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Fire and Food Storage

7/31/21 – As we slide into August in the northwoods, we are happy to report that the Beth Lake fire has been designated as “out” by the Forest Service. A quick response from firefighters and some key water drops from the helicopter resulted in little to no disruption to travel in the area. While two new small fires were detected in the BWCA yesterday, there remains no threat to the Sawbill area from any existing fires.

The air quality hasn’t been terrible, Kit and Huck are still enjoying their walks on the Sawbill Trail.

The drought has further reaching effects than just fire danger. A late season frost and the lack of rain has resulted in a very poor berry crop. The lack of natural foods has driven wildlife to seek food sources wherever they can. That, and the number of well-intentioned but un-informed campers bringing inappropriate food storage containers (think coolers) in the BWCA has resulted in some increased bear encounters. We have had very few reports of bears in the Sawbill area this season (only one instance of a bear getting into an unattended cooler on Pipe Lake), but other parts of the Wilderness are now dealing with “problem” bears who have been rewarded by easily stealing people food and are now seeking it out. As a result, there is now a food storage order issued by the Forest Service for the entire Superior National Forest, including the BWCAW.

The order states that visitors in the Forest must secure their food in one of two ways:

  1. Using a bear canister or bear-resistant container and securing it at least 50 feet away from your tent; or
  2. Hanging your food pack at least 12 feet above the ground, and six feet horizontally from an pole or limb, and four feet vertically from any pole or limb.

While these are always the best practices, the fact that it is now an order means you can be ticketed and fined for not following these protocols. Leaving a cooler sitting out on your picnic table, even while you’re sitting nearby in your screen tent, could result in a ticket. If you are car camping, you should plan to store all your food in your hard-sided vehicle when you aren’t actively eating or cooking. Other ways to help avoid an unwanted bear encounter are to keep a clean campsite, make sure there are no fragrant foods spilled on the ground, keep your food condensed and packed in one place and secured whenever you aren’t using it, and clean and dispose of fish remains well away from your campsite. If you are camping in the Boundary Waters, DO NOT bring in a cooler. They are impossible to properly secure and very enticing for bears.

While we aren’t picking berries at our favorite patches this season, there are a few bushes around the campground that provide a sweet treat.

Here at Sawbill we secure our dumpsters at 9pm every night, and reopen them at 7am. This way, when we aren’t actively monitoring them overnight, the bears can’t help themselves to a smorgasbord of trash. Plan to dump your trash before 9pm, or keep it in your car until the next morning! Thanks to the diligence of our crew and visitors, we are glad to report no bear issues at Sawbill this season, but we’ll have to continue working together to keep it that way.


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Beth Lake Fire

7/28/21 – On July 26th the Forest Service detected a small wildfire near the portage between Beth and Grace lakes, about 3 miles to the southwest of Sawbill. Over the last couple of days they sent in a crew of 4 firefighters, conducted aerial surveys of the fire, and utilized aircraft for water drops. They are describing the fire as smoldering in hardwood litter, and it has been kept to roughly 2 acres in size. As of this morning, we are glad to report that it is 40% contained. Weather conditions have been in our favor, with another .15″ of rain falling last night, and cool mornings, calm winds, and overcast humid days.

There are no closures or reroutes in the Sawbill area at this time. The portage between Beth and Grace is still open, and recent paddlers have reported no evidence of the fire, other than the occasional aircraft overhead.

Travelling in the BWCA during wildfire season requires an extra level of awareness. If you are camped or travelling through an area that comes under threat of a wildfire, the Forest Service Wilderness rangers will sweep through the area and contact you, showing you the safest route by which to exit. It is a good practice to carry maps on your trip that cover the area around your route, just in case your travel plans have to change.

We’ll be sure to update this newsletter as we get more information about any fires in the area. At this point we are feeling grateful for the quick response from the Forest Service and will keep crossing fingers and toes for a good solid downpour.


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Fire Ban Update

7/21/21 – As of today, the fire ban is extended to the entirety of the Superior National Forest. This includes the BWCA Wilderness as well as the fee campgrounds like Sawbill, Crescent, Temperance. Here’s the order:

The last time we had any rain was June 27th, and we only received a total of 2.59 inches of rain here at Sawbill in June. Things are DRY. Most of the routes in our area are still navigable, but you may encounter areas where you need to walk along streams and float your canoe. I wouldn’t recommend heading into the Frost River at this point, but Cherokee Creek is still ok as long as you are comfortable getting your feet wet and muddy!

