Where are we in November?

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?

The October WHERE ARE WE? was a bit difficult. Only one person recognized the spot. We were in the Poplar Grove Cemetery in Grand Marais, just off Highway 61 near a grave marker from the 1800s. Sherrie Lindskog was the winner of a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the November photo. If you think you know where this photo was taken, 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!

Answer to the November WHERE ARE WE? must be received by December 14, 2015.

Send your entry to:

Cook County News-Herald
PO Box 757
Grand Marais MN 55604

Drop it by our office at:

15 First Avenue West
Fax: 218-387-9500
email: starnews@boreal.org
Questions? 218-387-9100

More than luck needed to lower levy

Last week I wished Cook County commissioners luck in the quest to keep our tax levy from increasing drastically. They’ve done a pretty good job so far. From a 28 percent levy increase in April to an 11.2 percent increase in November, they’ve found a way to trim some expenses.

It would be nice if they could do more before the budget is finalized at the last county board meeting of the year on December 28. To do so commissioners need more than luck. They need the courage to make some tough choices and they need thick skin to face the inevitable criticism of those choices

But perhaps most importantly they need feedback from citizens on what can be cut and what the community can’t live without.

At a recent board meeting, Commissioner Frank Moe introduced an idea to reduce the county highway department budget by eliminating application of calcium chloride on the county’s gravel roads. Moe asked County Engineer David Betts if the $160,000 spent to keep dust down on unpaved roads was necessary.

The county engineer said yes, it is necessary. Calcium chloride is used for more than keeping vehicles dust free. Betts said applying calcium chloride reduces the amount of grading needed, saving money in labor and equipment costs. It also helps prevent washouts and ultimately decreases road maintenance costs.

So perhaps Moe’s idea is not feasible. But I admire the willingness to take a close look at county expenditures, to see if there are things we can live without.

This is where citizen feedback comes in. If you have an idea for a way the county could cut expenses, talk to your commissioner.

My husband Chuck has a pet-peeve that, if addressed could save the county some money. What is it that vexes him? The lights at the Cook County Community Center hockey rink—and more recently—at the tennis courts. Driving up First or Second Avenue West toward the school and YMCA late into the night, these arena lights are on. Often without a soul in sight.

IMG_9122.JPGIf these lights were put on a timer or perhaps a motion detector to be used only when there were actually people using these county amenities, the county’s electric bill could be reduced. It’s a start.

I’ve heard from local business owners that the county could do more to make do with what they have. There are small business owners that are using desk chairs and file cabinets that they bought at yard sales years ago. There are entrepreneurs using hand-me-down copiers and telephone systems. And unfortunately, there are businesses that could use a new roof or windows or carpet, but delay those improvements because it’s not in the budget.

Perhaps the county could extend the time between replacing desk chairs and room dividers or between painting or changing window blinds. Not enough to reduce the budget alone, but every little bit helps.

I have a somewhat drastic suggestion. It’s not a novel idea, in fact, I’ve seen this budget cutting method numerous times in my working life. As an Army wife, I had a variety of jobs—library aide, retail sales associate, medical records clerk, cardiac rehab receptionist, secretary, customer service representative and more. In each of those jobs, at some point, management called for some kind of moratorium on spending.

At the library, when the end of the fiscal year was near, the librarian issued a directive— no new books or periodicals were to be ordered. The best sellers just had to wait. At the retail store, when sales didn’t meet goals, there were no new hires. Everyone pitched in to get the work done until finances improved. When the hospital I worked at reduced the cardiac rehab outreach budget, we temporarily halted our heart healthy education luncheon. As a secretary, there were times when a limit was put on office supplies. No, we didn’t need logo pens or fancy desk calendars.

The county board started down this path at the start of the budget process when it sat in meeting after meeting to talk about wants versus needs. Commissioners asked department heads to look for ways to cut their budget and some county staff found ways to do so.

The county board decided not to issue a mandate to department heads to make budget cuts. Commissioners noted that they didn’t want to micromanage or “nickel and dime” employees. I don’t believe they would have to. I think county staff, if asked to cut 2 percent or 5 percent from individual budgets could do so. It would take creativity, but it could likely be done.

There’s my idea. What do you think? What can the county do to keep our levy low? Let your commissioner know. As inflation rises and state and federal funding falls, they need all the help they can get. They need more than luck.


We must consult our means
rather than our wishes.

