Two years ago I went on a life changing expedition that gave me life again. It was an eight-day dogsled and cross-country ski expedition with Voyagers Outward Bound School (VOBS) veterans program in the Boundary Waters. This expedition sent me on a new path that made me want to engage with life again. At the end of the expedition, I realized that I was capable of so much more than what I had previously thought, and that I was not just damaged goods. After the trip, we learned about the dangers facing the Boundary Waters from proposed mines in its watershed. I could not stand by. To share my story and connect with other veterans who have similar stories, I founded Veterans for the Boundary Waters, partnering with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. I did this with hopes of showing what would be lost should the sulfide-ore copper mines be allowed to proceed. Throughout the two years as I shared my story, I wondered if I would ever go back to the Boundary Waters during the winter. There is something truly special about winter in the Boundary Waters. It gives you the space to look deep into parts of you that have been neglected or dormant. I really wanted to go back and see what I would learn about myself when I was not battling my own mind. That is when I was offered another chance to go on a VOBS veterans winter expedition. I was going on an adventure!
When I arrived at VOBS, Bud, the director of winter expeditions, told us that for the first time ever VOBS would be combining a Veterans course with an adult course. I met the only other veteran that would be on the trip--Doug Kelley, a Special Forces Officer who severed in Vietnam. Kelley, I would later find out, is the kind of guy that Chuck Norris would have a poster of on his wall. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. So many opposites would have to work together in harsh conditions on one of the hardest courses that VOBS has to offer. The divides we would have to overcome included generational--we spanned the baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. I couldn’t see an overarching connection that would unite us all. My failure was I did not realize the experience itself would unite us.
Once we had gathered, the expedition started out the same as all of them do: classes on what to wear, how to solve gear issues, how to sleep on ice in the winter and how to set up our tents. We spent the first night on the ice in front of VOBS to help acclimate us to the cold. Before we climbed into our sleeping bags, we did some cross-country skiing on the lake to warm up. There was a moment that night when everyone shut off his or her head lamp and just looked at the stars. Those who had never been to the Boundary Waters before could not believe all of the stars that were out. While standing there in the quiet with nothing but the stars, I realized it was the first time that we felt connected as a group. The Boundary Waters has way of doing that, just a few quiet moments when you stop and look to see all that is around you. The beauty and stillness connects you to something greater than yourself something--it's intangible. In this moment, I could see the connection start in those that had never been there before.
The next morning, we packed our sleds and headed to the entry point. There is always a nervous tension in the air as you are about to embark from the entry point into the Boundary Waters. It is the excitement of what is to come, mixed with the fear of the unknown that comes in the phrase, “I guess we are really doing this!” For those who have never been on ice before, the question is always, “Is it really safe to step out on the ice?” Then comes the most terrifying step--the first one. We all took it and stepped out on to the ice. Despite all of our differences, we were going to live and work together in the wilderness for seven days. To be honest, I was not sure how it was going to work.
It did work. With each passing mile, task and night, it became clear that despite our differences we could relate to one another. As we gathered around a campfire each night to share our thoughts on the day, it was easy to find ways to relate to those we thought we had nothing in common. One night there was a conversation about how to train for a marathon, and several in the group wanted to run one. One of our instructors turned to Kelley and asked if he had ever run a marathon. Kelley replied, “I have run about 28 marathons; they are good training for hard climbs I have done, like Everest or El Capitan.” Everyone's jaw dropped and that was when the younger members realized they had a lot to learn from him. Although, it was not all smooth sailing. During the coldest day with the highest winds, the dogs were not cooperating. There was also tension over who would be chopping the rest of the firewood. However, the instructors’ guidance and an excellent meal eased all the tension.
