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Moose Sightings

At Sawbill we always appreciate it when people in the wilderness send us their photos they want to share. Pictures are a great way to capture a moment so that it lives forever in your memory. This photo was taken on North Temperance. This lake is part of the Cherokee Loop.

Photo taken by Ryan Walesch

Two miles down the trail away from the campground, a Bull Moose has been spotted for multiple nights in a row grazing just off the Sawbill Trail. He has mostly been spotted around 5:30 pm. He’s been quite the model for the photographer.

Photo taken by Tim Petricek 
Racine, WI
Photo taken by Tim Petricek 
Racine, WI


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Birds in the BWCA

The Boundary Waters is a great place to go birdwatching. Ornithology is an enjoyable pastime for many people who come to the BWCA each year. Being able to know what the species is that you encounter on your trip enhances the experience for many. The iconic Common Loon is always a sight to see. Other bird species, such as the Bald Eagle and other types of owls are also found in the wilderness. 

“Common Loon” by GlacierNPS

Partners in Flight (PIF) and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) — have identified a total of 86 bird species that are of significant “continental concern”. These birds have the highest level of conservation concern in the wide range scale. The BWCA has 13 of these 86 species. 

  1. Snowy Owl 
  2. Long-eared Owl 
  3. Eastern Whip-poor-will 
  4. Red-headed Woodpecker 
  5. Olive-sided Flycatcher 
  6. Wood Thrush 
  7. Golden-winged Warbler 
  8. Connecticut Warbler 
  9. Cape May Warbler 
  10. Canada Warbler 
  11. Harris’s Sparrow 
  12. Rusty Blackbird 
  13. Evening Grosbeak

Partners in Flight:

Minnesota Endangered Species List:


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Saying Goodbye

This week Sawbill says goodbye to two crew members: Kirsten and Nora. As the seasons change from Summer to Fall, many crew members have to leave to start school. This goodbye is always incredibly difficult, as the crew grows considerably close each year. Nora and Kirsten made everyday at Sawbill fun, and they will be missed. See you guys next year!


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Crew Activities

Christmas in July is celebrated every year on July 25th by the crew and any former crew members that are visiting at the time. White elephant gifts were exchanged again this year, and a large batch of frosted sugar cookies made their way into the crew’s stomachs. The celebration could not have been complete without the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree and its star on top.

On Saturday, August 15th, the crew went for an evening paddle to Alton. They paddled to the portage from Sawbill into Alton and left the canoe on the Sawbill side. The sky was incredible sitting upon Alton rock. This is a great day trip paddle. For those planning on doing the Kelso loop, leaving the canoe on the Sawbill side of the portage and checking the waves on Alton is always useful to plan out routes on windy days. Alton is best known as a small mouth bass lake, but also contains trophy sized walleyes and northerns.


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Reinforcements Arrive

This August two crew members, Mongo and Mia, returned to help out during the August peak season. The health and safety of the crew and visitors is very important to Sawbill. Therefore, after completing six-day quarantines each, they returned to full time crew member status.

A former Sawbill employee, Nils, sent this image to Sawbill. A moose was spotted between the handicap sites and the store along the Sawbill trail on August 4th at 7 o’clock in the morning. At over 1100 lbs, the North American Moose is the largest mammal in the BWCA. Do not approach a moose if you see one. They will defend themselves if they consider you to be a threat. The Minnesota DNR currently estimates about 2,400-4,320 moose are currently in the state. While this number has been steady over the past years, moose are still at risk. In 2006, the population was more than double at 8,840. If you want to learn more, go to the the MN DNR website here:

As is tradition, the annual dock sleep out occurred on Monday, August 10th. Mongo kept the night entertaining with ghost stories and tales from his time fighting forest fires. Traditions like these are what make the Sawbill experience for the crew so enjoyable. Luckily, there was no rain, and the crew managed to open the store the next morning without too much trouble. 

This time of year is the tail end of the blueberry season for the north shore. On Thursday, August 13th, crew members Jessica, Kirsten, Ema, and Mia went berry picking for the evening. The views around this patch were spectacular, and the berries collected went toward blueberry pies that would be eaten the following day. Blueberry picking is always a great activity in the summer, and the North Shore offers plenty of great spots. The primary picking season for blueberries is July through mid August. Blueberries favor meadows in piney areas with more acidic soil. They can sometimes be found in or around campsites in the BWCA, so keep your eyes peeled.


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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.