Born, raised and residing in Ohio, I'm 881 miles from the edge of the Boundary Waters at Echo Trail Entry Point #16. I've journeyed in there at ages 17, 18 and 19.
On my first voyage in a group of high school students whom teachers transported by van and bus... I would soon disgust McDonald's but adore hot sauce. I remember the northern lights the first night, being so awe struck, so mesmerized. I gazed as loons called across the still Moose Lake and I fell in love with them.
We canoed up the Nina Moose, as tranquil a stream as I'd ever seen. The way each gentle reed bent yielding to the soft current. The sound of the paddle. What I knew of canoe trips on the Little Miami River in Ohio were not like this. Beautiful yes but over-crowded peak-season with beer-drinking screamers and a very fast current. This was totally different. This was worth the bus ride.
Over 2,200 campsites spread across 1,000+ lakes and visited by over 200,000 people a year... it's the most visted wilderness in the United States.
That said, you might only glimpse someone else paddling let alone hear them up here. We paddled across Nina Moose Lake, through to Lake Agnes for camp. My guide sent me out to fetch water and I was stunned that we would drink this untreated from the lake. To know lake water can exist so clean made me wonder. Why not live here?
Huron, Cree, Dakota and Ojibwe (Chippewa) all lived in this area. Soon I would see their handprints and artwork on great rock faces overlooking the water. I was told they made these where the sky, land and the water meet. The Ojibway people call themselves 'Anishinabe' in their own language, which means 'original person.'
I portaged for the first time to reach Iron Lake. This taught me some endurance for pain and mental fortitude I did not know I had. It was worth it to reach a beautiful site with sunsets across the water and scattered boulders on the shore. It was worth it to hear a wolf for the first time in my life close enough to make the hair stand up on my neck. I was peacefully fishing the shore alone when it started low, a sweeping groan, which grew in pitch until it made its presence known to me with a howl. What a world I was in. It seemed, I was in a dream. This is how a person falls in love with the wild of the boundary waters.
There, on Iron Lake I also heard a grouse for the first time as I explored a bit. Very unusual sound which can be frightening if you don't know what it is. I went running back and told my guide "a human is in the woods beating their chest, like an ape. Or, maybe an ape was beating their chest at me?" No... just a secluded, wild fowl flapping their wings to attract a mate.
On my second trip we went into Tiger Bay of Lac La Croix and camped at the site I now regard as the best I've camped, ever. Sunsets were directly across the water and it even had a sandy beach shore scattered with pine cones. They substituted nicely as golf balls in the middle of the day, coupled with a large stick for a golf club. I preferred the northern woods in August than in June because the water is warmer for swimming. And still not too hot for a climb atop Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix.
There I stood and felt so high, so free.
I tasted my first northern pike this return trip... basted in Parkay after being caught in the reeds of Crooked Lake. Yes many bones but it was the best fish I've ever tasted.
For my return trips, my sister loaned me her manual lens camera to capture this place and its wonder. It further connected me to the Boundary Waters, making me ever more curious to find photographs. Such a place awakens the soul, soothes the mind and envigorates the body. When you are one with nature it is hard to leave. I had to convince myself I would return even to endure what I admit was scary... Wind Lake on a stormy day. But, (of course;) there is always calm after a storm.
I am now an online volunteer with the campaign to "Save The Boundary Waters" because it must exist not just as a destination for adventure or serenity but as a reality of wild purity. Few places are left in this developed world; still offering such wonder, such WATER. This wonder would not exist without its pure water. If it were poisoned by careless, avoidable, human error... what a tragedy. For all of us who hold it dear; for whom drank of it, we ask that they stop unnecessary, greedy, dangerous mines from threatening to poison what is so unique about this place (the water). To keep it safe for generations to come is my greatest goal.
I noticed there ARE rules about who can enter the park, specific to limiting numbers of groups in order to reduce impact on the pristine wild. Yet, there are possibly risks of obliteration from new, toxic mine permits? How could the forest service even consider mines so dangerous?? It makes no sense and that is what I want to stress to people. Not here.
Lucy Soderstrom is a Minnesota native who took her love of the Boundary Waters with her all the way to Tacoma, Washington. She’s a Save the Boundary Waters Volunteer Ambassador who leads a group of volunteers in the Tacoma/Seattle area. She started her team in the summer of 2019.
At monthly meetings, Lucy and her team write letters to editors of local newspapers and try to spread the word about the organization’s mission. The team tables mainly at the University of Puget Sound, where Lucy is a student, but also at local coffee shops. Soon, they’ll be setting up a table in Patagonia in Seattle. Lucy also spends a lot of time connecting with local groups like the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people looking to make fighting climate change a priority across the United States. They’re currently working on collaborating on a crowd-sponsored event.