The real breakthrough came the morning after solo. Solo is our chance to go out to our own campsite with the skills we have learned and put them to the test. It is also a time for us to reflect. We reflect on where we are going in life, what we have done and whatever else we would like to reflect on. It was during solo night on my last trip with VOBS when I found peace--a peace that never made me think again that taking my own life was a solution. During my solo on this trip, I thought about how far I had come from that first solo, and I thought about the Wilderness that I was now trying to protect. The Boundary Waters in winter is far quieter than in summer. The only real sound is that of the wind. It's not like any park or recreational site you may find elsewhere. It’s a true Wilderness that gives you space from modern life to truly reflect and look deep into yourself. This is why so many who do solos or have been to the Boundary Waters come out different and more in-tune with what is important to them. The next morning I decided that I would share my story with the group: how I came to this point in my life and why I am now better. After I shared my story, the others shared their stories. Even though we all had very different backgrounds and very different life experiences, we related to each other. It was a moment that I do not think could happen under any other circumstances.
After that morning, we had one more day of travel. During our final fire conversation, even those who did not talk much before were having great conversations about the trip and their future plans. Kelley shared which schools taught mountaineering, the first time campers planned their next camping adventures, and I reflected on how far we had come. In terms of distance, we had only done about 27 miles. In terms of coming together to have a successful expedition, we had come so much further. The way the VOBS ran the program combined with the Boundary Waters itself allowed us to bridge gaps that many in our society may think impossible. In one week, all of the generational labels were swept away and we worked together as a group. At the final graduation ceremony, Kelley summed up the the feeling of the expedition the best. He said, before the expedition he was worried by what had been going on in our country, but after working with the 18-year-olds on this trip--he thought America would be just fine!
I always knew that the Boundary Waters was very special, but what I learned on this expedition is that the human potential that surfaces from a trip like this is far more valuable than any mineral that can be ripped out of the earth.
Erik Packard is the founder of Veterans for the Boundary Waters. He has been going to the Boundary Waters his whole life, with his family first taking him as an infant. In 1996, at the age of 17 years old, he joined the United States Army. Packard served in the United States Army Reserve for 14 years and served two combat tours in Iraq. After his last tour in Iraq, he began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. After many treatments, he discovered Voyageurs Outward Bound School's program for veterans. After his trip with VOBS, Packard began fighting to protect the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining and has been sharing his story to help protect this Wilderness.
15-year-old Joseph Goldstein recently returned from spending a few days in Washington, D.C. meeting with legislators [Right: with Representative Betty McCollum] and land management agency leaders to urge support for permanently protecting the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Joseph’s passion and dedication for protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has continued to grow since we first shared his story in March 2015.
A little over two years ago, Joseph Goldstein was diagnosed with High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Since then he has made it his mission to help protect the Boundary Waters.
Joseph first visited DC and met with elected officials in March 2015 during a break in his chemotherapy. During that visit, Joseph met Jack Steward and Colton Smith, educators and hosts of the show Rock the Park, an educational program about America’s National Parks (see a preview of their Voyageurs National Park episode). Following that visit, Joseph developed a friendship with “Those Park Guys” and they even joined him on a winter resupply mission to visit and help Dave and Amy Freeman during their Year in the Wilderness.
This past week while in the nation’s capitol, Joseph had the opportunity to give a speech at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) annual Salute to the Parks gala, which honored Jack and Colton with the Robin W. Winks Award for enhancing public understanding of the National Park System. Joseph’s speech is below.
I’m so happy to be here tonight to help honor Jack and Colton for their amazing and inspiring show, Rock The Park. Each week they introduce us to another one of America’s incredible National Parks, and to the beauty and power of wild places – and they do it with so much love and enthusiasm that every park becomes a new addition to “The List.” Just for the record, I’m going to have to live an extended life – my list is becoming very long ...
I first met Jack and Colton at this same event, two years ago when I was 13, during the first season of their show. They were (and still are) heroes in my eyes – the coolest guys doing the very coolest job I could possibly imagine. I was a big fan, and meeting them was one of the highlights of my first visit to D.C.
About six months prior to that I was diagnosed with what is officially known as “High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” It’s the kind of diagnosis that makes your big, tough dad cry and your mom look you straight in the eye and tell you that you WILL survive this, and that she loves you but that she will not for one minute put up with you feeling sorry for yourself. My mama knows how to straighten you up…
We talk a lot in my family about drawing light out of the darkness; that although you don’t always have a choice in what happens TO you – and believe me, no one would choose hair loss and puking – you always, ALWAYS, have a choice in how you react to what happens. So, when the Make a Wish foundation approached me, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had an opportunity to do something that would be bigger than me.
