With your help, we’ve protected 4,206 acres of Bog for future generations!

About Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

Contact Us

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog’s mission is to preserve and protect the Greater Sax-Zim Bog

We do this through land preservation, education, research and communication.

Since 2011 Friends of Sax-Zim Bog has been preserving and protecting the Sax-Zim Bog for future generations of birds and birders.

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

Mailing Address:
Friends of Sax-Zim Bog
PO Box 3585
Duluth, Minnesota 55803
Call for Info: 218-209-2266

Executive Director Sparky Stensaas: sparky@saxzim.org
General Info and Donation/Membership/Sales info contact Sara Blanck: info@saxzim.org
Contact Head Naturalist Clinton Nienhaus: naturalist@saxzim.org

Welcome Center on Owl Ave: (Also marked on our birding map) address is 8793 Owl Avenue, Toivola, MN 55765 [NOTE: THIS IS NOT A MAILING ADDRESS]

Organization Overview

History and Mission

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog (FOSZB) originated in 2010 when Sparky Stensaas realized the biologically diverse habitat of the Sax-Zim Bog, one of the most famous birding areas in North America, was being threatened and needed a voice. Sparky had been birding the Bog since the early 1980s and had recently seen an increase in the logging of mature Black Spruce bogs. These mature old-growth forests are the exact habitat that many of our beloved boreal birds need for nesting and wintering. Sparky along with Dave Benson (Duluth) and Kim Eckert (Duluth) are the founders of FOSZB. The founders also felt that in addition to land preservation, the area needed a Welcome Center/Nature Center. FOSZB became a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit in the summer 2011.

Located approximately 40 miles northwest of Duluth, Minnesota in St Louis County, the Sax-Zim Bog draws thousands of birders and photographers from across the country each year. The area is probably most famous for the amazing numbers of wintering Great Gray Owls (up to 100 in the winter of 2004-2005!), and as being the “Arctic Riviera” for rarely-seen northern birds who come south from boreal Canada and the High Arctic to winter in Sax-Zim. The Sax-Zim Bog is also home to uncommon mammals, and supports a diverse wetland flora, including rare orchids.

Most of the Black Spruce-Tamarack bog habitat of Sax-Zim is county tax-forfeited land subject to logging just when the stand is prime for desirable breeding birds such as the Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, and Connecticut Warbler, therefore much of the critical habitat for these rare birds is disappearing. Audubon Minnesota, along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR), designated Sax-Zim Bog as an Important Bird Area (IBA). This designation, although critical, does not assure protection of this important habitat or the biodiversity of its species and so FOSZB has made land purchase and preservation a top priority.

We at FOSZB want this amazing habitat to be around for future generations to experience and enjoy. We also want to educate the public on a biome that is poorly understood and often dismissed as “mosquito-infested swamps.” Friends of Sax-Zim Bog’s mission is to Protect the Greater Sax-Zim Bog.

Annual Reports

Meet Us

Board of Directors

  • Lori Williams (board chair)
  • Rubin Stenseng
  • Julie Ollila (secretary)
  • Ben Yokel
  • Dave Steininger (treasurer)
  • Gene Ollila


  • Sparky Stensaas—Executive Director
  • Sara Blanck—Membership Manager
  • Clinton Dexter-Nienhaus—Head Naturalist
  • Seasonal Host/Naturalists—Bruce, Brynn, Jake, Kelly, Luke, Rylee & Sienna


  • Sparky Stensaas
  • Kim Eckert
  • Dave Benson


Dave Benson grew up in Northeast Minneapolis and moved to Duluth in 1988. He is a naturalist, writer, coach, and consultant. He has worked at Hawk Ridge in Duluth and at Gooseberry Falls and several other Minnesota and Wisconsin State Parks. He is the author of Owls of the North: a Naturalist’s Handbook, Woodpeckers of North America, and Stories in Log and Stone: the Legacy of the New Deal in Minnesota State Parks, which won an interpretive media award from the National Association of Interpretation. He has been a guide for Minnesota Birding Weekends. His first Duluth birding experience was more than 35 years ago, in Kim Eckert’s Bird Class. He and Sparky Stensaas have guided trips and given presentations together at the Gunflint Trail and Grand Marais Birding Festivals, among others. He has worked at many Elderhostel/Roads Scholar programs, including working as an assistant to his son, Lars, at birding weeks in Ely.

