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May 1998

5/31/98 – May weather has finally put in an appearance here in the north country. Yesterday, folks were wearing wool sweaters and discussing the attributes of long underwear. The drizzly weather has cut the fire danger for now, but no significant amounts of rain have fallen so far.

Five Sawbill crew members are currently appearing in three sold out shows featuring the Sterling Dance company at the new Arrowhead Center For the Arts in Grand Marais. Ruthie Hansen, Clare Hansen, Cindy Hansen, Natasha Warner, and John Oberholtzer have drawn standing ovations at their first two shows, with the third slated for this afternoon. Natasha is also accompanying one dance set on the grand piano she helped select for the Arts Center. The five have been rehearsing hard for nine months along with about 85 other dancers. Sterling Dance director, Renee Moe, has done an incredible job. She must have more people dancing – per capita – in this county with less than 4,000 souls, than anywhere else in the country. Ask the above mentioned Sawbill crew members for a little tap demonstration the next time you see them.

5/28/98 – A large storm swept through the area last night and dropped 1.25" of rain on Sawbill. Heavy lightning accompanied the tempest, causing concern to the Forest Service fire crews. One fire has already been discovered along the Sawbill Trail this morning and extinguished. The lightning knocked out power all over the county and our phones were out for a couple of hours this morning. If you called and got no answer, try again.

5/26/98 – Turtles and dragonflies are on the roads. Each of these are seasonal indicators that have us exclaiming about our early Spring. Our crew feel quite sensitive about these organisms and are known to alter their driving habits to protect them. Many turtles have been carefully transported to the ditch by concerned Sawbill crew members. After hatching, dragonflies migrate to the roads to bask in the sun. Like black stones popping out of the gravel, they attempt to flee oncoming cars. Unfortunately, many end up on the losing end of a windshield, dragonfly collision. Symbiotically, our crew slow their speed, in the judgment that every dragonfly deserves the right to consume as many mosquitoes and black flies as possible! We awoke today to the acrid smell of forest fire. A brownish haze hung in the air dulling the blue skies and bright sunshine to which we have become quite accustomed these past months. The Forest Service called early to let us know that the smoke was from a large fire in Canada and that the smoke was throughout the region. The smell has lingered all day and is likely the cause of several slight headaches among the crew.

5/24/98 – A Memorial Day Weekend to remember. The weather has been perfect and the fish are biting. The Sawbill Lake Campground filled to exact capacity last night – every site taken without a single group in the overflow. With a high of 73 degrees and light southerly breezes, the wilderness canoeing was sublime. A few brave souls even went swimming – unheard of this early in the season.

One group brought in a 7.5 lb walleye to be frozen yesterday morning. Last night, the same group was back with an even bigger walleye. They were wishing they had released the "little one."

5/22/98 – Congress took the action today that we have all dreaded for the last two years. In a last minute, back door maneuver, anti-wilderness forces have managed to strike a blow at the BWCA Wilderness and the whole National Wilderness System. If signed by Clinton, it will be the first time congress has degraded a wilderness area legislatively. Surely a step in the wrong direction. I know we have asked a lot, but take a moment to email President Clinton and express your sadness and outrage at this subversion of the democratic process. Ask him to veto the ISTEA (Transportation) legislation until the BWCA Wilderness truck portage rider is removed.

President Clinton

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

202-456-1414 Phone

202-456-2461 Fax

5/21/98 – Thanks to everyone who has helped protect the BWCA Wilderness with your phone calls and emails (see below). We are making a difference. Today, Thursday, is likely the most critical day, so if you haven’t called, please do. If you know somebody who cares about the wilderness, have them call too. Wisconsin residents should email or call Rep. Tom Petri, who also sits on the
Transportation Bill’s Conference Committee. Ask that he oppose any rider
to the Transportation Bill that will allow trucks to haul boats across
wilderness portages in the BWCA Wilderness. This deal will set a bad
national precedent that could harm wilderness areas across America.

Congressman Thomas Petri

Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: 202-225-2476

5/19/98 –

Action Alert

Your immediate action is needed to defeat a late breaking “deal”
that will allow trucks to haul boats across two wilderness portage trails
in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness. The deal is expected
to be attached as a rider to the Federal Transportation Bill, a.k.a.
“ISTEA,” as early as tomorrow!

Last year, Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Senator Rod Grams
introduced legislation, HR. 1739 and S. 783, that would roll-back
wilderness protections for the BWCA Wilderness by allowing trucks to haul
boats across three portages and eliminating the 1999 phase out of
motorboats on the west end of Seagull Lake. This legislation was
by a bill by Congressman Bruce Vento (D-MN), HR 2149, that would increase
protections for the BWCA Wilderness by eliminating all tow boat use,
removing motorboats on Lac La Croix, Loon, Canoe and Alder Lakes, and
adding approximately 7,400 acres of land and lakes to the wilderness.

