Stay in touch with the campaign.

sign up for updates 

Crab Lake in July

Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Posted by
Audrey Jewett

On a sunny afternoon at the end of July, five of my closest friends and I launched from Burntside lake and set out on our two-day camping adventure–destination: Crab lake in the Boundary Waters. I was the only native Minnesotan on the trip, and in fact none of my friends had ever been to Minnesota before! It was a great pleasure to introduce my friends, whom are also students at DePaul University in Chicago, to the wonderful treasures that Minnesota has to offer.

Our group had varying levels of camping experience, and we quickly realized that this trip would require a lot of learning on the fly. The majority of the ladies learned to paddle moments before setting out onto Burntside, and all of them were taught how to portage earlier that day at my uncle’s home. Despite having little to no experience each member of the trip proved how resilient and innovative they could be in an unfamiliar environment. The girls have told me they now feel mobilized to protect this wilderness after basking in the Boundary Waters’ expansive beauty; they have all formed deep personal connections and memories with this place. They all remarked at how powerful a feeling it is to put yourself into a situation that is new and challenging. Each of these women learned just how far they could be pushed in the expansive wilderness that makes up the Boundary Waters.

We were all extremely grateful for the experience to get to know each other better and bond in a setting as awe-inspiring as the Boundary Waters. Plans are already underway to make this an annual trip, and the humbling influence of the Boundary Waters’ beauty will be extended to my friends’ friends, mobilizing  to protect this special place. These testimonials speak volumes to the power a place can have on a person, even after just one visit.


  • The whole group before we paddled out from the public landing on Burntside Lake, just 15 minutes away from Ely. The girls and I would soon go on to problem solve as a team to so we could find the portage entry behind many, many, islands.


  • This trip report must kick-off, of course, with my uncle, Steve (and also, not pictured, my Aunt Annie) for providing most of our gear and for effectively and efficiently explaining everything we would need to know about our trip. We are so thankful and grateful to Steve for his expertise and support for our adventure!


  • The instant wave of relief that washed over everyone was evident as we arrived at our campsite, two hours before this photo was taken, leaving us plenty of time to set up and go for a quick dip in the lake before dark.


  • The propane camp stove that uncle Steve had so graciously supplied to us was not working in our favor on the first night, so we gladly opted for PB&Js. Here is Lorissa thoroughly enthused about her camp dinner.


  • There is really an interesting story behind this photo…but in short, Megan crafted a fishing pole and hook from the bare elements and managed to catch this fish against all odds. Thanks Lori for being brave enough to hold this lil’ guy for the photo!


  • Mattox asserted herself beautifully in many aspects of the trip, but took extra special care and direction when the coffee making was at hand.  As you can see, our camp kitchen was really top notch, as was the view from the dinner table.


  • One of our tents with the two Wenonahs. Not pictured – the aluminum canoe that I got the privilege of portaging on the 420-rod path from Burntside Lake to Crab. That being said, every person had an intensely difficult task on the portage, and we conquered the second longest portage in the BWCA with 5 first time visitors to the Boundary Waters.


  • Luna enjoying her breakfast potatoes.


  • Lorissa coming up from a casual swim to a nearby island. The best kind of BWCA camping trips focus on relaxation in my opinion, so this was one of our most challenging activities of the day.


  • Mattox climbing up our lovely landing rock after a long soak in the lake. Crab lake was wonderfully warm.


  • Some BWCA camping essentials. We had an exciting thunderstorm and rainstorm on Saturday night, but luckily we had snacks and some legendary camping stories from Sigurd Olson to get us through it.


Audrey grew up in the Twin Cities, and is now a development intern at the Save the Boundary Waters Campaign in the Minneapolis office. She has always enjoyed summer trips up to Ely to visit her aunt and uncle and explore the surrounding area, so she jumped on the opportunity to share these experiences with her out-of-state friends.

Looking to swap stories? Do you have some sweet photos to share from a recent Boundary Waters trip? Send your stories our way and we might just feature them on the blog!



Boundary Waters Baking

Thursday, July 26, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn

img_3496_copy.jpg

Baking bread in Utah

img_1232.jpg

Danko and his extra-cheesy lasagna

For all those backcountry-cooking enthusiasts out there who haven’t tried this yet, or anyone wondering why they wouldn’t just stick to freeze-dried and dehydrated food while on a Boundary Waters trip, I’m going to do my best to convince you to try, just once, to make bread from scratch on your next trip. It doesn’t have to be crazy fancy, but it sure could be.

