Common Buckthorn – Another Invasive Species in Northern Minnesota and the BWCA

Buckthorn coming to the BWCA?

Buckthorn could take over the BWCA

Common Buckthorn – Another Invasive Species -by Mark Haarman

It stopped me cold. My heart sank, then I began to fulminate. But don’t do that in public. Don’t stand cursing at a tree as I did, since it’s termed ‘probable cause’ in law enforcement. The act of even talking at a tree is concern, even thought I’ve enjoyed addressing towering white pines that take my breath away, or the beauty of young ones that grace the land where I’ve planted and walked among them as in a church. No no no, this shock took place on Harvey street in town, in Ely, on a front yard, in plain view, right next door to a friends house and it’s decorated during Christmas. The tree was BUCKTHORN and cursing this tree was necessary, justified and I do it every day. This buckthorn if you don’t know already is THE curse and if we’re not judicious, it will in scientific fact, cover the Boundary Waters.

Dr. Peter Reich, Dr. Lee Frelich, head forest ecologists at the U of M in St. Paul, know all about it. Haven’t you read their warnings? Reich asked me if I was available to keep it from inside our wilderness, and I asked what if it’s too late? Bill Tefft, from Vermilion C C knows all about it. It’s on campus at VCC. It’s peppered around Miners Lake. It remains in full view on the Trezona Trail. It’s a nightmare. Common Buckthorn. And blame it on the British since that’s where it came from, just like our politics. We planted it for privacy, for hedges, windrows and even built furniture from it. Now, we have to BAN it. Message to the USDA: BAN COMMON BUCKTHORN. It’s not just noxious anymore.

The females bear the fruit, small dark blueberry sized berries. The robins, the waxwings, the whitetail deer. It’s like fast food, they eat it. The berry has seeds in it that are almost totally indigestible. The critters eat it then distribute the seeds. It ain’t no Mulberry tree with delicious fruit. No no no, buckthorn fruit and seeds. Not good. Any good about this species is that it’s a hard wood, so put it in your fireplace. And let’s not find ourselves like the city of Minnetonka, Roseville and even Duluth. They can’t keep up with it, where it’s consumed park lands and taken over forests, killing everything trying to grow next to it. It’s in 27 states around the country. It stops sunlight, chokes wildflowers to their slow death, and oh yeah, it’s got THORNS. Go figure. It’s like VISA, it’s everywhere you want to be.

Cravaack might be a Tea Party darling but he’s not the treatment we need to save our economy.

Representative Cravaack’s visit to Ely on June 29th brings up the image of a medical patient surrounded by a health care team trying to decide on a course of treatment while one of the team has the goal of killing the patient. Most government bodies in America need some treatment to recover from right wing mismanagement but neo-cons like the Tea Party and Chip Cravaack are trying to “Starve the Beast.” At the very time when we need active regulation of our financial corporations and public expenditures to create jobs, Chip Cravaack is actually proposing more corporate tax cuts for a group that is paying taxes at historically low levels.

Cravaack’s powerpoint presentation managed to make the transition from propaganda to comedy when he said only the Heritage Foundation had a computer powerful enough to process the economic plan that the neo-cons had in store for America. Think about it. We have computers that can defeat world champions at chess and Ken Jennings on Jeopardy but only a bunch of right wing fruitcakes at the Heritage Foundation have enough computer power to process Chip Cravaack’s treatment for America’s ills. He’s obviously trying to kill the patient.

We need real economic development and economic diversification in Northern Minnesota and Cravaack’s proposal is to open up an acid producing sulfide ore body that will at best produce a few hundred jobs and at worst damage thousands of acres of wetlands.

My wife Pat and I toured some mining operations with the Minnesota Minerals Education Workshop a few days ago and I took note of the changes since I started working in the mines in the late sixties. Bigger machinery. Fewer employees.

Cravaack might be a Tea Party darling but he’s not the treatment we need to save our economy.