Eleven years ago my parents took my second brother, and me to the Boundary Waters for the first time. For me, it was like coming home. I fell in love and, as I was recently reminded, I was sobbing when I was told it was time to leave. Since then, the Boundary Waters has become “my place;” that space in the world where I want to be whenever I can. My memories of the BWCA helped me get through that AWFUL first year of chemo. And every chance I’ve had -- through almost three years of treatment -- I’ve returned there for strength and healing. It is the most perfect place imaginable, and today it is under direct threat from a toxic copper mine that has been proposed directly on its border.
My parents say it's the hubris of youth to believe that life is binary (obviously, they also like to use words I have to Google). But I think that the greatest thing about youth is that you GET to be as hubris-y as you want. You get to say things like “either you're a defender or you’re a destroyer.” There is no room for gray on this issue: We are called to be guardians of sacred places, and now, more than EVER, we have to plant our feet, stand our ground, and defend.
Sometimes life only gives you one chance. I think this is ours. This is our one chance to defend our beautiful national parks and wildernesses that give so much to so many of us. There are a multitude of reasons why people choose to pick up a paddle – or throw on a pack - and head into the wilderness. Sometimes we don’t even know beforehand exactly why we do. But universally we all come out changed, and changed for the better.
So, that’s MY wish: To permanently protect the BWCA. The BWCA is “my place,” but I’m willing to bet that each and every one of you here tonight has “your place,” too. I bet you’ve felt it – that peace that can only be found in the utter stillness of a starlit night in the woods. Or the desert. Or at the top of a mountain you’ve spent the day summiting. We all have that place.
These are the places that Jack and Colton take us to every week. Their work is inspiring and important, and I know that every kid who watches and learns from them is adding another, and another, and another park to their bucket list – because I am, too. Their adventures make me want to do more, see more, learn more, BE more, and defend more. They have inspired me, and I know they are helping recruit the next generation of defenders– my three little brothers, included. As Ed Abbey once famously said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”
When I met Jack and Colton two years ago, they were bigger than life -- stars to me. But over the last two years as I’ve watched and learned from them, and they joined me for a winter adventure into the BWCA by dogsled, I have come to understand that they are true Wilderness Warriors, and I am very proud to call them my friends.
Congratulations, Jack and Colton! To quote Abbey again, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, (and) dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
Support Joseph in his wish to protect the Boundary Waters. Submit your comment today and speak up for the critical things that need to be studied during this environmental review.
It was a sunny day in June when our group of five embarked on our 14-day journey. It was a beautiful day with a light wind as we paddled away from civilization with light hearts and calm minds. As the trip went on, we bonded over scary stories and stupid games. We joked about our eternal hunger and sore muscles. The time we spent on the water was time for singing songs and listening to Sally, our trip leader, read Harry Potter. Sometimes we would paddle quietly and simply observe our beautiful surroundings.
One of my favorite memories was on our first night when there was a beautiful sunset. We all stopped what we were doing and watched it. We were all yelling how beautiful it was and we had a group hug under the amazing sky. Sally wrote in our journal that night: “Our crew of five just spontaneously viewed and hugged through a mad gorgeous sunset on Ensign. Crayfish danced and the sky smoldered with pinks, purples, and oranges that were equally beautiful as they reflected on the water below. I’ve never been so stoked to be here.” It was an incredible first night.
As time went on, and we got further and further east, the beautiful trees and rocks gradually turned into plateaus and cliffs. We were getting closer to our final destination of the Grand Portage to Lake Superior, which we would complete on our last day. Our last full day we spent traveling up the Pigeon River to the mouth of the Grand Portage. We saw two moose in the span of a couple hours. At the time, the canoe in front of us slowed down to a stop and before I could ask why, I stopped in my tracks too. There was a huge animal crossing in front of us and it slightly scared me because of how close it was. The moose started trotting across the river, becoming more nervous as it went. It was incredible.