The first time I made bread in the backcountry was on a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)  trip during my sophomore year of college. I took part in the Patagonia Semester course, and in our food rations we had all the standard stuff we’d need to cook simple meals like pasta, cheesy lentils, cinnamon and apple oatmeal, and fry pretty much anything. We also had white and wheat flour, delicious Chilean spices, and the means to make cinnamon rolls, lasagna, pies, quiche, birthday cakes (yes, with candles and sprinkles), and even a fruit cobbler. Cooking became the focal point of each day, the one time when everyone could just sit and focus on one thing instead of all the chaotic factors that sea-kayaking and mountaineering in Patagonia brought with them. It was our decompression and community-building time, and we all developed a really thoughtful relationship with the food we were eating. It was my first experience cooking in the backcountry that I truly cherished. 

Now, picture this: you’re at camp, the sun is setting, and there’s nobody else but you and your group on the lake. It’s a huge lake, probably Saganaga, maybe Knife. You wonder, “hmm, strange there’s no one here, but I’m not complaining”. As the sun descends from its golden height into a dampened silvery-purple, you reach into the smoldering fire and pull out a freshly-baked, steaming, golden loaf of bread. In a single loon call, the entirety of the Boundary Waters cheers at your accomplishment. Your group basks in the heat of the dying fire and the warmth in their tummies, and then you have the best night's sleep of your life. The next day you paddle like you’ve never paddled before, the water practically parting before you at the bow of your canoe.

Bread is a very simple recipe; all it just takes a little time, patience, and love, of course. Here’s how you do it, straight from the NOLS cookbook:

Ingredients

  • 1 level Tbs. yeast
  • 1.5 cups lukewarm water (drop a few drops by spoon onto your wrist to test to themperature
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp, salt
  • 2 Tbs. margarine or oil (optional)
  • 3 to 3.5 cups flour (1 third whole wheat, 2 thirds white is good)

Directions

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water with sugar, and salt. Cover and let sit for 5 miuntes in warm spot until it froths. (Try putting it in an insulated mug and capping it. when frothed, it bubbles through the hole a little.) Add half the flour and beat vigourously 2 to 3 minutes to develop the gluten; the wet batter will smooth out and start to get a little stringy. Add margarine and remaining dough to get a thick dough. Flour your hands and knead the bread on a floured pan. Knead with the heels of your clean hands for about 8 minutes, folidng when dough becomes too sticky to handle. The dough will be silky and springy when done. Shape into a loaf and place in a well-oiled pot or fry pan. Press dough out to touch the edges, and grease the top of the loaf with oil or margarine. Cover and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled doubled in size. If it's a very cold day, let the dough rise by placing on top of a pan of boiling water with a cover over it. Once risen, bake the bread 30 to 50 minutes in a low fire with coals or on top of a stove. Use a twiggy fire on top of the cover or flip it to bake the top. When done, the bread will be a golden brown and will have a hollow sound when thumped. Take it out of the pot/ pan and cool it in a spot with good air circulation 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. 

This is one of many ways to enhance any backcountry cooking experience, but don’t fret if it goes wrong the first time! I’ve burnt more bread than the average college-student with a toaster. And just to be clear, I had freeze dried meals on my last Boundary Waters trip and loved them. They’re actually very yummy and certainly more lightweight than packing in a bunch of flour, but that’s besides the point.

Have you tried making backcountry bread? Tell us about your favorite backcountry recipe, or your favorite experience cooking in the backcountry. We know there’s probably some pretty creative ways to do Boundary Waters fish out there.



The Boundary Waters is for the birds

Friday, July 20, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn

loon2_web.jpg

Nesting loon

This post has been summarized from a longer piece that our board member Ellen Hawkins recently sent our way. You can read her piece at this link, which we highly encourage you to do! Many thanks to Ellen for sharing this with us and offering a glimpse into the world of our Wilderness, winged friends.


The Superior National Forest, an important Birding Area with the Boundary Waters at its core, is recognized as having global significance in the world of avian conservation.  It’s home to 225 species for at least part of each year, with 45 more species spotted occasionally. As many as 165 species nest here. It supports the highest diversity of breeding Wood Warbler species (24) anywhere in the world.  The numbers of individual birds is also impressive, and those population density numbers indicate what top quality habitat this is for many species. It’s clear that maintaining the pristine condition of the Boundary Waters is absolutely critical to their long term survival.  

Laura Erickson has been speaking for the birds on a nationally broadcast public radio show for 32 years. Maybe you can hear her familiar voice in your mind’s ear, saying, “This is Laura Erickson, Speaking For the Birds.” On June 23 she came to Cook County to speak for the birds of the Boundary Waters.

