About NCCO

North Country Canoe LOutfitters staff, ready to serve you
John, Kathy and the Staff of NCCO, ready to serve you!

John and Kathy Schiefelbein started North Country Canoe Outfitters in 1984. Their goal was to provide great customer service and the most best trip planning and mapping available anywhere in the border lakes region. That aim, the best equipment, abundant portions of top quality foods and fair pricing, is the hallmark of their operation today.

Tired of corporate life with IBM and relying on his proven outdoor experience and people skills, John was ready to make an entrepreneurial leap.  He and Kathy located their new business in world's most unique canoeing area. The two of them have expanded their business from one employee and 20 canoes, to a staff of 16 and over 150 watercraft.  John still personally maps every party's canoe route ... one-on-one ... just like they set out to do.

John is an avid outdoorsman: guiding his first canoe trip in 1965 as a Boy Scout camp staff member in northern Wisconsin. Since then, he has paddled the the northern waters of Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, AND the rivers and streams of the Ozarks, AND the backwaters of south Florida. He climbed the icy 14,500' summit of Mount Rainier, and scuba dived around the islands/reefs of the Caribbean.

US Forest Service Logo

While serving in Vietnam, John taught the skills of Survival, Escape, & Evasion as his unit's training officer. Following his military service he actively instructed adult Scout leaders on working with youth, and in the skills needed to successfully take boys on extended wilderness canoe trips. Read more about John's Scouting background

John has been the President of the Ely Chamber of Commerce several times, as well as V.P. of the Ely Outfitter Association. He has served in several advisory positions to the U.S. Forest Service in regards to wilderness use and ethics, and has been honored by them for his professional efforts. Information about NCCO and its owners have appeared on multiple TV programs as well as in many books, newspapers, and magazines.

Excellent Staff

Our staff has been hired with a primary attribute in mind: Will this employee help make our customer's canoe trip a better experience? We look for high school and college students, and young adults, who have demonstrated excellence. We have hired people who have excelled in the classroom, the athletic arena, on the stage, and in music.

Among our NCCO members:

  • Most excelled in music, speech, debate, and/or drama on the regional and state level,
  • Several have been high school state athletic finalists and on Minnesota all-star teams,
  • Yearly, several graduate as National Merit Finalists and National Honor Society members,
  • Several have received college academic scholarships,
  • One was named as a university departmental student of the year, 
  • One received an Athletic Letter and competed in the Big 10 Conference Championships,
  • One received a post graduate medical fellowship,
  • One graduated first in his graduate school Master's program,

The staff is continuously monitored by the owners, as well as each other, to ensure a great experience for you. Normally about 70 to 80 percent of our staff have worked for us in previous seasons. Our section lead employees typically have three to five years of NCCO staff experience.