Dave was educated at Gustavus Adolphus College, Yale University, and the University of Minnesota. He has served as the Executive Director of the Damiano Center, and as the Interim Executive Director of the Lake Superior Zoo, Community Action Duluth, and the St Louis County Historical Society. He has served as board chair and as a member of several boards, and led planning initiatives and search committees for groups across Northeastern Minnesota and in Chicago. He was the first board chair of the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

He is married to the lovely Pamela, and they have two adult sons, Jonas, a professional violist, and Lars, an executive chef. Dave is an Orthodox Christian deacon serving at Twelve Holy Apostles Church in Duluth.


Kim Eckert’s interest in birding was sparked in the Chicago area during a 10th-grade biology class – the only biology course he would ever take. He became an English major at St. John’s University in Minnesota and then taught English (with some first-year French on the side) during the 1970s. But he turned to a career in birding after moving to Duluth, Minnesota in 1977, where he served as Naturalist at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve (for a total of 20 years), taught bird identification classes for a decade, and started leading birding tours (including 30 years with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours). In 1986, he created the Minnesota Birding Weekends & Weeks program of tours throughout Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, which is now in its 37th season. In addition, Kim has written numerous articles for The Loon and other publications, plus Birding By Hindsight, a compilation of The Loon’s series of 70 bird ID articles, and four previous editions of A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota.

After 45 years, he still lives in Duluth…where he muses about the Great Plains, prefers not to take anything too seriously, finds joy in not knowing where he is going, reminisces about the times with Bob and Panda…and thinks about things.


Sparky Stensaas is the founder and executive director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, a non-profit to preserve bog lands for future generations of birds and birders. A birder since age 13, Sparky is also a naturalist, publisher, wildlife photographer and now YouTuber (really?). He is the author of 6 books on the natural history of the North Woods. Sparky, his wife, Bridget, and two sons, Birk and Bjorn make their home under the big pines in the Nemadji Valley of Carlton County, Minnesota. You can see more of Sparky’s images at www.ThePhotoNaturalist.com and his videos on YouTube “Sparky Stensaas”


We are continuously growing our web of dedicated volunteers! From volunteering at the Welcome Center, to research project support, and construction projects, we really do rely on our “Bog Buddies” and Master Naturalist volunteers! Many of our volunteering offerings are seasonal and sporadic, but we can always use a few hands and hours of effort, no matter the occasion. A huge thank you goes out to our volunteers for their efforts year in and year out!! 

If interested in volunteering, please email info@saxzim.org with your skills and interests in volunteering. Thank you!

FOSZB Diversity & Inclusion Statement

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog celebrates the diversity of the bog biome and the diversity of ALL who visit the Sax-Zim Bog.

FOSZB works to protect and safeguard land and wants all visitors, regardless of color, age, gender, sexual orientation or ability, to feel safe as they enjoy the Sax-Zim Bog.

We condemn racism in ALL its forms.

Just as a rich biodiversity strengthens ecosystems such as Sax-Zim’s peatlands, the wonderful diversity of human experience strengthens our community of “bog buddies” who work together to support FOSZB’s land preservation and education efforts.

We respect the individuality of each member of our FOSZB staff and board, and we are committed to be an organization free of any kind of discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national or ethnic origin, politics or veteran status.

FOSZB will seek equity and inclusion for all. We are all working for the same goal: To Preserve & Protect the Sax-Zim Bog for Future Generations of Birds and Birders. Let’s get to work!