Laura is the 2014 recipient of the American Birding Association’s prestigious Roger Tory Peterson Award for her lifetime’s work as a teacher, author, and science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  She spoke of the astonishing diversity of birds that finds an essential sanctuary in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, but the venue was a segment of the Superior Hiking Trail several miles from the Wilderness boundary. The logistics of doing it in the Wilderness was just too daunting, but as Laura pointed out, every bird we saw or heard can also be found within the Boundary Waters during breeding season.

Waiting at the trailhead for the early event of the day, a bird walk, we watched a Cedar Waxwing on a nest and heard a Tennessee Warbler. They are one of the three spruce-budworm specialists (along with the Cape May and Bay-breasted) among the 24 warbler species that nest here, and they’re a great example of how essential insectivorous birds are for healthy forests.  For example, a Tennessee warbler can consume 65 to 100 caterpillars, roughly half its weight, every day. These insectivores have the power to regulate outbreaks of forest pests in ways we’re just catching on to. And speaking of birds being useful: they spread seeds, cycle nutrients, pollinate plants, prune prey populations, clean up carrion, and sometimes, to our delight, put their gorgeous and fascinating selves out where we can admire them.

Laura’s presence at the event also demonstrated some other ways birds are important to people: they can be a huge inspiration for a life’s work of spiritual or artistic endeavors, and the best entertainment ever.

More prosaically, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that bird watchers spend nearly $41 billion annually on trips and equipment. Local community economies benefit from the $14.9 billion that bird watchers spend on food, lodging and transportation. In 2011, 666,000 jobs were created as a result of bird watching expenditures.  I don’t know what piece of that pie belongs to northeast Minnesota, but with Boundary Waters and surrounding Superior National Forest an international mecca for birders, it’s bound to be significant. All this isn’t meant to contradict the incontrovertible: these birds of course have to the right and reason to exist aside from however we might benefit from them.

Most species on our walk had to be identified by song on this beautiful summer morning: it’s a huge challenge to spot a singing bird once the leaves are out. Luckily there were some excellent local birders along, plus Laura, who made that work. Our group counted 31 species and 80 individual birds on that pleasant two and a half hour walk.  

The wild call of a loon was a good possibility for our bird walk, but by chance none flew over–or if one did it was quiet–but they are a bird that belongs in this piece because loons are key players in the wilderness ecosystem and in the mining issue. Mining would add a new source of methylmercury pollution to the many deadly dangers loons face.

Loons can live a long time. We see individuals coming back to the same lake, or the same bay of a big lake, year after year, sometimes for decades, to nest at their favorite bit of shoreline.  If mercury is present in a water body, it becomes distributed through all levels of aquatic food chains by means of bioaccumulation. Plants and small organisms like plankton take up mercury and then are consumed by bigger organisms and so on, all the way up to loons (and eagles, otters, and people).  If a loon’s lake is contaminated with mercury, over time, the toxin will accumulate in the loon’s body. Mercury poisoning changes behavior, resulting in diminished reproductive success, and it kills loons.

Mercury can be a component of air pollution that falls out across lakes and streams, and it can also enter water directly from active and retired mining operations.  Acid mine drainage, a byproduct of mining in sulfide-rich ores, leaches heavy metals like lead and mercury into surface or subsurface waters. These acidic and toxic waters flow from mine sites through the environment (in ways that humans often can’t foresee), causing loss of aquatic life and leading to catastrophic changes in that ecosystem and to human recreational and economic endeavors that depend on it.  This is the inevitable end result, based on the evidence presented by science, the history of this kind of mining, the sad testimony of sickened and dead wildlife, thousands of miles of ruined streams and many lakes, and contaminated groundwater drinking supplies.

Birds need clean water, shelter, good food and an opportunity to reproduce.  They find that when they make it to the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters and surrounding wildlands are the critical nesting habitat of many neotropical bird species, ranging from vireos and warblers to flycatchers and thrushes. For them, an ample food supply exactly when they need it is reason enough to run the gauntlet. For the permanent residents this place provides a home with everything they need in all seasons.  



Waterway Jay: Paddle for Progress

Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Posted by
Jay Gustafson

Jay Gustafson, known as Waterway Jay, is spearheading a project called Paddle for Progress, which is galvanizing Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique. In partnership with local nonprofit and state agencies that are committed to water quality issues, together we can find the solutions needed to protect and preserve our waterways. Jay’s vision and ours fall right in line with each other, and we’re proud to have his voice here on our blog. Give this a read and stay up to date on Jay’s progress!


Mission:
The mission of Paddle for Progress is to galvanize Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique.
Vision:
In partnership with local nonprofit and state agencies that are committed to water quality issues, together we can find the solutions needed to protect and preserve our waterways.