Vegetation is starting to show signs of strain. Leaves are changing colors and in some cases dropping from the trees.
A normally lush patch of ground is now a tinder box of dead plants and crispy pine needles.

We appreciate everyone’s diligence in keeping human caused fires out of the forest. Wilderness travel is always impacted by the conditions, so planning appropriately is important whether it’s a drought or thunderstorms. We continue to be very fortunate that there are no wildfires imminently threatening the Sawbill area. If that changes, we’ll post here and on social media right away. Thanks for hanging in there with us!


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New Crew

It’s mid-July and the whole Sawbill crew is officially here! This year the crew is split pretty evenly between returners and newcomers. Keep an eye out on our webpage this week as we update our “Meet the Crew” segment to learn about all of the crew members both old and new. For now, I’ll introduce the first-year Sawbill crew. We’re the rookies, the newbies, the ones who are still learning how to tie a good bear rope and wrangle three canoes to the top of a half-cab. We might be a little green yet, but we’re quickly learning the Sawbill ways and are so excited to be spending the summer in such a beautiful place!

Without further adieu, here is the new crew!


From: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Favorite lake in the BWCA: Saganaga

Favorite Sawbill memory so far: Trying to sail across Saganaga with Diana

Favorite pastimes: Lifting weights in the dome, watching skate videos, biking on forest roads, and talking to customers


From: Sartell, MN

Favorite lake in the BWCA: Saganaga

Favorite Sawbill memory so far: Looking at the stars at night

Favorite pastimes: Reading, playing with Huckleberry, and of course, paddling

Favorite and least favorite job at Sawbill: Washing the leeches


From: Duluth, Minnesota

Favorite lake in the BWCA: Knife Lake

Favorite Sawbill memory so far: Sunset swims with the crew

Favorite pastimes: Hiking, biking, reading

Favorite job at Sawbill: Working dome (outfitting) and meeting all of the different customers


From: Cedar Falls, Iowa

Favorite lake in the BWCA: Little Saganaga

Favorite Sawbill memory so far: Paddles with friends

Favorite pastimes: Climbing and napping at Beach Club

Least favorite lake in the BWCA: Beth, she stole my glasses


From: Grand Marais, Minnesota

Favorite lake in the BWCA: Cherry

Favorite Sawbill memory so far: Sunset swims and rainy paddles

Favorite pastimes: Knitting, climbing, cross country skiing, canoeing, baking


From: Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

Favorite Lake in the BWCA: South Temperance

Favorite Sawbill memory so far: Paddling on Lake Superior for Ladies Night

Favorite pastimes: Reading, biking, skiing, hiking, and paddling

Favorite part about working store: Petting all of the dogs

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Fire FAQ

7/18/21 – We’re getting some phone calls about the current fire situation in the BWCA so I thought a wildfire FAQ was in order. Of course, the situation is changing from day to day, and we will continue to post updates here and on social media as the summer progresses.

Where are the fires? Currently, there are a number of wildfires burning in the Superior National Forest, as well as the Quetico Provincial Park across the border in Ontario. Below is a map that shows the location of the current fires, with the town of Ely marked for reference.

The red fire icons show active fires. Sawbill is off this map to the east.

Are any of these fires threatening the Sawbill area? The short answer is no. At the moment, these fires are all quite a ways from us, and there is no imminent threat to us from active fires.

Is there a fire ban? Yes. You cannot have campfires in the BWCA or Superior National Forest. Right now, you can still have a campfire in the designated fire ring at the Sawbill Lake, Crescent Lake, and Temperance River campgrounds. Looking into my crystal ball, I expect that the fire ban will extend to these campgrounds very soon. The fire ban means no campfires, no twig stoves, and no charcoal grills.

How will I know if a fire starts in the area while I’m out on a trip? If the area you are tripping in comes under threat of a wildfire while you are out there, the Forest Service Wilderness Rangers will enter the at-risk area and notify campers. You will be instructed to leave the area and shown the best route to do so.

Is the BWCA closed? There are two specific areas of the BWCA Wilderness that the Forest Service has closed, in an abundance of caution. These areas are at particular risk from current wildfires. Below is a map showing the closed areas.

This most recent closure extends from entry point 12 on the West to 71 on the East and borders Canada and Quetico Provincial Park.
This closure is due to the Delta Lake Fire, the town of Ely is marked on the West for reference.

