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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!

Community Stories: Will Lyman

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Posted by
Will Lyman

Since 2014, I’ve visited the Boundary Waters annually. The most impactful experience I’ve had in the BWCA was a two-week trip I took in 2015. I spent those two weeks with total strangers, paddling and portaging from lake to lake. During each nighttime talk and every mid-day lunch stop, I fell in love with the way the undisturbed waters can humble you and can bring you closer to those around you, including yourself. I came back from the trip feeling extremely nostalgic, empowered and complete with a need to return to the waters.

Each year my passion for the natural landscape of the Boundary Waters grew. I learned that in 2014, the same year I started going to the BWCA, a Chilean mining company began efforts to build sulfide-ore copper mines on the edge of the Boundary Waters. These mines have a history of polluting surrounding waterways and the Superior National Forest holds 20 percent of the National Forest system's fresh water. Polluting what one of the natural treasures of Minnesota would devastate the water that people come from across the country to see. These people hire outfitters and rent canoes from Ely-based camps and business. I went to Ely and Grand Marais for the recreation and culture of the Boundary Waters, and I didn’t want to see this national treasure be polluted.

I found out about the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters just after I had returned from the area. I couldn’t stand to see something that I had come to love be polluted for the profits of a mining company. I and another 126,000 people made comments to the Forest Service during an ongoing two-year study to learn about the potential risks of a sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters, telling them why I want to see the Boundary Waters protected. The Forest Service and our elected officials want to know what we think of this, and now is the time to speak up for this quiet place.

Sign the petition to Save the Boundary Waters here, and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters will tell your elected officials that we all want to see the Boundary Waters protected from mining on the Wilderness edge. I want to be able to keep going to a place that so many Minnesotans love, use and need to keep protected for the next generation of Americans, so let your elected officials know today.

Please join us at Dunn Brothers this Sunday, 12/10, at noon for a discussion about permanent protection for the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining.

Will Lyman is a junior at the Blake School and a Wilderness Warrior with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Interested in volunteering on a regular basis? Sign up to be a Wilderness Warrior here!

Give to the Max Day 2017: Stories of Support

Thursday, November 16, 2017
Posted by
Save the Boundary Waters

Today is Give to the Max Day, Minnesota's biggest day of giving. Last year, hundreds of you showed support for the protection of the Boundary Waters on Give to the Max Day and we're so grateful. Please give again today and support our efforts to protect this beloved Wilderness for future generations. Give to the Max Day offers an exciting opportunity for those far and wide to give to support the Campaign. Here are stories from longtime supporters to help inspire you.

Walter Mondale
Vice President, 1977-1981

The commitment of Minnesotans to protect the land and waters that are now part of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness began in 1902. Every generation of Minnesotans since has been called to this area’s defense. Today’s threat dwarfs them all.

Beginning in 2013, business owners, sportsmen and women, and other citizens presented federal agencies with overwhelming evidence of the harm that would be done to the Boundary Waters if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed in its watershed.

So will we  allow the destruction of many thousands of acres of these beloved public lands, upstream from the Boundary Waters, by permitting a single-use industrial hard-rock mining district, with the inevitable acid mine drainage that would seriously harm aquatic ecosystems downstream? The watershed of the Boundary Waters is simply the wrong place for this kind of mining.

I hope you’ll join me in this fight by making a donation to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters today.

Paul and Sue Schurke
Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge & Wintergreen Northernwear

For 30 years, we have owned and operated Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear. We offer guided dogsled vacations and camping adventures to more than 500 people each year. People come from all over the world to experience the Boundary Waters as a place "untrammeled by humans."

Our lodge is just five miles downstream from Twin Metals’ proposed mine sites. It is heartbreaking to think that if metal sulfide mining pollutes the Kawishiwi watershed as it has 40 percent of the watersheds in the western U.S., it will devastate our community and damage the Boundary Waters, our nation’s most popular and beloved wilderness area.

