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On Being Busy

8/4/20 – A typical day in the life of a Sawbill crewmember during the first week of August is pretty darn full. Not to brag, but we really do have the best, hardest working, crew. They are dedicated to not only their individual tasks each day but to the greater Sawbill community. This year, sanitizing and cleaning gear as it is returned is taking at least twice as much labor as a normal year. It is a testament to the character of these folks that instead of caving under the pressure of what we fondly call “gear mountain” they choose instead to turn the music up and have a gear cleaning and processing party on the back deck. Everyone is pitching in above and beyond to keep Sawbill running smoothly.

The fact that we are able to be open at all this year, and provide access to the BWCA in a safe manner, is a direct result of the dedication and hard work of the Sawbill crew. We truly couldn’t do it without them.

Sunset on August 2nd at the Sawbill dock.

I’m continuously impressed too by the crew’s capacity for compassion for each other and their ability to seize the beautiful moments as they present themselves. Mike snapped the above picture at the Sawbill landing a few nights ago, what better way to cap off another day living on the edge of the Wilderness?

We hope you are able to find beauty in your everyday. And if you are visiting Sawbill, give the crew a thumbs up and socially distant high-five. They deserve it.


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2020 Crew Photo

7/26/2020 Meet your 2020 Sawbill crew! -Matt

Mikey, Nora, Jessica, Ken, Trinke, Autumn, Clare, Sigurd, Matthew
Dan, Johnny, Jaid, Ema, Kit, Kirsten
Huckleberry, Sawyer, Henry
Not pictured: Paul, Mongo
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Crew BWCA Trip

7/20/2020  Last week Sawyer, Nora, Ema and I went on a four day trip in the great BWCA. We entered at Kawishiwi slightly after 10 am for what would be the longest day of our trip.

With fresh arms and high spirits, we paddled our way to Koma in great time and stopped to eat lunch at a quaint site on the north side. After our delicious snack and much needed rest time, we made the quick paddle to Malberg where we stopped again to marvel the gorgeous rapids that run alongside the 24 rod portage. It’s places like this that remind me how incredible lucky I am to live with this in my backyard. We continued down the river into Fishdance where we made a slight detour to see the pictographs before our last portage of the day. (Click here for a past post about the pictographs) After 10 hours of Paddling we settled on the first site as home for the night. We ate dinner and watched the sun slowly drop behind the tree line before we all quickly slipped into a deep sleep. 

We woke up later than expected and took our time eating breakfast and breaking down the site so we didn’t get on the water till about 10 again. We had hoped to paddle east to get as close to Little Saganaga for the night as possible, but we only made it to Shepo where a storm delayed us again. With roaring wind and some booming thunder, it forced us to bunker down under our tarp on the portage while we ate our bean and cheese tortillas. It quickly became apparent that we would not make it as far east as we had hoped so we collectively decided it would be a much better decision to change our route entirely and go south to Addams lake. We waited for the storm to die down before paddling through Shepo, Sagus, Roe, Cap, Boulder, and finally, Adams. We originally hoped to stay on the island site but after discovering it was occupied, we decided to take the site just to the east. The site is set back a bit on top of a sloping cliff. A stunning elevated view of the lake, a rock slab table near the fireplace, and a perfect rock to swim from greeted us and we made quick use of them all. We set up camp while taking turns swimming in the warm waves. We feasted on Pad Thai and Creme Brûlée with our feet dangling over the edge of the rock while watching the sunset again. We sat around the fire until the mosquito became unbearable before retiring for the night. 

Our third morning was much more efficient than the last as we were all eager to get a good site on Polly to relax for the majority of the day. We set out with the early sun and quickly found ourselves back on Malberg where we again stopped at the little waterfalls to eat lunch and cool off the in the stream. We paddled south again and arrived at Polly in the early afternoon where we relaxed and ate to our hearts content on the sloping rock for the rest of the day. We slept with our rain fly off, the bright Milky Way spread across the ceiling served as our nightlight and the loons sang us a lullaby for our last night in the wilderness. 


Matthew, Nora, Sawyer, and Ema on the “cliff” on Adams Lake.
Sunset over Adams Lake
The stream that runs along the Portage between Koma and Malberg
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First Time BWCA Experiences

7/18/20 – This season we’ve seen an uptick in first-time visitors to the BWCA Wilderness. One of my most favorite parts about running Sawbill is helping people discover the BWCA and have successful experiences. Sometimes that’s an overnight adventure, and sometimes it’s just dipping their toes in the water here at our canoe landing. There are many definitions of a “good” BWCA trip, everyone has different vacation priorities and no route is one size fits all.

Recently, we fully outfitted Jaye White and Martha Finley. Jaye had some limited BWCA experience but it was a first for Martha. These capable women live in Cook County and work for Cascade Vacation Rentals, so we were especially excited to help them enjoy their own backyard. They recorded their experience and gave a great trip report on their podcast.

We also recently heard from Mark Tade, a long time Boundary Waters traveler and photographer, who took his wife Nancy Purington, an artist who paints skies and waterscapes, on a day trip into the Boundary Waters. Mark reports that although Nancy is not a fan of all things camping, he’s pretty sure she actually enjoyed it! They lunched on a lovely campsite while their son and grandchildren “threw lures into trees”.

Nancy dips her toes into the Wilderness experience.

Thank you to Mark for passing along this photo, you can see more of his work here and Nancy’s work, here.


