Boundary Waters Legends

Meet four Arrowhead residents you'll want to know

Jun 12, 2024
Heather Westmoreland, Save the Boundary Waters
The 4 Arrowhead Leaders

The Arrowhead is home to some of the state’s most creative, entrepreneurial, and environmentally-conscious minds. Each person has a unique story to tell about what draws them to this area and what inspires them. In this section, you'll hear from some of them about why they love the region and what they're passionate about.

These interviews were originally conducted for the printed version of our Arrowhead Newsletter. Cutting them down to fit in print was excruciating! We decided to share the full interviews here so you can enjoy getting to know these luminaries as much as we have.

Alyssa Hei and dog

“We do our fair share of traveling, and after coming home, my partner and I always say, ‘Doesn't it feel great to live in an area we're just not happy with coming home to but deeply love?’ Those first sights of Lake Superior and the Lift Bridge when you crest the hill never fail to put a smile on my face. That's what Duluth has always offered me—immense love.”


Meet Alyssa Hei, a passionate entrepreneur and nature enthusiast who has made Duluth her home for nearly two decades. As the co-owner of a food brokerage company alongside her life partner, Christopher, Alyssa embodies the essence of living and thriving in the Arrowhead.

Originally drawn to Duluth for college, Alyssa found herself captivated by its small town charm and abundant natural beauty. “I came for Duluth's small town with everything you need to be happy vibes. I stayed here to be close to Lake Superior and the North Shore, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the beautiful views & nature as far as the eye can see in every direction, and access to trails right outside your door in town - quite literally.”

One of Alyssa's favorite pastimes is exploring the vast array of outdoor activities that Duluth offers. From hiking, camping, backpacking, canoeing, exploring the river ways, paddle boarding, agate hunting, downhill and cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking, gardening, and more, she embraces each season as an opportunity to connect with nature. "The joy in that is that you have time all year to see what fits you best," Alyssa reflects, emphasizing the endless possibilities for adventure awaiting in the Arrowhead region.

For Alyssa, living in Duluth means more than just proximity to nature; it's about forging a deep connection with the land within the city. "I currently live in a location where I can walk right out my cozy front door and into Lester Park within moments. An area where you can get yourself truly lost in the woods right in town - what a gift! (but please don’t!) And that's just one of the many parks just like it scattered all across Duluth. Spending time in each of them is what I value most about living here - that heavenly feeling of being completely alone in the woods, but knowing I could walk myself straight home if need be. Just walk towards the lake!"

When asked what activities she’s most anticipating this summer, she shared, “Beyond excited to be sailing the Lake Superior seas again with ‘The Ocelot’ - a crew my partner and I were lucky enough to be invited to join last year. This will be our second year sailing with them on Wednesday night race nights in Duluth and a year to spend time learning the vast world of becoming a sailor, as last year was very much a novice year. I grew up part-time on a fishing vessel in Sand Point, Alaska, so the feeling of getting back on a boat in large water excites me to the core.”

As Alyssa navigates life in Duluth, she remains steadfast in her commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. Whether she's gardening and creating local plant-pollinating spaces for neighborhood critters or participating in clean-up efforts, Alyssa's actions reflect her deep reverence for the land and its resources.

Ian Lah profile

"It's a vision of a space where everyone has equal access to embrace the marvels of this land and immerse themselves in the creativity nurtured by its inspiration. Truly, this is a place for all, and I envision a future where every individual feels embraced within our community, invited to partake in the abundance it offers."


Ian Francis Lah, the Executive Artistic Director of the Northern Lakes Arts Association, has cultivated creativity, connection, and personal growth in the Arrowhead. Born and raised in Ely, MN, Ian's return home amidst the pandemic was not just a homecoming but a reconnection with the spirit of this Boundary Waters wilderness-edge community.

"I've always felt a deep resonance with Ely's connection to the wilderness," Ian shares, reflecting on the allure of Crane Lake's shores that beckoned them even during travels across the globe for performances.

Upon his return, Ian discovered a transformed Ely, "Returning home, I discovered that Ely had flourished since my high school days. It had transformed into not just a tolerant and inclusive community for a gay couple like us but also harbored a palpable yearning for progress". "Here in Ely, I reside because it offers me the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling career in the arts while still indulging in the solace of nature whenever I seek to rejuvenate my spirit," Ian explains.

Ian's involvement in community events, such as the Ely Film Festival and Broadway in the Boundary Waters, underscores their commitment to bridging different segments of the community and fostering genuine connections. "For me, it is exciting to live in a community and region where arts and culture are valued," Ian remarks, emphasizing the transformative impact of the arts on both the local community and the broader region.

Looking ahead, Ian is particularly thrilled about “Broadway in the Boundary Waters,” a spectacular program featuring local talents alongside professionals from across the nation. "What truly sets Ely apart for me is the ability to seamlessly transition from wilderness exploration during a hike to attending a top-notch show or concert later in the evening," Ian shares, encapsulating the essence of Ely's unique charm.

As Ian delves into new adventures, such as gardening in their first home, they cherish the ineffable moments of summer that halt them in their tracks, from radiant sunsets to the exhilaration of thunderstorms. "The North Country holds a special place in my heart, one that I believe everyone should experience firsthand," Ian reflects, envisioning a future where every individual feels embraced.

