Posted on

How “Bad” are the Bugs?

6/19/24 – Every year around this time, we here at Sawbill field a number of calls and questions about the bug situation. Many people want to know how “bad” the bugs are. Today I decided to talk about what bugs we have and some preventative measures that you can employ in the wilderness. Most folks are familiar with the main biting bugs we have up here. There are mosquitos, black flies, deer and horse flies, and no-see-ums. 

Aedes vexans.

First up is the mosquito. There are over 50 species of mosquitoes in Minnesota. The most common is the Summer Flood mosquito, Aedes vexans. They appear in May and usually disappear by September. A couple other species include the Cattail mosquito and the Tree hole mosquito. Cattail mosquitoes differ from other mosquitoes during the larval stage. Cattail mosquito larvae are able to survive the winter by attaching to the roots of cattails allowing them to breath, compared to most other species that lay eggs in stagnant water and experience diapause (hibernate but for insects) within the eggs. Females of many of the species in Minnesota feed on blood as a way to create her eggs. An up close look at the proboscis, or little needle looking protrusion on the face of the mosquito, shows that what seems to be a single tube is actually six highly specialized apparatus. At the small scale mosquitoes exist at, skin is more akin to finely woven mesh rather than the solid sheet that we on our human scale see. These six pieces work together to move and pierce through the mesh of their victims. Luckily, males only feed on nectar and sap, and are major pollinators. 

The six separate mouth parts on a mosquito.
The source of the black flies nickname of white socks is pretty obvious in this photo.

Black flies are known by a few different nicknames, the Buffalo gnat, Turkey gnat, or White Socks. The nickname “buffalo gnat” comes from the shape of their thorax, which gives the humped appearance similar to the American Buffalo. There are 30 known species found in Minnesota. Common genera are Simulium, Prosimulium, Austrosimulium, and Cnephia. Black fly larvae are important aspects of a healthy environment. They process a lot of organic material in the rivers and streams they reside in and are a good source of food for other larger water dwelling creatures, from dragonfly larvae to waterfowl. As with the mosquitoes, the female black fly feeds on blood to produce the needed protein to make her eggs. 

Last but certainly not least, though least visible, is the No-see-um, aka Biting midge. The No-see-ums are a part of the Culicoid genera. This is a genera of almost exclusively biting midges. The distinction between flies and midges is that midges are a part of the non-mosquito family in the order Diptera (flies). No-see-ums typically disperse about half to one mile away from their larval development site. Following the trend with the mosquitoes and black flies, it is the female no-see-um that are the ones that bite. Males feed on nectar and sap, and do not have the necessary mouth parts to feed on blood.

It is crazy to see the actually size of no-see-ums, so tiny!

Mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums all find their blood meals by following biological signals. Most common that people know about is their ability to hone in on CO2 exhalations. Unfortunately, these bugs don’t just rely on CO2, so please don’t try to hold your breath until they leave you be. Body heat, lactic acid, uric acid, and fatty acid are all used to find dinner for these insects. There is one study that suggests that blood type may play a role in a person’s attractiveness to mosquitoes, though other scientists are skeptical. It may come down to genetics and natural body odor. 

DEET and permethrin are common ingredients in bug spray, but they are both known to be toxic to humans and pets. It is also very difficult to make sure it only kills the pest bugs and not other helpful invertebrates. I’m not going to tell you to not use DEET or permethrin, but I will give some other non-bug spray alternatives that might interest you. First line of defense is the clothes you wear. Try to avoid reds, oranges, and blacks. Wearing light/white clothes will help keep you cooler, thus producing less body heat and CO2 for the bugs to track you with. If long sleeves interest you, there are sun shirts that are very light weight that will give protection not only from the sun (very important) but also the bugs. Another option is bug netting. There is an important distinction between mosquito netting and no-see-um netting. No-see-ums are so small that they can get through the holes in the meshing on mosquito nets. Fortunately the mosquitoes cannot get through no-see-um nets! Bug jackets are another great option. The Original Bug Shirt Company has great options for bug shirts and pants. There is both a polyester model and cotton model available. 

A healthy food web is an integral part of a healthy planet. As annoying as these pests are, and as much as I sometimes wish I could snap my fingers to make them disappear, mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums are a big part of the ecosystems they inhabit. There are numerous animals that feed on all life stages of these insects. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Dragonfly adults can consume between 30 to 100 mosquitoes in one day. Dragonflies have a hunt success rate of 90-95%. Larval dragonflies are also voracious predators, eating the larvae of mosquitoes and black flies. Up here at Sawbill, we always rejoice when the dragonflies finally hatch! Bats are another great predator to have around to control the bug population. Some bats can eat up to 1,000 insects in a single hour! 