Memorial Day Address 2011

Memorial Day Address 2011; first delivered in 2008 to Ely Veterans and American Legion at Vermilion Community College

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
They mark our place; and in the sky
The larks; still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders field.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
Tis you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies blow in Flanders field.

Those words were written by Canadian poet John McCrea in 1915 about the British and French soldiers who lost their lives in World War One. It was written as an appeal to America to come to the aid of the embattled allies in their struggles against the German army who looked to be gaining an upper hand in the great struggle that was hoped to be the war to end all wars. Like millions of his countrymen, John McCrea believed that Abraham Lincoln was correct when he called the United States of America; The last best hope for the world, and he believed that America had always been a country that knew that there were things worth fighting for. Three years after this poem was written, America would answer the call by sending an army of a million soldiers to help turn the tide of battle, and they were an army that would not be denied, and when there were no more British and French soldiers to hold back the on rushing German Army, it was American Dough Boys who went into the line, stopped the offensive, and pushed the Germans back from where they came from. The British and French generals were surprised at how well the American Army fought and Black Jack Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary force, responded by telling them; For 250 years you have sent us your best blood, and now we are giving back an army made up of the best the world had to offer, and Pershing believed it was an army that could not be beat. History would bear him out.
Americans have always fought hard and well for what they believed in, and we are a nation born from conflict. When American colonists protested the tax King George the third placed on any and every item you could possibly imagine, the upset colonists said that taxation without representation is tyranny, and that they considered themselves to be good Englishmen. They asked to be represented in the British Parliament, and King George denied them what they considered to be their God given rights, they informed the King, that they intended to fight for those rights. King George felt that a few good thumps on the head would quickly bring the colonists to their senses and put them in their proper place. When the British found out the colonists were collecting a cash of arms and gunpowder in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts they marched the regulars north from Boston to seize the weapons, Paul Revere and William Dawes rode ahead of the hated lobster backs, sounding the alarm, and by morning a group of farmers and shop keepers formed on the Lexington commons, when the British red coats marched into town and form up opposite what they considered to be nothing more than a bunch of rabble. In an effort to calm his nervous soldiers, Captain Jonas Parker ordered the Minute Men to stand their ground; Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have war then let it begin here. The British commander yelled, You damned rebels disperse, and then someone fired the shot heard round the world. It was the beginning of the American Revolution.

In 1776 those damned rebels declared independence, formed their own government, and hundreds of patriots flocked to the colors of a red, white, and blue combination of stripes and stars that Betsy Ross put together in what was termed a pleasing combination. The position of commanding general of this fledgling army was given to a Virginia planter by the name of George Washington, mostly because he had once fought in the French and Indian War, was a commanding presence standing six foot two inches tall, looking splendid in his bluff and blue uniform; in short, they picked him, because he looked like a general. The road to independence was a long and difficult struggle, but our forefathers believed that there were things worth fighting for, and in 1789 the British finally realized that no matter what they did, those damned rebels were bound for independence, and they would not be denied. That year, George Washington, the most beloved figure in the country was sworn in as the first president of the United States of America on April 30th 1789. America’s first great general became her first duly elected president. Washington was reelected four years later, and perhaps his greatest moment came when he was offered a third term as president. Most Americans would have been only too happy to have him run the country for as long as he was willing to do it. In an unprecedented gift to American democracy, Washington did something that other great men like; Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, and Napoleon Bonaparte could not do; George Washington told America that they did not fight the revolution to elect another king, and this must be a government of, by, and for the people. It was, I think the greatest gift he could have given his country, that this great soldier statesman would walk away from all that power, and allow someone else to steer the great ship of state was truly an amazing gift to all of us. His actions are the actions which all other men and women who swear allegiance to protect and defend the duly elected government of the United States try to live up to when they take their oath to serve their country. It is a standard which has been in place for over two hundred years, and in all that time, no one has failed that trust which began with President Washington.

