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Phone: (218)663-7150
Fax: (218)663-7980
Mail: 4620 Sawbill Trail
Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: May 2008
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « April 2008 | June 2008 »

5/29/08 - Some exciting news at Sawbill today. John Barnett and Lucinda Lundey became engaged yesterday in the middle of their 6 day canoe trip. John proposed to Lucinda in middle of Sawbill Lake as they were paddling on their way back. Now if that's not romantic, I don't know what is. - Carl

(L-R) James McGlamery, Steven Barnett, Lucinda Lundey, John Barnett

5/28/08 - Frequent Sawbill visitors will recall that we have what appears to be a doghouse with no door in front of our store. The structure is actually a fancy cover for our well. Today Cindy and Hazel Oberholtzer spruced up the doorless doghouse by planting some flowers on the roof.

Cindy and Hazel show off their handiwork--a mix of petunias, verbeena, and calibrachoa.

5/27/08 - After the busy weekend, the Sawbill crew begins to work on all the clean up jobs--not as glamorous as outfitting groups, perhaps, but just as important. Consider this another typical Tuesday at the office.

Bill tackles the annual chore of cleaning the water tank. Because Sawbill's water is not chemically treated, minerals and algae can slowly build up inside the tank.

A view from the inside.

Meanwhile, Ellyn and Carl clean, refuel, and test our camp stoves. By tonight, the stoves will be back on the shelf ready for tomorrow's canoe trips.

5/25/08 - Today was our first 70 degree day at Sawbill since last September. On a related note, the Sawbill Glacier, located on the north side of the store, is in danger of disappearing forever, or at least until next winter. Those who would like to see this majestic ice formation should probably come tomorrow.

The Glacier, seen here, was once the size of a large snowbank.

5/24/08 - Memorial Day weekend at Sawbill is a picture-perfect one so far: today was sunny and calm, with good fishing reports coming in throughout the day (from Smoke and Burnt Lakes especially). At the risk of provoking the mosquito gods, the bugs have been surprisingly non-existent so far this year--hopefully, the start of a mild bug season.

Memorial Day weekend also brought a number of first-time visitors to the Sawbill area. The Claycomb family from Bloomington, Minn., arrived at the Sawbill Campground late yesterday evening. Although the Claycomb's first Sawbill camping trip got off to a slow start (their "new" used 1960s-era pop-up camper needed some last-minute improvements, such as current tabs and functional tail lights), the family of four spent the afternoon exploring the islands and bays of Alton Lake.

(From left) Ruth, Nancy, Alex, and Doug Claycomb found their way to campsite #18 last night at midnight, but made the most of a beautiful day today.

5/24/08 - We have a minor route update for those planning trips out of Brule Lake this summer. Grassy Lake, one of four small lakes linking Brule to Winchell Lake, is very low and close to impassible due to a blown beaver dam. Groups heading to Winchell Lake are advised to travel through the Cone Lakes to avoid this trouble spot. We will provide further updates throughout the summer if the situation changes.

5/23/08 - We got some old school Sawbill crew visitation today. Jitesh Pattni is going on a canoe trip in three days with his Mom Lisa. Until then, Jitesh can be found wandering around the Sawbill area drinking coffee and eating bacon.

Laura Greensmith is pitching in for the weekend, helping out with the Memorial Day crowds and mixing drinks in her new Vortex® hand-crank blender. We are very grateful for Jitesh and Laura's presence.

Jitesh Pattni at home in his element.

Laura Greensmith shows off the merchandise.

5/22/08 - Folks driving from Minneapolis to Sawbill this week would be forgiven for thinking that they are traveling back in time. While the tree leaves are in full bloom in southern Minnesota, they get progressively smaller as you travel north. Here at Sawbill, we're still waiting for our leaves to bloom. But red, green, and brown buds dot the tree branches--a positive sign for what a warm Memorial Day weekend has in store.

The birch and aspen appear brittle and dead compared to the pines. In a couple of weeks, that illusion will be gone.

A customer today measured the water temperature of Sawbill Lake at 42 degrees F. Refreshing, no?

5/21/08 - The Sawbill Lake Campground, Crescent Lake Campground, and Temperance River Campground are National Forest campgrounds that we manage under contract with the U. S. Forest Service. The Forest Service has decided to include the campgrounds at Sawbill and Crescent Lakes in their national reservation system. Roughly half the sites at each campground are reservable with the remaining sites being first come, first served. Temperance River Campground is all first come, first served.

You can reserve online by clicking these links for the Sawbill Lake Campground or the Crescent Lake Campground or by calling toll free 1-877-444-6777.

Sites can't be reserved for any sooner than four nights or any longer than six months in advance.

I know this is confusing, but hopefully it will get less so as we all get used to it. - Bill

5/20/08 - New crew members Marc Le Voir and Ellyn Phearman have arrived. Marc, Bill Hansen's nephew, lives in Maple Lake, Minn., and just finished freshman year at Bemidji State University where he studies philosophy and German. Reckon this one's a thinker. Ellyn grew up in Watertown, Minn., and just finished freshman year at Luther College in Iowa where she's studying biology with aims of becoming a surgeon. Check her out brandishing cutlery below. Someday it could be surgical instruments. - Lee

Marc hangs a tent to be cleaned out behind the outfitter.