Lucy spends as much time as she can in her family’s cabin in Ely, Minnesota, at the edge of the BWCA. As a kid, she went to Camp Widjiwagan, a YMCA summer camp for canoeing and backpacking in the Boundary Waters, for 7 years as a camper, and 2 as a counselor. She says she “loved being able to invite kids to explore the boundary waters, learn about themselves through that space, and watch them grow in confidence in themselves and love of nature.”
One of her favorite memories from the Boundary Waters comes from Camp Widjiwagan. As a counselor, she led a trip with four 13- and 14-year-old girls “and it was like 29 hours of rain, straight rain, no pauses, and it was difficult to stay positive during that. And then the next morning, the sun came out and we were all so excited. We got out, we all just ran into the lake and went swimming because it was really nice.”
Lucy became interested in Boundary Waters activism in the 10th grade when she wrote a research paper about the PolyMet mine project. Soon afterward, she began volunteering for Save the Boundary Waters. After moving to Washington for college, she kept up to date on what was going on in the Campaign. After some reflection, she says, “there were a lot of people that I knew who care about the Boundary Waters, and I knew we could harness that energy. . . I realized that this is a perfect spot for a regional team,” she said. She loves hearing stories about people’s unexpected connections to the Boundary Waters.
After moving to Washington, being an ambassador for Save the Boundary Waters has connected Lucy to her former home. “I just love feeling like I can do something, and that I’m involved, and I’m seeing tangible accomplishments being made, because out here in Washington, it feels far away, and I miss the Boundary Waters,” she said. “It feels good to still be having an impact on the places I care about most.”
Learn more about our Volunteer Ambassador program here!
Every season offers a new experience in the Boundary Waters, but fall is always a favorite. With a changing palette of colors surrounding your visit, there's more than one reason to visit the Wilderness this fall. Not only will campsites be yours for the choosing, but seldom-seen wildlife literally come out of the woodwork, prepping for the cold months ahead.
Here are a few reasons you should fall for the Boundary Waters this fall:
1. Fall Colors: While the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is fighting to stop copper mining on the edge of the Wilderness, we fully support taking in the beauty of the copper-colored leaves and foliage that add to the beauty of this one-of-a-kind Lakeland Wilderness.
2. Moose are in rut: Through late September, early October, Minnesota's arguably favorite mammal is slightly easier to spot as the moose are in rut, which means the bulls (males) are fighting each other for the chance to mate with a cow (female).
3. Bear sightings increase: As these majestic creatures prepare for winter hibernation, bears become a more frequent sight in the Boundary Waters as they scavenge for food.
4. Claim any campsite: With crisper nights and greyer days, many of the summer tourists have come and gone which means not only is it easier to get a permit in September to your favorite lake, you most likely will get your choice of scenic campsites.
Rising Sun yawned and crawled across tops of tall pines standing at attention. Sky had just cast off its predawn blanket revealing a deep bronze tinged blue, and looked at itself mirrored in Vermilion’s still waters. Canoe was eager for us to slide in, paddles laying along side her Ash gunnels. Shoving off, she moved her way toward a sliver of land and a tree holding a high plush branch pointing off to the northwest. Out of nowhere three eagles appeared, gliding toward that branch. One veered off while the others slowed together, like two ballet dancers landing softly as one on a gently swaying cushion of dew glistening green. They turned their majestic white heads and embraced rising Sun, as we glided below in awe.
Doug Wallace, August, 2019
I’m running across the Boundary Waters! Yes, for real.
We pretty much exclusively think of the Boundary Waters as “canoe country” - and for good reason. With 1.1 million acres, home to more than 1,100 lakes connected by rivers, streams, marshes and portages, one of the only ways to experience most of the Wilderness is via canoe (at least in the warm months) with portages between lakes or around rapids. However there are a number of amazing hiking trails both in the form of thru-hikes, day hikes and longer loops.
My primary hobby outside of paddling canoe country is running - especially trail running. I’ve been running most my life, starting with cross country in middle school and high school. In college, I started doing marathons but as time passed, so has my ability to suffer through the typical pavement pounding road races that pop up in almost every town across the country. Looking for an alternative easier on my knees in particular, I came across trail running and ran my first trail race in early spring of 2017. I was immediately hooked. Everything about running changed for me on this first run - from the relatively few people running (150 total on my first 17 mile trail run vs. the thousands registered for your typical half or full road race) to the scenery along the route. Trading out pavement and building skylines for rocky trails and sweeping vistas was a natural evolution for a guy who spends as much time in the Wilderness!