Although I was born and raised in South Dakota, I’ve felt a connection to Minnesota since my childhood. I fell in love with paddling on a father/son trip to the Boundary Waters at age 12.  I could have never guessed that 20 years later, I would find myself feeling called to make my life’s work protecting the waters that I first discovered at such an early age.

I moved to Minnesota in 2006 upon graduating from the University of South Dakota. Soon after, I learned that in addition to endless paddling opportunities in the BWCAW, Minnesota offered a tremendous resource on it’s 34 mapped river water trails. After spending nearly every summer adventuring out of Ely, over time, I was spending more and more time adventuring on rivers such as the Rum, Snake, and St. Croix.

In 2016, my cousin Jeremy and I decided that we would pursue our long-held dream of paddling the Mississippi River from source to sea. On June 1st of that year, we began what would be an odyssey not soon to be forgotten. Traveling through 10 states and paddling over 2361 miles, we were amazed by the kindness and generosity of others from northern Minnesota down to the southern reaches of Louisiana. Waking up each morning to enjoy creation helps you realize that there is nothing greater than setting forth each day with a purpose and a passion.

Upon my return to reality in September, I found myself becoming increasingly restless at my job of nearly 10 years. As I began exploring next steps, Governor Dayton’s call for a Year of Water Action caught my interest. I was deeply troubled when I learned that 40% of our states water was considered impaired. How I wondered, could a state that is known for clean water, environmentalism, and civic engagement have nearly half of it’s water contaminated and unsuitable for aquatic life and recreation?

The more I read about the state of Minnesota’s water, the more concerned I became. Having had the space and time on the Mississippi River to understand what the pursuit of a passion felt like, I decided I could no longer stay on the sidelines. I decided I needed to do something. I started, Paddle for Progress.

In July 2017, I resigned from my job of 10 years and began paddling in their entirety the 34 rivers mapped by the DNR in order to raise awareness across the state about our water quality crisis. I believe it is imperative that the people of Minnesota understand the threats facing our water, and the steps needed to reverse course.

My goal in paddling these rivers goes beyond raising the alarm about the need for further action however. I am also making maintenance recommendations to the DNR for campsites, landings, and channel conditions. Additionally, I volunteer with the Pollution Control Agency through their Citizen Stream Monitoring Program.

I am wholly committed to protecting and preserving the water we have in Minnesota as I believe it is our states greatest asset. Whether it is the Boundary Waters or the lakes and rivers across the Minnesota landscape, we all have a role to play. The connectedness of water and our connection to it can be mistaken as an outdoor recreation or sportsman only issue. It would be shortsighted to think of water in these limited terms however. We base our economy through tourism and agriculture on water. We have a thriving craft beer and food truck industry that is not possible without water. We go up north, relax, and vacation around water. Most importantly, every day we turn on the tap to eat, drink, and bathe because of access to clean and reliable sources of water.

Please join me in becoming part of the solutions to sustain and improve our water across Minnesota. Let us all work together to stop the degradation of this precious resource and let us together fight back against interests that threaten our beloved Boundary Waters and watershed’s across the state.

Track Waterway Jay’s Journey

You can follow Gustafson’s progress on his website: https://www.waterwayjay.com. He can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter searching: @waterwayjay. Updates on rivers, events, photos, and progress will be available throughout his journey.

Help Along the Way

Gustafson is actively seeking support through funding and logistics to continue his work on, Paddle for Progress. A list of remaining rivers and tentative dates is below if you can assist with transport. Waterway Jay also has an active GoFundMe campaign set up that can be accessed at the following address: https://www.gofundme.com/paddle-for-progress.

If you or an organization you are involved in would like to find ways to partner with Waterway Jay, please contact him directly at: waterwayjay@gmail.com.

What's next?

  1. St. Louis River: June 13-20

  2. Cloquet River: June 22-25

  3. South Fork of the Crow River: June 28-July 3

  4. Mississippi River: July 6-30

  5. Big Fork River: August 2-8

  6. Little Fork River: August 14-19

  7. Vermillion River: August 26-27

  8. Kettle River: August 29-31

  9. Otter Tail River: September 5-11

  10. Red River of the North: September 12-30

  11. Red Lake River: October 2-7

  12. Crow Wing River: October 9-13

  13. St. Croix River: October 15-21

Wall for Wilderness Stories

Friday, April 13, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn

First of all, thank you to everyone who submitted a story for the Wall for Wilderness. We have so enjoyed reading back through well over 100 stories submitted by you all, our fellow BWCA lovers. Memorable tales of moose and bear encounters, close calls with fires, moments of deep and uninterrupted silence, stories of love and of loss, blueberries and backcountry cooking all made it into the mix. A few of these stories really stood out to us and we wanted to share them with everyone. Pour yourself another cup of coffee and enjoy!

