grandpa and to chat with him and to hear his distinctive chuckle.

We had fun walking around the boat swaying and saying, “Whoa!” when a particularly big wave hit. It was an honor to take Grandpa’s coffee-stained mug down to the galley for a refill. Climbing the ladder back to the pilot house on stormy seas was challenging and exciting.

I remember my mom cooking in the tiny galley on the trip around the island. I can clearly recall watching the broth in a cup of chicken noodle soup slosh from side-to-side with the rolling of the boat.

We always felt safe on the Voyageur, because Grandpa was at the helm. Rain or shine, fog or blue skies, flat calm or high seas, he knew his boat and he knew the lake. He knew the Island, the depths of the channels, the location of the reefs. He loved the Island and the Big Lake.

I didn’t inherit his seafaring skills, but apparently my son has. After a summer season working as a deckhand on the Voyageur II, my son Ben decided he wanted to pilot the boat from Grand Portage to Isle Royale. He acquired his captain’s license two years ago and has been following in my grandfather’s wake.

Last weekend I got to tag along. It was an amazing trip down memory lane. I still like sitting in the bow, feeling the wind in my face. I still like leaning on the railing, watching the hull cut through the glistening water. And I still like meeting the people of the Island.

My son, Captain Ben Silence, piloting the Voyageur II.

My son, Captain Ben Silence, piloting the Voyageur II.

It was fun to watch Captain Ben welcoming passengers and visiting with tourists as he and deckhand Dan loaded kayaks and gear. It was wonderful to be onboard to see him maneuver in and out of the beautiful bays I enjoyed as a child. When we reached Rock Harbor, where the Voyageur II stops for the night, I watched in awe as Ben smoothly slid into the narrow space right next to a lavish yacht. Grandpa would have been proud.

It was a quiet, peaceful trip— no emails, no cell phone, just happy memories of time spent at Windigo, Rock Harbor and Daisy Farm. A few things have changed since my last trip decades ago, but much more was the same. I’m lucky to have had two Voyageur captains in my life, to get to be “crew” then and now.

The navigation gene may have skipped a generation, but the love of water has not!


I shall carry away with me a deep and lasting impression of this country with its primeval forests, its bird life, its freshwashed shores, its moose and innumerable bays and passages. Its size and grandeur surpassed my expectations. It would make the finest water and trail park I can think of.

Stephen T. Mather, Director, National Park Service on Isle Royale, 1924

Where are We in July?

whereCook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

We had many guesses in June, once again all correct. Many readers recognized where we were, right next to Swamper Lake on the Gunflint Trail.

Congratulations to Nancy Haarmeyer and Tom McCann who recognized the lovely spot.

Try your luck! Take a look at the July photo. If you think you know where we were when we took this picture, send us your answer.

You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.

Whoever is drawn from the correct entries will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Return answer by mail, e-mail or fax to:

Cook County News-Herald

PO Box 757

Grand Marais MN 55604

Fax: 218-387-9500

Answer to the July WHERE ARE WE? must be received by August 10, 2015.

All aboard at Taconite Harbor

Last week I wrote about the looming closure of the Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder. I’m still sadly waiting to hear how the impending idling of the plant will affect the many people I know at the plant.

I am trying to be hopeful that Minnesota Power will find a way to “re-purpose” the plant. Minnesota Power Vice President of Strategy and Planning Al Rudeck told News-Herald reporter Brian Larsen that the company has a “Community Investment Committee” that will work to re-purpose the plant.

Rudeck talked about possibilities such as converting the plant to a wood products center. Minnesota Power is investing in wind, solar and natural gas—perhaps there is a way to make something like that work in Schroeder. I’m skeptical, but again, hopeful.

It is good to hear the Minnesota Power executives talking about the other “valuable assets” in Schroeder, including the port and the rail line*. In fact, the rail line gives me a little glimmer of hope. Not through the transport of taconite pellets however. That is unlikely. But how about converting the long-idle rail line to a scenic railway?

It wouldn’t offer 40-plus jobs as the Energy Center does, but if it only added a few jobs to our struggling economy, it could help. And, as our economy becomes more and more tourism-based, this could be a draw, an incentive as the tourism groups keep saying, “to stay another day.”

People love trains. Our family has taken several scenic railway trips in our travels, such as the Cripple Creek Narrow Gauge train in Colorado. It was only four miles long and it was exceedingly slow, but the tour guide was entertaining and it brought the history of the old west to life.

We have a model we could emulate in Duluth’s North Shore Scenic Railroad. I don’t know if the North Shore Scenic Railroad is a break-even or moneymaking operation, but it sure is a tourism draw. Duluth and The Depot have done an admirable job marketing the railway, with pizza trains, a Murder Mystery Train and for the kids, a Day with Thomas tour and the Polar Express.

A train ride from Taconite Harbor to Hoyt Lakes would not need as much hype because the scenery alone would sell the trip. There are a few folks still in our community who have taken that ride who could bear witness to the great views.

I know that at some point along the route there is a really cool tunnel. It’s one of my earliest hiking memories. For some reason a large group of us, my parents, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles drove to the railroad tracks and went for a hike atop the grade. We came to the tunnel and there was debate as to whether or not we should hike through it.

My uncle Clayton, who worked at the plant—then North Shore Mining—said we should go for it, but cautioned us children that if a train came, we should lie down and press up against the wall as tightly as we could so we wouldn’t get sucked under the churning iron wheels.

Now, looking back from my adult vantage point, I am sure that Clayton knew the train schedule and knew there was not the slightest danger that a train would be passing through as we hiked. I’m sure he chuckled at our sheer terror as we got further and further into the tunnel and the thought of a train coming made us go faster and faster. I will never forget how scared my cousins and I were. We wanted to climb over the mountain to get back to the car!

But I will also never forget how lovely the scenery was at both the entrance and exit of the tunnel. The view of Lake Superior was exquisite.

In addition to offering magnificent scenery, the scenic railroad could provide a history of the trains that stopped operation in 2001, the mining industry, and the power plant and of the towns and hardworking people that built it all. I’d take a ride—how about you?


The United States, as we know it today is largely the result of mechanical inventions, and in particular of agricultural machinery and the railroad.

John Moody

 * To see a fantastic video of the last Cliffs Erie train leaving Taconite Harbor and going through that tunnel, click here.


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