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Science Desk: Sampling Water Quality to Protect the Boundary Waters

Monday, November 23, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is Minnesota’s crown jewel, and we cannot risk degrading it. Fortunately, Dave and Amy Freeman are helping characterize the water quality of the Boundary Waters. They are using their A Year in the Wilderness expedition to sample water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity in as many of the Boundary Waters’ 1,175 lakes as they can reach. I recently had the opportunity to meet up with them as they took samples on Rog Lake, and I came away with an appreciation for how hard (and important!) it is to collect data in such remote places.


Sunday’s sunshine and warm temperatures were a shock for mid-November, but we basked in the mild conditions. A sapphire mirror stretched away from the landing when we first dipped our paddles in Seagull Lake. We’d driven to the end of the Gunflint Trail the night before and camped at the Trail’s End Campground, where cold stars transfixed us. We had little sense for the rolling hills, exposed rock outcroppings, and remnants of the Ham Lake Fire that surrounded us until the morning broke clear and bright. After being away from canoe country for a little while, it was a perfect reminder of the breathtaking beauty of water, sky, and rock.

We paddled southwest along Three Mile Island and headed for the 20-rod portage into Rog Lake, where I’d arranged to meet Dave and Amy. A light tailwind ruffled the perfect reflection of bare birch and burnt pines. We fell into a rhythm of swinging paddles, quiet conversation, and darting eyes. A bald eagle perched atop a tall wooden spire caught my eye, and I appreciated for the thousandth time the critical role that environmental regulation played in bringing back America’s iconic bird.

Any student of environmental science will tell you that we can’t protect what we don’t understand. When eagles, osprey, and other birds began disappearing across the country, it took a scientist named Rachel Carson to connect the dots between industrial pesticide use, bioaccumulation of toxins up the food chain, and bird declines. Restrictions on pesticide use, the Endangered Species Act, and a whole host of curbs on industrial destruction of the environment followed in subsequent decades.

But what happens when a threatened landscape such as the Boundary Waters is too remote to be studied extensively, especially with limited time, money, and personnel? Without this complete understanding of the Boundary Waters ecosystem’s value -- especially the value of its clean water -- land management agencies would not be able to make a decision that best protects this incredible place. That’s why Dave and Amy Freeman are working so hard to collect water quality data for lakes that the Forest Service and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) simply do not have the time or resources to sample.

When conditions allow, Dave and Amy paddle to the deepest part of the middle of a lake and prepare their instruments. On Rog Lake, they paddled to a point their maps said was 40 feet deep and clocked the position on their GPS device. Dave held the canoe in position while Amy carefully lowered a Secchi disk to measure the water’s clarity, a metric called “turbidity.” The amount of light that penetrates the water is important to track since it influences how well submerged aquatic plants can grow, as well as reflects the amount of sediment, nutrients, and other pollution present in aquatic environments. After the Secchi disk, which was weighted by rocks, disappeared from view underwater, Amy pulled it back up until she could see it again and marked the depth. It was the 56th lake they’d sampled, and the clearest by far.

After pulling the Secchi disk back to the surface, Amy prepared a more complex instrument with a probe at the end of a 15-meter cable. She lowered the probe meter by meter and recorded the temperature and dissolved oxygen meter at each stop. As most trout anglers know, cold water can hold more dissolved oxygen than warm water. The oxygen content and temperature can vary with depth, however, and these layers change on both daily and seasonal cycles. By collecting data at varying depths over the course of a whole year, including spring thaw and winter freeze-up, Dave and Amy will able to provide the Forest Service and MPCA with lake mixing data they wouldn’t otherwise be able to collect.

Amy finally hit bottom with the probe and pulled it back into the boat, coiling the electrical cord carefully. The final step was to dip a handheld electrical conductivity meter into the surface of the lake. The reading was higher than other lakes they’d sampled, suggesting that there was a higher concentration of total dissolved ions in Rog Lake than in others they’d tested. Electrical conductivity is an important water quality metric, especially when it comes to considering the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining, because it reflects the amount of metals present in the ecosystem. Increased electrical conductivity in waters downstream of sulfide-ore copper mines would indicate that they were leaching metals into the surrounding waters, with potentially devastating impacts to aquatic life and human health.