Bug population control is ready to go! PC: The Island News

Mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums are a part of the wilderness up here. There are ways to help mitigate annoyance so vacation time is enjoyable while still making sure the wilderness stays healthy. -Sawyer

Posted on

After Storm Update!

6/19/24 – Roads in and around Sawbill are all open and clear. No washouts in our area and the downed trees have been cleared away. No reports of any damage or issues in the BWCA on the Tofte District so far, we’ll keep you posed if we hear of anything.

Thanks to everyone who has been checking in on us, we got 3.76″ of rain and are grateful for some sun today! -Clare

2pm this afternoon at the canoe landing.
Posted on

Sign of the Times

6/17/24 – The price board from the before times (pre-covid) is back! One of our crew members, Corr, was tasked with rewriting and designing the whiteboard that hangs above the outfitting desk. It is great for visulizing what kind of canoes and gear we provide just incase you forgot something for your trip, or are looking ahead to a trip you are planning. It also includes the prices for everything. It’s very exciting to have it back where it belongs! Also a big shout out to Dan and Paul Ryda for the wonderful job hanging the price board up, great handy work you two!


The beautiful price board is back! PC: Evan Orjala
The price board’s artist proudly diplaying her hard work. PC: Evan Orjala
Posted on

“Entering” a New Era

6/16/24 – The Sawbill store got a small face lift this past week. Dan worked hard all day to replace the front walk up into the store. He chose a classic red cedar wood look that will be more bug and weather resistant and stay looking nice for a long time. Stay tuned for a longer blog post later this week. I won’t spoil too much, but its all about some common creepy-crawlies that we see up here.


The front enterance is looking quite nice thanks to Dan’s hard work
Posted on

Solo Trippin’

6/12/24 – Planning a solo trip into the BWCAW anytime soon? Always been interested in the idea of spending some alone time in the wilderness? You are in good company! As the season is starting to ramp up the Sawbill crew is preparing for our own solo adventures in the BWCAW. As a crew, our experience with solo trips varies. Some, like Sawbill extraordinaire Sawyer, are well versed in the art of solo traveling. Some are preparing for their second go at going solo, and some of us are preparing for their very first solo trip. I fall into this last category and so I’ve been accumulating all the tips and tricks to having a safe and fun time while alone in the wilderness. All the following suggestions are great to employ regardless of group size but are even more vital to practice when going it alone.

For all solo trippers, we recommend:

  • Planning out your food. If you’re doing a long day or have a big appetite don’t shy away from bringing two-person portioned meals. Our recommendations (which can be found in the Sawbill store) are the Pad Thai from Backpacker’s Pantry and the Mushroom Risotto (available in a single serving) and Bibimbap from Good to Go. To add some flair to your food and spruce up your meals, bring an avocado, bell pepper, and/or lime (all available in the Sawbill store) to add to your dehydrated meals.
  • Considering gear options and picking the right fit for you.
    • In regards to getting your beauty rest, some solo travelers prefer bringing a two person tent over a single tent so they can have some more room. 
    • With the food storage order in the BWCAW (more information here) consider how you want to secure your food in alignment with the order. Bear vaults, Ursacks and bear ropes all fall within regulation and are all available at the Sawbill store for either purchase or rental. Sometimes double carrying on portages are necessary when traveling solo, so Ursacks and Bear Vaults can make life easier in these situations. Any of these methods are totally feasible for solo travel, so just consider the best method for you.
    • Many solo trippers find it easier and more efficient to paddle a canoe with a kayak paddle; others prefer to stick to a wood or plastic canoe paddle. Depending on your experience and comfort, think about what type of paddle suits you best. We have all the above options here at Sawbill and are alway happy to discuss what will be right for you!
    • Remember, you can always bring an extra paddle if that makes you more comfortable. If you’re renting a canoe from Sawbill you’re more than welcome to take an extra paddle out with you (regardless of group size). Just make sure both come back to us.
  • Getting oriented with a solo canoe. The solo canoes (Wenonah Prism and Wilderness) in Sawbill’s fleet are unique in that the seat of the canoe is less central than other solo canoe designs. This makes travel days more streamlined as you don’t need to take out the yolks to paddle or re-attach them for portaging. As with all canoes, it’s important when traveling in the water that you’re as trim to the water as possible. With our solo canoes, it works best to place your pack towards the front of your canoe to balance out the weight and remain as level on the water as possible. 
Wenonah Wildnerness Solo Canoe
(view from back of canoe)
Wenonah Wilderness Solo
(view from front of canoe)
  • Wearing your life vest while out on the water. We always recommend wearing your life vest whenever you’re out in the BWCAW, but this is even more important to do while in the wilderness by yourself.
  • Telling people back home about your route and the day you’re planning on coming out of the wilderness. Even with technological advancements, you can’t rely on having cell service in the BWCAW, so just be mindful of this.
  • Enjoying the solitude and time of reflection. There’s something very special about getting to experience the beauty of the wilderness by yourself.
  • Coming back to Sawbill and telling us all about your trip. We always love to hear about your adventure!

