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Little Sig

9/21/2018- Exciting news from the Sawbill trail! Owners Clare and Dan Shirley have welcomed another addition to their family. Sigurd Theodore Shirley was born in the very early hours of Sunday September 16th. He’s a happy, healthy little lunker at 20.5 inches and just over 9 pounds.




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Honeymoon Trail

9/17/18- It’s hard to believe we are already over halfway through September. Lingering summer like temperatures are giving way to cooler days and canoe trippers are pleased. Weekend entry permits still may need a reservation but the weekdays are opening up.

This is the time of year we get a ton of calls from folks looking for leaf color updates. Luckily, crew member Claire and I were able to sneak away from Sawbill duties for a color scouting mission. We drove along the Honeymoon Trail which is the last road on the right before the pavement turns to gravel on the Sawbill trail. The color was phenomenal on the higher ridges and just starting along the trail itself.  

In case you’re having a bad day, here is a picture of Huckleberry.

Let us know where your fall adventures take you!


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Leafer References

9/14/18- Despite the deceptively summer-like temperatures, the changes in the leaves around the canoe yard are getting more apparent by the day. The underbrush is yellowing and the white pine are dropping needles. It won’t be long until we see full blown fall colors on the trail.

If you’re planning a leafing trip around Minnesota, a good reference is the  Minnesota department of Natural resources fall color finder. It’s an interactive map on their website that shows the progress of leaf color throughout the state, among other resources. It will be updated every Wednesday until the end of October.

Map of current fall colors in Minnesota with color coded ranges

In other notable Sawbill news, the fishing is starting to pick up. Walleye are being caught fairly regularly in daylight hours and the smallmouth haven’t quite headed out to deeper water yet. Fall fishing can be incredibly productive as fish try to pack on the pounds before winter sets in. The fishing heats up as the water cools down.


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Aurora Borealis

9/11/18- If you were lucky enough to stumble down to the Sawbill dock last night at about 3 a.m. you could’ve seen a legendary northwoods show. The clouds disappeared and the northern lights came out. With the naked eye we couldn’t discern much color, however, the pulsating and spiking was fairly active for a little while.

Aurora borealis over Sawbill

The boundary waters is a great place to be if you’re planning on doing some aurora viewing. The lack of light pollution is key.


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9/8/18 – With the changing of the guard comes the changing of the leaves. Fall is officially here for the Sawbill crew.  This past week we’ve had a few more arrivals trickle in.

Rubes first year at Sawbill was… a long time ago. He lives and works around Hollywood as a screen writer and producer and tries to get up to Sawbill when he can. You can often find him manning the store or cooking up some good grub for the crew.


Nick just graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and is joining us for the first time in the fall. He’s a veteran crew member whose first summer was 2016. His hobbies include woodburning, reading and taking long walks off short docks. His favorite job at Sawbill is working the store desk. Lukes first season at Sawbill was 2010. He’s works mainly as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and Washington. Between seasons he likes to head up to his favorite place on earth. Sawbill.

Come on up and join us for one of the most beautiful times to be in the north. We are on fall hours now from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. also, the Minnesota DNR will be doing some test netting on Alton Lake 9/10-9/14 and will be using an approved canoe and motor. With any questions please contact the Minnesota DNR at (218) 353-8857



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Fall Crew

9/5/18 – As the season wears on towards Fall, we are sad to say “bye for now” to much of our summer crew. We are excited for them to come back and visit with stories of their travels and studies! Thankfully, the Sawbill network is vast and we are thrilled to welcome some reinforcements for the remainder of our season.

Welcome back Jesse, Paul, and Logan!

Jesse Bergeson worked a full season at Sawbill in 2017 and spent this last summer volunteering with a variety of outdoor non-profit groups in Missoula, Montana. Paul Ryda was a 2017 volunteer with the US Forest Service in the Sawbill area and we are happy to officially welcome him to the Sawbill family. Logan Sheets worked his first season at Sawbill in 2015 and has been calling Missoula, Montana home ever since.

Speaking of fall, Sawbill is now operating on fall hours. We are open 8am – 7pm, seven days a week, from now until the end of October.


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Fond Farewell to the Dome

8/31/18 – This past Monday we said a fond farewell to the iconic Dome.  Ever since it was built in 1974 it has been a prominent presence at Sawbill.  From 1974 until 2001, it served as the epicenter for all things outfitting.  Need a canoe? Head over to the Dome.  How about a permit?  This way to the Dome.  You have a Complete Outfitting trip reserved?  Follow me to the Dome.