While Amy recorded the electrical conductivity data and put their sampling gear away, I couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful to her and Dave for taking the time to systematically sample the water across the Boundary Waters. Its vast remoteness draws hundreds of thousands of people every year, but prevents researchers from comprehensively documenting the Boundary Waters’ outstanding water quality. By filling in these data gaps, Amy and Dave are ensuring that we have the information necessary to protect the Boundary Waters for this and future generations.

Rachel Garwin is the Campaign's policy director. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include our latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

Resupply Report: Preparing for the Shoulder Season

Friday, November 20, 2015
Posted by
Brad Carlson

On a cold, snowy Saturday morning in November, our group of paddlers set off from the Moose Lake BWCAW entry point on a mission to resupply Dave and Amy Freeman. Distributed in our canoes were various portage packs brimming with food, gear, clothing and other essentials—Including two pair of snow shoes, intended to see Dave and Amy through the critical ice-in period expected some time in the near future. A period when they will be cut off from resupply for an extended period of time when the danger of thin ice will prevent travel by either watercraft, ski, sled or snowshoe. Our course was set for a rendezvous at the Splash Lake portage.

At the time of this writing, Dave and Amy Freeman have been out living and working in the Boundary Waters Wilderness for more than seven weeks. Their work will keep them there for a full year. They are educating school children, taking water quality samples, contributing to science, photographing and filming and acting as the standard bearers for tens of thousands of people with whom they are in solidarity. The goal of this solidarity is simple: to keep the place undisturbed. We on this resupply trip felt proud and privileged to be participating in this effort.

We found Dave and Amy waiting at the portage, backdropped by snow-covered evergreens and a gurgling stream teaming with spawning whitefish. Eagles were circling overhead. I'm happy to report they both look healthy and happy, upbeat and at ease in the woods. We spent part of the morning with them visiting and repacking, organizing and loading their fresh supplies. On the portage trail there was an abundance of fresh wolf scat. Amy told us how they had heard and seen wolves the last few days. They've heard splashing as the wolves take advantage of the white fish in the shallows. Amy described the beauty of being camped near a pack that has been howling just a short distance from their tent. Dave told us how they too have been enjoying eating the fresh fish that are schooling. They recently met up with friends in the area out netting the fish.

In the early afternoon we hugged one another goodbye. Darkness comes early this time of year. Amy and Dave climbed aboard their heavily ladened canoe and paddled north toward Knife Lake and our group headed south toward the take out and our respective homes. A slate grey sky and light winds reminded us of the coming winter. Though we were parting ways, our goal is the same.

Brad Carlson is a native of Virgina, MN, and lives with his wife in a small cabin on the Kawishiwi Trail, eight miles outside of Ely. They split their time between Ely and Austin, TX. Carlson is a retired deaf blind specialist in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Carlson spent his childhood growing up in proximity to the Wilderness and Superior National Forest. He and his wife love paddling the waters of the Wilderness and exploring the back country. They feel strongly that this place should be left undisturbed—forever.

The last few days have been all about food, fun, friends and fish. We met a few friends up on Basswood Lake and spent three days netting whitefish, eating lots of food, visiting, laughing and sharing stories. Our time in the Boundary Waters has really made us appreciate our friends and family because we can't always contact them on a whim, or get together for a meal at the last minute. It takes a lot of effort on their part to come out to visit us and bring us supplies. We really appreciate their efforts.

Each fall the DNR opens a whitefish netting season for several weeks on Basswood Lake and a few other lakes in the Boundary Waters. The season opened last Monday. Amy and I had never been whitefish netting before, so we were excited to try something new. The reward was scrumptious whitefish dinners as well as some extra fish for our friends to take home.