This year we will elect a new president, and America seems excited by the prospect of change. I think it is wonderful that so many Americans seem interested in this year’s election. Candidates are talking about making changes, and leading our country to a new and better time. I hope that they make good on their promises to the American People, because I too believe Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that America is the last best hope for the world. I believe the world still needs America, but I believe America needs to be reminded of who she is and what she stands for. As we stand here today, our people are laying their lives on the line in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and I hope our president takes command and gives meaning and purpose to the sacrifices are people are making for their country each and every day. I hope our president, whomever he or she may be, will stand up and state again to our people the beautiful words Franklin D. Roosevelt said to the nation back in 1941. 1941 was a bad year for the world. The lights of democracy and freedom were being extinguished by ruthless dictatorships who were metastasizing like a dark and malignant cancer spreading across the world. But their was still one last great hope, and soon Franklin Delano Roosevelt would command of and army of over twelve million men and women. It was an army dedicated to keeping the flickering torch of freedom burning, and Franklin Roosevelt wanted each and every member of this grand army to know what they were fighting for: He told them; We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God, in his own way- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want… everywhere in the world. The forth is freedom from fear… anywhere in the world. There are things worth fighting for, and I believe those four basic freedoms that have so long served us here in America, are the right of every citizen of the world, and that America will always fight for freedom anywhere and everywhere in the world where her help is needed.

We have come here today to remember and give honor to those who served there country and gave their full measure of devotion to the nation they so loved. It is fitting and proper for us to pay our respects to the dead today, but I would also like to remind us that as we speak American men and women are serving their country, trying to bring those four basic freedoms to people who have never known what it is to live in a democracy, and many of them have no idea what America is all about, but E. B. White certainly did when he wrote in the New Yorker Magazine the following words when a government board tried to define what America was all about. E.B. White wrote: Surely the board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the whole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. There are things worth fighting for.

Along with being a nation of dreams and ideals, formed of a people willing to fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all the earth’s many different people, I also believe we need to be a nation of compassion and understanding both with our foes and our friends. If there were nothing else that you would come away from this place with today, I hope you would carry with you the spirit and compassion of Abraham Lincoln who said at the end of our great and terrible civil war; With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

When Spring Comes Back With Rustling Shade…

Before some intelligent and well read reader calls me on the carpet for stealing someone’s words, let me give full credit to Allen Seger who left a small farm in Iowa to go and fight in France during World War One. He wrote a poem during the spring of 1918 titled; I Have a Rendezvous with Death that included the title I used to label this blog. Those beautiful words touched my heart when I first heard them on a long ago Memorial Day. They still do.

After a long winter of naked branches waving in the winter wind tiny flames of green fire are shooting out of the tips of birches, popular, and maple, as the northern woods are alive with multiple shades of vernal green. It is something that won’t last. In a few weeks all those different shades of spring will fade into the deep green of summer, so right now really is a lovely time of year around Ely and the Boundary Waters.

If all that weren’t enough color, the marsh marigolds are blooming out in the swamps forming a golden green carpet worthy of stopping to take a photograph of the first showy wild flower of spring. In town gardens are coming alive with beautiful colors as the tulips, violets, and daffodils rise up to greet a warming sun. The air is scented with the smell of freshly mowed grass as people try to keep ahead of the hoard of dandy lions before the can go to seed. Spring is a busy time and all the local gardeners are happy to be working in the good earth.

Anglers are reporting fair luck out on the water as the fishing season shifts into gear as things start to warm up a little making it pleasant to be out on the water. My eagles on the far side of Shagawa Lake are on the nest, but so far the eggs haven’t hatched. One sure sign of spring is the crows have hatched out in the nest that sits in the top of a big pine in the Ely School Yard a block from my home. The early morning air is filled with the singing of birds and the squawking of the hungry young crows.