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History and Stories of Sawbill

7/14/20 – Sawbill’s own Bill Hansen will be giving a virtual presentation with Cook County Higher Ed this week. On Thursday, July 16th from 7-8:30 pm Bill will be sharing the history and stories of Sawbill. Below is the event description from CCHE.

“There is an outfitter at the end of the Sawbill Trail, to the northwest of Lutsen, Minnesota, where customers and staff return year after year and whose names are remembered. They become part of a kind of family tree, a network of people connected to the place and the family at its center. The Hansens, and now the (Clare Hansen Shirley) Shirleys, have been running Sawbill Canoe Outfitters since 1957, creating more than a business. It’s a place where annual traditions, lifelong friendships and marriages have been born.”

So many stories Bill could tell. We look forward to hearing the stories he weaves together…maybe they will include Sawbill’s work credit system, growing up in the North Woods, wild animal encounters, the history of Sawbill, the people he has met along the way, wilderness rescues, being part of a family business, and so much more!

It is incredible how many people that Sawbill has invited to work for them that have chosen to stay or return to Cook County and become impactful community members – including our own Executive Director, Karen Blackburn. Maybe we will hear a fun story or two about people you didn’t even know originated from Sawbill, back when they were fresh faced and new to Cook County.

You can register to virtually attend Bill’s talk, here.


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Fire Ban Lifted

7/10/2020- Due to the recent precipitation, the Forest Service has lifted the fire ban across the Superior National Forest. Enjoy your fires and all the roasted snacks that come with them!


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Fourth of July Festivities

7/9/2020- Last Saturday the crew celebrated the holiday by hosting the 12th annual Sawbill Dragon Boat Races. Six teams of three paddlers packed into a Wenonah Minnesota II raced from the Forest Service dock back to the landing. With lightning illuminating the treeline in the distance, the teams were extra eager to get back to the landing before the storm blew overhead. Each team paddled as hard as possible for the half mile race but in the end it was Dan, Paul, and Emma who emerged victorious to take home the coveted Golden Paddle. Special thanks to all the campers who cheered from the shore and welcomed us back across the finish line!

Of Course no race would be complete without flipping the canoe.


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Leave no trace

07/07/2020- The Boundary waters canoe area wilderness has existed for decades to provide a place for outdoor enthusiasts to experience nature in its truest form. This year has seen more visitors to our wilderness than ever before and many new campers who are eager and excited to explore this incredible area. Due to increased traffic, it is extra important to be aware of the Leave no Trace policy in the BWCA. The Boundary waters is home to some of the cleanest water in the world and we all must do our part in preserving this land to the best of our ability. Remember to always leave no trace; leave every place  cleaner than you found it. Be sure that everything you pack in comes back out with you, including all of your garbage. While we don’t show the video before issuing permits this year, we still encourage everyone to watch it before their trip. You can view all three parts on the Forest Service’s YouTube channel.


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The Mystery of the Crayfish

7/5/20 – We have some guest writers on the newsletter today. The following anecdote was prepared by our favorite camphost and Sawbillian kids: Kit (4), Mia (7), Walt (4) and Supervised by Sig (1). After an eventful morning, they wanted to write and share their experience with the wider Sawbill audience. So, without further ado, we present The Mystery of the Crayfish.

“Kit, Sig, Mia and Walt were out picking up trash on the trail by the landing. Suddenly, Mia spotted a crayfish shedding! But then they realized that there were many more of them! Mia walked into the water and picked one up and tossed it onto the land so the others could see it. We thought, “It must be a crayfish shedding!” But we quickly realized that it wasn’t because it was a full crayfish. We thought, “Why would there be so many dead crayfish? Are they all sheddings?” We knew it was almost lunch time so we ran back up to the store and saw Clare (Mom) waiting for us. We said, “We have a mystery! We found many dead crayfish and we don’t know why! Do you know why?” She said she thought they might be sheddings too, but we assured her that they were not. We decided to call in some experts for help. We called Bill Hansen (aka Pop Pop), but he didn’t answer. So we called Haha (aka Cindy Lou Hansen). Luckily she answered. She asked us a few questions and just like us, wondered if they could be sheddings. We said we were sure they were not sheddings because they had their whole exoskeleton including their pincers. Cindy Lou had another hypothesis. She wondered if maybe some kids had caught some crayfish with a flashlight at night and left them in a bucket. Maybe the bucket got a little too hot and the kids dumped them back into the lake without realizing they were dead.

The moral of the story is be careful with the animals you catch in nature. Thank you to Cindy Lou and Bill Hansen (Ha Ha and Pop Pop) for helping us solve the Mystery of the Dead Crayfish!”

Walt, Mia, Sig and Kit head off on their adventure.
Kit, Mia, and Walt inspecting the questionable crayfish.

Thanks for reading!

-Mia, Walt, Kit and Sig

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Fire Ban

6/30/20 – The USFS has announced that effective today there is a fire ban for the BWCA Wilderness and Superior National Forest. The Sawbill Lake, Crescent Lake, and Temperance River campgrounds are excluded from this order, so you may still have a campfire if you are staying in one of those three campgrounds.

Folks travelling into the Wilderness, or dispersed camping on the Forest, will not be able to have campfires until the ban is lifted. We’ve had a very dry season here so far, with wind and highs in the low 90’s forecasted for the near future. While having a campfire is one of the many treats of a BWCA trip, these drought conditions have added worry to an already worrisome year for us. Foregoing campfires during these dangerous conditions is just another way we can collectively show some restraint for the good of us all. We will post as soon as we get some rain and the ban is lifted!