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Weather and Rain Update

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
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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.

Canoeing

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.

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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

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Food Storage Order – What does it mean?

5/5/24 – If you follow along with BWCA news, chances are you’ve seen some recent hubbub about the new food storage order from the Forest Service. As an outfitter, we received a copy of the official order and had a chance to chat with the Forest Service officials at our annual spring meeting. So, what does the order mean for you, the BWCA camper?

The order states that when inside the BWCA Wilderness, you must have your food and other scented items either:

  • 1. In your line of sight;
  • 2. Hung in a tree (see below for suggested hanging methods); or
  • 3. Stored in a certified bear resistant container.

Here are some FAQ’s that have come up:

  • “Does this apply to portaging? What if I have to double portage?” -Yes, it applies. You cannot leave your food unattended on a portage unless it is in an approved bear resistant container or hung in a tree.
  • “Weren’t these already the rules?” -Kind of. These have always been the recommended guidelines for food storage in the BWCAW. The food storage order makes the recommendations into requirements. The effect of this is that USFS Rangers can write tickets if they see food store improperly now.
  • “What’s the fine?” -Any infraction of BWCA rules and regulations carries a potential fine of up to $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail. In practice, the Rangers will use their discretion when writing tickets. If you are using all good faith efforts to keep your food safe from bears and other critters, you won’t be subject to a huge fine – you likely won’t even receive a ticket. They are focused on education first, enforcement only when necessary.
  • “Why is this necessary?” -The last couple of years have seen major upticks in bear/human encounters. While only about 1% of these encounters have happened in the Sawbill Area, other parts of the Wilderness have been having serious struggles with habituated bears. Bear sows teach their cubs how to swipe blue barrels off of portages and campsites, leading to generations of bears which are becoming more and more entitled to peoples’ food. It has become harder and harder to ward them off, which will ultimately lead to aggressive bears and bears that must be killed. It’s true that a fed bear is a dead bear around here.
  • “What are the approved certified bear resistant containers?” -The Forest Service is using the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee certified products list, link to the PDF found here. In short, the most commonly used containers in the BWCA are the Bear Vaults and Ursacks. Sawbill rents both of these items! Importantly, blue barrels are NOT on the list and need to be hung.
  • “How do I hang my food?” -The Forest Service has provided a handy PDF with diagrams for some suggested and approved hanging methods, here. We have a demonstrated two tree pulley method set up in front of the Sawbill store and are happy to go over it with anyone who asks. We also rent the rope and pulley system for only $1/day, and sell the same set up in our store.
  • “But those bear resistant containers are so small? How do I fit all my food in there??” -If you can, unpackaging your food and fitting it into the Ursack or BearVault is a great way to go. If you simply have too much food and don’t want to pack 6 vaults, we suggest bringing a portage pack for food AND one BearVault or Ursack. You will hang your portage pack with the pulley system, but pull out the food for that day and keep it in the bear resistant container. That way, you can hang your pack in a relatively inconvenient spot, if need be, and you won’t be needing to haul it up and down 15 times a day. The food you need for that day can live on the ground in its bear resistant container. If you keep a clean camp, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Ultimately, these requirements are in the best interest of the bears and other critters. Human visitors to the Wilderness carry the responsibility to leave this place as wild as we found it. Wilderness camping has never been about convenience or human preferences. We are so encouraged by the lack of bear encounters in our corner of the Wilderness – your efforts and diligence to keep the bears safe does not go unnoticed or unappreciated!

If, like me, you are a source document kind of person, here is the order from the USFS:

As always, if you have any questions at all about this, please feel free to give us a call or shoot us an email and we’ll do our best to give you the most accurate and up to date information!

-Clare

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USFS BWCA Update Comments

4/27/24 – The Forest Service is continuing along the timeline for updating the BWCA management plan. They have a good website where you can follow along with updates and information as this process plays out – you can find that info here.

If you missed the informational meetings, they were recorded. Here is the information from the Forest Service:

Dear interested parties,
A recording of the virtual open house for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) Forest Plan Amendment public engagement that was held on April 18, 2024 is now available for viewing and download from our project webpage.
The Superior National Forest is seeking comments on developing the BWCAW Forest Plan Amendment by May 17, 2024.
If you have any questions, please contact Peter Taylor, Forest Planner at peter.r.taylor@usda.gov

At this stage, they are seeking general comments about BWCA management. What do you think is working well? What has changed in the last 30 years? Where do you see areas for improvement? Some examples of management issues they may be looking at are towboats, permit quotas, management designations within the Wilderness, etc. Later on, perhaps as soon as winter 2024, there will be an opportunity to comment on a more concrete proposed Forest Plan Amendment.

The BWCA is the most visited Wilderness area in the country. It holds a special place in all of our hearts, and also serves as one of the main economic drivers for the region. While I certainly understand the desire to further restrict the Boundary Waters to only those who already live and breath the Leave No Trace principles, I remind myself and others that these are public lands that belong to us all. I’ve made a career out of teaching and introducing people to the BWCA Wilderness experience. I’ve seen first hand the transformational effect that a canoe trip has on folks. It is no overstatement to say that it changes lives. I also know that the BWCA needs champions. In order to advocate for and protect our favorite corner of the world, we need to bring more people into the club. It is this ethos that I will bear in mind as I give input for future management of the BWCA. We need an updated quota system that reflects current travel patterns. We desperately need a more robust education protocol. I’m encouraged by the care with which the current Forest Service leadership team is listening and I know that Sawbillians near and far have valuable and thoughtful insight – I encourage you to submit comments before May 17th.

Clare

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Unbox, Price, Fold, Stock, Repeat

4/24/24 – If one picture could sum up early season at Sawbill it would be the following…

Boxes of sweatshirts waiting to be processed.

Also of note; the canoe landing dock has been returned to it’s open water home.

(Choir sings, clouds open, beam of light shines down from above)

Wind has been the norm lately, but this mornings view from the landing was nice and calm, although chilly with a low that dipped down to 18°F. -Jessica

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Ice Out!

4/17/24 – It’s official, the ice is out on Sawbill Lake! Some persistent ice remains in front of the canoe landing, but from our vantage point more than 90% of the lake is now open water.  Lakes and ponds along the Grade are open as well, including Baker and Crescent. Brule is usually one of the last in the area to go out, so my guess is it will need a few more days before it’s ice free.  Also of note; many of the gravel roads are still quite soft, so proceed with caution as major rutting has been seen on access roads such as the Kawishiwi Lake Road, Baker Lake Road, and Brule Lake Road.

View from the landing around 5:30pm.

We aren’t open quite yet, but are happy to rent canoes by appointment if you’re itching to get out on the water (just give us a call to set something up). This time of year conditions can turn miserable and dangerous quickly, so it’s worth checking the forecast before making the trek up. Here’s a link to the National Weather Services 7-day forecast for Sawbill Lake, which we’ve found to be the most reliable for our area. -Jessica

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Evening Ice Update

4/16/24 – Todays howling wind has pushed the remaining ice to our side of the lake and open water is increasing by the hour. With rain in the forecast tonight, my bet is we’ll be able to call “ice out” in the morning. Only time will tell…stay tuned! -Jessica

Mostly open water on the other side of Mouse Island as of 6pm.
Some of the very dark floating ice seems to be slush.
Another view point. Can you spot the lost fishing lure?

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Status Update

4/15/24 – The majority of the lake is still covered in ice, but it doesn’t look long for this world with new pockets of open water starting to reveal themselves away from the shoreline. -Jessica

Obligatory landing photo.