All winter long the Front Porch Coffee and Tea Company has been filled with familiar faces of the dedicated core of people who actually winter here. Now each morning at the coffee shop is an adventure as the town starts to fill with strangers. If you don’t like the company today, just come back tomorrow and it will all change. Ely is a great place to meet interesting people each spring, and it really isn’t difficult to do. Ely is still a small place where a little effort on your part to break the ice. All one has to do is smile and say hello. The rest seems to take care of itself. I have started a lot of friendships at the Front Porch.

The other day someone asked me what I would be sure to take with me if I was thinking about spending time outdoors during a Boundary Waters Spring. Without having to think, I told them to either purchase a head net or bug repellant with them. There was a time when no angler from Ely would ever wear a head net, because wearing a head net was a sissy thing to do, and Ely was a manly place. Back in the day no one would be caught dead wearing something as unmanly as a head net, so when the bugs came out in the spring we would always stick with whatever Bug Dope had the most deet in it. To me it is still about the deet. Deet is the bad tasting stuff in most of the repellants that bugs just hate. Unfortunately some people I know hate deet almost as much as they hate the bugs, and they chose to wear head nets. Ely is a lot freer than it used to be. I would still get teased if I wear a head net, because I am from Ely, but if you come to town no one will say anything if they see you wearing a head net out in the boat or garden.

The prime reason for the need for either one or the other is the Arctic Black Fly. People in Ely called them sand flies, but whatever you call them, they are still one of the negative aspects of spring time in the Boundary Waters, and you can’t afford not to be ready for them. Nothing can ruin a spring camping trip faster than if you hit the spring hatch of Arctic Black Flies and you don’t have something to keep them at bay. Right now there are only a few hatched, and pretty easy to deal with. The thing that both the Arctic Black Flies and mosquitoes are waiting for is a good spring rain. The one thing that both sand flies and mosquitoes need in order to hatch a new generation is water. If we don’t get that rain things will be pleasant out in the woods or garden, but if we do start getting a lot of spring rain, then things start to take off, and before you know it the area buzz is quite literal. Someone asked me at the Front Porch if these were the No See Um Flies, and I told them now. Arctic Black Flies are small, but you can see them quite easily.

To me sand flies were more the case of being a No Feel Um Fly, because when they bite you and draw blood, you don’t even realize it until long after the damage is done, and the offending fly is long gone. All of a sudden you feel an itch and when you reach over to give that itch a good scratch you find a wet bump. You pull back your hand, look at your fingers, and notice the blood. That’s when you go for the mirror and take a look at the damages. Most of the time the bite scabs up and heals just fine, but sometimes the bite can get infected and then you really understand why you wanted a head net or some high test bug repellant.

After years of camping and fishing in the Boundary Waters my way of dealing with the spring hatch of Arctic Black Flies is that same way good woodsmen have been dealing with them for many years. Most of the good woodsmen I know always wore long pants and long sleeve shirts with button pockets. They also wore two pair of socks, and if the bugs were out in force, those old men with their strange looking farmer tans, would tuck the bottom of their pants into their socks. They did this because they kept protected from both sun and bug bites. It also saved them and the world from having to use a lot of bug dope.

A few summers ago when the State of Minnesota was running tests on the water Ely was pumping into Shagawa Lake they were surprised by the high levels of deet found in the discharge. When they looked for the source of the problem, they found that all the deet came from people taking showers in Ely. The hatch of mosquitoes and sand flies was so high that people wearing short pants and tee-shirts were lathering on so much repellant that when they showered it caused concerns at the local water treatment plant. It was bad for Shagawa Lake, and probably not good for the people wearing that much bug dope.

When a woodsman dresses right it just makes for a better trip. Save the short pants and tee-shirts for the end of the day. If you are planning on going out into the Boundary Waters you should dress to handle it. When in Rome, do as the Romanians do, and when in the woods wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. The reason I mentioned button pockets earlier, is because that’s where you need to carry a small container of good bug dope, and a well buttoned shirt pocket will always keep things safely where you want them. I’ve seen lots of people lose lots of valuable things, because their shirt didn’t have a button pocket.

