Wilderness Perspectives

2024 Kids for the Boundary Waters Day at the Minnesota Capitol

Apr 1, 2024
Save the Boundary Waters
2024 Kids for the Boundary Waters Day at the Minnesota Capitol

On Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024, Kids for the Boundary Waters will head to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul and let their legislators know what the majority of Minnesotans agree on — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) should be protected through legislation. As Kids for the Boundary Waters’s founder Joseph Goldstein said, “Wilderness can change who we are for the better, but it cannot protect itself-it relies on us to recognize its importance in our lives and guard it for our future.” 

During this important day of action, kids will meet with their representatives to share their love of the Boundary Waters and ask that more be done to make protection permanent. They’ll voice their support for State Rep. Sandra Feist and Senator Kelly Morrison’s two bills that would protect the Boundary Waters watershed from toxic mining activities and sulfide-ore copper mining. 

Kids for the Boundary Waters at the MN State Capitol 

So, what is the BWCA and why does it need protection? The Boundary Waters, located on the northeasternmost edge of Minnesota is home to over 1,500 miles of canoe routes and over 1,100 lakes. This pristine area is the most visited Wilderness in the United States. But even with the recent move on the Federal level of banning sulfide-ore copper mining next to the BWCA for 20 years, foreign mining companies are still pushing to launch a sulfide-ore copper mine. They were even given the green light to conduct exploratory drilling next to Birch Lake (a very popular recreational lake just outside the Wilderness) just last fall.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sulfide-ore copper mining is considered the most toxic industry in the United States. Unlike iron mining (which has been conducted for over a century in Northern Minnesota), sulfide-ore copper mining has never been done in the state of Minnesota. This type of mining generates waste rock full of sulfates, which, when exposed to air and water, becomes sulphuric acid, and leaches toxins like heavy metals into the surrounding water. 

According to Congresswoman Betty McCollum, “The mining would disturb tens of millions of tons of earth in one of the most fragile and vulnerable ecosystems in North America. Exposing acid runoff to the Boundary Waters and into Canada. This pollution puts at risk these pristine waters and treasured forest habitat.” A Harvard economic study determined that this foreign mine would, over 20 years, cost the region 4,600 jobs and upwards of $900 million in income.

Kids enjoying the Boundary Waters

So why should we protect this place? In addition to generating income for northeastern Minnesotans, housing over 250 wildlife species, and helping fight climate change by absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide, it’s a beautiful place that transforms its visitors. Sigurd Olson, an explorer and conservation icon said of the BWCA, “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.” And, “Joys come from simple and natural things, mists over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water.” 

There’s so much at stake and so much to protect that sometimes we can lose sight of the pure joy that the BWCA brings to people of all ages. This is where the kids come in.  The moment a kid falls in love with the BWCA is as unique as each child. For some, it’s the physical challenge of paddling, hiking, and making camp. For others it’s the first time they catch a fish, see a bald eagle, hear a loon sing, or discover an unknown mushroom or wildflower. 

For Joseph Goldstein, the founder of Kids for the Boundary Waters, it happened when he was 6 years old. He describes his first trip to the Boundary Waters as a feeling of coming home, “I immediately fell in love with everything about being in the wilderness.” “The fishing, the stars, the swimming, the camping, even the portaging.” That love grew every year he returned and was bolstered by trying dog sledding which whetted his appetite for even greater adventures, “Once you start going there, it opens you up to adventure of all kinds”.


Kids for the Boundary Waters founder Joseph Goldstein

When Joseph was 13, he had to put his outdoor explorations on hold when he was diagnosed with leukemia. It was a struggle to accept that for the next several years he would need to prioritize his treatment. A few months later, Make-A-Wish approached him offering to grant a wish. While they offered celebrity meet-ups, gifts, and trips, Joseph had something bigger in mind. He wanted the BWCA permanently protected from toxic mining.

Unfortunately, Make-A-Wish could not grant that wish but Joseph decided to act anyway. “That’s when I decided if I was going to protect the Boundary Waters, I was going to have to do more than wish for it. I was going to have to work for it. That’s when my wish became a mission.” He then began working with Save the Boundary Waters and on any break from cancer treatment, he began lobbying lawmakers. When that didn’t have the influence he hoped, in 2018 he formed Kids for the Boundary Waters.

He explained his reasons saying, “Kids for The Boundary Waters will focus on honing a message of conservation and protection of the BWCA and teaching kids how to advocate - how to write letters, make phone calls, follow up, and how to make personal appeals during DC fly-ins. We all have a huge stake in protecting this wilderness, and beyond that, inlearning to navigate the political system effectively and efficiently. Today, we vote with our dollars and our voices, but very soon we will be voting with our ballots. The more engaged we become as teenagers, the more we understand our power and our ability to effect change, the more likely we are to STAY engaged.”

Here’s what Kids for the Boundary Waters has already done:

  • Organized multiple large-group “fly-ins” to Washington D.C. for kids to lead meetings face-to-face with officials.

  • Trained and empowered hundreds of young people, from elementary to college-aged, in advocacy and leadership skills to stand up and protect America’s outdoors.

  • Weighed in with decision-makers in our home districts by initiating letter-writing campaigns and making calls to officials.

  • Given presentations at our schools and in our communities, and published letters in local newspapers to educate more people about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the importance of taking action to protect it from sulfide-ore copper mining.

The toxic pollution of our public spaces affects all of us but, as the beneficiaries of what we adults leave behind, kids' voices matter more. When kids talk, politicians listen. In the sometimes gritty, heartless drumbeat of politics, kids can create a sense of purity and purpose that acts as a salve. Giving a face and a voice to this country’s future reaches beyond party lines and unites congresspeople toward the goal of conserving wild spaces for future generations. 

Representative Dean Phillips stated in 2022, “Some of the most impactful lobbying I’ve been subject to is from young people, from kids. In fact, even a very Minnesota-centric Save the Boundary Waters crew. When young people come to Washington, make that journey, and speak to us about their concerns, whether about climate change, gun violence, the future, or education it’s extraordinarily impactful to us because [we] recognize our service to the public… Real leadership means we’re making decisions to preserve, protect, and enhance the futures of kids and grandkids. That’s something to keep in mind, that your voices do matter.”

Current Kids for the Boundary Waters president, Elsie Falconer

The current President of Kids for the Boundary Waters, Elsie Falconer, has a special place in their heart for the “quiet peacefulness” of the BWCA and is on a mission to urge their representatives to protect their “favorite place in the world from toxic pollution”. 

At the Save the Boundary Waters gala last year, Elsie said, “We must look forward to how future generations are going to need to keep stepping up to continue the fight to protect this amazing place. I’m proud and excited to help usher in the next generation of Wilderness Warriors to help protect the Boundary Waters for my generation and the generations to come.”

In regards to April 2, 2024, Elsie is asking that you reach out to any kids in your life who want to help. They shared, “To prepare for our day at the Capitol, we will set up meetings with your legislator based on your home address. All you’ll need to do is show up and we’ll get you the information meeting details!”

Adding, “When kids speak up, adults listen! I hope your Boundary Waters loving kids can join us for this day at the capitol advocating for a Boundary Waters we can enjoy.”


Kids for the Boundary Waters in Washington DC