Vaughn Avenue resident Sarah Nelson found it "kind of annoying" when the shade trees in front of her house were cut down to make way for new sidewalks and utilities during the $1.3 million reconstruction project on the avenue between Seventh and 11th streets.
"We needed those trees for shade," Nelson said. "It just doesn't look right without them."
Vaughn Avenue residents may have to wait a few years, but eventually that shade will return as trees planted this week by city workers are taking root on both sides of Vaughn Avenue in the construction zone.
"Thanks to the DNR forestry grant we've been able to purchase trees to replace the ones on Vaughn and on other sites in the city," said City Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hudson.
A total of 83 trees have been purchased by the city, with about 50 of them going in on Vaughn Avenue. Additional trees have been planted at Maslowski Beach and at Bay View Park, she said.
"We will be taking out some trees at Maslowski Beach that look to be in poor health, perhaps because of the higher water levels," she said. "We are also getting some trees to homeowners who have been on a list for many years to get trees."
The grant to buy the trees was $23,000, and was matched with city funds.
"So it is almost a $50,000 project that included purchasing some trees, removing some trees and updating our emerald ash borer plan," Hudson said.
While the invasive pests that destroy virtually every ash tree they infect have not yet hit Ashland, it is only a matter of time before they arrive and the city expects to lose thousands of boulevard and urban forest trees.
Hudson said an updated plan on replacing those trees is due this fall, but in the meantime, replacing the trees on Vaughn Avenue was a priority.
"There were many residents who were disappointed to lose their trees," she said "There were some very old, very big silver maples that had to come down." Hudson said the city tried to save as many trees as possible, but because the project involved the replacement of water lines along Vaughn Avenue and the lines ran right under the root system of the trees, that wasn't always possible.
Hudson said the city tried to save as many trees as possible, but because the project involved the replacement of water lines along Vaughn Avenue and the lines ran right under the root system of the trees, that wasn't always possible.
"When we got it dug up and did all the utilities and the road construction, it would have damaged the root systems and would have shortened their lives," she said.
A year later they are being replaced.
"The neighbors are very excited that the trees are back in their boulevards" Hudson said.
Instead of replacing the trees with a single species, something that led to disaster when Dutch elm disease struck Ashland in the early 1970s, a mix of species — river birch, swamp white oak, ironwood, northern pin oak, bur oak, northern honey locust and St. Croix elm — are being planted.
The elms in particular are noteworthy. They are resistant to Dutch elm disease and were developed at the University of Minnesota.
"We are trying to have mostly native species, with the exception of the hybrid elms," Hudson said. "All of the trees have been approved by the tree board, which is also the Parks and Recreation Committee. We are trying to restart our urban forestry program, and we are hoping to get a grant next year to keep our tree planting, and keep our removal of poor and fair ash trees going."
Nelson is certain the new plantings will help the neighborhood.
"The new trees are very nice looking. They aren't very big yet, but give them a while," she said.
Ashland's Stagecoach Bar and Grill (also known as Cabbies by its old-timer fans) has been a favorite watering hole for decades.
Over the years, it has had several owners, but one thing that has always remained the same is that it has been an unpretentious, unapologetic neighborhood bar.
It has recently changed hands once again, but Becky Wygonik of Washburn, one of the five working owners who now run the bar, said it is going to remain exactly what it's always been and may be even a little better.
"We had a dream to open up a smokehouse in Ashland at 220 Main St. E.," she said. "We were putting together the team to make that a reality, when the Stagecoach kind of came across our path."
It was too good an opportunity to turn down, so the group found themselves owners of one of Ashland's iconic neighborhood bars.
As with any change in ownership, there will be differences in the way the bar is operated, but one thing that won't change is the old Stagecoach atmosphere.
"We are still going to be a bar with a grill, a classic small-town bar experience. Basically if someone came in now who remembers it from before, that is still the way it is going to be," Wygonik said. "We've got pool tables and dart boards, and Packer games on the TV."
That is appreciated by the Stagecoach's considerable corps of regulars, some of whom began coming to the bar in the 1960s when it was known as Cabbie's.
Bentley Brehm of Ashland joined that group in the late 1970s when the bar was owned by Jack O'Brien.