Alison Bents

I sat in my tent as still as I possibly could, my heart hammering in my chest. It was just a single overnight alone on Flame Lake, a tiny, single-campsite lake in the southern part of the Boundary Waters. It was late August and I hadn’t seen a moose my whole summer of working at Sawbill, a canoe outfitter on the edge of the wilderness. But now, alone as I had probably ever been, now I started to hear the dripping, the sloshing, the mucky suction as she picked her hooves up and placed them in front of her again and again, these noises getting closer and closer. I wanted so badly to peek out the window and look toward where she had to be moving around, but hardly dared to breathe, and beside that, there was only the smallest moon making it unlikely that I’d see anything anyway. It felt like both hours and only a few brief moments, but her footsteps and sloppy slurping started to move farther away, eventually only some cracking of branches as she made her way out of the water and back into the forest, and then, stillness again.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. My heartbeat started to calm back down, and my lizard-survival brain fell back into neutral. Had I been absolutely scared out of my mind, alone, this enormous 800-1000 pound, poor-sighted creature, lumbering toward me? Absolutely. And at the same time, the awe that, to this day, stays lodged in my bones from this experience is incredible. Not only the moose herself, but what she represented at that moment – the power, might and awe that I have for this world that is often easy to forget about and pass by as everyday and normal.

Chas Hertlein

My friend Tim Gellenbeck and I were camped at the very bottom of Lake Insula and out fishing nearby on the morning of September 14, 2011. For the first time in all of our years of Boundary Water trips, a very low-flying Forest Service floatplane buzzed us and actually landed nearby and offloaded a canoe with a pair of Forest Service rangers who promptly paddled over to us and told us a forest fire was racing our way, the lake was closed and we had to get out right now! But we could not go out through the numbered lakes as we had planned (and where we were to be picked up), but instead would have to paddle all the way back up to the top of Lake Insula and find some way out that way.

We raced back to our campsite, packed our gear, and started north up Insula toward Thomas. By the time we got started the smoke was already thick and we could see the fire racing up both sides of the long and narrow lake. The winds picked up, and the water was rough. At times the visibility was just a few feet due to the heavy smoke. We spent all day fighting winds, waves and smoke to get away from the fire. The Forest Service airplane periodically circled over us, but we were on our own.

We later learned that several fire fighters had been forced to dig in and shelter under a fireproof blanket while the fire flashed over them, right about where we had been camped; fortunately they survived.

During our long paddle that day, we did see one other group far ahead of us, but since we had been camped in the last campsite in Insula in the direction of the fire, we were fairly certain we were the last ones out of Lake Insula ahead of the fire.

Tim and I made it to Thomas Lake that evening where we camped, with a birds eye view of the big yellow fire suppression aircraft that repeatedly swooped down on the water right in front of our campsite to scoop up loads of water to dump on the fire just to the south.

We ended up paddling out through Ima and eventually to Snowbank, where another Forest Service ranger with a satellite phone was able to contact our outfitter, Dan Waters, to let him know where to pick us up.

It was a remarkable experience that Tim and I will never forget.

Bethany Haus

During a 7 day trip in the Boundary Waters, our crew stopped for our layover day on Lake Hatchet. The campsite had enough of a breeze to kept away the mosquitos, and a lovely view of the lake, perfect for sunset photos. During our lay-over, a few girls from our all female crew, went across the lake and discovered a huge patch of wild blueberries. They collected as many as the three could carry in a single gallon pail, returning from their foraging as heroines. We all had handfuls of blueberries to eat with dinner, and for dessert, we stuffed our campfire cheesecake to the brim with these small saphires.

After cleaning up the campsite for the night, Lake Hatchet gave us a beautiful surprise--smooth as glass water for a beautiful sunset. In the morning, to our astonishment, we awoke to find we were seemingly on a mountain--the fog of the morning obscured the water, and make it seem like we were high above the earth. Lake Hatchet was beautiful and peaceful from the time we arrived, to the time we descended from the clouds.