We got to the Grand Portage on our last day and completed the 8.5 miles in six hours. It was a grueling journey, but I’m so glad I could do it with some of my best friends. We made it to Lake Superior and hugged and cried after we set our canoes down. We were so happy. I’m extremely grateful I could spend two weeks in the place I love the most with some of the most amazing people I know.
Mackenzie Johnson is a junior at Minnetonka High School. Johnson made her first five-day trip to the Boundary Waters in the summer of 2014. She fell in love and could not wait to get back. In the summer of 2015 she went on a 10-day trip, and in July 2016 she completed a 14-day trip that ended with the 8.5 mile Grand Portgage to Lake Superior. Johnson loves everything about the Boundary Waters and supports the area in any way she can to make sure herself and others can continue to enjoy it for many years to come.
Today, I'm running though my final packing list and making sure that my gear will once again be ready for a great adventure that that has me very excited. Once again, I will travel north and experience the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in winter. For seven days I will travel with my fellow veterans by ski and dog sled in a place that provides a peace seldom found in modern life. The expedition is being put on by Voyageur Outward Bound School, the base camp is called home place. I could not think of a better name, because for me this is a return trip and home place means a great deal to me, and this is why.
Two years ago, I completed a weeklong dog sledding expedition with the Voyager Outward Bound School in the Boundary Waters. As a child, I had followed the expeditions of Will Steger and Paul Schurke as they explored the worlds’ Polar Region. Instead of just reading about these accomplishments from afar, I got to lead a team of dogs through the Wilderness myself and sleep in the snow, leaving with a sense of accomplishment. These new experiences, this accomplishment within me, filled a space in my spirit that had previously been occupied by the darkness of doubt. That darkness told me I would never be good enough, that I was a failure, and a burden. As I led my dog sled out of the Wilderness, I couldn’t help but feel that I was coming out of spiritual wilderness as well.
I joined the Army when I was 17, wanting to serve my country and seeking the adventure the Army was promising. I prepared myself mentally and physically for what I thought would be my long term career. In place of adventure, I experienced the pain of losing those closest to me, sacrificing all that we consider normal and traditional and did my best to survive two tours of duty fighting the war in Iraq. Like many who served alongside me, these experiences change me forever. It’s hardest to see what is inside you but those around me noticed a difference right away. Concern and fear replaced the relief those who love me felt when I returned home, as I stopped doing the things I loved and instead sought out alcohol to dull my pain. The more they asked me to seek help, the more I resisted, unable to admit the depths of my pain and self loathing. Then came the day I decided to kill myself.
Somehow I survived and, through the efforts of my family and the medical staff at the hospital and VA, I began living a zombie like existence. I was “stabilized” but not alive. During this stage of purgatory in my life I found Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS). To my surprise, I learned that they were offering free programs to veterans for years. VOBS was one of the first organizations to engage veterans in wilderness program to remind them of what they are able to do, and of things that can still be accomplished. This is not a therapy program. We went into the woods not to talk about our feelings but rather, we learned, side by side, that we are more than the sum of our damaged parts and that who we are, at our foundation, is unchanging and that we have the ability to connect with that again. Each day on the expedition I felt stronger in my sprit. The peace of the Boundary Waters was flowing into me and replacing the poison that had infected me. The bright sun and wind swept tress blowing through and dispersing the darkness. Since that expedition I have been affected by my experiences and resulting PTSD, but because of that expedition I have always had a way to connect back to myself and as a result I have never again thought, taking my life was an answer.
Since that first expedition, the hope I have felt is under threat from a powerful force that could change the Wilderness forever. Less than a mile from my expedition site, on the sun soaked and colorful banks of the Kawashiwi River, companies are already changing this once untouched and wild place. Veterans who are seeking solace from war are now being reminded of it when they are most vulnerable, when they are seeking help. Exploratory activity of a proposed copper mine has washed over the chirps of birds and rustling of animals in the foliage with loud helicopters, explosions and the constant grinding of drills.