Basswood Lake is a world-class fishery. People trek to Basswood by canoe and motorboat during the spring, summer and fall, and by dogsled, ski and snowshoe during the winter to fish. We have a friend who has been guiding fishing trips on Basswood for nearly 20 years and many of his clients come every year to fish with him for a week on Basswood. Sport fisherman usually set their sights on scrumptious walleye, monster northern pike, and the hard-fighting smallmouth bass. However, Basswood also contains a healthy population of whitefish. Whitefish are rarely caught on a hook and line. In the fall they can be caught in nets when they move into the shallows to spawn. Their firm white meat is delicious fried, but many people also like to smoke them.

Last week Amy and I paddled and portaged up the Basswood River on our way to Basswood Lake to meet our friends. We camped on a beautiful campsite between two small rapids about a mile from Basswood Lake. Sitting on a smooth rock watching the river flow by, I couldn't help but think about how the water flowing past the proposed Twin Metals mine site eventually flows right past our campsite on the Basswood River.

The Basswood River is part of an ancient highway that Indigenous people used long before us. I can picture birchbark canoes overturned where our canoe rested and a group of travelers warming themselves around a fire and cooking a meal in the small clearing where Amy was preparing our dinner. We are on this earth for such a short time, but our decisions about altering or preserving places like the Boundary Waters will ripple through time.

Basswood Lake is directly downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine site. Pollution from the mine would flow downstream into Basswood Lake and then along the U.S./Canadian border through the heart of the Boundary Waters and into Voyageurs National Park. It is critical that we protect this pristine Wilderness by stopping sulfide-ore copper mines from being developed within the Boundary Waters watershed.

Edward Abbey said," The idea of wilderness does not need defense, it only needs defenders." Please join us and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters in defending this special place for future generations, so that they may sit along the Basswood River and experience the clean water and untrammeled Wilderness that Sigurd Olson and other past defenders protected for us to enjoy. 

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

Couple Hopes Year in BWCAW Will Stop Mining Proposals

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

This piece, written by Javier Serna, assistant editor, originally ran in the October 8, 2015, issue of Outdoor News and is reprinted here with permission.

Dave and Amy Freeman’s expeditions have been dictated by distance and deadlines, measured by miles.

In their latest quest, which they launched on Sept. 23, they will run the clock out

Amy and Dave Freeman paddle the Kawishiwi River as part of a planned year-long trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area inside the boundaries of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

They are planning to spend an entire year in the BWCAW, in hope they can raise the kind of awareness that would thwart mining proposals that are feared would harm the beloved border country.

“This journey is about bearing witness to the wilderness and helping people understand what a special place it is,” Dave Freeman said.

The Freemans are not new to wilderness expeditions, having completed several major treks around the globe since 2005.

Last year, they traveled by canoe and sailboat from their Ely home near the BWCAW to Washington, D.C., a trip that was also part of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign, which, in opposing mining inside the watershed shared by the BWCAW, is backed by several environmental and conservation groups, including the Minnesota Conservation Federation and the Izaak Walton League of America.

It was during that trip that the Freemans began to think about and plan to spend a year inside the BWCAW. The 38-year-old Dave Freeman, who was raised in the suburbs outside of Chicago and first visited the Boundary Waters when he was a teenager, said it’s something he’s thought about for a long time.

“The idea really solidified then,” Dave Freeman said. “We talked about what we could do because we realized that the next year is really critical in the protection of the Boundary Waters. We wanted to put it all out on the table and do as much as we could do.”

It wasn’t the first time the couple had talked about it.

“When he (originally) shared the idea with me, I said, ‘That would be neat. We should do that sometime,’” Amy Freeman said. “We have the skill set to go out traveling, camping for a long period of time. We are not lawyers, but we are equipped to communicate in places where there is no cell phone signal. We feel like we’re using the unique skills that we have to work to protect this place. There are different roles that need to be filled in this battle.”

The couple plans on posting bits and pieces (video, photographs and stories) of their journey frequently on the Internet – five times a week. Using solar panels and energy storage coupled with satellite connections, the couple will be able to connect to the Internet and to social media.

