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Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: May 2007
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « April 2007 | June 2007 »

5/30/07 - We were notified today that campfires are now allowed inside the BWCA between 7pm-midnight. So remember to pack your marshmallows and hot dogs!

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterflies also came out today in mass. Male Swallowtails emerge before the females and congregate near moisture and nutrients. They need to replenish the fluids they lost during emergence. These large gatherings also make it easier for the females to find them once they emerge. I found this large group down by the lakeshore, but there were also lots of them hanging out at the mud puddles along the Sawbill trail.

Today I also spotted a Mourning Cloak butterfly fanning in the sun by the lake. Unfortunately, my picture of it didn't turn out. The Mourning Cloak is one of the earliest butterflies to be seen each year. They also are the longest living at ten to eleven months. - Caitlin



5/25/07 - With the rain we have gotten over the last few days the spring blossoms have decided to show themselves. Yesterday I took a walk around Sawbill with Mary Alice Hansen to try to soak up some of her knowledge of the flowers and plants around here. Mary Alice started Sawbill with her husband Frank in 1957 so there was quite a bit of soaking to do on my part. In addition to the specimens pictured below we also identified Marsh Marigolds (also known as Cowslip), Pin Cherries and Clintonia. - Caitlin

Wild Blueberries 5.25.07.jpg
These fragile blossoms will eventually turn into wild blueberries.

Laurel 5.25.07.jpg

Yellow violet 5.25.07.jpg
Yellow violets.

Wild strawberry 5.25.07.jpg
This recognizable flower promises wild strawberries this summer.

5/24/07 - The fire ban outside the BWCA Wilderness has been lifted. Fires are allowed in the campground, as long as they are in the fire grates provided at the campsite. Inside the BWCA Wilderness fires are still banned.

It is raining as I write this. If it keeps up, maybe the wilderness fire ban will be lifted too. We'll post the news here as soon as we hear anything. - Bill

5/23/07 - With many of the nearby entry points reopened, including Sawbill
Lake, things are getting busier around here. Fortunately, our crew ranks have been fortified by the recent arrivals of Clare Hansen, Katie Nulicek and Davey Bodeau! - Caitlin

Claire H is back 5.23.07.jpg
A long-time crew expert, Clare has returned to Sawbill after completing her sophomore year at the University of Montana.

Katie N with canoe.jpg
During her first week as a new Sawbill crewmember Katie honed her canoe washing skills. Katie will be a senior art major next year at Northern Illinois University.

Davey 5.23.07.jpg
Davey spent his first day back drying out the fire prevention hoses up on the roof. Davey returns to the Sawbill crew this summer after his freshmen year at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

5/22/07 - Mike Valentini, a friend of Bill and Cindy's, shot this stunning image of a moose taking stock of the Ham Lake fire's aftermath on his property near Seagull river, which feeds into Big Saganaga. Fortunately, Mike's cabin survived the fire. Thanks for the photo Mike! - Caitlin

Moose near Seagull river. Photo courtesy of Mike Valentini.

5/21/07 - The surly spring weather continues, although it came down as rain instead of snow today. Considering the temperature outside, everyone coming into the Sawbill store over the past few days has been remarkably cheerful. We figure everyone must know how badly needed any fire-dousing weather is here.

I think this may only be part of the reason though. As a new Sawbill crewmember, my first impression is that much of the good natured energy coming into the store can be attributed to the fact that it is generally kind, patient and interesting people that choose to spend their valuable free time exploring the wilderness in a canoe. - Caitlin

Canoes on a cold day.jpg
A chilly but lovely view of Sawbill Lake.

5/20/07 - Only in Minnesota. Ten days ago it was 89 degrees and we were all wearing shorts and sandals. This morning it is 29 degrees and everything is covered with a thin layer of snow! - Bill

Snow covers the roofs that were baking in the hot sun last week.

Kevlar canoes weigh more when they are covered with snow.

Ferns that so eagerly sprouted last week now seem to be feeling some regret.

5/18/07 - Here is a Forest Service Press Release:

BWCAW Entrance Points To Re-Open

Superior National Forest announces the planned re-opening of the following BWCAW entrance points beginning May 20th. The National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS), at or 1-877-550-6777, is now taking reservations for trips that start on May 20 or beyond.