If I run into a hatch of Arctic Black Flies, I reach for my bottle of deet, and put a little on the back of my hands. I don’t use my fingers, because like the bugs, I don’t like the taste of bug dope. A trick I learned from an old angler was to use the back of your hands to apply the deet to the back of your neck and around your face area. That’s really all it takes to keep sand flies and mosquitoes at an acceptable level so you can enjoy being outside and doing what you love.

Glen at Lucky Seven told me that he is seeing a lot of anglers who are having some good luck out on the water. You need to know what you’re doing, but if you’re looking for a wonderful place to drop a line, why not come up to Ely. The multiple shades of green are stunning, and the sounds of loons singing across sky blue water is always something special when spring comes back with rustling shade and apple blossoms fill the air.

Mike Hillman

Spring Walked in on Cold Feet, but the Ice is off Shagawa Lake

Spring Ice on Shagawa Lake Ely Minneosta End of April 2011

Spring Ice on Shagawa

It was not the May Day morning I was looking for, but then it’s been that kind of Spring where one day it is sunny and at least half way warm, and then the next, it’s back to being cold. We started watching the ice three weeks ago, and the one thing that got me up and out was the feeling that after still being there yesterday morning, that if I walked down to Miners and Shagawa Lakes this morning that the ice would be gone from the lake.

I looked out the window in the early morning light, and noticed the street in front of Harvey House was wet. The branches of the big blue spruce flagged in the wind as a cold west wind rushed through the stiff needles. It was the kind of day where a person needed some kind of carrot to lure him out of the house. For me it was curiosity. After checking most everyday for two weeks, I didn’t want to sleep in on the first real day of spring.

The calendar tells us that March 21st is the first day of spring, but what do calendars know of seasons here in Minnesota where winter stretches a cold hand and has a very long arm for a damn long time. I could see pellets of snow sputtering down outside the window mixing in with a little cold rain. I would dress warm when I went down to the lakes.

I don’t like being cold. I don’t like being too warm either, but most of the time I can control that by peeling off a layer or two. In order to handle the weather, I dress in layers. My rule is you can always take off what you are wearing, but you can’t put on what you don’t have. For me, too warm is better than to cold, but you don’t want to bring too much. You want to bring enough with you to be comfortable.

Today was a three and a half layer day. The layers are really all that thick, but when worn in combination they were about right for a cold spring morning. Long underwear, jeans, and wind pants on the bottom, underwear, flannel shirt, light wool coat, and wind breaker on top. If I get too warm the shed layer goes into the pack I always carry with me.

I live less than a half mile from Miners Lake, and a mile or so from Shagawa. I live in town, but Ely is a small place in a big woods. You are never far from rock, wood, and water when you live in Ely. That’s one of the things I like best of the place. The feeling of wilderness is never far away.

When I checked out the two lakes closest to Ely; both Miners and Shagawa were liquid again. White caps broke down the fetch of the water, and loons sang on the open water. What did they care if the wind was blowing cold and snow pattered against my hood, it was a fine day to be a loon, and not bad for man or beast. The marigolds are a couple of weeks up, but the willows are starting to green up. No doubt we will continue to see more days where the snow squalls in and out, and the wind blows cold, but the lakes are open again. It isn’t winter anymore. Tell your friends spring is here on cold feet.

Photo and Blog by Mike Hilman

Soudan Mine Fire Update

SoudanMine27thLevel near Ely MN before Fire of 2011

Soudan Mine near Ely MN

On March 17th a fire broke out in the main shaft of the Soudan Mine about two thousand feet down. There had been repair work being done in the shaft earlier that day and sparks from the welding work being done above fell down the shaft, and some of those hot sparks landed in the heavy timbers that line the back wall of the shaft. Those sparks eventually were fanned by the natural updraft of the air going up the shaft, and when ever you combine heat, fuel, and oxygen in one place, you have what is termed the fire triangle and you’re bound to have trouble with that mix of ingredients.