Make sure to keep up with our newsletter for an update on the crew’s trips and our inside scoop on routes and lakes. I’ll be back with my two-sense on Perent Lake and the Hog Creek entry point (#36) so get excited and stay safe out there! – Luna

Posted on

Spring Showers Bring Summer Flowers

6/11/24 – Signs of summer are popping up everywhere around Sawbill. The crew is taking more frequent, longer dips into our beloved Sawbill Lake (and not being struck by the urge to exclaim “It’s so cold!” as often). S’mores have started being consumed on a weekly (at least) basis around the campfire (thank you to a wet spring for making fires possible). Dragonflies are flitting around regulating the mosquito population, they are the real MVPs of Sawbill. 

But we can’t forget about the most vibrant and exciting signs of summer that have sprung from the ground with a vengeance. The flowers of Sawbill have been gracing everyone here with their beauty and color.

If you’re coming to see us this summer make sure to keep an eye out for all our flowery friends! – Luna

Posted on

Sawbill Dogs Working Hard

6/1/24 – Huckleberry and Chile are hard at work and patiently waiting in the store to greet all of the campers who swing by. As of last week we have officially shifted into our summer store hours so we are here from 7am-9pm every day whether you are looking to pick up a canoe rental or permit, grab a fishing license, shop around the store, or just say hi to Huckleberry and Chile! Also, keep an eye out for our campground host, Suz’s dog Atticus who can be found in the campground, the store, or living luxuriously driving around in the golf cart keeping the campground in check. -Anna

10 month old and new addition to the Sawbill family, Chile, getting trained into all of the office work!
Huckleberry daydreaming about getting all of the pets from customers in the store!
Atticus riding in style in the golf cart!
Posted on

Weather and Rain Update

5/24/24 – We’ve had a bunch of rain the past week and across the month with over 3 inches of rain this week alone. Even though it wasn’t the most snowy winter, the rain is definitely making up for it when it comes to water levels and fire danger. Water levels are nice and high which is making some places (including the Sawbill landing) look a little different. Fire danger is relatively low as well thanks to the rain. Also, all of the trees and plants are loving it and it is starting to get nice and green as the days go on. The rain is also not done yet with more to come this weekend in the forecast. If you’re planning on visiting, or just curious, check out our weather here! – Anna

Sawbill Landing on 5/23 – even though it may not look like it, the dock is still connected!
Sawbill Creek is nice and high and flowing quickly
Posted on

Voyageur Magazine – 1967

5/14/2024 – We received a wonderful piece of mail from Kevin Proescholdt this week. Kevin is the Conservation Director for Wilderness Watch and has a long history with the BWCA Wilderness. As such, he has a collection of wilderness, and specifically BWCA, memorabilia. He recently rediscovered a copy of the Voyageur Magazine from 1967 with an article by Frank Hansen and passed it along to us!

It’s a real treat to read his words and hear his voice in my head while doing so. If you knew Frank, you know he was a great story teller. Although Mary Alice was the real writer at Sawbill, Frank’s article evokes many of the same thoughts and feelings surrounding the BWCA today, even though it was written a mere three years after the Wilderness Act. I’ve included the text and some of the photos of the article below. Bill notes that he remembers the photographer was not interested in including women in his portrayal of the Wilderness. It’s worth noting that Sawbill was founded as an equal partnership and has always remained that way from Frank and MA to Bill and Cindy and now Dan and I. Frank and MA’s daughter Ranna was in the BWCA just as often as Karl and Bill over their childhood years. While some of the perspectives on Wilderness remain the same, our portrayal of the Wilderness traveler is much more realistic these days.


By Frank W. Hansen

Canoeing is thrilling. It is romantic. It is downright hard work. Surveys show that the canoeist is not necessarily a superman. In truth, a majority of the myriad paddlers are youthful people; but almost the entire age range is represented.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area of the Superior National Forest affords canoeists the finest wilderness canoeing of any area in the United States. This complex of glacier-formed lakes is located close enough to large centers of population so that it is feasible for many people to use for a unique recreation opportunity.

Canoe trippers fall into two broad classes, so far as their destinations go. One group takes exactly the same trip every time, often setting out on the same day each year. The other group never takes the same trip twice and always seeks out new routes.

There are many motives for canoe trips. Perhaps the most basic is the profound need in people to return to a primitive experience. They need to assure themselves that they can find their way, prepare their own food, provide shelter and warmth, and preserve their health under primitive and demanding conditions.

