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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

7/27/16 - If you've spent any time with the Sawbill crew, you know that we like to be silly sometimes. It's a wonderful thing to live with your co-workers, and sometimes you need a formal occasion to express how much you appreciate each other. In our case, that occasion comes decked in red and green!

Christmas in July has been celebrated at Sawbill for many years now. On the 24th, we all gather to bake and decorate sugar cookies, and the following evening have a dinner and gift exchange at 9:30, once everyone is off of work. These two days are filled with laughter, Christmas carols, and a lot of sugar.

The Sawbill Crew decorating cookies

This masterpiece was created by crew member Jessica

Merry Christmas! - Elena

7/22/16 - Blueberry season is soon approaching! In just a few days there will be thousands of ripe, delicious berries for BWCA visitors to snack upon. Wild blueberries are much smaller than the ones you get in the store, so don't be surprised by their size. What they may lack in size, they more than make up for it in flavor. All that June rain and the hot temperatures in the past weeks have really brought out the best in the berries.


The next time you portage, take a look close to the ground. You might be rewarded for your hard work!- Elena

7/21/16 - Last night, the BWCA was hit with a fairly large storm. The Sawbill area experienced lots of winds and rain, however no known injuries have been reported in the surrounding lakes and loops (Kawishiwi, Cherokee, Brule, Etc.). The Forest Service is hard at work doing everything they can to survey the area and report back to us. Thankfully, as of this afternoon, everything is clear.

Stay cool out there!

7/21/16 - Sawbill canoeist Jesse Dinsdale sent along this wonderful picture of his solo sunrise paddle on Sawbill Lake. I almost hate to say it, but gorgeous sunrise and sunset photos are pretty common in the wilderness, but Jesse's picture really tells an evocative story. Bill

Sawbill Lake, July 2016.

7/15/16- And with the blare of the horn the 2016 Sawbill dragon-boat race commenced. With 17 boats and 68 participants this year's race was a fierce competition. As one of the 60 year reunion events, our competitors ranged from those with only a couple years of canoeing experience to some of our most experienced former crew members.

The racers eagerly getting ready for the preliminary round.

The Sawbill landing dock served as the starting line and in the first two rounds the race was completed as each canoe paddled past the Forest Service dock. The course measures just over a half mile long. The preliminary round consisted of four separate heats, four canoes in each heat and four competitors in each canoe. From there, the 1st and 2nd place winners of each heat advanced on to the semifinal round.

And the race begins!

The four canoes remaining after the semifinals turned around and aggressively paddled back towards the landing with all the strength and determination they had left. Loud cheers and chants from spectators ushered the racers all the way to the finish line. A very big congratulations to canoe #4 competitors Will Decker, Caitlin Coomes, Lindsey Price, and Marc Levoir clocking in at 4:36.62! All racers showed great strength and teamwork in the face of such a nail-biting competition!

The 2016 Dragon-boat championship winners, Will, Marc, Caitlin, and Lindsey proudly carrying their trophy.

We would also like to give a huge thank you to this year's dragon-boat race coordinator, Adam Hansen. It truly was an exciting competition. -Alissa

Past, current and future generations of the Sawbill crew.

This past weekend we were greeted with over 180 members of the Sawbill family. The celebration began Friday night with a cocktail party, the evening filled with hugs and very enjoyable conversations of recent life and reminiscence of past Sawbill adventures.

The festivities continued on Saturday afternoon with our annual Dragon-boat races, containing 17 canoes and 68 competitors. Later everyone joined once again for dinner (with lots of wild rice goodies) and our reunion program.

Former crew member, Kathy Heltzer served as our master of ceremonies and sang a tune, contrary to its title, the very comical "Sawbill Blues". This was followed by the 2016 Sawbill crew's skit performance. Next, both former owner, Bill Hansen, and current owner, Clare Hansen Shirley addressed the crowd with memorable speeches and, with a moment of silence, we recognized crew members who are no longer with us. The night proceeded with a Beyonce inspired canoe orientation dance led by current crew members, Emma and Elena, and concluded with dancing in the dome accompanied by music from Terence Smith.

Bill and Cindy Hansen have worked as the owners of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters the past 30 years and in his speech Bill illustrated the three things he believes make Sawbill such a wonderful place. He spoke of Sawbill's mission envisioned by Frank and Mary Alice Hansen in 1957, the endless and beautiful wilderness that surrounds us, and the many crew members that make up the Sawbill family. After living here the past two months I can't help but to agree with him and I am so glad to be a part of the Sawbill crew.

We would like to extend a big thank you to Bill and Cindy from the entire Sawbill family for making Sawbill such a wonderful camping destination and home to many over the past thirty years! We wish you the best in your retirement!