While the Forest Service has also issued the Freemans a research permit (the Freemans will be collecting water samples from many lakes), and a commercial filming permit (they will be broadcasting their journey through Wilderness Classroom) they plan on using a single overnight paddle permit that anyone would. These permits have no time limit, said Kris Reichenbach, a spokesperson for the Superior National Forest, who pointed out that they become invalid once a permit’s “trip leader” leaves the Boundary Waters, and that 14 days is the maximum amount of time a party may stay in a particular campsite.

Since the Freemans plan on visiting all three sections of the wilderness, which are not contiguous, they can do it all on the same permit as long as they take a direct route between the sections, without spending a night outside the BWCAW and without stopping in town or anywhere to resupply themselves, Reichenbach said.

The Freemans plan on staying at about 120 campsites and traveling roughly 3,000 miles using either a canoe, hiking shoes, snowshoes, skis, and dog sleds.

“We do want to try to get to all of the major lakes, all of the major travel routes, and as many obscure lakes as we can,” Amy Freeman said.

They will rely on volunteers to resupply them with food throughout the trip, something they are expecting about every two weeks, except for the two particularly dicey times for Boundary Waters travel after the lakes freeze in the fall and when they break up around spring. At those points, they will receive five-week supplies, so that volunteers can avoid having to take any chances traveling in sketchy conditions. The volunteers will also switch out their gear, from canoes to a three-dog sled team, then back to canoes.

Despite years of extensive expeditions, the longest the couple has been away from civilization is about six weeks, when they paddled from Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories to Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan.

“I think the disconnect from family and friends, that’s what we’ll feel the most,” said Amy Freeman, mentioning that the departure day was probably the last time she will see her parents until they meet up in the spring, something like a five-month break.

The solitude, on day two of their trip, had already hit them, as the wilderness area largely clears out of visitors after Labor Day, though there are visitors year-round.

“There was so much hullabaloo before we took off,” Amy Freeman said. “It was a really big release when it was suddenly just the two of us in a canoe. It feels pretty good, that solitude.”

Dave Freeman said he’ll look forward to interactions with resupply volunteers, along with random encounters with other visitors.

“A year is a long time,” he said. “I know there are going to be some times throughout the year, it’s hard to know when, when we will have low points. We are hoping to get through those times.”

That sacrifice will be worth it, if the BWCAW and the watershed it sits in is ultimately protected from mining, he said.

“What we are doing is much bigger than us,” he said.

Our main goal through A Year in the Wilderness is to raise awareness about the threats that Twin Metals and other sulfide-ore copper mining companies pose to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and encourage hundreds of thousands of people to speak loudly for the Boundary Waters. We need to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining along the edge of the Wilderness. Hundreds of thousands of people must speak out for the Boundary Waters in the coming months to achieve our goal of permanent protection. However, long before Amy and I knew about the mines being proposed along the southern edge of the Boundary Waters, which put our jobs and our way of life a risk, we started introducing young people to the Boundary Waters and wild places around the globe. We are excited to continue to work with students, teachers, and families during A Year in the Wilderness through the Wilderness Classroom.

The Wilderness Classroom is a nonprofit organization that I helped start almost 15 years ago. Like many important aspects of my life, the Boundary Waters played central role in the formation of the Wilderness Classroom. In the winter of 2001, I spent six weeks on a solo trek through the heart of the Boundary Waters. My only companion was a trusty sled dog name Tundra who helped me haul two toboggans loaded with food and supplies. I wanted to share the Boundary Waters with others, so I convinced my fifth grade teacher, and four other classrooms from Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana to follow along through a simple blog that I updated with a first-generation satellite phone and an old laptop computer. Afterward, several of the teachers invited me to speak at their schools. While visiting with students, I was blown away by how much they had learned and all of the in-depth questions they asked about the animals I encountered and what it was like to be in the Wilderness. I had stumbled on a new way to spark a kid's interest in Wilderness and nature, and the seeds for the Wilderness Classroom were planted.