Which entry points are closed? The following is a list of currently closed entry points:

  • Little Indian Sioux River North #14
  • Moose / Portage River #16
  • Stuart River #19
  • Angleworm Lake #20
  • South Hegman Lake #77
  • Little Vermilion Lake #12
  • Lac La Croix Only #12A
  • Blandin Trail #11
  • Herriman Lake Trail #13
  • Sioux-Hustler Trail #15
  • Angleworm Trail #21

If you have a permit for a closed entry point, you will get a refund for your permit. You are welcome to book a different permit for another entry point, although availability is quite limited. You can check for open permits on We service the entry points in the Tofte District, primarily.

The Forest Service does not open up more permits for other entry points, the quota system remains the same as a regular year and once they are booked, that’s it. That said, there are opportunities for canoe camping within the Superior National Forest that are outside the BWCA and therefore do not require a permit. One option is the Timber Frear Loop, which is nearby Sawbill.

How smoky is it at Sawbill? There’s a significant haze in the air, that is persistent throughout the day and night. The smell of wildfire smoke is like no other, and is ever present these days.

Haze over the Temperance River valley at midday on July 16th.

What are water levels like? In a word, low. Routes in our area are still navigable, but the portage landings look at little different than usual. After speaking with groups who returned from Cherokee this morning, the word is that Cherokee Creek is low but navigable, with a few short areas that may require walking while floating the canoe.

Are the bears becoming a problem due to the drought and fires? We have had no reports of problem bears in the Sawbill area. No doubt, it is a rough year for bears and other wild life. Keep a clean camp, hang your food, and ask an outfitter in your area for updates on persistent problem bears.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are answering the phones 7am – 9pm, seven days a week. We’re working hard to help folks have successful trips! Thank you for your continued support and conscientious efforts to protect and enjoy our favorite Wilderness area.


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Have you ever seen the rain?

7/16/21- There has been quite a lack of rain this summer, and as such, it comes as no surprise that there has also been a high fire danger in the last month. These dry conditions are directly responsible for the fire restrictions in northern Minnesota that started on July 9th, 2021.

Follow this link to the Minnesota DNR’s website which shows fire risk and gives more information about fire restrictions.

You can also see what your drought level in your area looks like on this website

The drought has directly impacted our water levels, leaving certain rivers too low to pass in boats and left some of our plants small and crunchy. One of the plants we have seen affected is the blueberry! Our blueberry experts Clare and Lida have informed us that their private patches have been looking quite thirsty this year. We are hoping we will get more rain in the future so that we can all enjoy a sweet taste of summer in the Northwoods. In the meantime please remember to keep fires out of the BWCA and ensure your grated fires are small and use lots of water when putting them out.

Some frost and drought survivors! Grow berries, grow!
Hanging out with some of our bait!

Leeches are cool. In fact, I think most people let their appearance make a scary first impression but, as our resident Leech lover Kit Shirley says “Leeches deserve love too.” I too have fallen victim to running away from their shiny bodies but I have been working on understanding and appreciating these creatures. Leeches or Hirudirea are considered worms and they live on every continent on the planet except Antarctica, this includes giant amazon leeches that can be up to 18 inches long and live up to 20 years! Our BWCA wilderness has leeches living in the waters! They can be big or small and can be seen swimming in the water or attached to rocks and logs. If you are trying to avoid them hitching a ride we suggest tennis shoes or boots while portaging! (Facts from Mark E Siddall, a Parasite expert)

– Diana

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Oh Snap!

7/13/2021- One of the most exciting visitors of the season has been appearing on our shores. We are not sure what her name is but her presence is definitely noticed! She is a snapping turtle who is deciding if Sawbill is a safe enough place to lay her eggs! We understand how cool it can be to see these creatures on our shores but we ask you to take into consideration their feelings and personal space. We love our snapping turtles and encourage you to tell them a story, take pictures with them, and say hi but refrain from picking them up or touching their body. This helps keep the turtles safe and healthy and also ensures that everyone keeps all of their fingers!

Crew members Ben and Sawyer saying hello!

Snapping turtles are incredible creatures that can live more than 40 years! Their distinctive features include their large heads and necks which have blunt wart-like tubercles on them. Snappers typically build their nests in the summer and springtime. They choose dry, sandy areas and can lay between 20 and 40 eggs! These eggs take 60 to 65 days to incubate which means they generally hatch in mid-August.