I fear this wild place will be lost. I fear that losing the connection to my healing will be losing a piece of myself, and I am afraid of what that would mean for me, for my family and for anyone who needs another answer. I am only one man, but I still believe in fighting for others and I need to do something to stop this from happening. That is why I am sharing my story with you.
I know there are others like me, I believe in never leaving a soldier behind, and so I founded Veterans for the Boundary Waters, partnered with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. I want to reach those who need this place as much as I do and I am also seeking the support and action of others who recognize the value of this sacred place. Though deeply personal, I have shared my story on video, in Washington D.C, and in front a large crowd at the first listening session in Duluth this past summer.
I have been fighting this fight for two years, and during that time have learned that there are many, many others who have gone to the Boundary Waters (some leading scout troops, others with their families) but all of them have had a similar experience; a reconnection to life they once thought lost.
The Boundary Waters is incredibly unique; the diversity of plants and animals, activities and trails is unmatched anywhere in the world. It is why the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the nation’s most visited wilderness. This place is one of the few truly wild places left for anyone who seeks adventure, who seeks an escape from modern life, who seeks a quieted mind or a reconnection to their spirit.
What the Boundary Waters teaches us is different depending on who we are and our story. I can’t tell you what you will learn or what you will see. I can tell you that the Boundary Waters taught me what it means to live; it showed me the way back to myself and so I fight. I fight to protect this place, as I fought to protect my country. We are a free people, adventure is in our spirit and life is meant to be lived. The Boundary Waters needs to be permanently protected so that it is available to all generations. My fight continues and I invite you to join with me -- submit a comment today. We can do it, but only if we do it together.
The Boundary Waters taught 14-year-old Grace Christenson to see beauty in the simplest things. Grace wrote Leave No Trace for her spoken word poetry unit at school. The Wilderness is something that she is very passionate about and she wanted to inform people about the risks facing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Come with me to a place I love,
Come with me to a place I dream,
Come with me to a place I listen…
A fog over the land,
A change in my plan,
Can’t this be everlasting?
My paddle slicing the glass.
Tornadoes swirl through
The complex waters of beauty.
Like a mother’s hug,
The water envelops me,
Taking my breath away,
Like getting out of your sleeping bag
On a crisp morning.
No boundary shall live in
The Boundary Waters.
My footsteps will leave no trace,
The weather erasing it from
The earth at peace.
Slam the door,
We can’t balance
Our need for our greed,
The greed of minerals,
Without our need for beauty
Travel the world,
Sense the sea,
Comprehend the tree,
Love it all for me,
And all the billions of people.
Come with me to a place and listen...
For the loon calling to her kin,
The tranquil sounds of water,
The hushed whispers of wind.
Your voice stay humble,
Not soft, though..
“Speak loudly for a quiet place”
It must be a sacred place
To those who will embrace.
The clarity in the break of dawn.
It must be a sacred place
A powerful space,
With a soft pace.
Will you come with me for a moment?
Leave the busyness of your day behind?
Come with me to a place and imagine...
A forest, beach, or desert.
The wind kisses your face
Like the soft breath of a baby.
Rain tickles your head.
Trees, like a summers storm, laugh
Waves rejoice in song.
The Earth loves us.
Come with me to a place and love…
The Earth is a tapestry,
I weave into it when the stars shine in the sky.
The colors are bright capturing one's mind,
You turn them over never quite understanding
That the Earth is a tapestry
That this is the only one.
And yet we disrespect,
And abandon the pursuit of cherishing Earths beauty.
Earth has supported us,
She’s dusted our errors,
She’s polished our achievements.
But we’ve destructed her,
Adapted our understanding of
You can tell me what you think,
But I've got a whole Earth
Standing behind me.
Grace Christenson is a 14-year-old from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Grace finds that the Boundary Waters is a place for her to be herself, to let go of her worries and feel the purity of the wind on her face. With every trip that she has taken since she was four years old, she has seen her strengths grow more each year--from carrying her paddle and life jacket, to her own pack, to the food pack, and in more recent years carrying the canoe on portages.
Below are excerpts a Boundary Waters trip story that John Focke shared on his blog, Tales from the Focke.