Bill and Ranna pose in-front of the Dome shortly after it’s construction (circa 1974).
Betsy Moyer, Annie Strupeck, and Michelle Thieman pose in the Dome just before the rental gear was moved over to the new building (2002).

After an addition to the store was completed early in 2002, outfitting moved to the main store and the Dome became the central location for crew recreation.  For many years it served as a center for wellness (weightlifting, aerobics, yoga), Sawbill band practice, a brewery, and has hosted many a foosball tournament.

Jeff Green and Pat Nash hard at work in the brewery (2005).
Dome sweet Dome (2011).

All the wile, the Dome has been the perfect place to host the annual contra dance, dubbed the “Dome Dance.”  Year after year this event provided a good excuse for campers, Sawbill crew, and anyone else within earshot of contra caller extraordinaire, Terrance Smith, to kick up their heels.

Terrance and his daughter (and Sawbill crew member) Laura swing down the line. (2005)

The Dome has also been used throughout the years to overwinter Kevlar canoes.  The rounded building posed an exciting, and some might say terrifying, challenge in the spring and fall when canoes were brought out of, or put into storage.  In order to fit the many canoes inside, each canoe had to be stood on end and leaned up against one another.  If one canoe moved the wrong way a canoe cascade might ensue (and sometimes did) resulting in a giant game of high stakes pick-up sticks.

Cindy does a happy dance as Bill safely wedges a Seliga in place (2010).

Some of the people who will miss the Dome the most include the many crew members who lived in the loft over the years.  I’ve heard these Dome dwellers recount fond memories of waking up to the comforting sound of the garage door opening just below their room, followed by the soothing sound of the permit video and early morning equipment orientations.  As recent as 2013 crew members lived in this unique structure, but as of late the Dome has been vacant and slowly returning to the earth.

Kit watches on as Dan removes the rental sign, for posterity, just before the backhoe begins the demolition (follow the link to our facebook page to see the backhoe in action).

Over the next month a new structure, specifically designed for storing canoes, will be built in the footprint of the Dome.  Here’s hoping the next building does its predecessor proud.  -Jessica

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Family Canoe Trip to Beth Lake

8/24/18 – ‘Tis the season for making family vacation memories that last a lifetime.  Mark Tade was kind enough to pass along a couple pictures from his recent trip to Beth Lake with his sons and grandsons.  He reported great fishing for the kids, perfect swimming weather, a lynx sighting, topped off with evening campfires accompanied by s’mores, howling wolves, and shooting stars.  Sounds like a successful trip indeed.  -Jessica

Mark’s grandsons paddle along the shore of Beth Lake.
Campfire on a Beth Lake campsite.
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What Once Was Here: Remnants from the Past

8/18/2018 – I have spent many hours walking the Sawbill dirt road, hiking rustic trails that snake through the surrounding woods. From old logging roads to over grown, out of season cross country ski trails, there is always a surprise, a mingling of history, waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. As I take my evening stroll, the sunset like a watercolor painting stretched across the sky, my mind is transported back to a time that I can only imagine, one I have not lived but have created from the structures or photographs I have seen. I try to conjure up an idea of what Sawbill was like in the 1930’s. What was it like to eat in the timbered dining hall fueling up before a day paddle? What was it like to work for the Minnesota Conservation Corps and to live at the old camp nestled in the National Forest? As I walk I wonder, I absorb. These remnants hold stories, waiting for me to contemplate, to ask the right questions and to slow down and sit and listen to what they have to share.



“U NO U R AT SAWBILL!”, the first clue guests were granted as they turned up the lane for their anticipated vacation, this sign being as much an integral part of the lodge as Uno, the water wheel cranking creek dweller. I imagine people laughing, infected by the delight of a deserved respite from the doldrums of everyday life, clinking glasses at the bar (the stools of which are sitting in the crew housing), music gliding on the breeze and the warmth of summer sun kissing lake bathers. I think of my grandparents, Gertrude and Carl, who would drive up the shore every month for a getaway, treating themselves to a stay at a place such as this. My Grandmother’s dark curls bouncing as she skips rocks. My grandfather’s stoic countenance melting away as he looks out at the water. Vacations had such a different air to them.

I read about the abundance of gimmicks at the Sawbill Lodge and about the regulars who became more like family.