38 - Sawbill Lake
39 - Baker Lake
40 - Homer Lake
41 - Brule Lake
41A - Brule Lake Only
43 - Bower Trout Lake
44 - Ram Lake
45 - Morgan Lake
47 - Lizz and Swamp Lakes
48 - Meeds Lake
60 - Duncan Lake
61 - Daniels Lake
62 - Clearwater Lake
64 - East Bearskin
66 - Crocodile River
68 - Pine Lake
69 - John Lake
70 - North Fowl
78 - Brule Lake Trail
79 - Eagle Mountain Trail
L - Clearwater Lake (day use motor)
M - East Bearskin (day use motor)

It's the Forest Service's intent to have the following entrance points open by June 14, or earlier if possible. In anticipation of this re-opening, the NRRS will begin accepting reservations on May 18 for trips that start on June 14 or beyond.

49 - Skipper and Portage Lakes
50 - Cross Bay Lake
51 - Missing Link Lake
52 - Brant Lake
54 - Seagull Lake
54A - Seagull Lake Only
55 - Saganaga Lake
55A - Saganaga Lake Only
56 - Kekekabic Trail East
57 - Magnetic Lake
58 - South Lake
59 - Partridge Lake Trail
71 - From Canada (E. of Basswood)
80 - Larch Creek
81 - Border Route Trail - West
82 - Border Route Trail - Center
83 - Border Route Trail – East
J - Saganaga Lake (day use motor)
K - Seagull Lake (day use motor)

The Forest Service emphasizes that these re-openings are based on current information and encourages visitors to monitor the Forest Service website at or the NRRS website at for updates. Note also that two previously closed campgrounds outside the BWCAW have been re-opened: East Bearskin and Flour Lake.

5/17/07 - Today is a big day at Sawbill for two reasons. It is Cindy Hansen's birthday and Norwegian Constitution Day. Cindy celebrated with presents and cake. Carl Hansen celebrated his mother's birthday by marching for hours with his band in Hamar, Norway. - Bill

Carl Hansen (snare drum closest to the camera) marching in the Syttende Mai (17th of May) parade in Hamar, Norway, where he has been an exchange student since last August.

Here is part of the crowd in Hamar that turned out to celebrate Constitution Day and watch Carl's band lead the parade. Lake Mjosa, the largest in Norway, can be glimpsed at the bottom of the hill.

5/16/07 - 3:45 P. M. We have received official word that the Sawbill, Baker, Homer, and Brule Lake entry points will be open starting May 20, 2007. No overnight permits for these entry points will be issued for dates before May 20, 2007.

The Ham Lake Fire is officially 55 percent contained in the U. S. today, but the Forest Service is predicting that it will be 100 percent contained in the U.S. by Sunday, May 20, 2007. We got another trace of rain last night and it is very cool with high humidity. The weather forecast is fairly optimistic for regular moisture over the next couple of weeks. We need a ton of rain to really break the drought, but we'll settle for no forest fires as an alternative! We are all heaving a cautious sigh of relief. - Bill

5/16/07 - As of now, you can reserve permits for Sawbill, Baker, Homer and Brule Lakes for entry on May 20th or later. Go to, or call toll free 1-877-550-6777 to reserve a permit.

That is all we know for now, but we'll have more specific information in an hour or so. - Bill

5/15/07 - Based on recent developments (rain and cold temperatures), I am guessing that the Sawbill, Baker, Homer and Brule Lake entry points will be re-opening within the next few days. The Forest Service said tonight that they will be announcing the schedule for entry point re-openings soon. As Sawbill was the last and most distant entry point closed due to the fire, we expect that it will be the first to re-open. We will post here the minute we hear something.

I know it has been trying for people to change or even cancel their vacation plans at the last minute. But, I can't help thinking of all the people who have lost their homes and cabins. It makes me feel very, very lucky to have only suffered some inconvenience. - Bill

5/14/07 - Despite the closure of the Sawbill entry point, work continues around here. Between groups leaving out of the Kawishiwi and Hog Creek entry points, and making sure our sprinkler systems are up and running (just in case), we're all managing to stay pretty busy. Right now, the Sawbill, Baker, Homer, and Brule entry points remain closed, but we will certainly post any new information here as soon as we get it.

News from the Ham Lake fire has been positive today. Gunflint Lake got one inch of rain last night, and mid-trail, near Poplar Lake, got a half an inch. The controlled burns the Forest Service has been conducting have been working very well, and reports are that the fire is 20 percent contained. However, keep your fingers crossed for the heavy, steady rain that we still desperately need. - Jessa

Bill and Adam worked on installing a pump down at the lake today. The pump connects to a hose that runs into the cistern tank which operates the sprinklers.

Adam, home for a few days after surviving his second year of law school at the University of Minnesota, briefly considers a new career path.