Since that first run a little over 2 years ago, I’ve been gradually increasing my mileage and am now running long or “ultra” distance trail runs. These are more commonly associated with the western US where they have far more access to protected landscapes on public lands with trails that go up and down mountains, valleys, deserts, coastal forests, etc. for miles and miles and miles.
But of course, us Minnesotans know and love our northwoods and there’s definitely nothing as great as both the North Shore (home to the Superior Hiking Trail - which features one of the country’s longest running 100 miles race, the Superior 100, each fall) and of course the Boundary Waters.
Here’s where the intersection of my passion for both the Boundary Waters and trail running comes into play. There are two major thru-hiking trails: the Border Route Trail (66 miles) and the Kekekabic Trail (44 miles). The two of these trails run East to West from McFarland Lake to Snowbank Lake connecting at the Gunflint Trail in the middle. At some point last year, I started toying with the idea of seeing what I could do to run these routes as just something I’d want to do for fun, not really even thinking of something that would be a project to benefit the Campaign. Time passed a little too quickly last summer and fall and I didn’t get the runs in and the idea went dormant for a bit.
Fast forward a bit to this past January when I was in Denver for the Outdoor Retailer show. As fate would have it, I had just finished a 50 mile race near Arches National Park and the trail bug was hitting me hard again. I was at a panel discussion led by Clare Gallagher, a professional ultra-trail running athlete who has been using her running as a way to bring attention to climate change and a light went on. Seeing how she was using her running to draw attention to climate change, hearing of others who ran through Bears Ears and Grand Escalante, and more, there’s been a growing group of trail runners bringing awareness to imperiled landscapes.
And the idea came alive.
I talked to Clare after the panel concluded and she was so stoked on the idea of running through the Boundary Waters as a way to bring attention of the mining threat to the trail running community. A little while later, we set up a call and the planning began. It’s since culminated in working with some amazing people at Patagonia and the Border Route Trail Association, both who have helped with logistics, gear, and promotion of this run. I have an opportunity to bring awareness to our fight to stop sulfide-ore copper mining from ruining my favorite place on earth. This project will bring awareness to a new audience who perhaps hasn’t even heard of this area. But from all of my trail running, not only in Minnesota, but in other parts of the country, trail runners care about our public lands - after all we need vast open expanses of undisturbed natural places to participate in our pastime.
On Saturday, June 29th, I’ll be starting this project: Running for the Boundary Waters. I’m first running the Border Route Trail, the 66 miles from the eastern edge of the Boundary Waters to the Gunflint Trail. Sometime this fall I’ll pick up where the BRT leaves off and run the Kekekabic Trail, through the Wilderness to Snowbank Lake at the end of the Fernberg Trail - leading out of Ely.
Phase 3 will begin next summer, when I will combine both trails together along with the knowledge I gained from my first two phases and attempt to run them both in one contiguous run, roughly 110 miles through the Boundary Waters.
You can follow along on my website. I’ll keep events updated, post my “race report” after each run, share pictures, videos and more. It’s important we keep looking out for new people to bring into this fight.
The Boundary Waters is America’s most visited wilderness - evidence alone, this place should not be ruined forever by a sulfide-ore mine. Join me in this effort by talking to your friends, family, coworkers or others who maybe haven’t heard of this threat. Have them sign our petition to their lawmakers and help make their voice heard. The Boundary Waters belongs to all of us and it’s on us to protect it for all generations to come!
Check out Alex's route:
Pick any Saturday night in July and you’ll find a campfire in full swing at the end of the Gunflint Trail, a stone’s throw from entry point 55 into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Saturday night is my favorite night of the week for that very reason. Our 40 campers will have just come back from their canoe trips in the BWCAW, ready to share stories of their travels and sing songs like the Voyageurs before them.
At Camp Birchwood for Boys, we’ve been doing some rendition of trip-end campfires since my grandparents founded the wilderness camp in 1968. Nowadays, we call this tradition the Eagle’s Nest Campfire Circle.
We end every campfire with “kudos” - any camper with a statement of thanks, gratitude, or respect is welcome to stand up and share. You’d be surprised how long “kudos” can go amongst a group of young boys (ages 7-17)…some nights, over an hour! Our girls camp often runs even longer.
“I want to thank John for always carrying more weight on the portages than he needed to…even over Stairway Portage!”
“I’d like to give kudos to Henry and Nate for catching our dinner that last night and showing me how to cook it. That’s something I wouldn’t have learned at home. I’ll never forget the fight that Trout gave you guys!”
“Kudos to Taylor for singing songs with me in the canoe even though it was raining.”
