About Us

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

In 1984, John and Kathy Schiefelbein started North Country Canoe Outfitters. Their goal was to provide outstanding customer service and the most in-depth trip planning/mapping available anywhere in the Ely region. Their aim, coupled with the best equipment, abundant portions of the highest quality foods and fair pricing, is the hallmark of the NCCO operation today.

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

John has always been an avid outdoorsman. He guided his first canoe trip in 1965 as a Boy Scout camp staff member in northern Wisconsin. Since that time, he has not only paddled the northern waters of Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but the rivers and streams of the Ozarks, and the backwaters of south Florida. He has climbed the icy 14,500' summit of Mount Rainier, and scuba dived the reef and islands of the Caribbean.

US Forest Service Logo

John served in Vietnam as an electronic intelligence pilot and taught the skills of Survival, Escape, & Evasion as his unit's training officer. Following his military service, prior to moving to Ely, 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 elected several times as the President of the Ely Chamber of Commerce, as well as Vice President of the Ely Outfitter Association. He has served in several advisory positions to the U.S. Forest Service concerning wilderness use and ethics, and has been honored by them for his superior professional efforts. Information about NCCO and its owners have appeared on multiple TV programs as well as in many books, newspapers, and magazines.

Our Staff

The staff here at NCCO has been hired with one primary attribute in mind: Will this employee make our customer's canoe trip a better experience? We look for high school and college students, and young adults, who have demonstrated excellence in their lives. We have hired people who have excelled in the classroom, sports, on stage, and in music.

Among our North Country Staff 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 scholarships in academics,
  • 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,

As owners, we continuously monitor our staff, as well as each other, to ensure accuracy and a warm, welcoming, service-oriented attitude. Typically, about 70 to 80 percent of our staff have worked for us in prior years. Our section lead employees usually have 3 - 5 years of NCCO staff experience.