By the time the fire was reported at half past nine that night, smoke was billowing up out of the shaft. In order to discover just what was burning, some very brave people dawned their fire gear and headed down in the cage to determine the nature of the fire. That was how they found out that the fire was confined to the shaft.

Fighting an underground fire presents special challenges. The last underground mine fire in Minnesota was at the Chandler Mine in Ely over a hundred years ago. Sometimes the best way to fight a fire burning underground is to cut off the air to the fire by hanging heavy curtains up at strategic places in the mine, but that wouldn’t work at the Soudan. The only option was pumping thousands of gallons of foam fire retardant down the shaft. It took several days, but finally the fire is out. When they went down to look, the foam a eight feet deep in the shaft station, and about the same in the physics lab. It is a mess on the 27th level of the Soudan mine, and it will take weeks to clean up and repair the damages caused by the fire.

The post fire clean up is underway, and needless to say there is a lot of work to be done at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, and one of the consequences of the fire is that Mine Manager Jim Essig announced that the underground mine tours have been canceled this year. People can still come to visit the surface attractions at the Soudan Mine, but there will be no underground tours at the Soudan Mine this summer. The good news is that the DNR is making an investment at the Soudan Underground Mine that will insure that visitors will be able to visit Minnesota’s only underground mine far into the future, but this summer people visiting the mine will be confined to a surface tour.

By Mike Hillman

State Auditor Joins in the Hunt for Project Firefly

If the Executive Board of the Ely Area Development Agency thought they were going to clear the air regarding activities like Project Firefly by having a March Mixer where questions could be asked and answers given they were wrong. At the end of a contentious one hour meeting where the questions were many and the answers few, things were getting pretty heated when the EADA people figured we had mixed enough for one night, and all of a sudden the mixer was finished.

My reason for attending the mixer was simple. I wanted to find out more about Project Firefly, and generally find out more about the EADA and how it defines its mission. From the first I heard of Project Firefly a few years back, it sounded to me like Pat Henderson was trying to harness the power of a little of the area’s garage logic, and turn that into an advantage for Ely by bringing jobs to the area. I knew Pat Henderson and Dave Kromer were working with a few area inventors and I thought the EADA Mixer would be a good place to find out how far Project Firefly has come in five years. I wanted to hear about the inventions and how they were progressing.

Getting an idea from an inventors head to a small factory in Ely isn’t an easy thing to do. There are many issues involved and some questions like protecting an invention with a patent is a very complex process that includes global implications. In a world full of pirates waiting to plunder someone’s good idea, protecting their intellectual properties are very important in conducting good business. Loose lips sink ships. Many of the questions asked where protected by the need of secrecy. When I asked to see some kind of proof that would justify the investment of thousands of dollars, for continuing Project Firefly there was none given.

In order to justify all the time and money spent on Project Firefly one of the members of the EADA tried to explain that not only was Firefly trying to develop individual projects, but it was also trying to codify the process involved in germinating an invention that would be produced wherever a good idea was found. In essence it seemed the nature of Firefly had shifted to being more of an educational process that was being groomed to be a teaching tool that the EADA could market to the world. My concern is that before a process can be proved, it needs to produce something to demonstrate its worth. So far I see little or no worth that has come out of this very secretive project, because it hasn’t produced anything tangible. To me the EADA was putting the cart in front of the horse, and it just didn’t make sense.

I am not the only one with questions. This week the state auditor requested the same information about Project Firefly and the dealings of the EADA, that this blogger and other concerned citizens requested from the EADA weeks ago. Right now everyone is being pretty tight lipped, but keep checking on the buzz and we will let you know how things progress with Project Firefly down in St. Paul.