Father and son try out their system. Looks like they're ready!

5/13/07 - Yesterday was a beautiful, quiet day here at Sawbill. The leaves grew before our eyes, birds were singing, light breeze played through the tree tops, and the sun beamed down on all. The nearby fire is on everyone's mind, but in a funny way it, pulls people together. As always, the power of wilderness, both good and bad, makes us look at our surroundings, and our lives, with different eyes.

The Ham Lake Fire, now the biggest in Minnesota since 1918, has been relatively quiet for the last two days. In the absence of significant rain, it still holds the potential for growth. The Forest Service is expecting a tougher day today when the winds are predicted to pick up again. The winds have kept all trace of smoke and flame away from us - for now. There is some rain in the forecast for today and tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed. Here is the most current map of the fire perimeter. - Bill

5/11/07 - All is quiet at Sawbill this morning. We've been getting people who didn't know about the entry point closures rerouted to alternate entry points and answering many, many phone calls. The fire made an unusual southward run last night, driven by high north winds. Now the winds have switched to the east and it is moving slowly back to the west, headed toward where it began. Sunday is still the best chance for rain, so keep your fingers crossed.

If you need to switch your entry point, or just want to investigate what permits are available for upcoming dates, you can do it online at You can also call the permit reservation office toll free at 1-877-550-6777. Or, call us and we will help you.

At this point, we have no idea how long the closed entry points will be closed. It all depends on the weather and the behavior of the fire. As always, we will post information here as soon as we receive it.

The Ham Lake Fire was just a subtle glow in the north last night, but appearances, from this distance, are deceiving. It was raising hell along the Gunflint Trail. Fortunately, no one has been injured and very few, if any, additional structures have burned.

5/10/07 - 10 P. M. We've just been notified by the Forest Service that the Sawbill Lake and Baker Lake entry points to the BWCA Wilderness have been closed until further notice. This includes both overnight and day-use. They do not expect the Ham Lake Fire to threaten Sawbill directly, but the fire has reached a size that has triggered the decision to clear everyone out of the eastern end of the wilderness.

Late reports from the firefighting team indicate that the fire more than doubled, perhaps as much as quadrupled today. Most of that growth was in Canada, but with a fire this size, behavior is unpredictable, so the Forest Service is trying to err on the side of caution.

Call or email if you have questions. - Bill

5/10/07 - The Ham Lake Fire exploded to the east today running into Canada at least five miles and probably further. The forecast is calling for winds to move from west, to northwest, and finally to north tonight. If that happens and the wind doesn't slow down, it could potentially push the fire back into the U.S. east of the Gunflint Trail. As a precaution, the Forest Service has closed a bunch of BWCA Wilderness entry points. until further notice. In our area, they closed the Brule Lake and Homer Lake entry points.

It is still very unlikely that this fire will burn down to Sawbill, but we are watching it carefully and will post any relevant information here. - Bill

5/9/07 - We have been getting quite a few calls and emails about the status of the fire at the end of the Gunflint Trail. It is highly unlikely that the fire will impact any of the routes in the Sawbill area. If there is any change, or if any new fires start, we'll post the news here immediately. - Bill

Kari and Homer watch the plume from the Ham Lake Fire from the canoe landing on Sawbill Lake yesterday evening. The fire cloud gives the illusion of being quite close, but is actually more than 20 miles away. Once your mind adjusts to the actual distance, you realize how big the cloud is.

5/7/07 - It is terrribly dry here right now and there is a complete burning ban in place. This ban applies to all of Cook and Lake Counties and includes all recreational fires including charcol grills. Simply put, no fires at all in northeastern Minnesota until further notice.

There is a large, destructive fire burning currently at the end of the Gunflint Trail. The fire is not threatening us, or the vast majority of the BWCA Wilderness, at all. However, it is threatening many homes and businesses at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Our thoughts are with our friends up there and hoping for the best possible outcome. You can find good, up to date information on the Ham Lake Fire, as it has been named, at Or, for the local angle, try the website of our excellent community radio station, WTIP.

Time flies for us during this time of year. Every day is a blur of work as we bring each part of our facility on line, process a flood of incoming stock, clean, organize, and welcome the early visitors. All of this with a very small (and hardworking) crew. Two new crew members are experiencing the seasonal start up with us this year. - Bill

Caitlin Coomes, hails from the Stillwater, Minnesota area, and is a graduate of Carleton College. Caitlin's aunt, Ellen Lock, was a crew member 1990 - 93.

Pat Hughes hails from Portland, Oregon and is a graduate of University of Redlands in California.

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