With every step and stroke into the Boundary Waters, you can experience the beauty and grandeur of this amazing winter wonderland with the solitude and quiet that you can only truly find in wilderness. Let’s keep it that way.

Your donation today will make a difference for this grassroots campaign.

Steve and Nancy Piragis
Piragis Northwoods Company

In 1979, as newlyweds, we founded a little wilderness shop on the main street in Ely, Minnesota. We needed a lightweight canoe to navigate our first trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, so we began the company by purchasing two canoes, one for us and one to sell.

We’ve spent days in the Boundary Waters without seeing another human being. When we’re away, we dream about the pristine beauty and solitude that has become our home.

Not only is canoe country our home, it is our livelihood. The Ely Chamber of Commerce calls our town "The Last Great Pure Experience." The continued success of our community depends on the Boundary Waters remaining pristine.

We worry often about new sulfide-ore copper mines harvesting minerals that are far more toxic to the ecosystem than the iron ores of the past century. If the Kawishiwi is turned into a mining district, our visitors will likely seek a more pristine paddling experience elsewhere. If this happens, Ely's vaunted main street of outfitters, mukluk shops and gourmet restaurants could start to look a bit more like the mining towns of the past.

Join us in the movement to protect the Boundary Waters; by donating today you’ll double your gift to protect the Boundary Waters.

Jimmy Chin
Photographer, Filmmaker, and Mountain Sports Athlete

My passion for exploration and photography has taken me on some incredible expeditions around the world, from the first ascent of the Shark’s Fin in Meru, India to the first American ski descent of Mt. Everest.

But wherever I go, the Boundary Waters will always hold a special place in my heart. The beauty of the place is in its subtleties; the call of a loon, splash of waves against the shore or the rustle of leaves on a moonlit night. The Boundary Waters is truly a national treasure and one of the most pristine Wilderness Areas in our country.

Right now the Boundary Waters is at risk from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on the edge of the Wilderness. This type of mining would seriously harm our canoe country and the outdoor recreation economy that depends on it.

Join me in helping to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining by making a donation today.

Mike Cichanowski
Wenonah Canoe

I was born to paddle. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River where I cultivated my love for the water and an insatiable curiosity to explore it. I started exploring with my father’s canoe. Later, I used wood-strip canoes and fiberglass models I built as a teenager in my family’s garage.

Fifty years ago I founded Wenonah Canoe, and we’ve become the first choice for many people heading into the Boundary Waters Wilderness, one of the world’s premier canoeing destinations.

The Boundary Waters is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to keep our business in Winona, MN where we employ 100 people. We’ve grown into one of the world’s largest canoe manufacturers. We still convene shareholder meetings at the kitchen table and we visit the Boundary Waters as often as we can. Paddling has been a philosophy and way of life at Wenonah for 50 years, and we plan to keep it that way.

Join me in helping to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining with a donation today.

Amy and Dave Freeman

We’ve spent the last couple months traveling across the country to promote our new book and share stories about A Year in the Wilderness. From talking with decision-makers in Washington, D.C. to Girl Scouts in Nebraska to our neighbors in Ely, it is incredibly inspiring to see so many people rally around protecting the Boundary Waters.
While we were in Washington, D.C. a couple weeks ago, we met with Senator Al Franken and many other decision-makers to advocate for our nation's most popular Wilderness. Although we continue to have many allies in our nation’s capitol, we also have strong opposition from the hard-rock mining industry and their allies in Congress. That’s why it is so critical that we all continue to fight for our beloved canoe country.
Join us in taking a stand for the Boundary Waters by donating today. Your gift will help us continue our advocacy for the Wilderness. If you donate $500 or more, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters will send you a copy of our new book, A Year in the Wilderness!

Thank you to everyone who have given to support the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Please consider giving today!