George Washington

Fearlessly moving on

Fearless - summer 2014

Fearless in summer 2014

For years I’ve shared stories about our golden retriever Fearless. Longtime readers— those who started reading Unorganized Territory more than 14 years ago—may remember that Fearless came to us as a Father’s Day gift from our son Gideon and his wife Sara.

The roly-poly puppy was to make up for the fact that they had taken our family dog— Gideon’s dog, Gizmo—away from us to their new home. The puppy had big paws to fill as we all adored Gizmo. But he quickly won our hearts with his silly antics, especially his anxious attitude. He was a nervous little pup, afraid of rustling garbage bags, balloons and of course, the vacuum cleaner.

For that reason, we decided to give him a strong name— Fearless. We thought he would grow into it. He eventually did, but not before I wrote a few columns about his fearfulness.

In April of 2002, when he was just a year old, I bragged that Fearless had easily slept through a major thunder and lightning storm. Of course there was a reason. He was tired from a terribly traumatic hike. We had taken our poor little dog, who trembled when you shook a trash bag before putting it in the garbage can, on a stroll on County Road 7. Unfortunately, some Good Samaritan had collected litter along the road. It started off as a very slow walk with Fearless cringing and pulling at the leash as we passed the first few bags. He eventually realized that the bags were inanimate and we were able to finish the walk, but not without a lot of laughter at his expense.

I wrote about his anxiety issues again in a column in January 2009, just after the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Because Fearless had so much energy, I thought he might be sled dog material. I decided to see if we could teach him to pull a sled around the yard to give the grandkids a ride. I started with something I thought would be simple—a little yellow toboggan left at our house by the kids. I carefully hooked the plastic sled to his collar and attempted to get him to walk beside me. It did not work. I forgot about the fear factor.

The sliding toboggan following him terrified him and he took off running, looking back frantically, his eyes filled with fright at the yellow thing chasing him.

It took several minutes to stop him and to get him untangled. It took several more minutes to get him to calm down. I decided he wasn’t cut out to be a sled dog. But it did make me laugh and it made for a good story for a mushing season column.

One year in a Halloween column I admitted that Fearless and I are both a bit cowardly. I shared my apprehension about being home alone. You would think having a big dog would help, but no, sensing my nervousness made Fearless skittish and he would bark at every little noise, scaring me even more. He would walk so close to me that the real danger I faced was tripping over him and breaking a limb.

I’ve mentioned Fearless in many more columns, telling readers about the difficulty of building a snowman with the grandkids when you are waylaid by a 70-pound dog who wants to roll around in the snow with you. I’ve written about his jumping on board Chuck’s four-wheeler and traveling the trails with us. I still chuckle when I remember writing a column about him stealing my mother’s walking stick.

The last time our old guy got a mention was last March, when he went for a nice long walk along County Road 7, where once a trash cleanup had scared him. I was amazed on that warm spring day that he made it as far as he did, huffing and puffing, but with a happy golden retriever grin on his gray muzzle.

I wondered, at that time, if we would be losing him soon. After all, he was almost 14 years old and that is old for a golden. He made it a few more months. On Halloween, we said farewell to our sweet old Fearless.

We knew it was coming, so all his human and canine friends came to say goodbye. He was too weak to jump up and bark in welcome, but he managed that happy golden smile as everyone— our kids, grandkids, my parents and friends—came to give him one last treat, to pet him and tell him one last time, “Good boy.”

At the end, he truly was fearless.


It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.


Don’t ask citizens to speed read

I’ve written more than a few columns about the need for public involvement in government. Most recently, during “Sunshine Week” in March 2015, I noted that during that Cook County commissioners were reconsidering their policy for accepting public comments at county board meetings.

I was delighted that commissioners were concerned about being open to feedback from the public. That is what Sunshine Week is all about. The Sunshine Week event is a national initiative of journalists, citizens and community groups intended to shine a light on the need for transparency in government all year long. The goal is to increase awareness of government activities, about the Freedom of Information Act and about cooperation and civility in government public interactions.

Back in March, County Attorney Molly Hicken found the county’s policy and presented it to commissioners for review. After much discussion, the county board decided to not change the policy, which states:

  • Public may address any matter of county concern.
  • Public asked to state name, address, and topic.
  • Comments limited to five minutes.
  • Comment period limited to 30 minutes.
  • Commissioners may ask/answer questions, but the purpose of the comment period is not to allow for debate.
  • At board’s discretion, a matter addressed during the comment period may be added to current or future agenda.
  • Discussion must be civil, respectful, and directed at the board, not at other members of the public.