God’s Country

Thursday, March 22, 2018
Posted by
Steve Sikkema
Written by Steve Sikkema (to the tune of John Prine’s Paradise)

When I was a child my family would travel
up to Northern Minnesota where the pure waters flow.
And the people around there fought many a battle
To protect the wilderness where we loved to go.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

We’d canoe the clear water and hike the tough portage
and listen for the call of the eagle and loon.
We might see a moose or family of otters
and a sky full of stars and the brilliant full moon.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

Well the ore company came and tore the earth open.
They made lots of money but ignored the cost.
And profits will always outweigh protection,
so in the end the great treasure was lost.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

And when I am gone my spirit will travel
to float on these waters and cover the land.
And generations to come will enjoy these wild places
If people again are willing to take a bold stand.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

Community Stories: Lori Petrauski

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Posted by
Lori Petrauski

Learning that spiders shouldn't be squished for being spiders

“If he can somehow keep alive a spark of adventure and romance as the old time voyageurs seem to have done, then any expedition becomes more than a journey through wild country. It becomes a shining challenge and adventure of the spirit.” –Sigrud Olson

I first wrote about the Boundary Waters when I was 12. I was enamored by my first canoe trip and I wrote an essay about what wilderness meant to me. The trip left from Moose Lake outside of Ely and lasted 7 days. Here’s a snippet from that essay: “A loon shrieked from across the lake. I sat up in my sleeping bag as my head hit the side of the tent. It was a chilly morning and mist covered beautiful Hanson Lake.” The Boundary Waters was my first experience in a wilderness area, and the endless shores and waterways felt like freedom, even at a young age.  I was lucky enough to do several more week-long trips during my childhood, which led me to become a guide for a season after I spent several years living out of state. From my first trips through the Boundary Waters I remember swimming in clear cold water, floating on the surface of calm golden lakes, and struggling over portages while looking out from under silver canoes. A land of rock, water, and wood.

Once I became a guide, I appreciated the freedom the water trails offered. Freedom to explore dead end streams and freedom to take long portages ending at tiny lakes with only one campsite and no outlet. Freedom to hug the shoreline and take the long way around the lake. I felt content following myself on a map – a tiny line meandering across a canvas of blue and green.

As a guide, I led trips for mostly middle and high school students from all over the country. One middle schooler in particular reminds me of the value of wild places like the Boundary Waters. Throughout his trip, he was very vocal about the aspects of being outdoors that did not suit him. He paddled in the bow seat of my canoe most days, so I could handle his attitude and encourage him to enjoy himself. Sometimes just having an ear to absorb the sarcasm is enough to lift spirits, at least that is what I was hoping. In particular, he did not like all the creepy crawlies that live outdoors and I had to stop him from needlessly squishing insects on multiple occasions. However, on the last morning of a 5-day trip, he found a large hairy fishing spider resting under his life jacket, which had been stored under the overturned canoe for the night. From across the campsite, I watched him exclaim in surprise and then gingerly probe the spider on to a tree with a twig. I was so touched by his actions, but I didn’t dare let him know that I saw his uncharacteristic act of mercy. Even if he didn’t readily admit it, his trip in the Boundary Waters changed his perspective.  If nothing else, he realized spiders shouldn’t be squished for being spiders.

As I’ve moved on from guiding canoe trips, I frequently think longingly of the crisp mornings and seas of birch trees. The Boundary Waters has been a formative force in my life and I try to keep that spark of adventure with me everywhere.

Health Risks Need to be Considered When Deciding on Sulfide-ore Copper Mining

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Posted by
John Ipsen, MD PhD | Jennifer Pearson, MD | Steven Sutherland, MD | Kris Wegerson, MD

HEALTH RISKS NEED TO BE CONSIDERED WHEN DECIDING ABOUT SULFIDE-ORE COPPER MINING

Over the past few years, the medical community in Minnesota has raised an unprecedented voice of concern in response to sulfide-ore copper mining, such as that proposed by PolyMet and Twin Metals. The Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota Public Health Organization along with dozens of individual providers, and non-profit groups with ties to human health all submitted letters in response to the one Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) done for sulfide-ore copper mining in Minnesota. The consensus by all of these groups representing over 30,000 healthcare professionals in our state is that an independent Health Impact Assessment (HIA) be mandated as part of an EIS necessary for decisions regarding sulfide-ore copper mining.

Let us state here that we are not writing about the taconite mining industry, which has played and continues to play an important part in Minnesota’s history, economy, and culture. Sulfide-ore copper mining is a toxic industry with a very poor track record of success. A peer-reviewed Earthworks study in 2012 showed that 100% of modern US copper mines that had operated for 5 years or more had already polluted water.  Several years can pass before leaks are detected.  “Modern mining technology” that has been promised to be “safe” has not proven itself successful.

The World Health Organization lists the ten environmental toxins with greatest concern to human health, and sulfide-ore copper mining releases at least six of these - mercury, lead, arsenic, particulate air pollution, asbestos, and cadmium.  Sulfide-ore copper mining also releases sulfates, which fuel the chemical reactions that transform mercury to its toxic form methylmercury.

These toxins have known harmful effects to human health including cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and neurodevelopmental diseases (dyslexia and other learning disorders, intellectual disabilities, autism, and ADHD among them).  Babies from gestation through age three are especially vulnerable due to their rapidly growing brains, which have a high affinity for these heavy metals.

