Unorganized Territory

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Life in unorganized territory
Updated: 2 hours 20 min ago

Where are We in February?

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 2:56pm


Where are we?

Our January WHERE ARE WE? location turned out to be pretty easy. We had a few wrong guesses, but most people recognized the shoreline near Five Mile Rock, near Mile Marker 116. Thanks Kristi Silence for sharing the lovely photo.

And congratulations to Olya Wright of Grand Marais! Olya was drawn from all the correct entries and she and her parents will receive a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the February 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 will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Answer to the February WHERE ARE WE? must be received by March 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
Questions? 218-387-9100

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Top shelf research

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 12:56pm

It is time to do the column I set out to do several months ago before I was distracted by coffee cups. I can hear my friend Dan in Florida laughing, “You and your coffee mugs!” but honestly, I did not set out to do a series of essays on cups. I meant to write an Unorganized Territory about a silly thing that takes place at the News-Herald office nearly every day.

As an introduction to the need for a scientific—or semi- scientific— study of our office phenomena, I recalled a silly investigative report on the Today show. Readers may remember that I spent several inches of column space sharing the results of a study done in Australia on whether or not the color of your coffee cup makes a difference in the taste of your java.

According to the people who conducted the study for Flavour magazine, the color does make a difference. But who really cares? Why conduct this coffee cup study?

No explanation is given in the report as to why Flavour magazine publishers felt this was important. So we will be left to wonder.

However, I do have a reason for wanting to do an investigation into the odd human response to a simple shelf in the News-Herald office. I want to do a study just because I want to know why!

So what is this intriguing behavior? It’s not the fact that nine out of 10 people call or come in to the office to renew their “prescription” instead of “subscription.” That makes perfect sense to me. The words just get jumbled up in the average brain.

No, the weird thing that happens day after day, year in and year out, has been noticed by all of us in the office. It isn’t just me. All of us at one time or another have chuckled and wondered.

The scene of the top shelf mystery…

Here’s the scenario. We have a metal shelf next to the front counter. The top shelf is slanted a bit, to better display whatever is on top. The other shelves are typical horizontal shelves. There are three horizontal shelves. Each week when the current edition of the News-Herald arrives, we move the newspapers down a shelf. So, at any given time we have four issues of the News-Herald on the shelves, with the most recent issue sitting on the very top, slanted shelf.

Sounds like a reasonable way to display the paper, right?

Apparently it is not. Because inevitably, someone enters the office to buy a copy of the News- Herald. They approach the metal rack. They peruse the shelves. And they reach for the older newspaper on the second shelf.

At least once a day, one of us in the office has to say, “The most recent issue is on the top….The very top…The top shelf there,” as we point to the current issue.

For a very long time I thought it just happened to me. Then one day, someone else mentioned that people never seem to want to take the papers off the top shelf. After that we all became aware of the odd habit of newspaper-buying people. And we all wonder why.

I think that we should conduct a study to find out why people are hesitant to take papers off the top shelf. Sillier things have been done.

Look at all the research that received the “Golden Fleece Award” from the late Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire. Studies by the National Science Foundation for comparing aggressiveness in sun fish that drank tequila versus gin; a Department of Defense study on how to buy Worcestershire sauce; or a NOAA study on whether or not marijuana is harmful to scuba divers and more.

Where do we apply?


Research is what I’m doing
when I don’t know what I’m doing.

Wernher Von Braun

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A good foundation at Birch Grove

Sun, 02/15/2015 - 4:24pm

Since this issue of the Cook County News-Herald is our Valentine’s Day edition, I should write a column about the joy of receiving truffles or roses or handcrafted valentines from the grandkids. But instead I’m going to write about something else near and dear to my heart—our local schools. We have some amazing schools, thank you teachers and staff at all of our schools! Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m thinking of Birch Grove Community School in particular today because as I write this Unorganized Territory, the West End elementary school is preparing for a public meeting.

The meeting is one of hundreds that have been held to discuss the future of the little school in Tofte. Maybe thousands, since the land was donated to the community in the ’60s; since it was closed and then reopened in 1985; since it was reopened as a charter school in 2004.