Back in March, I expressed concern that although the guidelines seem reasonable, putting them in action could be difficult. I wondered what would happen when a citizen has something to say that can’t be said in five minutes. Or if a controversial issue has a dozen citizens wanting to speak which pushes the comment period far past 30 minutes. And the guidelines don’t state whether or not commissioners will allow citizens to take part in discussion outside of the pre-meeting comment period.

My concerns became reality at two recent county board meetings, during the public hearing on the ATV road ordinance in July and the discussion of whether or not to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day this month. Public comment was limited to two or three minutes.

Teacher David Liechty had some interesting things to say about the history of Columbus Day. It was disheartening to hear him try to get it all said in two minutes at the recent hearing on Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Teacher David Liechty had some interesting things to say about the history of Columbus Day. It was disheartening to hear him try to get it all said in two minutes at the recent hearing on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Citizens were incredibly frustrated by the restriction. People who commented had to edit their thoughts on the fly or in the case of David Liechty, speaking in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, speed read through their comments. It was painful to watch.

Commissioners have realized that this is perhaps not appropriate and have discussed changing the public comment period format. No decisions have been made other than agreeing that a public comment period should be added to all county board meetings, work sessions and special meetings— everything except emergency meetings called during disasters such as fire or flood.

I hope commissioners will consider loosening the time restrictions even if there is a crowd. It is nearly impossible to say anything of substance in three minutes, let alone two. And restricting discussion to 30 minutes or an hour for a public hearing quashes public comment.

Speakers should have at least five minutes to speak, with a little leeway if they are providing relevant comment. Allowing five minutes shouldn’t significantly lengthen meetings as there are some people who do only need two minutes. It would balance itself out. And the county board chair always has the authority to ask someone to wrap up their thoughts to get things moving.

As long as citizens have something new and different to say, they should be allowed to speak whether or not the arbitrary 30-minute time limit has been reached. Again, the board chair can politely ask someone to wrap things up if what they have to say has already been said.

I think citizens have done a pretty good job policing themselves in the past. I hope citizens will continue to speak up. I hope commissioners give them the opportunity to continue to do so.


I begin to feel like most Americans don’t understand the First Amendment, don’t understand the idea of freedom of speech, and don’t understand that it’s the responsibility of the citizen to speak out.

Roger Ebert

Advice from Nature

The tamaracks along the trail in recent weeks have positively glowed!

We are so blessed in the Northland. The tamarack trees and all of nature have been glowing in recent weeks. Get out and enjoy!

I’ve was lucky to have a few free days over the past few weekends and I spent them riding and hiking the backroads of Cook County. The fall colors are nearly off the trees, but the leaves are splayed out across the ground, creating a magnificent carpet of red and gold to crunch through.

I have especially been enjoying the tamarack stands in the fall sunlight.

When I was younger, I did not like tamarack trees. I didn’t like that they turned yellow in the fall. I thought they looked sickly and when their needles fell, I thought they were dead pine trees. I don’t know how old I was when I realized that is supposed to happen.

But I remember being surprised when I learned that the Larix laricina, or the American larch or tamarack, is a deciduous conifer, which means it is supposed to turn yellow and lose its needle-like leaves.

After learning that, I’ve come to admire the spindly golden trees.

I love how they blend in most of the time, coexisting with the other evergreens. But then they change to add contrast to the varied greens of the white and jack pines and the nearly black spruce trees in the fall. Unlike the leafy deciduous trees that drop their foliage at the first vigorous windstorm, it seems that the tamaracks hold onto their needles longer. When the aspen and maple are bare, the tamaracks still cast a warm glow against the bright blue fall sky.

And then, when the tamarack’s needles finally do fall, they gild the dusty roads, creating a soft path to walk on.

In fact, they’ve made me almost poetic. I wish I could write a sonnet that would do justice to the lovely tamarack. I’m not that kind of writer though.

But I do love a good quote and I’ve discovered a wonderful series of cards and posters from www.yourtruenature.com that offers “quotes” from nature. The company shares “advice” from a variety of animals—bats, bear, moose, otters and more. For example, along with a beautiful print of an owl, the poster advises (from the owl’s perspective): Stay focused. Be ‘whooo’ you are. Trust a wise friend. Live off the land. Glide through the dark times. Be observant. Life’s a hoot!