We cannot afford to get this wrong - Walter Mondale

Thursday, November 16, 2017
Posted by
Vice President Walter Mondale

The commitment of Minnesotans to protect the land and waters that are now part of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness began in 1902. Every generation of Minnesotans since has been called to this area’s defense. Today’s threat dwarfs them all. 

Beginning in 2013, business owners, sportsmen and women and other citizens presented federal agencies with overwhelming evidence of the harm to the Boundary Waters if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed in its watershed.
Minnesotans understand that we cannot afford to get this wrong. Will we continue Minnesota’s commitment that began more than a century ago and take steps to ensure that the Superior remains a healthy multiuse National Forest?
Or will we allow the destruction of thousands of acres of these beloved public lands, just upstream from the Boundary Waters, by permitting a single-use industrial hard-rock mining district, with the inevitable acid mine drainage that would seriously harm aquatic ecosystems downstream? The watershed of the Boundary Waters is simply the wrong place for this kind of mining.
We must do what Minnesotans before us have done: defend the wilderness.
We must be true to the Boundary Waters and the people who depend on it.
Vice President Walter Mondale

Tales from the Trails: See What I Saw

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I was terrified. My first solo guided Boundary Waters trip was off to a great start until that day. The gentle current of water channeling into the Frost River lapped the laces of my boots, and slowly cleaned the mud off of them. A friend told me the Frost River was “fun” and that I would “love it”. The promise of beaver lodges, excellent moose habitat and flowing interconnected waterways was enough to draw me to the river found at the heart of the Boundary Waters. After hours of wrong turns, dead ends, hot rain and steep portages, my whole group was exhausted. At this point I didn’t know which bend of the Frost River we were in after looking at the map, but I knew we couldn’t have much further to go. I wasn’t quite lost, but I dreaded the feeling of not knowing exactly where I was with the campers that I was responsible for.

Sure enough, we came to a long portage into the western edge of Frost Lake. After seeing the water that marked the end of our journey, we hooted and hollered, piled into our canoes and headed toward the first campsite we could find. I didn’t notice any boats at the other four sites on the lake, saw no smoke from fires and heard nothing other than the strokes of weary paddlers and the low croon of the swan, infamous for honking at paddlers that came too close, that lived in the eastern side of the lake. With the lake to ourselves, I tried to put my mind at ease.

“What could go wrong?”

Canoes were unloaded, turned upside down on the shore and camp chores commenced. The tent was raised, campers dispersed in search of wood, bundles piled up and the campers ran back to the fire grate with fistfuls of birch bark, ready to get warm by the fire. One camper (there’s always one) was taking a few minutes longer than he should so I wandered into the woods calling his name. After a few tries, he finally called back, “I found something! Come here, fast.”

I ran toward the noise and came to a clearing where I saw the camper holding a shiny hand saw. He’d found it lying against a tree, a couple hundred feet from the campsite. I told him not to worry, that it was probably someone from the Forest Service doing campsite maintenance and that we should go back to the fire with the rest of the group. Weighting the saw in my hands, I thought about how weird it was for someone from the Forest Service to actually do that. They teach Leave No Trace ethics, and this saw was nice. I never liked to lie to the campers on my trips, but I figured he might sleep better not worrying about why a new saw would be in the middle of the Boundary Waters. The more I thought about it, I wanted to sleep better not worrying about this saw. I tried to focus on the group, and leaned the saw against the fire grate.

Later, as we slid into sleeping bags and settled in for bed, I looked out the tent screen at the fire grate, wondering what to do with the saw. Deciding there was nothing I could do about it that night, I nodded off trying to read my book, the hum of mosquitoes on the other side of the screen keeping me company.

I woke up to the first warmth of the sun, facing east toward the fire grate. Groggy, as always, I lit a corner of birch bark to start a small cook fire for coffee. I read my book by the fire until steam spilled over the top of the pot on the grate. The chaos of yesterday was finally mellowing out, the weather was better today and there was a light breeze that would push us the direction we needed to go. Things were looking up, and as my first camper walked out of the tent I had a smile on my face, ready to crack some joke to start off the day. Then I heard him say, “What happened to the saw?”