If my body had a low battery light, it would have been blinking. We had just finished the unofficial first half of the WNBA season, which was condensed due to an extended Olympic break right in the middle of the season. My wedding was 12 days away, but I had a few free days to recharge before everyone descended upon the Twin Cities.
After talking things over with my fiancee, Ali, we decided we were in a good spot regarding the wedding details and I could bounce to the Gunflint Trail.
Our family has had a cabin on Hungry Jack Lake, just off the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota, for many decades. Originally purchased by my great-grandpa, I have made it up there every year of my life but one (shoulder surgery knocked me out in 2000).
There are two cabins, a big cabin and a little cabin, and we are just a short paddle across Bearskin Lake to the Boundary Waters--the crown jewel of Minnesota.
There is running water and electricity, but no cell phone access, TV or internet--the perfect place to unplug and charge up.
After unloading the car, I took the kayak down to the lake and immediately hopped in. The clouds were low and gray and no wind moved as I glided across the glassy surface of the lake. The silence wraps itself around you up there. I paddled to the far end of the lake into a bay and just drifted, leaning back I closed my eyes and felt totally at peace. I was just a small speck floating in a big lake. My mind drifting, but not thinking of anything--finally letting go.
The sun was shining the next morning as I hopped in the kayak, even though it was early I could already hear the kids down the lake splashing and paddling around. I paddled down to the first portage, one I have done a million times. Shouldering the kayak, I crossed the trail into Bearskin Lake. From there I had to cross the lake to the Daniels Portage, there was a little more chop on Bearskin Lake--as there always seems to be.
Looking to my left you could see the rocky top of Caribou Trail, to my right several canoes headed out from Camp Menogyn and others crossing the lake towards the Duncan Lake portage.
As I slid into Daniels Lake, I paddled along the bluffs on the left side. I remembered coming here as a kid and fishing off those big rocks where the water was so clear you could see down to the even bigger rocks below and the shadows of fishing swimming around. I remembered lunching on those rocks and the way the sun warmed your skin as we reclined on the rocks. Each of us finding our own little "easy-chair" to relax in.
I paddled further into the lake, debating on making the link up from here to Rose Lake but not feeling the effort of that seriously long portage.
The sun was high and not a cloud in the sky, just a deep blue with a light wind. I paused at the far end of the lake, drifting and watching the shoreline reflect on the surface of the lake. Our wedding was a little over a week away, the hay was in the barn as my brother liked to say. I was excited to welcome everyone in town and more excited to pledge my love and my life to Ali. She loved coming to this place too, and the thought of one day bringing our family to follow some of the same trails that I trod as a kid was a great vision.
Heading back to the portage I ran into a guy and his brother, about my age with their two kids climbing into their canoe. The guy mentioned it was his kids' first trip to the Boundary Waters. He said he had been coming up for years, but finally the kids were old enough to handle the canoeing and camping so they were headed out for a few days. It was so great to see another generation of kids heading into the Wilderness, learning to love it as their parents did. That’s what this area needs--defenders of all ages, people who understand the importance of preserving it for the next generation and the one after that and so on.
Later, I paddled into the lake and let my thoughts drift over to my vows: how do you tell the woman of your dreams how much she means to you? How do you put into words how much you love and care about her? Is it possible to take all those feelings and compress them into a few sentences? The thing about Ali that I knew right from the start, was how right it felt. How comfortable I was, how I could be myself without judgement, how all I wanted to do was make her laugh and spend time with her.
As I floated thinking about all those things, I thought about this land too: how do you put into words how special this area is? How can someone who has never put a paddle in the water and floated through a crystal-clear lake understand why we shouldn’t allow a mining operation on the edge of the Wilderness?
It can be hard to put into words what this place means to people. It’s a silent place that can’t speak for itself, you need to show people what it means. This is why I thought the Freeman’s Year in the Wilderness was so important. To shine a light on this area, bring it to the public mind, help people understand we don’t have many spaces like this left and how important it is to keep it wild.