Unfortunately, late Monday afternoon, 5/18, an unexpected backroom deal
was announced between Oberstar and Vento. While still sketchy, details of
the deal are as follow:

1) Trucks would be allowed to haul boats across Trout and Prairie
portages, both within the BWCA Wilderness.

2) Motorboat access would be eliminated from both Canoe (107 acres)
and Alder (342 acres) Lakes in the wilderness.

The deal may be attached to the ISTEA Conference Report, a practice
often used to hide controversial legislation from public scrutiny, as
as tomorrow morning! Congressman Oberstar’s status as Ranking Minority on
the House Transportation Committee gives him enormous power on the ISTEA
Conference Committee, and the ability to attach legislative riders at

Fortunately, we have two allies on the ISTEA Conference Committee.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senator John Chaffee (R-RI) have both
indicated opposition to efforts to increase motorized access to the BWCA
Wilderness in the past. They have the power to prevent Oberstar from
attaching this rider and the power to strip the rider out of the

Your immediate action is needed now more than ever to prevent a
roll-back of wilderness protections for the BWCA Wilderness. With your
telephone calls we may be able to stop this legislation from being
through the back door! Please take the time to contact the Senators


Call the offices of Senator Baucus and Senator Chafee today! Ask
them to oppose any rider to the Transportation Bill, or ISTEA, that allow
trucks to haul boats across wilderness portages in the BWCA Wilderness.
This deal will set a bad national precedent that could harm wilderness
areas across America.

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) Senator John Chafee (R-Rhode Island)
Hart Senate Office Building Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-2651 Phone: 202-224-2921

5/18/98 – For those of you who may have a warped view of Cindy due to the earlier picture of her in this newsletter, here is a more accurate picture – reflecting her true personality.

Ready to rent canoes 🙂

Today is a wonderful day to look into the air. The aspen catkins have burst open, and their fluffy seeds are filling the air. They are pure white and glint in the sunlight as they shift with each breeze like a school of fish. Dainty, colorful May flies hover above the lake. Occasionally they land, allowing closer inspection of their graceful tails, and ornate wings. I was drawn into the air around me, as I examined the May flies and catkins. Many more objects came into focus: insects and bits of organic debris I could not identify. So accustomed to looking through the air to trees, hills, or lakes, I forget to look into the air. Now, I will try to see like the bat, nighthawk, or dragonfly, who undoubtedly see the air around them as a populous place.

Obie returned from a day of volunteer trail clearing along the border route trail west of Rose Lake. He too had tales of the winds from Saturday. On the return trip, two members of the group split off to take another route home. Intense winds created large odd shaped waves on Duncan lake. With a great deal of work and lots of splashing Obie and the others made it back to Hungry Jack Outfitters. Dave and Nancy Seaton, who own Hungry Jack Outfitters, had organized the trail clearing and were having a party at their home for the crew when news came of the two who had chosen an alternate path across Duncan. Swept into the middle of the lake their canoe was capsized. After an hour in very cold water little progress had been made and discomfort was turning to desperation. By luck, a party of three in one canoe who taught canoe safety came by and performed a T-rescue in very difficult conditions. They really saved the day. They transported the frigid pair to shore, and after some coaching, got them on their feet and pointed them to a path that would take them to the portage. The three then tried to paddle for the portage and toe the other canoe. Murphy’s law prevailed that day and soon they too swamped! It was a brutally windy day. Paddling was abandoned in favor of walking. A group from Grand Marais found the five huddled at the portage – canoeless and in varying degrees of hypothermia. A huge blue tarp was put around everyone and a group hug, one below the legal person limit, was enacted to great affect. Somewhat revived, the group trudged over the portage, lit a fire and waited for the help that the Grand Marais party promised to send. Alerted, Dave and Nancy set the wheels of a rescue in motion. Gear was gathered, soup heated, and within half an hour Obie and Dave were transporting a worn out group to safety. The two who spent so much time in the water were clearly shaken and swore they would never let their canoe go parallel down the face of a wave into its trough again! Both were family men who will surely delight in the smiles and affections of their children upon their homecoming this eve.

5/17/98 – Strong winds blew through the BWCA yesterday. Sawbill drivers weaved through an obstacle course of wind thrown trees on their way to town and entry points. Wilderness canoeists returned with many adventurous tales. The Corey party calmly fished on the lee side of an island for many hours until the wind receded sufficiently to allow them to land at their campsite. They awoke the next morning to find that the loud noises they heard in the night were fallen trees that had come very close to their tents! A father and daughter duo stood by helplessly as they watched a tree come crashing down exactly on their camp stove. Trees could be heard crashing in the woods frequently. Quite a windy day.