A wonderful tradition at Birch Grove Community School — on the first day of school every student gets to ring a bell to announce that school is in session!

I’ve been at more meetings than I can count since I started reporting West End news as a freelancer for the News-Herald back in 1995. I wasn’t around for those early days when the building was built. But having heard the history; having seen it reported on in our Down Memory Lane feature week after week; I know West End citizens worked incredibly hard to make sure the kids in the community had a school within a reasonable riding distance. I know parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends worked hard to keep what many felt was “the heart of the community” in the community.

I was around during the struggle to keep the elementary school open during the final years as a School District 166 facility. There were many, many, many meetings to try to find a way to fund the little school in Tofte. There were a lot of hard feelings between the Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder town boards and the ISD 166 administration. ISD 166 had good reasons to cut staff and services, declining enrollment the biggest issue. West End citizens had good reasons to keep the school open—the long bus ride for little ones, the ability for parents to be close to participate in school activities and of course the need to have a school in the community for families considering a move to the West End.

There were major fundraising campaigns in those final days, from 2000 – 2003. I bought a brick myself for the Cook County News-Herald as part of the effort to keep teachers on staff and class sizes small. For full disclosure, I should mention that my daughter-in-law Sara now works at Birch Grove and my granddaughter Eloise goes to preschool there. Although the fact that they are both happy and thriving at Birch Grove, I was a supporter long before they became involved with the school. “My” brick long predates that familial bias.

I have always been impressed with the way the West End community came together to keep its school going. It wasn’t easy to gain charter school status. There were many more meetings and a huge learning curve, but after years of effort, the Birch Grove Community School was officially opened as a charter school, under the auspices of the Volunteers of America. Birch Grove Community School was for once and for all, a school owned by the citizens of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder.

The school has done remarkably well. It has received the Minnesota Department of Education financial award at least five times. It has grown its offerings to include the Saplings preschool that my granddaughter loves. Just this week, Birch Grove Community School was recognized by the Minnesota Department of Education (along with Great Expectations School in Grand Marais) as a “High- Quality Charter School,” one of only 22 schools in the state so honored.

However, sadly, there is a downturn in enrollment. I don’t think it’s a reflection on Birch Grove Community School. This is a problem for all of our Cook County schools. When enrollment goes down, so do the dollars from the state for operation of the school. All of our schools are struggling, because whether there are 10 students or 30, the lights and heat need to be on, teachers need to be paid, the sidewalks shoveled, and special education needs must be met.

The major reason for our declining school enrollment is that the demographics of our county are changing. Just last night at the Cook County/ Grand Marais Economic Development Authority meeting, I listened to a summary of an affordable housing study being completed by that group. According to the most recent census, it appears that only one in eight households in Grand Marais is a “family” unit—parents and children. I think that demographic is pretty true for the entire county. Overall we are becoming a community of seasonal residents or retired, empty nesters. That’s not a bad thing. These folks contribute greatly to our communities through their property taxes, their buying power, and for many, their volunteer efforts.

But it is bad news when it comes to our schools.

There is work under way to try to change things. The EDA is working to develop affordable housing. The UMD Small Business Development Center, working with the EDA, and the Cook County Chamber are working to make businesses successful so young families can find jobs.

All of our schools are thinking outside of the box to find funding to support various school programs. Birch Grove has done a good job of finding funding in the past. They have sought grant after grant. They participate in little things that add up like the Target for Schools, Box Tops for Education, and Soup Labels for Schools programs and more. They host fun fundraisers—food at the Tofte 4th of July celebration, a wonderful, family-friendly dinner and silent auction at Papa Charlie’s and the elegant and very successful Gala for the Grove at Surfside on Lake Superior.

Unfortunately until enrollment goes back up—as I’m confident it will—Birch Grove will be struggling. I hope that the West End community will impress me once again. I hope township residents will come together once again to support the little school, even if it means an increase to the township levies.

I’ll do what I can by participating in the Birch Grove Community School fundraisers. But the school needs more. It needs continued community support. After all, even for an amazing cause like a community school, you can only sell so many T-shirts and glasses of wine—and bricks.


A good school teaches you resilience – that ability to bounce back.

Kate Reardon

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