My mind started racing and I looked around frantically. The saw was gone and the plot of every horror movie that ever took place in the woods ran from start to finish in my mind. What did the characters usually do next? I had to make sure I didn’t do whatever that was. I have no idea what I said to the camper looking back, but I’m sure I gave him at least three answers. The Forest Service ranger came back and picked up his saw, a bear interested in carpentry must have taken it in the middle of the night or there was a sudden wind, that none of us felt, that blew it into the lake. To this day, I still have no idea what happened to that saw, but I do know we set the world record for quickest break down of a tent and packing into canoes. I tried to remain calm, but as I paddled out of Frost Lake I felt a strange chill run down my spine.

What happened to the saw of Frost Lake? It’s impossible to know. Was it the most well-orchestrated prank ever pulled on a guide at a YMCA camp? It could be, but whatever happened be sure to keep your eyes peeled on your next trip to the Boundary Waters. You never know what you might find!

Volunteer Spotlight: Deborah Kleese Shares Her Story

Thursday, July 27, 2017
Posted by
Deborah Kleese

Volunteer Spotlight is a blog series where we feature our outstanding Sustainable Ely volunteers. Learn why these dedicated volunteers share their time with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, how the Wilderness has impacted their lives and why they choose to call Ely, Minnesota, their home. Long-time Sustainable Ely volunteer Deborah Kleese shares her story.

Before arriving in Ely, I spent about 28 years in the Hudson Valley of New York state. As my husband Dave and I planned our retirement, we concluded that the place we wanted to be was Ely--in close proximity to the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park. Canoeing is an important part of our lives, and there is no better place to canoe than in this vast, shared Wilderness between the United States and Canada. We spend time year-round in the Boundary Waters. We hike the trails in spring, fall and summer; we fish and ski the frozen lakes in winter; and take many day-trips to the various Boundary Waters lakes during summer. We also take at least one two-week trip that typically spans both the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park.

Prior to moving to Ely, I was a college professor teaching psychology, and my particular area of expertise was environmental psychology. As an environmental psychologist, I was interested in the transactions between people and the biophysical world. By “transactions,” I refer to human behavior, experience and the physical environment as a reciprocal unit. Humans, through thoughts, feelings and behaviors, intentionally or unintentionally change the environment and are, in turn, changed by the places we inhabit. In this context, place matters, and I can say that I have been profoundly changed by the Quetico-Superior ecosystem. Gradually, through years of traveling through this waterway, I am beginning to understand how it came to be and how it has changed. I appreciate its complexity and I am constantly surprised by what it reveals. I am beginning to understand its human history and how the various waves of human habitation have informed and transformed the region.

Because place matters, places are not interchangeable. The Superior-Quetico region offers unique and special features that make it one of the best places on earth. Minnesota is fortunate to have one of the best freshwater environments on the planet, home to part of Lake Superior as well as the Boundary Waters. The human history is therefore written on these waters, and part of my interest in this place is in reading the chronicles of those who traveled from Lake Superior through waters now named the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park and then on to the Canadian waters to the west. In reading the journals of early surveyors and explorers, I recognize many places and empathize with their experiences, (not only with their accounts of impressive falls and rock faces, but also with their exasperation with mosquitoes, storms and tedious portages). Every day I can briefly pause and consider what a privilege it is to live here, in what is so aptly marked on early maps as the “region of rocks and water."

We couldn't be more thankful for the hardwork and dedication that Deborah Kleese has given to Sustainable Ely and the entire Ely community.