Over the years the Wilderness Classroom has grown and we expect that more than 100,000 students and 3,500 teachers from schools across the country will participate in A Year in the Wilderness. Through Wilderness Classroom, elementary and middle school classrooms use lesson plans aligned to Common Core Standards, worksheets, blog posts and an interactive map to learn about the Boundary Waters and join us virtually from their classrooms. Plus, kids can use polls to help decide what we study and they can email us questions.

Today's children are tomorrow's decision makers. It will be up to them to protect wild places like the Boundary Waters for future generations. It is critical that we use all of the tools we can to  introduce young people to wild places. Tools like the Wilderness Classroom can help introduce young people to the idea of Wilderness and get them excited about being in nature. However, there is no substitute to providing young people with opportunities to visit wild places and spend time in nature.

I have had the privilege of leading wilderness canoe trips and dogsled trips for the past 15 years. Most of these trips involve families or groups of young people. I love listening to the call of a loon, feeling the line go taught when a walleye inhales my jig, and gazing at the stars on a cold winter night, but after experiencing these special moments hundreds of times you can start to take these experiences for granted. Introducing young people to the Boundary Waters firsthand provides a constant reminder of how special the Boundary Waters is to so many people.

For the last few summers, Amy and I have worked with a young teacher from Chicago who started a Wilderness Club at the inner city school where he works. For the Wilderness Club's first camping trip, we took a busload of students to Indiana Dunes State Park, which is about an hour from Chicago. We roasted marshmallows, went hiking and slept in tents. All of these were new and exciting experiences for most of the students. I will never forget standing on the beach looking out over Lake Michigan with a group of students. One of the girls smiled at me and said that she had never been to the beach before. She lives five miles from Lake Michigan.

Every summer since, Mr. DiChara has brought a group of students up to the Boundary Waters. The Wilderness Club takes several trips each year to the Indiana Dunes, they go canoeing on nearby rivers, and explore the natural world near home. The Boundary Waters canoe trip is a reward for the most dedicated students who participate in all of the other Wilderness Club activities and maintain a good academic record.

Last summer, Mr. DiChara and his students piled out of the van after a 11-hour drive from Chicago and we had the canoes loaded an hour later. As we paddled across Sawbill Lake at dusk, we spotted a pair of loons with two fuzzy chicks riding on one of their parent's  backs, moments later a moose and her calf swam across the lake in front of our canoes and we watched them emerge from the water and stare at us before crashing through the woods.


It was dark by the time we had camp set up and the dinner dishes cleaned. Everyone was tired, but it was a moonless night and the Milky Way arched across the sky. We piled in the canoes and floated off the campsite staring up at the stars.

On the last day of our trip, we paddled down Sawbill Lake. It had been raining hard all day (the next day we would learn it rained more than two inches). We planned to camp on our first night's campsite just a mile from our take out because Mr. DiChara and the students had to drive home the next day. I mentioned to Mr. DiChara that we could paddle all they way into the landing and camp at the Sawbill campground if the group wanted. We asked Brandon, one of the older students, what he thought we should do. He looked at us for a second and said, "that's easy, we should stay in the Wilderness," so that's what we did.

This year, the Wilderness Club is adding an environmental justice component. They are helping spread the word about saving the Boundary Waters in their community and using their experiences in the Boundary Waters and natural places to help protect the Boundary Waters. The Wilderness Club is also organizing a resupply trip next summer as a way to help Amy and me during A Year in the Wilderness.

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

From the Freemans: Our yearlong adventure in the wild begins

Friday, September 25, 2015
Posted by
Amy Freeman

What a whirlwind of activity! The past few days have flown by as we wrapped up all our final preparations, then packed our bags and took part in several farewell gatherings. The first day of fall lived up to expectations. After a week of gorgeous weather, September 23 was rainy and chilly. That didn't stop 80-some hearty souls from showing up for the launch of A Year in the Wilderness at River Point Resort and Outfitting Company. I'm continually impressed by the dedication of the folks we meet, devoted to protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from sulfide-ore copper mining. 