5/16/98 – At 1 P. M. today, the fire ban in the BWCA Wilderness was lifted. More than two inches of rain in the last three days (and more predicted) has relieved the dry conditions for now. As always, fires are only allowed in the fire grates provided at the campsites.

5/14/98 – Bill and Cindy decided to let their two big golden retrievers, Sunnie and Gus, sleep in the house last night. The decision was made based on the fact that the day was going to start at 6 AM anyway and even the dogs wouldn’t stir before that. At 4:30 AM the dogs appeared at bedside, groaning in apparent agony. Once consciousness was regained, they realized that the dogs were nervous about distant thunder. By 5 AM, it was raining hard and by 10 AM about an inch had fallen, accompanied by frequent lightning and small hail. The forest breathed an almost audible sigh of relief as the parched ground soaked up moisture. At noon the sky cleared and the humid sunshine was welcomed by swarms of newly hatched black flies and a chorus of warbler song.

The question on everyone’s lips: "Is the fire ban lifted?" The answer is: no. The Forest Service will wait to see if the lightning started anything smoldering. They will want to see some more rain soon or the dry conditions will return quickly. Stay tuned for updates. We will post it immediately when the ban is lifted.

5/13/98 – We have many customers who claim to have the ability to make rain fall while on their canoe trip. Steve DeVries, from Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa, actually does seem to have the knack. For twenty five years he has endured some of the worst weather canoe country has to offer. Storms, sleet, snow, and wind have been his constant companions as he has introduced succeeding generations of college students to the BWCA Wilderness. Fortunately, Steve is blessed with one of the world’s most easy going personalities. The Cornell group arrived yesterday during the worst drought in more than twenty years. The clouds almost seemed to follow them in. By suppertime it was sprinkling and at about 11 P. M. it started to rain in earnest. This morning it is partly cloudy, breezy and cool. Perhaps the DeVries jinx is broken after all 🙂

5/11/98 – Plants and insects all seem to be developing a little more slowly with all this dry weather. The large leaf asters are beginning to unfold, the honey suckles are leafed out but seem sort of limp, and the black flies and mosquitoes are around but not much of an issue. The good news is rain seems to be on the way. We are hopeful.

Fishing has been poor to middlin’ over the opening weekend. Only a few people were seriously fishing. There was fair success on Burnt, with very slow results elsewhere. The serious fisherpeople seem to have planned their trips for later in May.

5/10/98 – A group of men and boys from the Hope Community Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota was here over the weekend. They had this unique 24′ wood strip North canoe which carried all nine people and their gear.

24′ North canoe.

5/9/98 – Our slow updating of the newsletter is an indication of our frantic preparations to get ready for the summer season which officially gets under way today with the opening of Minnesota’s fishing season. We are pleased to report that, with a few minor glitches, we are now fully open. Hot water is flowing in the shower house, our vintage industrial strength coffee pot is perking, the permit video is playing (now with closed captioning), and the ice machine is churning out cubes. Small steps for humanity, but a giant leap for the overworked Sawbill crew.

The weather continues to be beautiful here. A little frost each night, but blue skies and warm sun driving us into the low 70’s every day. It remains terribly dry here. The fire ban is official now – no open fires in the BWCA Wilderness. However, fires are allowed in the Sawbill Campground in the fire grates.

Mayo High School from Rochester, Minnesota is here, preparing for a four day canoe trip in the wilderness. They have been rock climbing at nearby Carleton Peak for the last two days. They’re as friendly and personable a group of high school seniors as you could hope to find.

The Forest Service has instituted a BWCA Wilderness User Fee for this year. They charge $10/person/trip. Children under age 18, elderly, and handicapped people will be given a 50% discount. The fee will be collected in advance. It is refundable if the permit is cancelled more than two days before the trip. Reservations will still require a $9 non-refundable fee and can be placed with the same service that handles them now. Call 1-800-745-3399 to reserve a permit.

Permit reservations are not required during the months from October through April. You can pick up a free permit from a box located at the landings.

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of
Northeastern Minnesotans For
which is working to organize the many people who
support the wilderness and happen to live in northeastern Minnesota.
Visit their site for more information on BWCA Wilderness issues and what you
can do to help protect the BWCA Wilderness.

5/3/98 – The Forest Service called yesterday to let us know that there will be a burning restriction on all open fires starting 5/4/98. They were very pointed that this was not a "burning ban" but it basically means that all campers, both in and out of the wilderness, must use stoves for cooking. Wood fires of any type are illegal.

We received no rain from a cold front that moved through over the weekend. The temperatures have cooled slightly, but the sky remains unrelentingly blue.