Friday, March 12, 2021
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Save the Boundary Waters

Kids and Camps of the BWCA

Youth and adult camps surround the Boundary Waters and are directly in the Twin Metals path of pollution. Proposed sulfide-ore copper mining will ruin these longstanding educational centers. Generations of Minnesota families have sent their kids and grandkids to life-defining experiences in and near the Boundary Waters. Hear some of their stories below: 

"When I was 12 I started going to YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, and it’s amazing how a group of strangers can be thrown into the Boundary Waters together, and then come out two weeks later best friends. I knew more about their hopes and dreams and fears than any of my school friends because of the time we spent together in nature.

I attribute a lot of my identity and confidence and strength to growing up with the Boundary Waters.

I’m fighting for the Boundary Waters not only because it’s my favorite place, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

-Elsa attends Middlebury College and is on the advisory board of Kids for the Boundary Waters and has led trips of youth advocates to Washington D.C. 
Hear Elsa's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

"The Boundary Waters is my favorite place in the whole world."

- Jules Billmeier (age 18)

Hear Jules's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

"Going to the Boundary Waters built up my identity and the grounding principles that are most important to me."

-Julia Ruelle (age 19)

Hear Julia's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

"I remember coming away from that trip and just remembering that feeling of true inner peace."

Hear Mia's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

Mia Sande


"Every summer, Girl Scouts from all economic backgrounds, from northeastern Minnesota and across the country, experience wilderness travel for the first time through a Boundary Waters trip based out of the Northern Lakes Canoe Base, run by Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines.

 The Boundary Waters brings out the best in teenage girls, teaching them that their individual strength and the power of teamwork is far greater than they ever imagined. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described Girl Scouting as a "force for desegregation”, and nowhere is this more clear than on a canoe trip.  A girls’ race and class is irrelevant when a Girl Scout crew is problem-solving to get across a muddy portage or get a fire started from soggy wood.  The wilderness brings out their creativity and kindness, and they learn that hard work and getting dirty are part of the fun.

Girl Scouting, and in particular, Girl Scout canoe trips, expose us to so many meaningful experiences and interactions with other people, and countless girls have found their voice and strength to use it while traveling through the Boundary Waters.  They use this voice to go on to make their communities and our world a better play in so many unique and important ways."

-Ann McNally is the Summer Program Director for the Girl Scouts Northern Lakes Canoe Base in Ely Minnesota

"For years, I have been going to the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness to experience the outdoors and the northern part of our state. My great aunt and uncle, Heidi and Mike Pazlar, used to own Bearskin Lodge on East Bearskin Lake, and my family makes a point of visiting the Gunflint Trail often. 

I had the opportunity to attend OLT, Outdoor Leadership Training, with Sovatha Oum for the first time a few years ago. Personally, OLT has given me a large opportunity to experience the BWCA and what it has to offer at a greater scale while working on leadership skills, including mapping a course when going on trail, navigating through the lakes and portages while leading a team of young people. 

I have also learned how to plan an outdoor wilderness trip and how to properly prepare to be ready for any eventuality, such as valuable survival skills for taking care of myself and others and keeping us safe. Through my experiences in the Boundary Waters, I have gained confidence in myself and my ability to problem-solve. It has allowed me to believe in myself and my opinions when taking the lead on group projects at school as well and allowed me to have more of a voice in social situations.  

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is an escape from the city. It’s hard to find something that allows you that space and distance from the distractions of outside people and influences. I feel that it’s a very good way to have your own personal time, to be able to reflect on yourself and who you are in the world. When I return from a trip, there is always a period of grief that my time there has come to an end, but I immediately start looking forward to when I can visit again. " 

-Lene (age 14)

My experience with the BWCA through OLT is very good, it was a great experience when I first started because usually when my family and I would go up north we would stay in a cabin, but through OLT I was able to see more of the Boundary Waters through a different perspective. The BWCA has so many great features and attributes that are just overlooked by a normal tourist. Plus the fishing is great most years and we can get out to some untouched waters and throw a line in. The program has made me take a different approach on life and made me more responsible in general. Coming up on my 5th (technically 4th) year with the program, I am very excited to get out and do a trip this year since our last one was canceled because of COVID 19. Since my first trip into the BWCA I have been able to problem solve and work things out better with not just my family but also friends and teachers. That’s why I’m always ecstatic to tell someone about my experience because I know they will get hooked as well. 

-Kjell (age 15)

Watch This Wild Land and learn more.

“One thing this summer that’s stuck out to me, especially, is that coming up to Ely in a time of covid when all the Y camps and all the other youth camps have been closed, I was expecting to see a little bit decreased, or a little bit less than normal, youth participation in the Boundary Waters.”

“And what I’ve noticed, just between my time both on trail and at the shop [at Ely Outfitting], is that I don’t think I’ve seen any decrease at all. If anything, I feel like more youth have been coming through [to the Boundary Waters]. I’ve seen, you know, a lot of kids coming with their parents but also a lot of purely youth groups. You know, a lot of groups comprised entirely of 15, 16, 17-year-old kids have been going to the wilderness, and I’ve been seeing them on trail. So I think, I mean, that’s just really stuck out to me this summer, and I think it’s great. I think youth participation in the wilderness is really, really important, I think particularly this year.
Increasingly, the amount of technology that’s available as youth, we’re sort of sucked into this 24/7 media cycle, and especially in a year of pandemic and all the other things that are going on in the world, it can be really easy to get sucked into that and stuck in it. And I think the wilderness is, part of what it’s providing this summer is an escape, for everyone to disconnect but also for us youth, who I think are increasingly being trapped in that cycle, and increasingly called upon to be social activists as well with what’s going on.”

Joseph Goldstein president of Kids for the Boundary Waters 

“For more than ten years I’ve seen first hand the way a Boundary Waters canoe trip provides young people with the opportunity to dis-connect from the distractions and stressors of their daily lives and full engage with their own capabilities and strengths. I’ve seen students grow more confident and emerge as leaders and team members. I’ve seen firsthand how a canoe trip is an opportunity for young people to learn as much about the natural world as it is an opportunity to learn about themselves.”

-Fred Sproat lives in Duluth Minnesota and is the Program Director for Big City Mountaineers, an organization focused on getting youth outdoors, including on wilderness trips in the Boundary Waters.