Within the confines of this basic need, many other motives are felt by canoeists. Some, but not all by any means, primarily are interested in fishing. They seek out parts of the lake country which are potentially productive of excellent fishing. Their movements are dictated by fishing success or by the presence or absence of specific species of fish int he lakes on which they travel.

Karl Hansen and Bill Hansen – 1967

Many others are interested in studying and recording nature. Perhaps they are birdwatchers, reveling in the discovery of a rookery of the blue heron, or finding an eagle’s nest high in the top of a lofty pine, or coming upon the spectacular pileated woodpecker chiseling huge cavities into the trunk of a dead spruce.

Among canoeists, amateur photographers are numerous. There is a never ending challenge in the constantly varying light on the lakes. Stalking and “shooting” the many animals of the forest int heir natural settings requires patience and concentration which allows the cares of the city to e rapidly forgotten. Every turn on the lake affords new vistas to record for later enjoyment.

Bill and Karl demonstrating a camp set up and BWCA firegrate while the family dachshund keeps a lookout for bears- 1967

Many canoeists respond to the physical challenge of the lakes and portages. Many husky youth groups have informal time records for traversing certain well known and defined trips. The legends of the voyageurs and their feats of physical prowess spur on the record seeker.

There are not many places left where one may challenge himself to go all out in physical effort. Ona canoe trip, this may be done voluntarily; but very often the very nature of the weather and the terrain more or less forces an all out effort.

Fighting a head wind for several hours while crossing a lake, or traversing a long portage, leaves the canoeist physically spent by deeply satisfied. Facing and overcoming a real test of physical prowess restores one’s self-concept to its highest state. It is most interesting to observe canoe parties before they lave on their trips and after they return. Almost always they are quieter upon their return, more considerate of each other, and deeply confident of themselves. They are more secure in themselves as individuals and as group members.

There are people who have as their prime purpose rest and relaxation. For these folk, the goal is to relax and enjoy the absence of a need to produce on cue. Actually for most canoeists, this happens to an extent. It is a rare canoe party which is up and about before dawn and which paddles until dark. The schedule more often includes rising late, enjoying a leisurely breakfast and campbreaking, paddling until lunchtime, then napping after lunch for a short time. The afternoon travel is cut short if a suitable campsite is found, and the balance of the day is spent in fishing, swimming, and relaxing.

Top: Bill and Karl with unmistakable profiles Bottom: Frank, Karl and Bill enjoy a familiar setting

Increasingly, the canoe country is the site of trips sponsored by church groups. The values which emerge as a result of a canoe trip seem to fit very well with the purpose of the churches.

In recent years, the United States Forest Service has been able to make accurate estimates of the actual usage of this area. They were astounded to find that the most generous estimates before of the number of visitor days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area had been too low.

Interestingly, it has been found that canoeists are gregarious people. They tend to concentrate themselves in a few areas of the forest. The impact of this concentration on the forest is becoming serious. Many campsites are literally being destroyed by use, even though the campers for the most part try hard to protect the forest.

In a sense, even the presence of one human in the forest destroys the true wilderness character of the place. If we are to maintain the wilderness, so that all the many values sought by the canoeist may be realized, extraordinary individual and group efforts must be made.

Even a small residue of litter and waste left by each party accumulates to massive amounts in a short while. For this reason, the canoeist is obligated to pack out all trash. This may seem radical but it is absolutely necessary.

There are many people using the forest for many purposes. To accommodate this value complex, each canoeist must assume control of himself. Then, and only then, will our precious heritage be maintained.

Posted on

Light Show

5/11/24 – Last night we were treated, like much of the continental US, to some pretty spectacular 360° northern lights.  Around 9:30pm we started hearing reports of sightings across the country so I decided to take a peek outside.  Low and behold the clouds, that had just hours before dropped rain on us, had parted to reveal blotches of whitish green and light pink/purple across the sky.  These slow moving light apparitions ebbed and flowed for many hours with the most color appearing between 9:30 and 10:30pm and were still working their magic when I went to bed around midnight.

We were able to see some of the pink/purple colors with the naked eye, which is something extremely rare around here (usually they appear as a white-green).  My long exposure enhanced the colors even more in this picture.

Rumor has it that tonight might be another good show, so if you have clear skies it would certainly be worth taking a quick walk outside to see if you can find any unique looking shapes in the sky.  Last night they appeared before it was fully dark out.

View from the canoe landing looking south. The lights were so bright they obscured some of the stars.

The typical form people think of when someone says northern lights, are the shimmering curtains that sometimes appear to the north, but they also develop as slow moving blobs of light, pillars that lengthen and shrink, or a blotchy glow overhead.  Sometimes they pulse like disco lights and other times they quietly drift around like lazy clouds, so if you think you’re seeing light pollution look closely to see if you notice any slow movement or unique shapes and it just might be the northern lights putting on a show for you.  -Jessica