Thank you to everyone who showed up and everyone who has pitched in to help make this project a reality. Thank you to the Koschak family for hosting the launch event at their resort. Thank you to the many businesses and individuals that have donated equipment, food, clothing, time and money. Thank you to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters for the hours and hours of work that you've put in behind the scenes—doing everything from sending out press releases to seam-sealing our tent.

Also, a special thank you to the folks who offered to bring in homemade treats on various resupply missions. Multiple people asked about our favorite kind of chocolate (dark) and we have received offers to deliver homemade granola, chicken chili made with heirloom beans, and dehydrated vegetables grown in peoples’ gardens.

On Wednesday, folks launched canoes and kayaks to paddle the first couple miles with us on the South Kawishiwi River, from River Point to the Highway 1 bridge. A sense of finality settled in as we crossed under that bridge, leaving behind our friends and family. During our two-mile paddle with that flotilla of 40 people in canoes and kayaks, people were laughing, telling stories, offering last minute advice and even singing. The serenade of “Happy trails to you” brought a tear to my eye. 

Three more miles and then we reached the Boundary Waters. Those initial portages were quick and easy. And the rain held off, despite the thick blanket of clouds

We saw several bald eagles as we paddled; one even perched on top of a white pine, surveying the water below. My favorite eagle sighting happened shortly after landing at our campsite. A bald eagle flew low overhead, directly over us and then out over the river.

We're in a five-star campsite. It has a perfect canoe landing spot, sloping granite allowing for optimal sitting and thinking right near the water’s edge. We found a good space for our tent and the view from the fire grate is panoramic.

In the days leading up to our departure, I've been relishing my final opportunity to do some things—like my last chance to eat out for a year, last shower for a whole year. People have actually pointed some of these things out to us … last chance to sleep in a warm bed under a roof, last salad loaded with locally grown vegetables. The thing is, I'd rather focus on what there is to look forward to out here. Sure, we are making some sacrifices by being out here for a full year, but in many ways we are pretty darn lucky to have the chance to observe this place in all seasons.

We're really looking forward to sharing our observations and stories with you throughout the year. Please share A Year in the Wilderness with your friends and family, and encourage them to check out all the great information compiled on the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters website in order to learn more about the threat, the science behind our concerns, and what you can do to ensure that this special place is permanently protected from sulfide-ore copper mining within the watershed.

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

The Actions We Take

Friday, July 17, 2015
Posted by
Dave Freeman

In just over two months, Amy and I will launch our canoe near the proposed Twin Metals mine site and paddle up along the Kawishiwi River into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We have paddled and dogsleded along the Kawishiwi River many times, but I have a feeling we will have a heightened sense of excitement and probably a little more apprehension when we paddle into the Wilderness this time. Our newest adventure begins on September 23 and will not last an hour, a day or a week. We will be entering the Wilderness for a full year.

We are undertaking this journey because we want to inspire people to take action and help protect the Boundary Waters from Twin Metals and other sulfide-ore copper mines. We love the Wilderness and want to continue to enjoy it. We want to share this canoe country with people during every season. It has been exciting working with a large group of volunteers, staff, organizations and businesses that are rallying around our Year in the Wilderness. This dedicated team, made up mostly of volunteers from the Ely area, is helping us organize resupplies, gather the food and equipment that we need and working to insure that A Year in the Wilderness will have as great an impact as possible. Ultimately our goal is to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. In order for that to happen we need tens of thousands more people to join us by take direct action to insure the Boundary Waters is protected.

The Year in the Wilderness was officially announced yesterday through a press release that has already led to more than a dozen news stories. We have a great team of people helping us check things off of a to-do list, which seems to grow longer by the day!

Amy and I are wilderness guides and educators and this is a way that we can use our skills to help ensure a place we love and rely on for our way of life and our livelihood will remain protected.  There are things that all of us can do, from calling our elected officials and encouraging them to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining to donating money and time to further the cause.