"I am pleased as punch that's the way it will be," he said. "I give a lot of credit to the previous owner, Nancy Sztyndor, who did a really good job. This building was kind of moldering into the clay. The wiring and plumbing has been upgraded and they saved it from rotting into the ground, made it real viable and attractive again, and now the new owners are stepping in and keeping it going and happy."
Brehm said that as a musician, he was happiest that the new owners are recommitting to live music.
"The live music scene in Ashland has kind of died over the last 10 years, so I am real happy to see that they are making a go of it again," he said.
Another Stagecoach fan glad to hear that things will stay pretty much the same is Laura Nagro of Ashland.
"I was very excited to hear they were going to keep that same relaxed atmosphere, and the good food, and the good people," she said. "It's a good place to be at. There is a lot of history; I wasn't here when Jack O'Brian owned it, but there are so many stories, and as long as those carry on with the customers who come here, it will continue to be a great place."
Wygonik said that while working to keep Stagecoach's small-town bar niche intact, they have not forgotten about the smokehouse — but they have been slowed by the difficulty in engaging contractors and the slow pace of obtaining permits. That concept is still moving — the owners recently received a Main Street grant to help it along.
Meanwhile, with several owners who are novices to bar management, it has been all hands on deck.
"We've been learning a lot," Wygonik said. "This is my first business in the restaurant industry, and I'm kind of green. I am so thankful that my fellow owners Freddie Monkelien, Karly Schultz and Peter Halfaday have extensive experience in the restaurant industry, and I look to them for guidance."
One thing the new crew is bringing is their smoker trailer, operated by "Chef Pete" Halfaday.
The trailer, full-size event barbequer and smoker with a fryer, grill and wash sinks, was discovered for sale in Bessemer, Mich.
"It was sitting on the side of the road with a big For Sale sign on it, and we were able to snatch it up," Wygonik said.
The smoker has already seen considerable use, notably during a three-day Treaty Day celebration on Madeline Island and a WhistleStop post-race celebration at the bar.
"What we are really waiting for is to see what kind of a menu he puts forth using the smokehouse. It's very exciting," Wygonik said.
Co-owner Karly Schultz is equally eager.
"I've never done anything at this level before, so it's a great opportunity to expand my horizons," she said. "We are in there every day. Every way I can be a part of it, I'm doing it."
StageNorth, home to the StageNorth Groundlings community theater organization, has been dark since March of 2020 when its production of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" was shuttered after only one performance.
Since then, the Groundlings have been waiting to bring live theater back into their home as safely as possible – and they feel now is the time. This month, they are mounting a production of "The Lion in Winter," directed by Liz Woodworth, opening Oct. 14.
"The most important thing is keeping our patrons safe," Woodworth said.
To that end, all theater-goers will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result within the previous 72 hours. Masks will be required for all patrons inside the theater building. The online ticketing system will create a seating buffer and the theater will only be seated at roughly 50% capacity.
In selecting plays for the fall season, small casts were purposely selected and all cast members must be vaccinated.
Woodworth said she originally had a different play in mind, but it occurred to her that the mostly unused set from "Merchant of Venice" was still in place in the theater.
"Kristin Sandstrom had designed a beautiful set that never really got used," she said.
She realized that "The Lion in Winter" could use the castle-like set to great effect, giving the set a chance to be a star after all – and saving some time and money in construction.
Woodworth said she and the entire cast of "Lion in Winter" are thrilled to be back on stage.
"We are trying to enjoy the rehearsal process as much as possible," she said. "We're lucky and we're grateful because we are having fun and it feels safe."
"The Lion in Winter" is the story of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1183.
"It's a play that is in turns funny and heartbreaking," Woodworth said. "At its heart, it's about a dysfunctional family, but the consequences of dysfunction are huge in this family."
The Groundling's second production, "Constellations" has a cast of only two. The play follows a couple through alternate universes, highlighting the big differences small actions can make in the course of anyone's history.
The Groundlings hope to continue hosting live theater into 2022 as long as it can be done while feeling their safety protocols are adequate.
If You Go
• The StageNorth Groundlings are planning productions of "The Lion in Winter," directed by Liz Woodworth, Oct. 14-24 and "Constellations," directed by Lawrence Scott Lee, Nov. 11-21 at the StageNorth theater in Washburn. Tickets can be purchased in advance at thegroundlings.org