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

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Sawbill Newsletter

7/5/15 - We are proud to announce that our very own Bill Hansen was named Citizen of the Year for the Town of Tofte, in "recognition and grateful appreciation" for his years of service and dedication. Congratulations, Bill!

Bill accepting his award with trusty canine companion Roy by his side

One of the privileges awarded to the Citizen of the Year is participating in the Fourth of July parade.

Roy would like to suggest that he deserves the "Canine of the Year" award for all his service in chasing squirrels and barking at nothing.

The next time you're up at Sawbill, take a minute to find Bill's fancy new plaque - it's up on the mantle above the fireplace, with all his other awards! - Elena

7/4/15 - We are thrilled to report that Sawbill crew members have made contact with Bode, the dog that went missing a week ago. Bode stayed on Smoke Lake for a few days, keeping close to a campsite where a party of four were staying. Those campers were able to feed Bode and get him some water, although he was too skittish to be pet or caught. Crew members first saw Bode on Thursday, when they brought him food.

Bode was sighted again today, this time running down the Sawbill trail. Crew members were unable to catch him. Animal Control authorities in Grand Marais have been contacted and we are working to alert people in Tofte as well so everyone can keep an eye out for him and bring him in safely.

Bode's owners have been contacted and updated, and are grateful for all the efforts people have made to bring their dog home. - Elena

7/2/15 - There are few things we at Sawbill love more than having former crew members visit. In late June, John Schrag, a veteran Sawbillian, flew from his Oregon home to Minnesota to go on a trip with his daughter Elena, who is a member of the current Sawbill crew. After the visit, John, who is the publisher of two weekly papers in Oregon, wrote the following email. Included are some pictures from his trip.

Bill, Cindy and the fabulous Sawbill Crew of 2015;

My first year working here, back in 1908, Kathy Heltzer, one my fellow crew members, wrote a song, sung to basic blues riff, that had the following chorus:

Here we are at Sawbill
It's our home away from home.
And when you're at Sawbill
You're never alone.

Thanks for making me feel so at home at my former home away from home. It's great to see that a business model based on hard-work, trust and respect for your colleagues (and plenty of laughter) has not just endured but prospered.


I've come to believe that the key to navigating this world can be distilled into one skill: learning how to get along with others. It's not as easy as it seems.

In my five summers at Sawbill, I became proficient in many things: cleaning out out a non-composting toilet, removing slimy hair from shower drains and finding more than one way to kill a mouse. But the most important lesson was to take individual responsibility to work collectively to solve problems.

gordon lake7_2_15.jpg

Precious few businesses and organizations have figured that out. As crew members, you're lucky to get to experience it so early in your adult lives and in such a beautiful, fun-filled environment.

Before coming on our family canoe trip last summer, It had been more than 25 years since I had been in the Boundary Waters. That trip, and the one Elena and I just completed, made me appreciate the incredible value of wilderness areas.


Our planet, including far too many places in this country, is filled with once-pristine places that now are now major tourist destinations featuring acres of parking lots, luxury hotels, cruise-ship stops, helicopter tours and wi-fi hot-spots.

What an amazing experience, then, to come off the Sitka portage Friday afternoon and find a spectacular collection of islands and water more "natural" than it was when I first paddled up Cherokee Creek 40 years ago this summer.


The picnic tables, canoe portage rests and even the portage signs are gone -- as they should be. I can't think of another place where we, as a society, have managed to allow thousands of visitors to continue enjoy an natural area while helping it become "wilder."

It seems that we got it right for once.

Even from Oregon, however, I am aware that there are new threats to this special place. It's my hope that through the efforts of Dave and Amy Freeman (and their friends at Sawbill) the people in power will understand how important it is to preserve this amazing place.


The forces seeking to exploit the wilderness are powerful, but there are many examples of such efforts being turned back. It gets back to taking responsibility to work together. And since I witnessed a new generation of leaders honing that skill this week, I am returning to Oregon with hope.

Thanks again for your hospitality (and the extra bear ropes).

John ('78-'82)

7/1/15 - Our good friend, Steve Gendron, lost his dog, Bode, on the portage between Smoke and Burnt Lakes on Monday, June 29th. Bode is recently rescued by the Gendron family, so he is shy and skittish. If you are headed out that way, please keep your eyes peeled. - Bill

Bode, the dog currently lost between Smoke and Burnt Lakes.

6/29/15 - We have been remiss in introducing our new crew members. This is just the first batch, with a few more to come.