Mike Hillman

Intaxication

By Wilderness Hawk

Intaxication is the euphoria you feel when you receive your tax refund…until you realize it is your money in the first place! And then you read about all the huge corporations in the U.S. that don’t pay any taxes at all.

Ely Council Ponders Charter Changes to Shrink Council

April 16, 2011; Ely Council Ponders Charter Changes to Shrink Council

Every form of government needs a set of rules by which that government operates. When America won its independence from Great Britain, our founding fathers came up with a constitution that has been the model system for all other free governments that have since followed our lead. Knowing that the U. S. Constitution wasn’t perfect, our founders left room to improve on the original document that was written in the late 1700s. Since that time the Constitution, which is the back bone of America, has been amended twenty seven times in order to keep trying to make it better.

When the City of Ely incorporated in April 1888 it needed its own constitution to be recognized as a legal government, and it is called The Ely City Charter. It does for local government what the U. S. Constitution does for our country. Essentially it is the set of rules by which our city operates. It makes the city council the legally elected governing body for our city. Like the Constitution, The Ely City Charter periodically undergoes occasional modifications. Over the years our city charter has been modified a number of times. Our current charter is about a quarter size of the original city charter, and it allows our council more freedom in which to operate than the old charter did.

Like many places Ely is feeling the financial crunch that is affecting the entire country. We have a national debt that is too big for this blogger to think about. The State of Minnesota owes about six billion dollars, so the money coming to Ely from St. Paul is growing smaller. Everyone is trying to find ways to save money, and the Ely City Charter Commission thinks it has found a way for the City of Ely to save a little money.

The Charter Commission wants to reduce the size of the city council from seven members down to five. We pay our councilors four hundred dollars a month, and if two of them were gone, the city could save a few thousand dollars each year. It isn’t a great amount of savings when you look at the total city budget, but in these dire times we need to save every nickel.

The mayor has come out against the plan, because he fears that a smaller council would be easier to dominate and control, but I am leaning towards a smaller and leaner council. Ely has gotten smaller over the years. Back in the 1970’s our population was 5270 people and now we number 3460 Elyites. We used to have four places in town where people could cast their votes, and now we have reduced that down to one voting place, all done in order to save the city money. It is all about saving money, but not if it costs us a balanced government.

In order to pass a motion our current council needs to come up with a majority of four votes. If we take the advice of the charter commission you would need a majority of three votes in order to pass a motion. I once asked an old friend long familiar with serving on committees if he had any advice on the size of a committee. My friend advised me that smaller was better, because you got more things done. I don’t think I would like to see the council any smaller than five, but this blogger believes that reducing the size of the city council from seven to five seems to make sense.

By Mike Hillman

Buzzing About Spring, April 4, 2011…Two weeks before what we hope is the last snowfall of the season today April 16th, 2011

Buzzing About Spring, April 4, 2011…Two weeks before what we hope is the last snowfall of the season today April 16th, 2011

It’s been a long winter here at the end of the road. We had a lot of snow and cold temperatures that tested the metal of the habitants who chose to winter here in Ely. We had some warmer weather in mid March, but then Old Man Winter decided he wasn’t done yet. March ended on a cold note, and April’s first week was much more winter than spring. I enjoy cross country skiing, but things got icy out on the trails, and so the last few weeks getting out have been limited to walking around town. I took my bike out for the first ride of the last week when the temperature broke forty. It wasn’t a long ride, but it felt good to ride again.

Today the weather forecast predicted highs in the low to mid fifties, and when I looked at the sunshine and blue skies, I decided that today was the day to get out on the open road. Walt Whitman wrote that all great and heroic thoughts came to him when he was out traveling the open road. I feel the same way, when I ride my hybrid bike around Ely.