“I’m giving my kudos to Carter because he was always the first person to start setting up camp. He never asked what to do, he just started doing something he knew would be helpful.”
“I really want to say kudos to my cabin mates for making this my best summer yet. I love you guys!”
By the time kudos is over, the sun has set, and our campers give one final battle cry over the quiet BWCAW before hiking back to their cabins, listening to the final loons calling out over the Seagull River.
When winter comes and it’s just my dad and me living on the property, I often think of those special campfire nights when Eagle’s Nest is alive with stories of nature, adventure, and camaraderie. I’m warmed by the memories of young campers expressing gratitude for his or her wilderness experience.
Often, our campers write to us as adults giving kudos to Camp and the Boundary Waters for shaping them into the people they are today, with respect, love, and need for the wilderness.
Then I think of the threat of mining in the BWCAW watershed, such a polarizing thought.
Over the past 50 years we have sent thousands of young men (and women) into the Boundary Waters. Thousands have reflected on their trips at Eagle’s Nest and thousands attribute their growth and development to the wilderness of Northern Minnesota.
This wild frontier, where our young campers can escape the pressures of modern society, finding equilibrium, clarity, and connection, is at risk.
It’s not just the development of our campers at risk either. There are many youth camps around the Boundary Waters with similar missions to ours - ultimately providing children with meaningful wilderness experiences that have a positive impact on their lives, in turn, making the world a better place.
However, according to the Twin Metals website, sulfide-ore copper mining will “contribute significant revenues to Minnesota’s K-12 public schools through the Minnesota Permanent School Fund.” Supporters would argue that the mining operation will do more for the development of our youth than the Boundary Waters could, rather than put it at risk.
Although, their contributions would only benefit Minnesota, I think we can all agree increased revenue to the school districts of the state would be positive. However, we have to ask ourselves, “At what cost?”
What example does that set for future generations if our once pristine wilderness vanishes?
They’ll be able to read about the simplicities of calling loons on quiet lakes deep in the Boundary Waters from authors like Sigurd Olson. They’ll hear boyhood stories from their grandfathers of running rapids or catching 25-year-old Lake Trout. They’ll hear of the joys attributed to camping in BWCAW, but they won’t know it for themselves.
Our future generations of youth will ask, “What happened to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area?”
What will we say?
My future grandchildren would likely ask their parents why Camp Birchwood is no longer sending out trips.
The answer: Copper-nickel mining won. Man placed profit over preservation. Short term financial gain eclipsed our connection to the land and, therefore, our human spirit.
However, that dim picture I’ve just painted does not have to be our reality! With your support, the BWCAW can serve generations of youth to come. Children, 100 years from now, can sit atop Eagle’s Nest around a campfire and share their own wilderness tales and give their own kudos.
So, in the spirit of tradition, kudos to everyone supporting the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The effects of your help will last hundreds of years and serve countless children.
Ashley from An Outdoor Experience
Kate Conway in Scottsdale, Arizona with her Greater Scottsdale Save the Boundary Waters team of volunteers
John Sand in Austin, MN with his Austin Save the Boundary Waters team of volunteers.
Both Kate and John are working with their volunteers on the following goals: 1. Getting a Letter to the Editor in local papers; 2. Setting up an event to educate the public about copper-nickel mining in the watershed of the Boundary waters; 3. Meeting with local elected officials asking them to protect the Boundary Waters.
So, are you somebody with an outgoing personality and strong leadership skills? Do you love the Boundary Waters? Are you passionate about educating and activating the people in your area to help save the BWCA? Then volunteer to be a Save the Boundary Waters Ambassador!
Ambassadors are a crucial part of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and they work closely with Campaign staff to develop and strengthen a team of volunteers. These teams then use efficient and strategic tactics aligned with overarching Campaign goals that will educate and activate people within their areas. This helps us build the people power that we need to protect the Boundary Waters!
All Ambassadors will also be trained in the following skills:
How to take a stand for the Boundary Waters
How to interact and advocate for a healthy Boundary Waters with elected officials and land management agencies
Grassroots organizing techniques
Leadership, communication, and lobbying skills
Why do you like volunteering for the Campaign?
What is your favorite lake?
Favorite memory in the Boundary Waters?
What would you never go to the Boundary Waters without?
Why do you want to protect the Boundary Waters?
You are working to build up a campus organization for the Boundary Waters at DePaul University. Why is it so important to you to get students involved in the Campaign?
Why do you want to protect the Boundary Waters?