Logan Sheets and Claire Mutch take quick break from putting together the weekly grocery order. Logan is from Wisconsin originally, but now makes his home in Missoula, Montana where he attends the University of Montana. Claire is from Apple Valley, Minnesota and attends the University of Minnesota.

Daniel Dahl is from Northfield, Minnesota and attends the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

Elena Torry-Schrag is from Forest Grove, Oregon and studies at Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota.

Olivia Nofzinger, is from the Twin Cities, but spent much of last year in New Zealand. She's attending Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

6/27/15 - Our good friends, Fred and Suzi Dow, operate the U.S. National Forest Campground Guide. I'm sure they are the only people who have visited every single National Forest Campground, including Alaska.

In the current issue of their newsletter they feature the Sawbill Lake Campground and even include a beautiful slide show of the day trip they took in the BWCA Wilderness when they visited here.

Fred and Suzi Dow

6/26/15 - Due to a combination of circumstances, we find ourselves in need of another Sawbill crew member for the summer. If you know someone who might like to live and work at Sawbill for the summer, let them know.

We look for people who are friendly, hard working and can work and live easily with others. We give strong preference to people who have wilderness canoeing experience in the Sawbill area. We also need someone who can start very soon and stay through at least the middle of August. We're also interested in people who may return for two or more seasons.

We require a completed application form, with three work references with current email addresses so we can check with them quickly. You can visit our employment page for more details, including compensation. There is an application form there that can be filled in and emailed.

If you'd like to ask questions directly, you can call me at 218-663-7150. Thanks! - Bill

6/24/15 - Most people come to the Boundary Waters to spend time "off the grid," and in hopes of spotting some local wildlife. Depending on when and where you paddle, seeing even one moose is considered lucky. Recently, one visitor stumbled upon something of a different variety of luck.

Ian, age 9, discovered a trove of four- and five-leaf clovers in the campsite in which his family was staying. Sawbill will not be releasing the number of the campsite in which these lucky clovers can be found - visitors will have to do their own scouting. After all, four-leaf clovers are only lucky if they are found, not given.

Ian carefully pressed his clovers, which will make an excellent souvenir

Five-leaf clovers are even more rare than four-leaf ones. While four-leaf clovers are almost universally thought of to bring luck, five-leaf clovers are supposed to attract money. What a treat for Ian!

Another visitor, Tim Petricek sent us some pictures he took of wildlife he spotted on Sawbill Lake. Sending us pictures from your trips is encouraged - we love to hear and see what you experienced.

A snapping turtle waits to lay her eggs by the shore

This mama loon has been carrying her chick all over Sawbill lake. Many of you moms and dads will be familiar with the endless chauffeuring that parenting entails! - Elena

6/23/15 - Spirits are high here at Sawbill, with both crew members and customers enjoying the sunshine we've had in the last few days. Clear nights make for incredible star-gazing, and last night (Monday), the Northern Lights were visible starting around 10:30 p.m. Crew members made the trek down to the dock on Sawbill Lake to watch the sky shimmer and dance. The lights are most commonly seen during late fall and winter, so we hope you all caught a glimpse of them!

There have been a good number of moose sightings lately, both far away and close to home. Recent crew sightings include Octopus Lake, Jack Lake, and Sitka Lake. In general, smaller and more remote locations are better for wildlife sightings. There are also lots of Mergansers out on the water with little ones in tow.

A mama and baby moose make an exit from Sitka lake

The Merganser has a serrated edge along their beak, giving them the nickname "sawbill"

In addition to looking for wildlife and northern lights, although both are most often spotted when you are not looking for them, we encourage you to soak in as many Boundary Water sunsets as your trip allows. At night when the lake gets glassy and still, you can see the shoreline and sky reflected in an almost perfect mirror image. A perfect end to a summer day.

Even spiders enjoy the sunsets here! - Elena

6/18/15 - Sawbill upped its resident critter count by two this past week when a pair of bats decided to take a snooze on the side of our store.

This little guy (or girl) perched very close to the life vest washing station, so we took extra precaution not to spray him with water.

Knowing how much we value our nap time, crew members gave the bats their space.

We have also experienced some spectacular sunsets here in the last few days. Two nights ago, crew members and customers alike gathered by the shores of Sawbill Lake to take in the incredible colors, serenaded by a chorus of loons.

Photo taken by crew member Laura Hoppe.

Business continues to be steady up here, with increased visits from Boy Scout troops and school groups now that school is out. In fact, it is shaping up to be our busiest June yet - and we wouldn't have it any other way! - Elena

6/14/15 - We have been experiencing some lovely weather here in the north woods. Temperatures in the last week have been in the upper 60s to low 70s - perfect canoeing weather. All the rain we got earlier in the season is paying off; the woods are lush and green and flowers are starting to bloom in earnest. "When the weather is like this," said one returning customer, "it's hard to leave."