In Ian's journey, we find a celebration of Ely's vibrant arts scene, its rich cultural heritage, and the transformative power of community. "For me, it is exciting to live in a community and region where arts and culture are valued in the community. It is not only in my town but as I travel northeast Minnesota from the Iron Range to Grand Marais I see how the arts have impacted these communities and made them better. The North Country is truly the place to be."


Ashley Bredemas and bird

“The Arrowhead is the perfect place to slow down and savor life. That's what it has done for me anyway! Like a healing balm for the soul.”


In the heart of the Arrowhead region, Ashley Bredemus has found her slice of paradise. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, MN, Ashley's journey led her up the Gunflint Trail into the towering white pines of the boreal forest. Alongside her husband, Victor and her father, Dan, she oversees the Birchwood Wilderness Camp, a cherished family legacy spanning generations.

The decision to leave behind her engineering career and make the Gunflint her home wasn't initially part of Ashley's plan. But fate had different designs. In 2018, she found herself taking some reflective time at the family business, a wilderness camp for boys aged 7 to 17, established by her grandparents in 1968. Situated two miles by boat from the end of the Gunflint Trail, adjacent to the Boundary Waters, Birchwood Wilderness Camp is a haven spread across 68 acres of deep green landscape.

Reflecting on her transition, Ashley shares, "I moved here initially seeking a season 'off' before rejoining the workforce. Little did I know, the call of the wilderness would become my life's passion." As she prepares for the camp's fifth summer under her stewardship, Ashley embodies a deep sense of belonging to this place.

For Ashley, life in the Arrowhead isn't just about business; it's a way of life. When asked about her favorite pastime, she lights up with enthusiasm. "Spending time outdoors with my dog, Arlo is my ultimate joy." Whether hiking along the Gunflint, paddling into the Boundary Waters, or savoring sunset views from Honeymoon Bluff, Ashley and Arlo are adventure companions.

As summer approaches, Ashley anticipates introducing their new puppy to the wonders of wilderness living. "Everything feels new through the puppy's eyes," she muses. "From swimming to camping, each experience becomes a cherished memory." To her, the Arrowhead region creates a sense of awe. "It's as if stepping into Narnia," she reflects. "Here, amidst the quietude and untouched wilderness, life gains clarity, and every moment becomes precious."

In closing, Ashley extends an invitation to all who seek solace and rejuvenation. "The Arrowhead is more than just a destination; it's a haven for the soul," she asserts. "In its embrace, one finds not just fun or healing but a profound peace of mind. Yes, there are countless outdoor activities to keep you occupied but its special quality is that it has a way of putting life into perspective and providing clarity in the best way. There's nowhere else I'd rather live, and I've lived in a lot of places! Perhaps it's the lack of noise and light pollution? It's one of the most accessible yet peaceful places I've ever been.”


M Baxley in winter

“The multigenerational nature of my friendships is so profound. I have friends that are 10, 20, 30 years older than me and friends that are 10, 20 years younger. It goes both directions and the richness of those relationships, I’ve never experienced that before. It’s facilitated by the size of the community but also the interdependence necessary to live here. I think the landscape is what hooked me but the nature of these intergenerational relationships is what made me want to come back here.”


In Grand Marais, M Baxley, a storyteller, writer, and adventurer, has found a haven for creativity, connection, and personal growth. M's journey to the Northwoods was a serendipitous one, driven by a yearning for change and a deeper connection to nature. "I was born in a suburb outside of Dallas, TX. Then, my family moved to La Crosse, WI, when I was in middle school. I got to experience a smaller community and all the benefits of Midwest life. I did my first paddling there." 

Leaving behind burnout after working as a family therapist in Minneapolis, M sought solace and renewal on the Gunflint Trail. What was meant to be a year of exploration turned into a lifelong love affair with the Boundary Waters and the wilderness that surrounds Grand Marais. The transition from Minneapolis to the Arrowhead region was a transformative one for M, offering not just a change of scenery but a profound shift in perspective. 

"I got a job as a guide on the Gunflint Trail. I was going to take a year to reset and figure out what was next. I had all kinds of dreams and ideas but I really, really loved it up here, especially the Boundary Waters, and ended up starting a guiding business up here in the second year. I stuck with making this home and slowly realized this is the place I always want to come back to".

When asked their favorite activities in the Arrowhead, M shared, "I don’t do favorites. That’s why this landscape is so perfect. Because of the amazing seasonality of it, there are different things to do depending on the season. Whether it’s paddling, backpacking, rock climbing, Nordic skiing, winter camping, or mountain biking." As the seasons change, so do the activities that fill M's days.

Winter brings the quiet solitude of the snow-covered wilderness, with cross-country skiing out to winter camp becoming a treasured pastime. "I have definitely seen the most moose in the wintertime. But what I most seek out is the quiet. The way the cold, the dark, and the white landscape make everything more raw, and real, and introspective, and reflective," M reflects on their winter experiences in the Boundary Waters.

"In a place like this, where resources are limited, your impact is larger,” M shares about why living in Grand Marais is so fulfilling beyond the ease of access to nature.  “I am an artist, entrepreneur, and creative person, but I didn’t identify that way nearly to this degree until I came here." 

“Watching so many other people sacrifice to make things happen changed my understanding of community. Nothing happens up here unless people working 1, 2, or 3 jobs make it happen. Whether that’s our Pride events, Ruby’s pantry, or getting people housed. When you’re so intimately close to the need, it’s harder to look the other way. It’s a harder way to live but it’s much more rewarding and robust.”