Check out how to join Deborah and others as a Sustainable Ely volunteer! Or sign up to be a volunteer for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Trip Tales: May Trout Fishing

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Posted by
Dodd Cosgrove

It was May 17, the Wednesday following the Minnesota fishing opener.  Rich, Mark and I had rendezvoused the day before at my cabin outside of Ely, Minnesota.  That Wednesday morning we set out on another canoe trip into the Quetico-Superior country.  A spring canoe trip has become a tradition for various friends and me over the last three decades.  As years have passed and we have grown older, our ambitions have been faced with the reality of our physical condition.  The mileage has dwindled, but the enthusiasm has not.  This year our destination was the Quetico side of Basswood Lake. The route included five portages and approximately four hours of paddling.  

I have learned over the years to discuss my canoe trip plans with locals in Ely who are deep in experience concerning routes, campsites and fishing holes.  My reconnaissance this year had identified an excellent base camp on the North Bay of Basswood.  The weather in May is unpredictable and can be punishing.  It’s best to think about the possibility of frigid north winds and also prevalent west winds travelling over 40-degree water before impacting a campsite.  Once at the campsite, one should consider where the fire pit is situated.  Will the fire be exposed to prevailing west winds or north winds?  A campsite can often make the difference between a wonderful experience and an endurance contest.

Our trip began with little fanfare.  We were greeted with light north winds as we left Prairie Portage and headed west down our largest exposure on Basswood Lake, which is notorious for strong westerlies and big rollers.  Paddling on lakes with 40-degree water should not be taken lightly.  Safety is of utmost importance.  We headed north into Bailey Bay and crossed the portage into Burke Lake.  Light rain began to fall.  The temperature was a relatively warm 60 degrees.  I have often felt that traveling in the rain is preferable to staying in camp.  The conditions were quite comfortable.

As we entered North Bay, the north wind stiffened to 15-to 20-miles-per-hour gusts.  Although we did not have a long way to go, our destination had us paddling straight upwind.  The next hour or so was a grind.  All paddlers can relate to this.  If mankind has one common denominator, it is hatred of a headwind.  We arrived at our campsite for a late lunch, thankful that its orientation faced south, protecting us from the north wind.  Friends in Ely had advised us well.  This campsite was perfectly situated for the weather conditions.

We were greeted to a pleasant surprise at the fire pit.  There was a good stack of bucked, but not split, white cedar.  It appeared to be enough wood to get us through a couple of meals.  The only problem was that it was still raining and everything was wet.  North winds meant dropping temperatures.  As the afternoon progressed the temperature steadily declined.  It was going to be a cold night--a good fire was comforting.  After setting up our tents we divided the responsibilities of organizing the cooking area, finding kindling and splitting wood.  

The wet conditions were going to make it challenging to start a fire.  Having seen such circumstances before, we got out our pocketknives and began shaving some of the cedar that Mark and Rich had split.  Patience is extremely important when attempting to start a fire in soggy surroundings.  I always bring some paper towels with me.  I find them very useful when cooking.  In this case, we put a flat rock on top of the wet ashes and placed a crumpled paper towel on the rock.  The dry cedar shavings were placed on the paper towel followed by a layer of very thin, dead branches.  It was not long before we had a good enough fire to begin drying the bark of the split cedar that was to be burned subsequently.

When we were younger these trips were all about how many miles we could paddle.  These days the mileage just isn’t important.  Now we prefer base camping.  This was to be our base camp for the next five days.  By dinner, the rain was diminishing to a light mist.  The weatherman had predicted improving conditions for the next few days with rain returning for our paddle back to Prairie Portage.  The conversation over supper turned to our plans for the next day.  We would stick fairly close to camp, fishing the North Bay.  

Thursday dawned with much cooler temperatures in the upper 30s.  Skies had lightened and most importantly the rain had stopped.  We were confident that we would not see rain with the stiff north winds continuing.  We were anticipating a good day of fishing.