Beautiful views just from the landing at Sawbill Lake

Roy enjoys a quick dip in the lake

A good tip for future trip planning, Sawbill keeps a record of each day's weather, with records stretching back to 1997. This is an excellent resource for deciding when to come to the BWCA. Wondering what the weather will be like mid-July? You can see the average temperature for the last 19 years.

Last week, the Sawbill crew had its first Festive Dinner, held at 9:15 pm after everyone gets off work, so we can all eat together and fully enjoy each others company. The theme? Wild, Wild West! A good time was had by all. Yeehaw! - Elena

The crew all decked out in their best "Westive" gear

6/12/15 - Business has been bustling here at Sawbill, with newcomers and seasoned veterans alike heading out under (mostly) clear blue skies to enjoy time away from the hubbub of everyday life. A returning father-daughter duo described the last few days up here as "heavenly," and we the crew have to agree.

A gentle but steady breeze down at Sawbill Lake keeps the bugs away

Former crew member Beth Lynch recently visited Sawbill and sent us a lovely account of her trip as well as some photos, featured below:

Bill & Cindy,
It's always great to come home to Sawbill and the BW. Thanks so much
for the lovely *light weight* canoe! So much easier to portage than
our first generation kevlar Mad River.

We had a wonderful trip. Early summer is so nice for flowers (I
especially love the service berries) and warblers, and everything
seems fresh and clean after the winter's rest. And, we think that a
spring trip is always a great way to leave a hard year of teaching


We put in at Baker Lake and spent a wet, windy night hunkered down at
a site on S. Temperance, then paddled up to Frost Lake where we spent
the next two nights.

It had been decades since I'd been on Frost Lake. The rocky site was
gorgeous. We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the Frost River, where we saw no one except for this moose. I finally got a nice moose photo.


It was fun to walk the sandy beach near our site, and the mossing was
spectacular. I now carry a 10x magnifying lens and moss collecting
packets on all of my canoe trips. There are so many cool species in
the north woods. Yep, I'm a botany geek.


After the two (very cold, but no frost) nights on Frost, we came back
south to camp on Cherokee. Such a beautiful lake, and very quiet this
time of year. The next day we returned to the Temperance lakes and
river for a final night on the peninsula of Jack Lk. On N. Temperance
we met a couple who we figured were in their early 70s; both of us
hoped we'd still be taking canoe trips in our 70s.


Thanks again. I hope your summer is a good one.


In other exciting news, Mike Wilkinson, a professional multimedia director with a passion for travel photography chose the BWCA to test out the new Lowepro Pro Runner x450, a new camera roller bag designed to travel just as well on dirt trails as on city streets. His review can be found here.

Wilkinson's Pro Runner pictured here out on the water

Wildlife sightings have been picking up - just yesterday, a returning trip reported seeing a wolf on Kelso Lake. Unfortunately, their camera was safely packed away at the time, so they were unable to take a picture. Crew members have also reported seeing a bear a few miles from Sawbill. - Elena

6/10/15 - High winds and heavy rainfall were experienced by all up here on the Sawbill Trail. The result - several fatalities of the arboreal variety.

This sizable aspen, formerly blocking the trail, was victoriously confronted by Bill yesterday. Thanks, Bill!



A conifer fell here the day before yesterday, temporarily interrupting our water supply - That's life in the North woods!

Timber3_6102015.jpg - Olive

6/8/15 - Attention, bird nerds! Yesterday, an American Woodcock was sighted along the side of Sawbill trail, to the delight of myself and the lucky Sawbill customers in my transportation group.


As a migratory bird, the American woodcock lives in the North (southern Canada, Maine and the Great Lakes region) during spring and summer but spends the cold months in the South (Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas). While migrating, woodcocks fly at the unusually low altitude of about 50 feet (compared to Canada Geese, which migrate at an altitude of about 3,000 feet).

Welcome back, woodcock! We hope to see more of you this summer! - Olive

5/31/15 - Former Sawbill crew members like to stay in touch. Lida Casper sent this picture of her adorable daughter, Mia, rocking her classic Sawbill hoodie while eating lefsa at the farmers market.

Mia stays warm with a sweatshirt and lefse.

Nils Anderson, now a naturalist at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota, stopped by this week for a short canoe trip and snapped this nice picture of a bull moose. - Bill

Seeing a moose in the wild is always a treat.


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