Last night Amy and I were part of a group of volunteers that met at Sustainable Ely to call people and urge them to contact elected officials. Many of the people we talked with were very concerned and left messages for Senator Franken and other elected officials, but my conversation with one man still stands out in my mind. I talked with him for more than 10 minutes and he asked me many questions and had lots of good ideas.

He asked me if I had ever met Senator Franken in person and I explained that my wife and I paddled from the Boundary Waters to Washington, DC, last fall and met with dozens of people, including both our senators. He suggested we contact the media and I explained that there was a story on the cover of the Duluth News Tribune about this issue today and the work that we are doing with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. I explained that the story was picked up by the AP and printed across the country. He couldn’t believe that anyone would or could build a mine up near the Boundary Waters, but he refused to contact his representative and share his opinion. 

Believing that something should or should not happen doesn’t matter; it is the actions we take, both large and small, that effect change. The work being done here in Ely, across Minnesota, and around the country to protect this place by an ever-growing group of individuals dedicated to the perseveration of the Boundary Waters is truly inspiring. The next year is a critical time and it is critical that we contact our elected officials, write letters to the editor, talk with our neighbors and take action.

Jake and Mitch at Sustainable Ely are organizing weekly phone banks each Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with pizza and beer. While calling people you don’t know can be a little intimidating, I sort of got the hang of it by the end of the night. Amy and I had never done any phone banking before last night. We look forward to volunteering again. Plus, you don’t have to be in Ely to participate, you can call from home, all you need is a phone and a computer. Contact Sustainable Ely to learn more.

Help support A Year in the Wilderness by voting for the Freemans in the Canoe & Kayak magazine Dream Your Adventure contest (Voting closed July 15).

Dave Freeman and Amy Freeman were named National Geographic's 2014 Adventurers of the Year.

A Year in the Wilderness

Monday, June 22, 2015
Posted by
Amy Freeman

Shortly after completing Paddle to DC, our 100-day, 2,000-mile expedition to raise awareness about the threat of proposed copper mines in a sulfide ore body on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the realization set in that we still have a lot of work to do to protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining. So we stayed engaged in the work of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and came up with a new plan.

On the Fall Equinox (September 23, 2015) Dave and I will launch our canoe in the Kawishiwi River and paddle into the Boundary Waters. We will then remain in the nation’s most popular Wilderness area for a full year. We will camp at approximately 120 different sites during this Year in the Wilderness and travel more than 3,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team.

Why? We are wilderness guides and educators and this is a way to make use of our unique skill set. We care deeply about this place and we will do everything within our power to ensure that it remains intact for the next generation. As we travel, we will share the adventure through photos, videos, blog posts, radio interviews and other media outlets to try and amplify the voice of what Sigurd Olson called the “Singing Wilderness.” People can also experience the rugged landscape of this 1.1 million-acre wilderness firsthand by participating in resupply missions to meet up with us in the Boundary Waters.

The next year and a half is a critical time and we all must do everything we can to ensure that the Boundary Waters is protected from sulfide-ore copper mining. This is not your typical expedition geared toward traveling from point A to point B in X amount of time; rather it is about bearing witness to the very land and water we are fighting to protect.

We will get to know this special place more intimately than we ever have before, documenting flora and fauna, collecting water quality data from every major lake, and sharing the experience online and in person with the brave decision-makers, journalists, photographers, videographers, artists, storytellers, and individuals who choose to join us from time to time—not to mention 100,000 school children and their teachers who will participate in the educational aspects of the adventure through the Wilderness Classroom.

So stay tuned. We look forward to sharing the adventure with you!

Help support A Year in the Wilderness by voting for the Freemans in the Canoe & Kayak magazine Dream Your Adventure contest (Voting closed July 15).


Dave Freeman and Amy Freeman were named National Geographic's 2014 Adventurers of the Year.

[PHOTOS: Top, Nate Ptacek. Bottom, Van Conrad]