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Squeezing every penny: Bayfield's Blue Ox Cider to brew special batch with donated applies for nonprofits
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Phil Bratsch hates to see anything go to waste.

The owner of the Bayfield Winery and Blue Ox Cider has allowed some of his land in the hills outside Bayfield to be used for such innovative crops as hazelnuts and experimental varieties of seedless table grapes in addition to his production of wines and ciders — products that have become popular tipples for visitors to the Bayfield orchard region.

But the man who depends upon apples for his livelihood and who wants nothing to be wasted was bothered every fall when he watched piles of fruit that fell from trees around Bayfield being used only by deer and other critters, with most left to rot.

This year he’s come up with a plan to do something useful with those unused apples and at the same time help out Bayfield non-profits. Bratch has put out word that Bayfield-area residents who gather fruit they don’t plan to use and bring it by the cidery on Betzold Road will help him make a special edition of hard cider.

“There are apple trees on a lot of the farms, in the county forest, even,” he said. “There are so many wild trees, and I’d just like to see them go to use. It’s an idea we’ve had for a few years, if people brought us apples, we would make the cider and donate 100% of the profits to a different non-profit every year.”

Bratsch said anyone who drives through orchard country can see how many apples are going to waste.

“The farms are just lined with apple trees, and some of them are better cider apples than the desert apples. They leave a little more flavor after being made into cider,” he said. “For one of our ciders, we actually go into the county forest and pick some wild ones for it.”

Bratsch said he works one day a week at Mt. Ashwabay during the winter, helping him understand how difficult it can be for non-profits to make a go of it. The ski area will be the first beneficiary of his cider project.

“They have a real need for more kid’s gear. They do such a good job of getting kids out for free or sometimes just three bucks for rentals. So I thought a good way to get new gear is for people to bring us apples and we will make a delicious hard cider out of that. We will be pairing up with a local artist and we will make a new label every year, tie it in with the non-profit and have some fun with it each season.”

Bratsch said because the word has just recently gotten out, he’s already received some apples — though not nearly enough.

“But we are starting to get more people emailing us and calling us, because we are early-ish into the apple season,” he said.

Bratsch has set up a bin for apple donations and is even offering to lend out bushel baskets to gather donations.

“We are hoping to raise some funds, and to have a lot of fun with it, and to get the community involved in it,” he said. “That’s the fun part, getting people involved in it. For me it is a passion to get out and make good hard cider, but to be able to get the community involved in this project — it will be fun to see to see how it progresses.”

Bratsch said any sound apples, whether plucked from the tree or found on the ground, are acceptable as long as they don’t have any rotten or heavily bruised areas. Unsprayed apples are also preferred.

“We are hoping for a wide variety of apples. We want crab apples, tarts and even bitters. They make really good ciders,” he said.

Mt. Ashwabay Manager Doug Olson said he has high hopes for the project and is eager to see how it turns out.

“The more apples the better,” he said. “We are a non-profit, little ski and recreation area. It helps us run our programs, and get more kids off the couch and into the outdoors doing things. It is a small population that we serve and there is a limited amount of revenue that is to be gleaned from that. We don’t want to lose the programs we have and I don’t think the community wants that either. We rely on the community to keep us going.”

Olson said using what would otherwise have been a wasted resource was “a really neat idea” and one that made the donation to Ashwabay painless as well as refreshing.

“Just about everyone out here has an apple tree or two. Even if you don’t take care of the tree, just gather the apples up and put them in the bin,” he said.

Olson noted that Mount Ashwabay was celebrating its 75th anniversary this winter. He said there would most likely be a party to celebrate the milestone.

“This cider should be a part of that,” he said.


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Ashland begins work on Airbnb policy
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Ashland City staff members are crafting a policy that would cap the number of vacation rental properties in the city as the region struggles to provide affordable housing for residents.

The city now is home to 12 registered vacation rental properties, City Administrator Brant Kucera said. But if more apartments or homes are transformed into short-term rentals, it will exacerbate the local housing shortage, he said.

“I don’t know right know how many is too many,” he said. “But we want to be proactive and try to avoid a problem later. What happens, in a lot of cases, long-term rentals convert into short-term housing because it’s obviously more profitable to rent it out that way. We’re trying to avoid a situation where you create an even tighter housing market.”

City Council members this week approved a measure allowing property owners at 309 Main St. E. to convert their two apartments into short-term rentals with hopes of opening early next month.

Council President Eric Lindell said he has seen firsthand people forced to move or leave the area because property owners converted their space to vacation rentals.

Kucera

“A lot of people have been living in these places for years and are kicked out from the community they love so much. Now they have to find a place to stay or leave the area,” he has said.

As of now, the city has no regulations specific to short-term rentals; they are governed by the same rules as any other apartments. But city staff members are reviewing the policies in Bayfield and Hudson to see how they are enforcing vacation rentals as Ashland develops its own.

Vacation-rental owners should expect to have to register their businesses with the city and have their property inspected, Kucera said. New regulations also could address off-street and on-street parking at rentals, Kucera.

In Hudson, inspections are performed annually by the fire department. Guest parking at vacation rentals must be accommodated on concrete or asphalt surfaces, not yards, and no on-street parking is allowed.

But Ashland resident Susan Askue and her husband, David, who have been operating a vacation rental since 2016, said new city policies could be redundant. They already adhere to vacation regulations established by the county, Susan Askue said.

The county Health Department conducts annual inspections of their property before the Askues can renew their license, she said. She wants city and council officials to work together so there won’t be any overlap, like having to do two inspections.

City staff hope to put the policy in place by the end of next summer.

Lindell said converting too many apartments to short-term rentals harms the city, but Askue said they benefit the city in other ways. For example, she and her husband pay both property and hotel taxes on their rental.

“Guests select a place they would like to stay at and pay for the reservation. Airbnb collects money from the host. Airbnb pays dues to the city and whatever, then they pay me when the guest checks out,” she said.

Having more options also helps cater to the needs of different people visitors, Askue said.

“Different people prefer different options. Some people like hotels and having their own room, and others like going into a home and be able to cook a meal, hang out in the living room and play cards at the table,” she said.


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