Ellyn goofs off while cooking dinner for the crew.

5/19/2008 - Grant and Jan Friberg caught three nice walleye on Sawbill Lake Saturday while out fishing for Grant's 57th birthday. Jan caught the biggest one, just under two feet long. Grant had brought a bottle of Chardonnay up from their Wyoming, Minn., home betting he'd be eating fish on his birthday. Thanks to Jan's good luck and their perseverance fishing through windy weather, Grant got his birthday wish and then some. - Lee

Jan and Grant Friberg show off their catch at the outfitter before dinner.

5/14/08 - When I opened the store this morning, I glanced at the schedule taped to the window sill and got a small shock. This impressively large spider is a wolf spider. According to Wikipedia, wolf spiders live mostly solitary lives and hunt alone. Some are opportunistic wanderer hunters, pouncing upon prey as they find it or chasing it over short distances. Others lie in wait for passing prey, often from or near the mouth a burrow. It's a good thing Cindy didn't find it or we would have had to administer CPR to both Cindy and the spider. - Bill

A wolf spider inspects the store schedule.

5/13/08 - Our summer crew members are starting to arrive. - Bill

Matt Hartmann is returning for his third year at Sawbill. He's been accepted at Creighton Medical School in Omaha, but plans to defer for a year to travel in New Zealand.

Sam Reynolds is a brand new crew member from Durham, North Carolina. He is a junior at North Carolina State.

Carl Hansen returns for his 18th year at Sawbill. He is the youngest of the third generation of Hansens living at Sawbill. He is graduating from Cook County High School this year, but also has completed his freshman year at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth under Minnesota's excellent Post Secondary Enrollment Option program. He is attending the University of Montana next year.

5/12/08 3:30 PM - OK, this is beyond ridiculous. - Bill

This afternoon we got an unwelcome surprise.

The view toward the lake. If you look carefully, you can see a group packing up to go home at the landing. They were actually due to come out today and were OK with the snow, even though one of them was from Las Vegas.

Homer followed me outside when I snapped the snow pictures. He was out for less than a minute.

5/12/08 - We have first hand reports now that all the lakes around Sawbill are ice free except Brule and Winchell. Based on a report yesterday from a wilderness ranger, it sounds like Brule will go out today.

Fishing reports for the opener were pretty good. Everyone caught fish. A group staying here at the Sawbill Lake campground before leaving on a canoe trip this morning caught several walleyes and a large bass right from the canoe landing.

Ed Dallas, Sawbill's poet laureate, had heart bypass surgery six months ago, putting him on the sidelines for awhile. He is feeling well enough now to start composing his unique haikus again. Here are a couple of samples:

fishing opener
beside the trout lily
an empty creel

levee break –
Bad River’s harmonica
moans the blues

5/10/08 - Sawbill Outfitters is recommended in the June issue of Outside magazine! We haven't seen it yet, but people tell us that we're mentioned favorably on page 42.

Today is the opening day of fishing season. No reports yet. Due to the late spring, it is a quiet opener, with just a handful of hardy canoeists venturing out. It appears that all the lakes around here are ice free except Brule and Winchell. They should be ice free by the end of today or tomorrow at the latest.

Aaron Browning stopped by today on his way out on a week long canoe trip. Aaron makes fine laminated wooden paddles for sale. You can see his handiwork at his website: Boundary Canoe Paddles. - Bill

Sorry for the lousy picture. Our trusty digital camera has been screwing up about 80% of the pictures we've been taking and the new camera arrived just after this was taken.

5/9/08 - We marked the end of an era here at Sawbill when three big norway (red) pines that have been standing sentinel to our canoe yard came down. One of them was sort of "in" the driveway and had been hit by cars so many times over the years that it was entirely girdled around it's base. The pine next to it was attacked by a pileated woodpecker this spring (see 4/20/08 entry below). The woodpecker removed so much wood that we were afraid the towering pine would snap off in the next wind storm, crushing a building, vehicle, pile of Kevlar canoes, or all of the above. As we contemplated cutting down these two damaged trees, we discovered serious rot in the base of third nearby red pine.

All the large pines on our property are roughly the same age. They sprouted following a huge fire in the 1890s that extended from 12 miles south of Sawbill all the way up into Canada. Fire ecologist Bud Heinselman estimated the size of that fire at nearly 3 million acres!

We were very sad to see the trees go, but every living thing reaches an end sometime. Sawmills won't take logs that have been in a developed area for fear of ruining there saw blades on imbedded nails, so we will burn the trees in our boilers. - Bill

The canoe yard just before the three trees came down.

Two down and the third is just beginning to fall.

5/8/08 (Sunset) - The Sawbill crew opens the 2008 Beach Club less than 24 hours after all the ice left the lake. - Bill

Moments before the first swim of the year.

