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Winterfest celebration to be held this month

This year's Winterfest celebration will include a full lineup of outdoor activities for the whole family, according to the Phillips Area Chamber of Commerce.

People who would like to compete in the Phillips Flurry Snowshoe 5k and 10k Race/Run/Walk this year will be able to do so remotely, as well in person at the Phillips School Forest trails. A special award will be given to the Flurry finisher who completes their virtual race the furthest away from Phillips. Registrations opened on Jan. 1 and will continue through Jan. 23. More information is available at www.phillipsflurry.com.

The Price County Tavern League will again sponsor its popular Winterfest Tavern League Tour Jan. 6-24. Tour Price County's Tavern League members, make a purchase, receive a stamp, and enter to win cash prizes. Prize drawings will be held at noon on Jan. 24

at Club 13 as part of the Chaparral's Snowmobile Club's breakfast.

Winterfest's Shop Local event will be held Jan. 18-24. People can visit participating businesses to enter their names in a drawing for one of several baskets filled with goodies and valued at over $100.

The candlelight walk in the Wisconsin Concrete Park will also return this year on Friday, Jan. 22. This popular event offers a beautiful half mile walk through the park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Winterfest Ice Fishing Contest begins at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23. Anglers can fish on Duroy Lake, Elk Lake, Long Lake and Wilson Lake until 4 p.m. Cash prizes for largest fish and other drawings will be presented virtually this year.

The area's snowmobile clubs will gather Saturday night at Birch Island Resort for the annual snowmobile parade over the frozen Phillips Chain of Lakes. The parade ends at Elk Lake Park where a bonfire will warm everyone up.

The Winterfest finale will be a fireworks display over Duroy Lake.

More information is available on the PACC website, www.phillipswisconsin.net or call the PACC at 715-339-4100.


Local business marks 40 years in the community

As Ron Yunk puts it, there aren't many aspects of daily life in Price County in the past 40 years that his business didn't have a part to play in.

North End Heavy Duty, currently owned and managed by Yunk's daughter Lauri Merlak, has been in business for 40 years.

When Yunk was a young man, he set his sights on owning his own business in the local community. After working construction in Hibbing and Virginia, Minnesota, and gaining technical skills in steel manufacturing, Yunk returned to Price County and started North End Heavy Duty, repairing equipment for local loggers.

It wasn't long before he started adding a huge variety of skills to the business, and by 1983, he had five employees and was doing a booming business.

Yunk and his team offered a little of everything. For many years, they put in and took out as many as 450 piers every year, repaired trucks and logging equipment, built specialized trailers for hauling logs, designed trail drags for Price County's snowmobile clubs, and thawed frozen water lines for local towns and villages. North End Heavy Duty also designed and constructed deer guards for the Price County Sheriff's squad cars and ambulances, built test equipment for the Park Falls paper mill, repaired local dams, took on projects for the railroad, built docks for the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service, and did all kinds of maintenance projects for both organizations.

It was this constant adaptability and evolution that allowed Yunk's business to continue doing well, despite the constant changes to the local economy, to logging, and to the manufacturers he was often employed by. Yunk pointed to the support of the local

community, as well as fellow area manufacturers who mentored him, as other significant components in the success of North End Heavy Duty.

Whether it was big projects — like building the north gate for Pixley Dam — or smaller projects — like building a bell tower for the Lutheran Church in Glidden — Yunk kept his options open, taking on a wide variety of projects over his career.

One of the projects that stand out most clearly in Yunk's memory was designing and constructing the bridge that runs parallel to the Highway 182 bridge, which serves as a critical supply link to the paper mill.

After Yunk received the contract for the project in early 2008, he spent the entire summer designing and constructing the bridge, piece by piece in the yard of his shop.

Due to the fact that the bridge needed to be installed as quickly as possible, it was built in three 50,000 pound sections, which were hauled to the site and installed by crane. All in all, it took CR Meyers Company a total of four hours to install the bridge in place — an achievement Yunk clearly takes pride in.

Another challenging project was repairing the bell tower at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Butternut. The bell — which Yunk estimates weighed in the neighborhood of 4,000 pounds — needed a new yoke installed, in place, in the very small belltower perched atop the church. Vivid in Yunk's memory is carrying materials up a rickety wooden ladder to the belltower, where there was barely enough space to work. Yet, the job was done and the bell still rings today.

The business has always been a family undertaking, with Yunk's wife Kathy doing bookkeeping in the office and his two children, Lauri and Ron Jr., doing odd jobs around the shop when they were younger. Ron Jr. also ran the dock crew for many years.

Merlak worked alongside her father for the better part of 15 years, and when Yunk retired three years ago, she decided to carry on the family business. Under her ownership, the projects taken on by North End Heavy Duty continue to change and adapt with the times.