We have so few national treasures left. We have a responsibility to our children and our grandchildren to pass those few to them untarnished. Among the national treasures, the Boundary Waters is the only canoeing wilderness – absolutely unique for us. Would we tear down Independence Hall to build an office complex? Nor should we damage the Boundary Waters for a handful of 30-year jobs. We need to stay true to our responsibility to our children and grandchildren.
When did you first volunteer?
Cannot remember for sure. Four to five years ago. I remember Becky Rom made a presentation at the Minneapolis Club. As folks were leaving, I asked how I might volunteer.
Why do you like volunteering for the Campaign?
Multiple organizations are working along multiple lines to protect the Boundary Waters. Among those organizations the Campaign is most focused. The Campaign has a clear goal: permanent protection in legislation banning sulfide ore mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The Campaign has a strategy to achieve that goal and is executing on the strategy.
What is your favorite event you’ve ever volunteered at?
The State Fair. You meet folks from all over the state from all sorts of backgrounds. Many leave the booth as supporters.
Tom Bose delivering petitions at Minnesota State Fair 2017.
What is your favorite lake?
Farm Lake. Grew up in Indianapolis. In May, 1952 my Dad came from visiting a neighbor. He said, “I just heard about a boys camp in this fabulous place in Minnesota. I went there in the 1930s with five guys. For two weeks we paddle a route called Hunters Island. You have to go.” In June I boarded a train for Duluth. Arrived at Camp Voyageur on Farm Lake a day later.
I was a camper and then a counselor at Camp Voyageur. Made friends there. In the middles 1970s a half dozen of us bought lots along the west shore of Farm Lake. We built cabins together. Our children and now even our grandchildren are learning the experience. We look across Farm Lake to the entrance to the North Kawishiwi, entry point 31 – an entry to a special place.
Favorite memory in the Boundary Waters?
So many special memories from that first campsite on Horse Lake in 1962 to moon light snowshoeing on the North Kawishiwi this past winter. No way to pick one favorite.
What would you never go to the Boundary Waters without?
Friends. The Boundary Waters experience is best shared.
Have you seen any interesting wildlife on your BWCA trips?
All sorts of birds. The red of the scarlet tanager munching seed pods at our misty July campsite on Gabbro. The pine siskins busy in the Norways at our September campsite on Lac La Croix. The snow geese on the Dahlgren River this past October. The Canadian jays that visited our Little Saganaga campsite for a piece of pancake. The loons calling role around Ima Lake. Chickadees everywhere.
Gear is an essential part of planning a Boundary Waters trip. There’s a lot to consider when packing your portage packs. What will the weather be like? Is this sleeping bag warm enough? Is my portage pack too heavy? We asked a few members of our staff what things they would never go to the Boundary Waters without:
“I've got a lot to say about my cast iron pan. What's my word count limit?!”
- Alex, Public Affairs and Legislative Director
“A cribbage board and deck of cards are an essential part of any Boundary Waters trip. Whether it's a rainy day inside the tent or a late night of laughs in the Wilderness, there's a cribbage match from every Boundary Waters trip I've taken that's made each one even more memorable.”
- Lauren, Communications Director
“It's a significant list, but the bare minimum begins with a Silva Ranger compass and strike-anywhere matches in a water-tight container. Add to that wool base layer, insulation layers and a waterproof shell.”
- Matt, Policy Director
“The map(s) for the route I plan to do plus adjoining maps because I'll likely go there instead and 10% of the trip calorie budget in Snickers candy bars. “
- Lisa, Science and Policy Associate
“Helinox ground chair! No more logs or rocks to sit on - as the old guys like to say: ‘we don't go to the woods to rough it, we go to smooth it. Things are rough enough in the cities!’"
- Tom, Executive Director
“Some personal fave things I don't like to go without: favorite snack of pineapple rings I partially dehydrate at home (they get so sticky and delicious!), a sketch book and pen in a plastic baggie, a roomy hammock, and my JetBoil. Also Salted Nut Rolls - perfect cure for afternoon hangry.”
- Sam, Deputy Campaign Manager
“My wife and I once brought playing cards only to realize we had forgotten the rules for almost all the card games we thought we remembered how to play. We clearly had become overly reliant on the internet to refresh our memories. Now we always bring a little sheet with various card game rules.”
- Carter, Development Officer
“Coffee and my canoe chair, because I like sitting on a rock and enjoying the sunrise with a warm beverage in hand before everyone wakes up.”
- Megan, Communications Specialist
“A backpack full of old and comfy band t-shirts, some scary podcasts downloaded onto my phone to ensure I won’t sleep, and a full privacy curtain.”
- Nicole, Administrative Coordinator
"Camp shoes. Basic comfort, but it's a great feeling when you stick your sweaty feet in fresh shoes."
- Ingrid, Development Manager