Corner balcony, Sawbill Lodge. Source: Ren Holland at

The lodge was closed for the season in 1942 due to hardships caused by the war (specifically the ration of gasoline, preventing anyone from travelling up the shore). After the war ended the lodge reopened and saw its heyday in the 1950’s. Card games were arranged for post dinner entertainment, the owner (jean) circulated the room to gauge what lodgers wanted to do the next day and arranged guides and fishing locales for them. Bears also granted guests entertainment. Remains of dinner were placed outside the porch and folks would sit in wait and watch as bears would devour the food. If watching giant, sharp toothed mammals wasn’t your cup of tea you could spend time in the sauna or read a book from Jean’s impressive library. Oftentimes there was special entertainment such as a slide show or talent show. Once a summer guests were loaded up into motor boats and brought to an island for a dinner picnic.

When the area became a protected wilderness in 1978 a bill was passed that all structures be sold for removal in order to return the area to its natural state. The last year of operation for the lodge was 1982.


Dining Room, Sawbill Lodge. Source: Ren Holland at

The lodge now sits on highway 61 and has been renamed Solbakken. My evening walks guide me to the grounds of the old lodge. All that remains are moss covered stairs and fragments of the stone foundation. However, memories and photographs keep buildings alive even after they are gone and the stories we are told gives immortality to these cherished places.



I was tipped off by fellow crew member and human with a wealth of knowledge concerning many subjects, Mongo, about an old shack buried along a cross country ski trail that used to hold dynamite. What in the heck was the dynamite used for? When they were putting in the Sawbill Trail they used the dynamite to clear the way for building. The shack is composed of thick concrete walls, rusted orange exterior and a roof top that comes to a high point. The roof is shaped that way for a reason. If the dynamite tucked inside were to explode, it would (hopefully) shoot straight through the top versus through the walls, out the sides, into the trees…disaster would ensue!

Running, jumping over downed trees and Yarrow dusted forest floors, I ventured out in search for the shack. An avid explorer, especially when historical buildings and stories are involved, I excitedly pranced down the trail on hunt for this destination. The orange structure, veiled by saplings and leaf adorned branches, subtly came into view. I felt a pang of nerves as the stillness lay around me, my hand reaching for the concrete slab of a door, hoping to glimpse inside. A young tree inconveniently was growing just close enough that it prevented the door from opening and me from further exploration. With a sigh of relief and quenched curiosity I slowly made my way home, pleased with the afternoon. It was an excellent excuse to get outside and in the woods (as if I ever needed one).


The CCC Camp, located at the junction of the Sawbill Trail and the Grade in 1933

The Civilian Conservation Corps was founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt  in 1933. Roosevelt wanted to pull America out of the ruin of the Great Depression and the CCC would help employ the young men in dire need of work in order to help a country in dire need of help.

There were 13 camps in Cook County, MN, including 3 different camps located along the Sawbill Trail. The workers thinned brush and unwanted plants around trees to help maintain growth. They prepared sites for the planting of new trees and groomed portage trails, built campgrounds and took census of wildlife.

The Sawbill Civilian Conservation Corps Camp was abandoned and dismantled before 1957 but the work that they accomplished is apparent and appreciated.

Nothing remains of the old CCC camp but there is a sign honoring the work accomplished. But camp remains are not the only way we can remember all of the hard work these young men put into our beloved wilderness areas. Trails, campsites, the trees you walk among. All of these are signifiers that people before us were guarding and ensuring the longevity of the Boundary Waters, for those of us who have come after to continue to enjoy and to care for.

I have not yet had a chance to visit the site, but that is next on my extensive list.


~Do you remember visiting Sawbill when these structures were still standing and utilized? Do you know somebody who worked for the Minnesota Conservation Corps or spent a special, romantic weekend at the Old Sawbill Lodge? Do you know of other spots that I missed? If you would like, please share with us. We would love to hear your stories!


For more information about the past of Sawbill and the surrounding areas check out Sawbill: History and Tales by Mary Alice Hansen, copies are carried in our store.




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Pileated Woodpecker

8/8/18 – If you are staying in the Sawbill campgrounds or in the BWCA, you will hear the chirping of many birds. One call that stands out in particular is the Pileated woodpecker. These woodpeckers can be seen throughout the campsite and are beautiful.

The Pileated Woodpeckers are the second largest woodpeckers known to the American continent. Their average wingspans range from 26 to 30 inches, these are large birds! The birds are usually black with white stripes and have a red spot on top of their head.

Male pileated woodpecker. Photo taking by Sawbill customer Tim Petricek.

They can be heard either by their call or their noisy tree pecking activity. They peck against trees to find food such as ants and larvae. They also consume nuts and poison ivy berries. You might hear them going about their work in the morning. Their calls are great to wake up to.

Pileated woodpecker in tree. Photo by Tim Petricek.

These birds are a great treat to see while camping out in the North Woods. While you’re up here make sure to keep your eyes open for woodpeckers and the various other birds flying around.

– Nathan