Also thank you to all the former crew members and their families who came to visit this past weekend. It was great to meet and reunite with all and we look forward to seeing you at the 70th reunion! -Alissa

The 2016 Sawbill crew and campground hosts.
Top row (L to R): Kevin, Nick, Rachel, Louise, Jim, Dave, Phil, Jessica, Bill, Kit, Clare, Elena, Cindy, Claire
Bottom row (L to R): Dan, Lindsey, Brian, Alissa, Emma, Meg, Laura, Owen

7/8/16 - The 2016 Sawbill crew is eagerly awaiting the arrival of many former crew members and their families this weekend in order to celebrate Sawbill's 60th Anniversary.

Sawbill Canoe Outfitters was opened in 1957 by Frank and Mary Alice Hansen. At that time they had just a few sleeping bags and six canoes. About 30 years had passed when Bill and Cindy Hansen took over the business for another 30 years. This past year they sold the business to their daughter Clare and her husband Dan. Sawbill now offers a variety of services and Clare and Dan are continuing the family tradition, helping others to enjoy the BWCA.

Celebrating sixty years #Sawbill60

If you are posting pictures on social media this weekend use the hashtag #Sawbill60. We are looking forward to a fun-filled reunion weekend! See you all soon! -Alissa

7/3/16- Baby Kit Shirley is starting her paddling adventures early at Sawbill and yesterday, at 8 weeks old, she experienced her first canoe ride! She had a wonderful trip to Alton Lake with her parents, Clare and Dan Shirley! -Alissa

Clare and Kit are ready for the paddle to Alton Lake.

Thank you to crew member Phil who snapped a picture of this loon family as they approached him on an evening paddle.

7/2/16 -This past week some of my family camped in the Sawbill campground and we enjoyed a beautiful day of paddling to Smoke Lake. While we were paddling my niece asked my, "How did all the Boundary Waters start?" At the time I did not have an answer for her so I decided to do some research. To my niece and anyone else who is wondering how the BWCA began, here is what I found.

Thousands of years ago glaciers carved out the physical features you will see in the Boundary Waters today. The glaciers left a trail of lakes and streams surrounded by rocky shores, small hills and rugged cliffs. About 1175 lakes and several hundred miles of streams can be found within the 1,090,000 acres of Boundary Waters wilderness.

The BWCA is also part of the historic homeland of the Ojibwe people and was sparsely populated by the Sioux. Throughout the Boundary Waters you can find the native's prehistoric pictographs on rock ledges or cliffs, the most notable on Kawishiwi River and Hegman Lake. Grand portage Indian reservation, just east of BWCA is home to a number of Ojibwe to this day.

In 1688, french explorer Jacques de Noyon became first European known to have traveled through the BWCAW area. Many years later the region was opened to fur trade and the logging industry. The BWCA has gradually developed through a series of acts in the past hundred years and by the 1920's roads had been built through the Superior National Forest to promote recreational use of the area. In 1938 the area was established as the Superior Roadless Primitive Area and then renamed in 1958 as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

The most influential action was the BWCA Wilderness Act of 1978 which established the Boundary Waters regulations much as they exist today with limitations on motorboats, mining and logging. There are many continuing efforts and organizations that make it their goal to preserve, protect and enhance the lakes and forested areas so that the public may enjoy the unique landscape. Approximately 250,000 visitors come to visit the Boundary waters each year making it one of the most visited wilderness areas in the country. -Alissa


6/29/16-It's a girl! The crew would like to officially welcome Kit Floriselle Shirley to the Sawbill family. Kit, daughter of Sawbill owners Clare and Dan Shirley, was born on May 7th weighing 8 lbs. At 7 1/2 weeks old she continues to grow and is smiling often! -Alissa

6/26/16- Minnesota's extraordinary north shore with its lush forests, expansive lakes and hilly terrain, attracts campers and adventurers from all parts of the country and even around the world. Although the state lacks major mountain ranges Minnesota has many great hiking trails near Sawbill. To name a few, Temperance River, Eagle Mountain, and Carleton Peak all make excellent day trips!

The Temperance River State Park is located in Tofte just south of the Sawbill Trail. The trail winds along the edge of the river gorge and on your hike you will experience rushing waterfalls amidst the abundant forest. Hike up the trail as the river widens to find the Hidden Falls or venture downwards to enjoy the view of the river feeding into Lake Superior.

Waterfall at Temperence River State Park.

Crew member, Laura, enjoying a hike on the Temperance River

Following the Temperance river northeast you will happen upon Carlton peak, rising 924 feet above Lake Superior. Originally well-known as a navigation landmark for commercial fishermen this peak is now distinguished for its great rock climbing opportunities and spectacular views.