Fishing in May is my favorite time of year in the Quetico-Superior country.  In May it is possible to catch lake trout near the surface. Lake trout are only found in deep, clear, cold, oxygenated oligotrophic lakes.  The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park are famous for its pristine, sky blue waters. The border lakes of Minnesota and Ontario are about as far south as one will find these lakers. Farther south, water temperatures are too high and lakes lack the oxygen to support lake trout.  It is this scarcity value that makes lake trout fishing special. The lake trout represents true wilderness to me.

Thursday morning Rich and I were fishing in my 18-foot Bell Northwinds canoe.  Mark was paddling a Wenonah Canak, a hybrid canoe/kayak suited for solo wilderness tripping.  The three of us are paddlers more than fishermen.  Therefore, our preferred method of fishing is to troll the shorelines with crank baits until we find a hot spot.  Not too long after leaving camp and paddling through a channel, Rich had a solid strike.  As the fish tired, the excitement grew when we saw one near the boat.  It was a substantial laker, and we were eager to get it in the net.  Soon the fish was landed.  It measured 32 inches, suggesting about a 12-pound fish.  The photograph of Rich and his fish says it all.  A lake trout is a beautiful fish.  Catching and releasing such a large aquatic denizen is the essence of a wilderness experience.

As many of you know, a large Chilean mining company named Antofagasta has proposed to develop a mammoth copper mine adjacent to the Kawishiwi River south of Ely.  Hard-rock mining, which includes sulfide-ore copper mining, is considered the most toxic, most polluting industry in the world.  Copper is found in sulfide rock.  If mined, more than 99 percent of the rock will be left on the land's surface as vast piles of sulfide bearing waste-rock.  When this waste-rock is exposed to air and water, it generates sulfuric acid.  This sulfuric acid leaches heavy metals from the wate-rock as it leaks from mine sites into nearby bodies of water. A combination of acid, water and heavy metals is known as acid mine drainage, and it changes the pH of waters it enters by increasing its acidity.  Scientific studies have shown that the lakes of the Boundary Waters have low acid-neutralizing capicity, making them particularly vulnerable to acid mine drainage.  It is predicted that the development of copper mining next the BWCAW will have devastating effects on aquatic life in down stream lakes.  Basswood Lake is downstream from the proposed mining complex and in the path of pollution.  As I look at the fish in this picture and the human response of catching such a magnificent fish, I ask if it is worth the price of polluting this great wilderness for the benefit of a few jobs and a large profit for a foreign mining giant.

Dodd Cosgrove is a board member for the Campaign. Cosgrove first paddled the Boundary Waters in 1964, one month before it gained official designation as a Wilderness area. Retired after 30 years working as a Chartered Financial Analyst, he has served on multiple boards, including The Quetico-Superior Foundation and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, at times serving as treasurer for both. For the last 19 years he and his family have owned a cabin on Little Long Lake and all of his children have been campers at a YMCA camp near the Boundary Waters. 

The Youth in Duluth

Monday, June 12, 2017
Posted by
Ingrid Lyons and Piper Donlin

Duluth has been called the “gateway to the Boundary Waters” and holds a special place in the hearts of many who pass through on summer trips. Its continued growth in recent years is tied to the city's proximity to the Wilderness and recognition of the value of living in an outdoors-friendly community. We took a look at how all that is guiding Duluth forward and the people who are making this playground their home.

Recently, Duluth's growth caught the attention of the StarTribune this April, which named the harbor city the "Outdoor Capital of the Midwest":

In 2015, the most recent research data available, 6.7 million people visited Duluth, nearly doubling the 3.5 million annual visitors the city cited previously (the 2015 data represents the first comprehensive study in years). Now, a burst of new outdoors companies, restaurants and other businesses are cropping up to take advantage of the rising demand.

Breaching Thompson Hill on I-35 North, visitors are met with an impressive view of Lake Superior and the iconic lift bridge, the skyline and the industry that made Duluth possible. Signs of its industrial roots are everywhere: massive taconite piles, rail lines and in the harbor, 1,000-foot-long ocean-going freight ships, taking resources all over the world. Duluth--home to clean water, old industries and easy access to the outdoors, is being transformed by people who recognize its potential.