More turtle facts pulled from

  • Common Snapping Turtle’s scientific name is Chelydra serpentina. Chelydra is a Greek word that means “tortoise” and serpentina is derived from the Latin word serpentis, which means “snake”.  This word refers to its long tail.
  • They have powerful jaws and have an average bite force of 209 N. They may not have the same force that you do when you bite with your molars (1300 N) but they have enough force to do some real damage.
  • The Common Snapping turtle is an aquatic turtle that prefers slow-moving, shallow bodies of water with muddy bottoms, which give them places to hide.
  • They are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals.  Their diet consists of plants, insects, worms, snakes, fish and other small animals.
  • You can find the Common Snapping Turtle all the way from southeastern Canada to the southern tip of the Florida panhandle.

– Diana

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Living with bears!

7/11/21- Since the beginning of summer, we have seen the reappearance of many warm-weather creatures. We have seen hummingbird moths, giant snappers, and many singing birds. That being said we have also begun to see and hear sights of a local legend- Chester the bear. Since we are blessed to be living in the woods, that means we must take precautions to share our space with the locals- these include chipmunks, red squirrels, and our friends the black bears.

Crew member Sawyer found this gift left by Chester!

We wanted to give our past, present, and future visitors some reminders that can help us all be bear aware and prepared!

Food Storage: It is recommended that all visitors assist in preventing wildlife from becoming habituated to human food in order for both the safety of humans and wildlife. Storing food properly will help keep it away from creatures big and small. We advise enclosing food in a hard-sided vehicle or a bear-resistant container. Once you are finished preparing or eating your meal clean up after yourself to prevent accidents- chipmunks can be silent and sneaky!

Other reminders:

– Keeping a clean camp, makes it harder for small animals to get into things.

-We advise you not to sleep in clothes that you wore while cooking or handling fish to avoid attracting wildlife near your tent

-Cleaning grills and storing them in a container so they are unavailable to wildlife

-Clean up garbage regularly and using bear-resistant trash receptacles

Thank you for keeping our campgrounds safe and smart!


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Fire Ban

7/10/21 – Yesterday the Forest Service announced a fire ban on the Superior National Forest, including the BWCAW. Here is the official notification:

So what does that mean for anyone headed our way? Well, if you are planning a trip into the BWCA Wilderness, you will not be able to have a campfire while out on your trip. You’ll need to bring a liquid fuel burning stove, with enough fuel to get you by. If you are staying here at the Sawbill Campground (or Crescent or Temperance campgrounds), you are allowed to have a campfire in the firegrate. Please exercise extreme caution when doing so! We check all the firegrates everyday, but we need your help to keep us safe during these dry conditions. If you are planning to camp on the Superior National Forest in one of the unmanaged sites (think Baker or Kawishiwi) you will not be allowed to have a campfire or use a charcoal grill.

There are currently four active wildfires in the BWCA. All of them have been started by lightening, and are being actively managed by the Forest Service and their partners. While none of the fires are very close to Sawbill, the Delta fire has grown to an estimated 65 acres and prompted a closure of some areas within the BWCA. Below is a map of the closed area.

This is the closure area, not the boundaries of the fire.

We aren’t anticipating any impact of these fires on the Sawbill area at this time, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t preparing. We have a robust sprinkler system that has been recently tested and is ready to go at a moment’s notice. We (Dan and Clare) stayed up late last night brushing up on our evacuation plans so that we can be quick and efficient if the need arises. We live with the philosophy that it’s not if, but when, a wildfire will come through our area.

We’ll post updates on any fire ban information or fire activity in our area here as well as on Facebook and Instagram. Another good resource for fire information is Inciweb.

As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to give us a call.


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12th Annual Sawbill Dragon Boat Race

7/5/21 – Each year the Sawbill crew marks the passing of another 4th of July by cramming Minnesota 2’s with four paddlers each and racing each other from the Guard Station dock to the Sawbill canoe landing.

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The teams load up and discuss last minute strategies.

Fireworks are prohibited in the Superior National Forest, including the BWCA Wilderness. Lucky for us, nature seems to provide a natural show every year.

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The teams paddle off into the 9pm sunset to line up.

After a rousing finish and traditional dunk in the lake, we noticed another spectator that had snuck in unnoticed during the race hubub.

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Mama snapping turtle chose a busy night to lay her eggs at the canoe landing.