Not only will the water quality suffer, but so too the air.  Due to releases of fine particulates, asbestos, and asbestos-like particles, sulfide-ore copper mining in the Superior National Forest (SNF) on the doorstep to the BWCA would be expected to cause degradation of the air quality in a significant portion of the Boundary Waters, potentially endangering miners, members of the community, and visitors to the area.

Given these still-present concerns, it is time again to raise our voices regarding the current decisions being made in Washington DC regarding the SNF “mineral withdrawal” (note that the terminology in the current federal process is confusing – withdrawal does not refer to mineral extraction, but rather to withdrawal of parcels of federal land from mining eligibility) in the Rainy River watershed. The outcome of the current process will directly affect our state’s crown jewel, the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

In short, unless protections are given to the sensitive area under study, there remains potential for a large, industrial sulfide-ore copper mining site on the banks of the Kawishiwi River at the headwaters of the BWCA. Any toxic leachate would enter the Kawishiwi River and then flow north into the heart of the BWCA and ultimately into the Rainy River and Canada.

To guard against these insidious health effects, we are urging the US Forest Service to do a comprehensive and robust Environmental Assessment regarding mineral lease withdrawal in the Rainy River watershed, specifically in regard to the risks to human health. This must include modeling for “less than ideal” releases similar to that seen in other sulfide-ore copper mines rather than limiting the modeling to the “best case scenario” often promised but never accomplished.

It is also imperative that this assessment include not only the potential negative effects of a sulfide-ore copper mine in this water-rich area, but also include an assessment of the economic and cultural benefits of the current region as it stands and the risks/costs of what will be lost with the development of such mining at the headwaters of the BWCA. It is our opinion that a robust EA including these components will clearly demonstrate that mineral withdrawal in the Rainy River watershed is necessary to protect the health and wellness of this sensitive and special region of our state.

We travelled to Washington, DC recently and voiced our concerns about these health impacts. Now more than ever, we need concerned Minnesotans to raise their voices, and we ask you to join us.  Please go to the following website https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50938 and submit a comment under “Comment/Object on Project”.

John Ipsen, MD PhD

Jennifer Pearson, MD

Steven Sutherland, MD

Kris Wegerson, MD



A Veteran's Perspective to Protect the Boundary Waters

Monday, February 19, 2018
Posted by
Joe Banavige

The Boundary Waters continues to face the increasing risk of permanent damage from sulfide-ore copper mining. 2018 may be the defining year for Minnesota’s canoe country wilderness. As a Minnesotan, veteran,  sportsman, father and frequent visitor to the Boundary Waters, I call on the citizens of our great state and nation to make your voices heard in 2018 to protect this national treasure. Now is the time to take action.

On December 22nd, the Department of Interior reversed its decades-old policy regarding mineral leases in a move toward reinstating two expired mineral leases on national forest lands next to the Boundary Waters, leases formerly held by the giant Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta and its subsidiary Twin Metals. This decision clears the way to reconsider renewing these leases. Going even further, on January 26th, the U.S. Forest Service announced it is downgrading the current and on-going two-year comprehensive Environmental Impact Study; reversing its decision in favor of conducting a much less rigorous Environmental Assessment.  

The Trump Administration is on a continuous drum beat to reverse the Boundary Waters into environmental and economic oblivion.  Our national treasures demand the most rigorous of science-based analysis when considering the environmental and economic damage posed by sulfide-ore copper mining.  We should demand nothing less.

The Superior National Forest (which includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) was established by President Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago to ensure the canoe country was passed down to future generations unharmed. He was an avid sportsman (founding the Boone & Crockett Club), decorated veteran (leading the Rough Riders and being awarded the Medal of Honor) and a proud father regularly bringing his own children into the wilderness to build character. He also saw the value and importance of these public lands to our country’s distinct and unique character.

The Boundary Waters has been exceptionally formative to my own family. Living for days in the wilderness and arduously portaging from lake to lake not only gives one an appreciation for nature, but builds the grit, perseverance, teamwork, empathy, and “can-do-spirit” that helps to build our youth into strong citizens and future leaders, whether in the military, public service, or the private sector.  As such, it has become a cornerstone of high adventure leadership development programs for organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and Outward Bound. Quite simply, protecting the Boundary Waters is not only a matter of conservation; it can also have an impact on national security and the vibrancy of our country.

Protecting the Boundary Waters has broad based bipartisan support across our country.  Within Minnesota, Governor Dayton and a bipartisan group of representatives from the state’s Congressional delegation have spoken on behalf of Boundary Waters protection from sulfide-ore copper mining. Across America, support is coming from, among others, 204 bipartisan U.S. House Members who recently voted against Congressman Emmer’s anti-Boundary Waters bill (H.R. 3905) as well as over 285 business owners who advocate protecting the existing infrastructure and economic engine of the Boundary Waters.