Crew members, Elena, Claire, Laura and Megan, atop Carleton Peak.

For some of the more adventurous hikers we recommend the trek up Eagle Mountain, the highest natural point in Minnesota. Eagle Mountain is located just west of Sawbill Lake on Forest Rd. 170 ("The Grade"). A state highpoint topping at 2301 ft. this mountain has many unique characteristics. It resides in isolation, 437 miles from other high peaks and is only 15 miles from the lowest point in the state (Lake Superior). The hike begins with a gradual 2 1/2-3 mile climb and concludes with a steeper 1/2 mile climb to the top where you will be greeted by picturesque views of the surrounding area.

So grab your hiking shoes, a backpack and some sunscreen and go enjoy the wonderful landscape northern Minnesota has to offer! -Alissa

Former crew member, Rube, getting ready for a paddle.

6/21/16 - Each year Sawbill is greeted by thousands of campers/paddlers, each with their own unique background and experience level. Meeting such a wide array of customers and listening to their BWCA experiences is a highlight during my day working at Sawbill. Among the many people I meet some of my most enjoyable encounters are when customers double as former crew members. This past month Rube Rubinstein, former crew member, came for a week long visit to Sawbill. After his time working in the Boundary Waters Rube moved to Hollywood and now works as freelance writer/producer. It is always fun to reunite with and meet past crew members and to hear about their experience working at Sawbill! Thanks for coming to visit Rube!

We are counting down the days until Sawbill's 60-year reunion celebration and looking forward to visiting with many more former crew members! -Alissa

6/20/16 - The Boundary Waters is home to over 52 species of mammals and 150 species of birds. Animals native to Northern Minnesota include moose, gray wolves, loons, bald eagles and beavers.

If you hear a rustling or crashing in the woods, sit quietly and be patient. By traveling silently and attentively you may be fortunate to catch a glimpse of the illusive Canada Lynx, hear a beaver slapping its paddle-shaped tail against the water or view a moose snacking on fresh lily pads at the water's edge. Paddling on an early morning or late evening will provide you with additional opportunities to encounter wildlife.

A big thank you to customer, Tim Petricek, for sending in these excellent wildlife photos from his most recent trip to the BWCA. -Alissa

Canada lynx hiding among the trees.

Bull moose feeding on some tree leaves.

Bull moose running through the mud.

Gray tree frog perching on a canoe rack.

6/12/16 - School is out and the summer session is in full swing at Sawbill. Now that our last crew member has arrived we are eagerly gearing up for a busy, fun-filled summer.

If you have a love for the wilderness and are looking to get more involved in the BWCA we have a great opportunity for you. The Northwoods Volunteer Connection is looking for volunteers to help clean and restore popular portages. Each wilderness project will involve installing log and rock bars and checking dams in order to reduce erosion and create a more sustainable tred. The Gunflint Forest Rangers will be leading a portage rehabilitation trip July 13th-July 17th. This is an excellent opportunity to give back, relax and enjoy the pure wilderness of the Boundary Waters.

For more information, visit their website or facebook page:

Whether you're planning your first trip up north, helping restore portages with other Northwoods Volunteers, or leaving for your annual fishing adventure, remember to slow down, take a step back and appreciate the unique beauty of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Summer Sunset 6-12-2016.jpg
Enjoying the beautiful sunset over Sawbill Lake this past weekend.

It comes as a surprise to many that Sawbill's crew is more than 50% female. The rugged, outdoors-y nature of the work up here conjures up the image of strapping young men hauling canoes around all day, and while that was once the case, it is no longer.

This year's Sawbill Babes are a strong and scrappy bunch. We all found our way to Sawbill in different ways - family connections, visits as children - but we came here for the same reason: We wanted a fun and exciting job in a beautiful place with endless opportunities for adventure.

Front row (L to R): Alissa, Emma, Elena. Back row (L to R): Meg, Laura, Claire.

Recently the Sawbill Babes went on adventure - after sprucing up and putting on our Town Clothes, we headed to Lutsen Resort to watch our boss Bill play in the Plucked Up String Band. We had a wonderful time and danced the night away to some very high quality music.

(And if you're worried how the Sawbill Boys fared in our absence, fear not - they were treated to delicious food by some lovely customers who were staying in the campground)

The Sawbill Babes are always there to lift each other up.

On a more serious note, the Sawbill Babes represent a changing time, where women in the wilderness are no longer a novelty. In a way we are following in the footsteps of the legendary Dorothy Molter. I like to think she'd be proud. - Elena



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