On a recent trip to Isle Royale, I bought a wooden plaque with “advice” from a loon. It hangs over my desk at the office to remind me of the time spent at the Island and declares: Spend time at the lake. Enjoy a good swim. Call your friends. A little color goes a long way. Surround yourself with beauty. Enjoy time alone. Dive into life!

There are many more such cards and prints, including some that offer advice from a lake, a river, the sun and the moon. After thinking that there should be an ode to the tamarack tree, I searched and couldn’t find one. There was a print with advice from a tree, but not a specific species. The company is missing a market—there are many trees that could offer “advice,” such as the colorful maple, the elegant birch, and the majestic white pine.

I don’t have the time or energy to come up with thoughts from all the things of nature that could share wisdom with us.

But I thought I’d take a shot at my favorite fall tree. As regular readers know, I like to close my column with a quote. This week I’m not searching my usual resources, the Leaves of Gold collection or www.goodreads.com. Instead, I’m taking a shot at creating my own “advice.” Here goes, from a tamarack tree and me:

Soak in the sun.

Be willing to bend.

Sometimes it’s okay to be one of the crowd.

Enjoy the changing seasons.

Don’t be afraid to stand out.

Make the path easier for others.

Enjoy the view.

Where are We in October?

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?

Thanks to Darren Peck of Tofte who shared the photo used in the September WHERE ARE WE? We only received one incorrect guess of the old airport. All of the remaining entries—the most we’ve ever received—knew that Darren took the picture at the old Taconite Harbor townsite.

Congratulations to Steve Quaife of Grand Marais whose name was drawn from all of the correct guesses. Steve will receive a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Try your luck! Take a look at the October photo. If you think you know where this photo was taken, 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!

Answer to the October WHERE ARE WE? must be received by November 16, 2015.

Send your entry to:

Cook County News-Herald
PO Box 757
Grand Marais MN 55604

Drop it by our office at:

15 First Avenue West
Fax: 218-387-9500
email: starnews@boreal.org
Questions? 218-387-9100

Get registered!

This week—possibly on the same day that this issue of the Cook County News- Herald hits mailboxes—ballots for the November 3 general election will appear.

Visit the Funding our Future website to learn more about how levy dollars are used to support our students.

Visit the Funding our Future website to learn more about how levy dollars are used to support our students.

On Election Day, the first Tuesday of November, we have the chance to vote on a single issue, on whether School District 166 should increase its levy from $437.09 per pupil to $1,276 per pupil to continue and to expand the curriculum and programming offered at the school. The ballot will ask: Shall the increase in the revenue proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 166 (Cook County Public Schools), Minnesota be approved?

I’m not going to give you suggestions on how you should answer that question. There has been enough on our editorial page in recent weeks. If you are still undecided when you get your ballot in the mail, visit www.fundingourfuture.org. There is a lot of great information there, ranging from just what is an operating referendum to property tax impact and what the levy money will be used for.

If you haven’t received your ballot within a day or two of getting this issue of the News-Herald, you should check with the county Auditor’s Office to make sure your ballot hasn’t been lost or to make sure you are registered.

If you are not registered to vote, don’t wait until the last minute to decide you want to voice your opinion. The Auditor’s Office is ready to help people who want to register on Election Day. Auditor Braidy Powers said in the last election, the Minnesota House 3A primary on September 29, a total of 1,846 people—52 percent of the registered voters in the county—cast their ballots. He said 36 people registered at the last minute which wasn’t too unusual.

Unfortunately every year there are one or two people who are turned away from the polls. I was witness to that a few years ago. A young woman who lived in Lutsen and worked in Grand Marais had waited until it was nearly time for the polls to close. She had moved to Cook County from another state recently so didn’t have identification that showed she was now a Minnesota resident.

She could have still registered if she could show her picture ID from another state along with a bill from her current Minnesota residence. She had nothing like that. The final option was to have another registered voter vouch for her. I readily agreed to help her out, only to learn that the person vouching for the voter must reside in the same precinct. Sadly, because of lack of planning, she forfeited her right to vote.

Happily, the second time I encountered this situation, I was able to help. Another young woman had forgotten her identification at home and she didn’t have time to go get it before the polls closed. Because I knew her, she asked if I would vouch for her. We figured out that we lived in the same precinct and I completed a quick little form and voila! She was able to vote.

Whether you want to vote yes or no, don’t wait. Don’t count on having a neighbor at the courthouse to verify your residence. Register now and let your voice be heard!


I’m tired of hearing it said that democracy
doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t work.
We are supposed to work it.

Alexander Woollcott


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 296 other followers