5/8/08 - Here is the latest lake ice information from the Forest Service pilot:

ICE STATUS as of 1530, Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cross River to Long Island
Little Saganaga
Missing Link
Two Island

East Bearskin
Hungry Jack
Little Trout
Seagull (especially on western end)

North Fowl
Saganaga (quite frozen, according to the pilot)
South Fowl
Trout (east of Kimball Lake Campground)

The pilot feels that things will change quickly with the exception of the
eastern side of the Gunflint Trail (Clearwater, Greenwood, Duncan, Pine,

Judith A. MacCudden
Information Assistant
Gunflint Ranger District
Phone: (218) 387-3200
Fax: (218) 387-3246

5/7/08 - The ice is out on Sawbill Lake! The official date is May 6th as the lake was essentially ice free by sunset last night. I will try to get out for a paddle this evening to check out Alton Lake. Usually, Alton, Cherokee and some of the larger lakes keep their ice for a few days after Sawbill goes out. - Bill

A small amount of residual ice is blown in by a stiff north wind. Most of Sawbill Lake is ice free.

Extremely high water brought this unexpected driftwood visitor to the canoe landing. Once the ice melts, it should migrate down to the mouth of Sawbill Creek.

5/6/08 - There has been good progress in ice melting over the last two days. The ice is now too degraded to even bother drilling a hole. It should go out on Sawbill today or tomorrow at the latest. Roy Wonder, our clueless Deputy of Outfitter Security, decided that the skim ice near the shore was plenty strong enough to hold a terrier. He piled in head first and took an impressively deep dive through the thin ice. He climbed out by himself and acted like it never happened. - Bill

Black ice on Sawbill. Today is warm and windy with thundershowers coming later in the day. This may be the end of the ice!

5/4/08 - After another chilly night last night, the lake ice measured 9 inches thick this morning. The sun is shining brightly and some of the smaller lakes are starting to look quite dark.

I went up to the end of the Gunflint Trail last night to play for a dance with my band, The Splinters. It was a celebration of the Gunflint Green-up, a community effort to recover both physically and psychically from last year's gigantic Ham Lake forest fire. Four hundred volunteers planted more than 50,000 white pine and red pine seedlings. The weekend included a dinner, dance and the Ham Lake half marathon that traces the route of the fire for 13.1 miles along the Gunflint Trail. It was great to see a community celebrating their resiliency after a devastating disaster. It was also impressive that they had the energy to dance after planting trees all day. - Bill

I am warily drilling the daily test hole (notice my one foot in the canoe). It turned out to be plenty strong enough to stand on (9"), but I didn't want a chilly surprise!

The official measurement.

Open water around the island.

Phoebe worries about the two humans that are literally walking on the thin ice.

5/3/08 - Eight inches of ice remains on Sawbill Lake. It rained all day yesterday followed by 2 inches of fresh snow overnight.

We tried to work inside yesterday, but the day before I saw a parade of wildlife on my daily run. First, a cow moose with her son, both looking pretty ratty as they shed their winter coats. The little bull was reluctant to yield the road, so I got quite close. His antlers are about 4 inch stubs. Just a bit further down the road I saw a sharp shinned hawk and moments later a ruffed grouse in full mating display. The hawk may have been looking to take advantage of the grouse's bravado.

A mile or so further on, I spotted a fox hunting for mice in the dead grass alongside the road. The wind was blowing toward me and there was water running in a nearby ditch masking the sound of my footsteps. I stood 20 feet away and watched him forage through the grass. He was a beautiful cross-fox with a black belly and feet, a black triangle on his back that accented his black tail. His face was red and his body was mottled grey, red and black. Eventually he turned around, saw me, and was gone in a graceful flash.

Finishing out the wildlife extravaganza was a woodcock performing his spectacular high-flying mating flight.

Don't let the pictures below scare you too much. As I write this in early afternoon, most of the snow has already melted. The forecast is for one more chilly day and then turning very warm and sunny. I still think the ice will be out by next weekend. - Bill

Just another typical spring-like morning at Sawbill.

This gives me a strong urge to wax my skis.

The snow covered twigs make a beautiful abstract pattern.

5/1/08 - Happy May Day! Today is statistically the mostly likely ice-out date for Sawbill Lake. That is not going to happen this year as the ice is still 10 inches thick and fairly solid. Since we started measuring a little less than two weeks ago, the ice has melted almost exactly an inch a day. If that average holds, the ice would be gone on May 11th. I think it will melt faster than that for a couple of reasons. The sun is a little higher, hotter and shines longer every day. Once the ice gets to 4 or 5 inches, it turns a very dark color which seems to cause it to melt very quickly. Accounting for these adjustments, my best guess is that the ice will depart on the 6th or 7th. It all depends on the weather though, so we'll have to wait and see. - Bill

Deputy of Outfitter Security, Roy Wonder, eyeballs today's official ice thickness reading. Roy says 10 inches.

Looking south from the canoe landing. There is quite a bit of open water. The first loon spotted at Sawbill this year is floating and waiting in this picture.

Looking north from the landing. Still pretty solid.

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