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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!


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Long Solstice Days

6/29/20 – August has arrived in June, it seems. The summer days are filled with a bustling campground, happy canoers, and sunny days with temps in the 80’s. With open schedules and limited travel options, we are seeing an influx of visitors in the early summer this year. Permits are more booked up than usual, and many are venturing out for their first-ever BWCA Wilderness trips. We are enjoying meeting all these new faces (even through windows and masks) and are honored to help them have successful first experiences in our favorite wilderness area.

Wild irises are blooming along the lake shores.

Whether you are a seasoned canoe-tripper or a first time paddler, you should plan to travel during your BWCA trip. There has been a significant increase in visitors choosing to stay within one or two portages of the entry point lakes and simply base camp there for the duration of their trip. This is putting a big strain on the campsites on or near entry point lakes, and makes it difficult to find a spot during this busy time. However, if you travel four or five portages into the Wilderness you will often find you have the place practically to yourself. Personally, I’m a big proponent of travelling most days during canoe trips.

The water is warm and it is prime swimming season!

The rituals of taking down and setting up camp, eating lunch on the end of a long portage, and scouting new campsites are some of my favorite parts of days spent in canoe country. There is a certain satisfaction in the act of carrying everything you need with you each day. The opportunity to see new land, encounter more wildlife, and taste the water from different lakes is more than enough motivation to get me moving each morning.


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Sawbill Lake Campground Hosts

6/26/20 – We are so excited to welcome our new campground hosts to the Sawbill Lake Campground! After over 30 years of hosting, Jim and Rachel TerBeest have retired to spend more time with their grandkids in Omaha. Hard to blame them, we love the whole TerBeest family!

So, for the first time in three decades, we posted the position. To our delight, former Sawbill Crewmember Lida Casper and her husband Kyle applied! They arrived here in mid-June and will be staying in site 17 until mid-August.

Kyle, Mia, Walt, Lida and puppy Maple

Lida and Kyle are educators in Rochester, Minnesota. Their children, Mia (7) and Walt (4) are at least as excited as their parents to take care of the campground and enjoy all the special people who visit. In their past lives both Kyle and Lida spent several beloved summers working at canoe outfitters on the edge of the BWCA. Kyle on the Gunflint Trail and Lida at Sawbill.

Sawbill kids Kit and Sig have been loving all the playdates with Mia and Walt, they are quite the foursome and will be bopping around the campground all summer. It is reminiscent of the early 80’s when Laura and Nathan TerBeest were the camphost kids bopping around with Sawbill kids Adam and Ruthie Hansen.

The campground has been unusually busy this June. Friday and Saturday nights have been filling up, but there’s a fair amount of turn over each morning as folks head out into the BWCA. Half of our sites are first come first serve, so if you arrive around Noon on any given day there are almost always sites available. Lida and Kyle are cleaning the campground on a daily basis and things are running smoothly up here, summer is in full swing!


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Pictographs on Fishdance

6/24/2020- Last week, I had the pleasure of taking a solo trip to see the pictographs on Fishdance Lake. Not much is know about the history or meaning of the pictographs, but that only further adds to the intrigue. Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote on my second night.

“I got to fishdance and the cliff surprised me when I came around a point on the western shore. It stands out abruptly, jutting out from the hillside with undeniable authority; I immediately knew this was the site of the pictographs. Perhaps the coolest part of the whole experience is the fact that the cliff stands vertically out of the water so you can paddle directly up to the rock and touch the rock that was first painted by humans hundreds of years ago!”

It is important to note that, when viewing pictographs or petroglyphs, one should never touch the artwork itself so as to preserve the magic for future visitors. If you are interested in learning more, Michael Furtman’s “Magic on the rocks” provides in depth information of every known site of native american artwork found all across the BWCA and Quetico.


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Many Sawbill “Firsts” this Summer

First Time BWCA Paddlers: Aayush, Nabin, Erna, Amyeeta, Tina

06/21/20 – This year’s Summer Solstice highlights many Sawbill “Firsts” : Welcomed increases in people scheduling canoe trips; daily filled entry point BWCA permits; and campgrounds booked to capacity. Also, pictured is a group of friends who realized a first together of having dipped paddles into the Boundary Waters .

Traveling from the Twin Cities area, they exclaimed, “This Boundary Waters experience was our first time. We were so excited and nervous yet Autumn, our Sawbill outfitter helped give us confidence. We had a fantastic day paddling. This wild wilderness is SO special (even the mosquitoes).” So whether a trip to Sawbill is your first or a repeat visit, schedule your trip well in advance to ensure that your BWCA experience, first and foremost, will meet your wildest expectations.