However, even with this broad-based support, the Boundary Waters continues to be under regular attack. As a result of the Trump Administration reversals, our Superior National Forest lands could be turned over to a private foreign entity (in near perpetuity), contradicting the will of a large majority of Minnesotans. If this happens, and sulfide-ore copper mining begins, it could very well be the defining moment when we lost the glory of the Boundary Waters to history.

It is not too late to save the Boundary Waters. As we move into 2018 and the upcoming election campaign cycle, it is imperative we speak loudly to ensure that candidates for public office, regardless of party affiliation, elevate conservation of the Boundary Waters and our other national treasures as a priority. Candidates should support existing bedrock conservation laws and principles, which have served our country very well over the last century. It is also imperative we continue to let the Trump Administration know we disagree with these reversals and support a two-year Environmental Impact Study to determine the comprehensive damage sulfide-ore copper mining will inflict in the Boundary Waters.

As a Minnesotan, veteran, sportsman, and father, I don’t ever want to be in a position where I have to tell my future children’s children what it was once like to have a clean, pristine and accessible Boundary Waters adventure. I would rather take them there to experience the transformative effect for themselves. This can be our legacy to the next generation, but it will only occur it we collectively stand up and take action now.

Take action today: Sign the petition to protect the Boundary Waters.

Joe Banavige has over 20 years of experience as a business leader, Army officer (Desert Storm), State Department diplomat (Iraq surge), DOD civilian (Afghanistan surge) and is a volunteer with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, DOD or the US Government.    

Volunteer Blog: Susan (Susie) Kelnberger

Monday, February 19, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn


In 1980, my parents bought a cabin on West Bearskin Lake. Our land is on a peninsula, so we actually have docks on two lakes (Hungry Jack and West Bearskin Lakes). Both Lakes are entry points into the Boundary Waters Wilderness. From West Bearskin you can go to Duncan, Moss and Daniels Lake. From Duncan Lake in particular, you can go to Rose Falls and the famous Stairway Portage. To say that I have spent a lot of my life in the vicinity of the Boundary Waters is an understatement. A trip to Rose Falls is an ideal day trip from the cabin. I love the Boundary Waters because it is one of the few places where you can go to truly be off the grid. I love canoeing, fishing, swimming, and camping andthe Boundary Waters is an ideal place to do all those things. I love the wildlife. I love hearing nothing but bird calls and splashing water. And sometimes absolute silence. Which I am also okay with.

The most recent trip I took into the Boundary Waters was with my mom. We went snowshoeing to Rose Falls. The air temp was cold. We had to keep moving to stay warm. It has been so cold up there that Rose Falls is completely iced over, which I have never seen. Mom and I are notorious for getting a late start, which proved to be a very beautiful thing: we got to see the sunset and the moon rise over Duncan Lake.

On another trip to Rose Falls with my best friend, we got stuck in a thunderstorm going back to the cabin. As I was paddling on Duncan I could see the storm clouds gathering. The clouds looked like the horses that Arwent calls down the river in Fellowship of the Ring. The first raindrops started falling the moment we reached the Duncan/West Bearskin portage. Once we got to the West Bearskin side, the skies opened and we were soaked instantly. Thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the side. We hunkered down until it was safe to cross the lake. We made it back in time to enjoy post journey malts at Trail Center on the Gunflint Trail.

I started volunteering for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, because I wanted to get involved with an organization that aligned with my values and this has been the best way for me to be involved. The wilderness needs advocates. I believe that the work we do is important. The Lorax said it best: “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

The long story is, I signed up to volunteer at the send off party for Amy and Dave Freeman the day I moved into my current apartment. Moving is stressful so I was emotional to start off the evening. Then I watched the video about Amy and Dave Freeman’s plan to spend a year in the Boundary Waters Wilderness and preceded to burst into tears. I followed that up by getting a really bad case of Pneumonia after running the Twin Cities Marathon for the first time. I was unable to start volunteering until mid-November of 2015, but I have not stopped since.

Volunteering for Save the Boundary Waters has allowed me to express my leadership skills. I am most proud of the brewery events that I have helped to plan. I like making connections with the owners breweries here in the cities. These connections are truly symbiotic: we bring them business, they give us space to spread the word. (Mark your calendars for Lake Monster Brewing Company of April 7th. Two local bands. The Broken Heartland String Band and The Northerly Gales are performing. Stay tuned for event details!)


Interested in volunteering? Learn more!

Pages