The Duluth of the 21st century has a new vitality. New businesses and industries are on the rise. From craft breweries to a booming regional tourism economy to a flourishing creative scene, Duluth is the next place to be. The revitalization, it seems, stems from a yearning to be close to the woods and waters that make northeastern Minnesota unique. Recnetly named the "Fittest City in America" by Fitbit and the "Best Town in America" by Outside Magazine in 2014, Duluth's accessibility to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the North Shore is second to none.

But who are these people who don’t just pass through? Those who take risks by settling here, bringing along their industries and small businesses, and passionately advocating for our waters? Why have they come to Duluth, and more importantly for the future of this town, why do they stay? Many are converts--folks that made the choice to emigrate from the Twin Cities to Duluth, escaping the cities. 

Minnpost: "[Duluth’s] continuing vitality shows that successful cities are not just the preordained outcome of economic conditions; they are the creation of dedicated citizens who care deeply about the place they call home."

In our quest for answers, we reached out to a few young movers and shakers--those risk takers who proudly live, work and play in this former industrial port city:

JT Haines is a union organizer by day. “I get into bikes, hikes, dogs, music, soccer (Port City Shaolin), beer, smoked fish and clean water with the rest of my time,” he said. “I grew up on the Range, went to high school in the 'burbs, lived my post-college years in the Cities, and then moved to Duluth on May 1, 2015. My first night in Duluth was a Friday during the Homegrown Music Festival. I biked into town via the Lakewalk, snapped a photo with Lifty (the lift bridge) on the way, saw 500 shows and returned home never. I was hooked before I even made it downtown.” Haines works in the community as a volunteer organizer with Duluth for Clean Water, a growing association seeking a safe and healthy future for Duluth, the Lake and surrounding areas. Clean water, he said, is fundamental. “I love Duluth. Imma leave it at that.”

Hannah Dittberner is the theatre and events manager at Zeitgeist, a community arts non-profit theatre and cafe. She explained that she never really felt like St. Paul was her place and often found herself in Duluth on weekends. The community felt accessible and the idea of starting her career in events and theatre management was much more appealing in Duluth rather than the competitive Minneapolis-St. Paul scene. “[There’s] so much going on here and everyone is giving an honest effort,” she said.

Nick Anderson, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, expressed that Duluth appealed to him more than the Twin Cities for beginning his career as an attorney: “the leadership opportunities are so much more accessible here," adding, “it’s much easier to be a contributing member of the community. We liked the idea of being able to camp, climb, hike and fish on the weekends without the drive--being on the Lake and close to the Superior Hiking Trail and the BWCA really means a lot to our quality of life. That coupled with the growing group of young entrepreneurs makes Duluth the perfect city for us.”

Being in Duluth is relatively new for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Northeast Regional Organizer Ingrid Lyons moved up to Duluth in the Fall of 2015, and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters Outreach Coordinator Piper Donlin joining her about a year later. We deeply value having Campaign representation here because the Zenith City represents a unique intersection between the Twin Cities and Ely, with its own perspective and space for an engaged and entrepreneurial citizenry. The people and issues specific to this place are constantly pushing us as organizers to challenge our assumptions of what works and does not work in the world of advocacy--forcing us to go further, dig our heels deeper into this amazing community and look beyond the work day. Ultimately, it’s a place where you can make your voice heard if you believe you have something to say--where people will listen and where you can find the space to make an impact.

It’s the sense of possibility and the people who are taking advantage of it that are shaping Duluth’s future, with the underlying premise that clean water will always be there to support them. These strong, sustainable foundations will surely carry Duluth forward, and we can’t wait to be a part of it. Those of us who live here are lucky to watch the creation of a sustainable economy built on tourism, arts, wilderness and clean water. We are willing to fight for the economy that flourishes because of this stunning lake and beautiful Wilderness area, not in spite of it.  