I relaxed on the dock that evening, listening to the sounds of the loons as the sky faded to black and the stars began to come out. The sound of the kids playing in the lake slowly quieted as it began to get dark and the silence was total. It was a quick trip, but it was amazing what it did to recharge my battery and fill my soul. I closed my eyes and imagined for a moment sitting here in the future with my wife and family, soaking in the beauty of this place and hoping that it would stay as it is for that to happen.
We are the Girl Scouts from Northern Lakes Canoe Base. We enjoyed a five day trip to resupply Dave and Amy Freeman's Year in the Wilderness on Knife Lake. When we arrived at the Freeman's campsite, we were greeted by puppy kisses from Tank. The Freeman's then explained the purpose of their Year in the Wilderness and the threats of mining to the Boundary Waters. Some highlights of the trip were a day paddle to Thunder Point, measuring water clarity and oxygen levels, swimming and swamping the canoe for fun. After a day full of activities, Dave and Amy joined us at our campsite for pizza over the fire and cheesecake. We waved them off later that evening.
Rebecca Gaida is from Victoria, Minnesota, and is currently attend the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Rebecca is studying public administration with a minor in nonprofit leadership. Rebecca has spent the past six summers paddling the Boundary Waters, and the past two summers guiding for Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base.
When I entered the Wilderness for the first time as a confused and lost 19-year-old girl, I had no idea the path life would take me on. Now, 11 years later, I am a wife, a mother to a son and I am expecting a daughter. The Wilderness used to be my sanctuary. After meeting my husband, Bobby, the Wilderness became a setting of bonding and discovery. As we were starting our lives together, we entered the Wilderness and did extraordinary things. We learned about each other, we learned the importance of communication, we learned to care for one another and we learned to trust one another. We had conversations within the sanctuary of Mother Nature that would never have been able to take place in a bar, restaurant or even the comforts of our own home. When out exploring the Wilderness, a closeness and a bond is formed that nothing else can possibly duplicate.
Now it has become a classroom for our children. A place for us to take our children to help them learn life lessons, learn about ecosystems, learn about history, learn about the importance of preservation, learn Leave No Trace principles and learn to be thoughtful and caring human beings.
At the age of two, our son, Jack, has entered two wilderness areas--one of which is the Boundary Waters. During his third trip into the Boundary Waters, he was accompanied by his loving and doting grandparents.
Jack was able to be a part of a multigenerational trip into an area that has been protected since 1926. He was given a glimpse into what life was like for a voyageur traveling the area 200 years ago. These wilderness areas are truly precious and deserve our respect and protection.
When I think of my children, I imagine all of the adventures we will have with them throughout their lives. I think of the memories made. The photographs taken. The tears shed. The laughter shared.
I imagine them setting forth on their own as a young woman and a young man seeking adventure by themselves, with friends or with families of their own. I picture them emulating trips we have done in the past. Being able to experience the same campsites. The same lakes. The same paths. When our wilderness is threatened, the opportunities for outdoor recreation of future generations are threatened.
President Lyndon B. Johnson said it beautifully when talking of the importance of protecting wilderness areas for future generations. He said, “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
The Boundary Waters is a profoundly important stretch of wilderness that must be protected. This includes protection from within and without. As we--the visitors--enter the Wilderness, we must educate ourselves. We must practice and respect all Leave No Trace principles. Protecting this area from exterior threats, like disruptive and environmentally toxic mining operations, should have every one of us standing up, speaking out and working hard to protect this vital natural resource for generations to come. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
Please, stand with us and speak out against the proposed mines. Sign the petition today, contact your local representative, educate others, or share your own personal stories. There are so many ways in which you can stand up and protect this scenic area for this generation and all those to come.