Most people don’t think about bicycles when the come north to visit us at the end of the road, but Ely is a great place to ride bike. One of the best things about living in Ely is that it really is a very small place. We are listed at 3,460 people for the last census Ely is less than ¾ mile wide, by a mile and a half long. I haven’t owned an automobile for ten years now, and I get along fine without one.

My days of ramming my fat tired bike along rock strewn trails are behind me. I will leave that kind of cycling to younger riders. I ride a comfortable hybrid bike that’s made to ride easy on either asphalt or gravel. I call it my comfort bike. It is a Haro Heartland and from the first time I sat on it, I knew it was the bike for me.

Today was my first real ride of the season. I have loved riding bicycles since I was a boy. I didn’t ride during my prime years, but when my back started giving me problems, I found riding bike to be something that I enjoyed doing. It was easy on my body, and cycling enabled me to cover a lot more ground then I can by walking. It is also lots more fun. I love riding bike.

I decided ten miles was about as far as I wanted to go, so I decided that a cycle out to Winton and then back home on the old road would be a great start to the season. Winton is four miles from my home on Harvey Street, and the old road between Ely and Winton is a nice way to come back home, because the hills aren’t so steep. Riding to Winton is easy, because it’s mostly down hill. If you’re looking to build your endurance riding the main highway back to Ely is almost a three mile ride; and it is all up hill. Riding the old road home is lots easier and way more fun. Generally speaking I prefer riding what I call; The Paths of Least Resistance. If there is an easy way to take a ride, then usually that’s the way I want to go.

I spotted a single robin in a neighbor’s yard yesterday hunting earth worms in the warm sunshine. She was the first robin of the year. I hope I never get past the excitement and wonder of seeing the first robin of spring. The starlings and crow scouts have been around for weeks now, but there is something about seeing that first robin of spring that stirs something deep inside me. Today, as if to reinforce the changing of seasons, I spotted a pair of robins gathering up bits and pieces as they start to build a new nest where they will raise one or two batches of a new generation.

Many people who walk or ride bike have music piped into their heads, but I prefer to listen to the natural sounds as I ride along. Today I was rewarded by hearing the wonderful music of geese making their way north for another summer. Ely isn’t a big place for geese. We have a few small local flocks, but most of the geese will move on to places more suited to their needs. What they needed this morning was open water where they could rest in safety. They found what they needed on the Shagawa River. When I got close to the river I could see and hear that the river was full of Canada Geese and Golden Eye Ducks. The thing that makes Golden Eyes special is they are the only duck that winters over in places like Ely. All they need is a little open water, so they gather around rapids that never freeze. They are also the only duck that can swallow underwater.

I took out my binoculars and had a good lock at the wonder of an unfolding spring. I closed my eyes as another flock of twenty honkers, who were riding an easy blowing south wind decided to join their cousins on the Shagawa River. The sound of honking geese entered into my soul. They were so close overhead that I could hear the whooshing sound of their powerful wings, and hear the flock of twenty three as they splashed down in the river. I started counting geese and I stopped when the count reached a hundred and fifty birds. Then I continued on my way, peddling away to the joyful sound of spring geese happily honking away; enjoying the open water.

This time of year people start watching the ice trying to gage how long it will take before we see open water. Each year hundreds of people send in their guesses as to when the ice will leave Shagawa Lake. The last time I saw Shagawa Lake was a few weeks back when I was on a pair of skis, and judging by what I saw when I looked out from the south shore of the lake, was that if I wanted to, I could still be skiing on Shagawa Lake. It will be a few more weeks I think before we will see open water on Shagawa Lake, so there is still time to get your guess into the Ely Echo. I was about to put my binoculars away when I noticed a bird high up in the sky, and when I focused in on the bird, I could see it was a Bald Eagle heading north looking for its patch of open water and maybe a dinner of fish after a long day of travel.

A week ago spring seemed a long way off, but after seeing Canada Geese swimming on open water, and robins singing in the morning, spring doesn’t seem so far off today.