Piper Donlin is a native Minnesotan who has spent many years exploring the Northwoods and Boundary Waters. She works as the Sporting Outreach Coordinator for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. Piper received her master’s from the University of Oslo’s Center for Development and the Environment and attended the University of Minnesota where she studied environmental science, policy and management.

Ingrid Lyons has been an expert at riding in the middle of a canoe since the age of 4. She was born and raised in the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn, New York, but always felt extremely fortunate to be able to escape to the Boundary Waters and surrounding areas each summer. Having graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, in June 2015 with a degree in environmental studies, Ingrid is excited to be working for the Campaign as Northeast Regional Organizer.




Volunteer Spotlight: Elton & Emily Brown Share Their Story

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Posted by
Abby Maki

Volunteer Spotlight is a new blog series where we feature our outstanding Sustainable Ely volunteers. Learn why these dedicated volunteers share their time with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, how the Wilderness has impacted their lives and why they choose to call Ely, Minnesota, their home.

I had the pleasure of talking with long-time Sustainable Ely volunteers Elton and Emily Brown recently. They shared their past with me and how the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness became part of their lives. Elton and Emily grew up on the East coast, and after school they moved to Minneapolis where they raised their kids together. For many years, the Brown family vacation destination was the Boundary Waters. When Elton was a pastor, he led two canoe trips in the BWCA every year: one with adults, the other for youth. He said the reason he brought people on these trips was because “people's lives were improved, it gave them time apart to gain perspective.” During this time, Emily organized women’s canoe trips, which recognized that “women of all ages are tough and creative and full of good humor when the trail is rough or the rain and the bugs persist.” For some of the women, she said, a trip to the BWCA brought awareness to strengths that might not have been recognized otherwise.

As their lives went on, the thought of retirement in Ely evolved from fantasy to reality. They bought their home on the edge of the woods 25 years ago and retired 8 years ago. The day they moved to Ely, they wandered around downtown to see what their new home had to offer. The farmers market was happening, there was live music at the Chocolate Moose and the band was rehearsing in the high school. Elton claimed they didn't anticipate how wonderful community life would be. With the opportunity to meet new friends and attend many concerts and festivals, Elton and Emily were excited to join the Ely community.

Elton and Emily are strong believers that Ely is thriving, and that there is an amazing future ahead as the population and businesses continue to grow. Although summertime brings the most change, they see growth throughout all four seasons. They believe that Ely's new growth could be undermined if sulfide-ore copper mining is allowed in the Boundary Waters watershed. Aside from volunteering for Sustainable Ely, Elton avidly welcomes new people to Ely. He organizes occasional “Meet New Elyites” programs at Tuesday Group--where many come together for a weekly lunch and presentation at the Grand Ely Lodge. He loves helping people make connections. As a long time nordic skier and ski coach, Elton “loves the long winters.” In addition, he plays tuba in the Ely City Band and leads the Largemouth Brass Ensemble.

Elton on a resupply to Dave and Amy Freeman during A Year in the Wilderness

Emily also enjoys meeting new people and inviting them to the many events that Ely has to offer. She reads to kindergarten students, is a member of the board for Friends of the Ely Public Library and serves as a deacon at the local Presbyterian Church. Emily also adds that she is a part of “a fabulous women's book club.” They donate to many local causes, but the one that they support the strongest is the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. They have participated in many volunteer events such as working tables at festivals and attending events hosted at Sustainable Ely. Elton was also one of Dave and Amy Freeman's most frequent visitors during A Year in the Wilderness.

We couldn't be more thankful for the hardwork and dedication that Elton and Emily Brown have given to Sustainable Ely and the entire Ely community.

Check out how to join Elton and Emily as a Sustainable Ely volunteer! Or sign up to be a volunteer for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.