Bobby and Maura Marko live in Excelsior, Minnesota, with their two-year-old son, Jack, and newborn daughter, Rowan. Bobby works as a UX Designer for Amazon while Maura is a stay-at-home mom and writer for their blog, We Found Adventure. Both are avid outdoor enthusiasts who are passionate about protecting the wild places of our planet as well as encouraging parents to get outdoors and experience wilderness with their children. Though newbies to the Boundary Waters and canoe-camping in general, the family was hooked after their first trip in and have many more trips planned! They feel that protecting a national treasure like the Boundary Waters should be a priority for every person who believes that future generations deserve to inherit accessible and outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Happy Winter Solstice! On this, the shortest day of the year, it’s tempting to get out our Boundary Waters trip journal, wrap up at the fire and remember our summer trips of the past. To dream of warm summer days with cool nights, loons calling across the lake, fresh walleye dinners, star-filled night skies and the silence. Oh, the silence. Even when I step outside here at home in a relatively quiet suburban neighborhood, there’s always the hum of fa- away traffic, the neighbor’s dog barking (and ours barking at his), or our own cacophony of devices and electronic toys and music and TV and so on. Oh, the silence.
This past summer’s family trip was perhaps one of the best. It was the first time my spouse and I were able to get our three kids (and our two dogs) into the Wilderness for more than just a day trip. Our youngest, Eddie, finally graduated from diapers - we weren’t doing the “bag of death” packing out dirty diapers! We started on Snowbank Lake after the Ely Fourth of July Parade, made it to a spot on Disappointment Lake, packed up in the morning and six portages later found our five-star campsite for the week on Ima Lake. An exciting development: our two oldest, Donnie (6) and Elsie (8), each carried their own packs and doubled back on most portages to help carry some smaller items the first trip didn’t get. Helpful and they felt part of the team!
But what made this trip most memorable was watching the experience through our kiddos eyes. Kids don’t need toys in the Wilderness; they certainly don’t need screens. Rocks and pinecones can be thrown into the lake for hours. Fishing from the campsite to catch small pan fish and bass is thrilling. Marching off into the woods (with a safety whistle!) to explore and find secret spots, or drag small dead branches back for the fire, or find a stream in which to play “pooh sticks” (if you know, you know) can fill hours - sometimes even long enough for mommy and daddy to take care of camp and have spare time to sit and - oh my goodness: read a book!
Enjoying memories from this past trip flood back on this cold winter night like its own comforting warm blanket.
Most poignantly, perhaps, on this trip was a moment with Elsie during one of the portages out. We stopped mid portage on a tough 80-rod path up a steep hill and then down again. At the top were more fresh blueberries than we could eat - and how we tried! As we stuffed our faces, she paused and looked as if she was saying something that would insult me but resolutely said, “You know, Daddy, this is the longest you haven’t checked your phone.” A mixture of sadness and pride hit me: for what our current technologic-driven lives are doing to our relationships especially as parents; but also that she noticed the importance of and appreciated our specific focus on her and her brothers this trip.
As always, when we exit the Wilderness, the “Adult World” comes back: demands of our jobs, bills, schedules, traffic, noise, news, distraction. But we had that week. We worked and played as a team. We struggled pulling the canoe through a mucky approach to a portage. We got comfortable pushing the limits of swimming in increasingly deeper water. We started fires, we avoided the mosquito swarm after sundown, we caught (small) fish, we explored the woods and marked “secret blueberry patches” on our map and took in a stunning sunset that looked like the American flag.
Parents and kids need this place to unplug. We need it as a respite from the noise - both for silence but also the from the noise of our day-to-day routines. We need to be forced into a situation where you have to look for something to do -- not have your day delivered to you in a calendar full of regimented blocks of time. And when you emerge from the woods with a renewed appreciation for life in general, we know this place is worth fighting for.
The experiences my kids have had in the Boundary Waters have inspired them to want to protect it like I do. Last week at daycare, Eddie asked of Santa, “Please save the Boundary Waters.” The announcement of the lease denial and application for withdrawal certainly fits that ask. Thank you to everyone who helped make that happen … with perhaps a little intervention from the North Pole!
State Director Alex Falconer has been with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters for two years. Alex has been in the outdoors, northwoods, northshore, Boundary Waters and beyond since before he could walk. He has the extreme pleasure of now introducing his children to the Boundary Waters and watching them dip their paddles, drink from a lake, and listen to the loons and wolves. Alex has worked on electoral, grassroots and issue advocacy campaigns for the past decade and looks forward to dedicating all his time and attention outside of his family to preserving the Boundary Waters for generations to come.