Merlak said one constant in the business' history has been their willingness to adapt and take on new projects, which is what has allowed the business to remain alive.

"That's actually one of the reasons I enjoy this line of work," she said. "You're always learning something. That and my employees and the customers we interact with."

Today, the business still uses the technique of adapting to overcome, taking on a significant variety of projects, whether it's building a demo bridge, servicing and repairing trucks, or winterizing trailers, campers, and pontoons.

Under Merlak's ownership, the business employs seven individuals — one of which, Roger Sir, recently retired after 35 years with the business.

New virus cases remain low, testing also down

Price County confirmed 42 new cases of COVID-19 since between Dec. 28-Jan. 4, bringing the county to a total of 964 confirmed cases — 34 of which were considered active as of Monday.

The weekly numbers are remaining low in Price County, although testing numbers have also declined in the past two weeks. Between Dec. 29-Jan. 4, 94 county residents were tested for the virus, and 75 individuals were tested between Dec. 22-28, according to data collected by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Those are the lowest testing numbers Price County has seen in several months, with weekly testing numbers reaching an all time high in the week of Sept 29-Oct. 5, with 312 tests administered. Throughout October, weekly testing numbers remained in the 200s; November saw weekly testing numbers ranging from 135-218; and the first three weeks of December saw weekly testing numbers over 100.

As of Monday, a total of 5,798 county residents have been tested for the virus, 4,834 of which had returned negative.

Probable cases numbers — which are calculated after an individual either receives a positive antigen test (also known as a rapid test) or after developing symptoms of COVID-19 following exposure to someone who is confirmed to have the virus — have remained stable in Price County since last week, standing at 73 total on Monday. Two of these cases were considered currently active as of that date.

Of those Price County residents who have tested positive for the virus, 80 have been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic — an increase of three since Dec. 28.

There have been five deaths associated with the virus in the county.

Hospitals in the north central region of Wisconsin are finally seeing some relief in their capacity percentage, which declined from 82% full on Dec. 27 to 77% full on Monday.

There were still a high number of hospital beds in use — 800 of 1,034 total — and 96 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. The last time hospitals in this region saw such a low number of COVID-19 patients was in early October of last year.

Of the current patients who have the coronavirus, 26 were in the intensive care unit, and 47 were breathing with the aid of a mechanical ventilator. An additional three individuals were awaiting test results to determine whether or not they have the virus.

Statewide, hospital capacity has inched back up by a small percentage, with 8,877 of

Wisconsin's 11,041 hospital beds in use for an 80% capacity rate. As of Monday, there were a total of 1,123 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized, 231 of which were in the intensive care unit and 458 of which were receiving mechanical ventilation. There were an additional 62 patients awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Regionally, Oneida County continues to have the highest caseload, with 2,733 confirmed cases as of Monday — 166 of which were considered active. A total of 128 county residents who have tested positive have been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic, 20 of which were currently in the hospital as of Monday. The virus has been associated with 47 deaths in the county. There have been 1,516 individuals who have been considered recovered and released from isolation. A total of 16,245 tests for the virus have returned negative.

Lincoln County has confirmed 2,513 cases, 91 of which were active. There have been 101 hospitalizations and 46 deaths associated with the virus. Another 2,376 people have recovered. A total of 9,869 tests have returned negative.

Taylor County has confirmed 1,760 cases, with 160 people quarantined as of Monday. There have been 30 deaths, and 61 hospitalizations — 12 current — due to the virus. A total of 5,098 tests have returned negative.

Vilas County has confirmed 1,684 cases, 129 of which were active. There have been 86 hospitalizations and 28 deaths associated with the virus. There have been 1,532 recoveries. A total of 7,750 tests have returned negative.

Sawyer County has confirmed 1,252 cases, 102 of which were active. There have been 11 deaths and 55 hospitalizations associated with the virus. There have been 1,138 recoveries. A total of 7,201 tests have returned negative.

Rusk County has confirmed 1,116 cases, 112 of which were active. There have been 13 deaths and 69 hospitalizations associated with the virus. There have been 991 recoveries. A total of 4,291 tests have returned negative.

Ashland County has confirmed 1,015 cases, 16 deaths, and 43 hospitalizations. Current information on recoveries or active case numbers were not available prior to presstime. A total of 6,073 tests have returned negative.

Iron County has confirmed 423 cases, 77 of which were active. There have been 35 deaths and 29 hospitalizations associated with the virus. A total of 346 individuals have recovered. There have been 2,236 negative test results in the county.

Wisconsin had confirmed 487,938 cases of the virus as of Monday, 26,389 of which were considered active. The virus has contributed to 21,580 hospitalizations and 4,884 deaths since the start of the pandemic. A total of 2,365,680 tests have returned negative.


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