On Wednesday, July 28th, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters gathered at Sociable Cider Werks in Northeast Minneapolis for an evening of fun, conversation, updates, and activism.
Both staff and supporters alike were incredibly thrilled to be able to gather in person for this event and enjoy each other's company. Those in attendance had the opportunity to enjoy free ice cream courtesy of Ben and Jerrys, brand new Superior Switchel from Superior Craft Elixirs, and delicious, fresh tasting beverages provided by the host cidery.
While indulging in tasty treats and drinks, supporters got to hear about some of the progress the Campaign has made over the past year. Executive Director Tom Landwehr and State Director Sydney Jordan spoke to a room packed full with attendees and shared recent Campaign updates, as well as a message of hope for the Biden Administration to take action to protect the Boundary Waters.
Thank you to everyone who came out and joined us. We appreciate your attendance and support and hope to see you at future upcoming events!
Again, a big thanks to Ben & Jerry’s and Sociable Ciderwerks for providing the space, free Switchels, and ice cream to our supporters!
Didn’t get a chance to join us? Check out all of our upcoming events here.
|This month, we're teaming up with Royal Robins to give away over $500 worth of Royal Robbins apparel to keep you geared up and protected from sun + bugs on your next adventures! Learn how to enter on our Instagram|
Sam Chadwick: Do you have memories of outdoor recreation from your childhood - what were your early experiences being outdoors?
Michael Millenacker: My parents were separated when I was young. Every time my Dad picked us up for the weekend we’d go straight to some state park or something like that. We’d ramble around and I would always look forward to it. There weren't a lot of resources to go around so he’d take us out in nature and we’d just enjoy the day. My sister and I didn’t need electronics or money or things to have a great time. Those are my earliest memories of outdoor recreation. It was our thing with dad and it was always a great time.
SC: Any favorite places you remember going?
MM: The Merrimack River and Missouri River were a couple of our spots, both outside where we lived in St. Louis, then up in Western Iowa there were a few county parks that we’d go to nearby and spend the night. That was one of our big camping trips when we were little -- we’d pack up the car and go walk in a half mile and spend the night along the river. It was always a special time. Dad liked to go in the snow sometimes just to get out there. Somehow he’d always forget to bring something so we’d have to be creative and make things work. In some ways it was always his little trick, always his little challenge for us. I’m sure he always had a backup plan when I was younger but he liked to keep us on our toes.
SC:Tell us about your Boundary Waters connection
MM: My grandfather's big thing was always going up to Minnesota to fish in different places so my dad grew up doing that. Dad went up to the Boundary Waters and Quetico as well. I would go along with him and his friends at first, which was fantastic. I remember the trip being a physical challenge, even in junior high and early high school, to cross those lakes and portages with the heat and bugs.
It’s a spectacular place and that's why we need to preserve it and keep it safe, so everyone can experience it. It would take me two days or so to decompress and get into the mode of paddling, fishing, camping, and portaging before I finally let my mind go, forget about everything that's going on in life, and focus on being in the wilderness with loved ones.
Dad took me up there and it became an annual trip. He’s done that his whole life, sometimes 3 times a year now. He asks me: “Here are my trips this year, which one are you going to go on?”. I don’t get to go on as many of the trips these days. I started going up there at an early age and still enjoy the whole experience -- from the packing list and checking the weather to doing route planning. My dad would try to drag it out as much as possible and take 4 months to plan these trips when it really could be done in a few days or hours, but that was his process and I think it was his way of engaging with me as well. The preparation is a big part of it for me -- making sure you have everything you need, but at the same time cutting your weight.
SC: What are some favorite Boundary Waters trips stories or maybe least favorite?
MM: One of the craziest ones was when I went up and took my college roommate and business partner at the time. It was funny because I wasn’t into the outdoor apparel world yet. We took a fun day trip from our campsite to a nearby island. We wanted to get out there and adventure. Once we arrived after about 5 hours, the weather turned so we had to turn back around. The waves got bigger and the weather got cooler. We were paddling with everything we had to keep going and try to get back to the campsite. I’ll never forget the last portage. We were thinking, “we’re almost there, we only have one more pretty big lake to go.” We came up on hillside portage and the waves were against us. The water was cold enough that I knew if we capsized, it wasn’t going to be good. So, we made the decision to wait it out and spend the night under the canoe with nothing of course. That was when I figured out my windbreaker wasn’t waterproof. It was a learning experience for me that you really need the right gear for these trips, and we paid for it. We spent a chilly night under the canoe. We tried to get a fire started, but the wind shifted and put it out. Luckily we woke up at dawn and it was calm and clear enough for us to paddle back to camp. That was probably one of the most memorable, awful, learning, challenging, fun experiences I’ve had. There’s nothing like a night away from camp, unplanned, with no gear.
SC: What about wildlife, what wildlife have you seen in the Boundary Waters?
MM: We saw our share of bears and moose. I never had any dangerous or close run-ins with them. A few times a bear would come around camp and you just bang your pans and they run away. What I remember most are the loons. My favorite animal on the planet is the loon, especially the ones that live in the Boundary Waters. They’re so beautiful the way they sing at night. Another memorable experience was when I was with the same buddies on another trip with dad. We were by the campfire at night after everyone else had gone to sleep and all of a sudden the Northern lights came up and all the loons were going off. Experiencing Northern lights in the Boundary Waters for the first time was incredible. The loons are my favorite because they can swim fast enough underwater to catch fish yet they can fly.
Some Rapid Fire Questions!
Canoe or kayak? We’re kayakers
Mosquitoes or flies? Mosquitoes are worse, it depends on if the flies are biting that season Portage the pack or the boat? The boat. It’s always better not having something on your back in those hot sweat mosquito ridden portages, but you need a good harness
Shoes stay dry or wet? They get wet for sure, there's no way around it
Summer or winter? I’ve never been to the Boundary Waters in the winter, I think that'd be an amazing trip. We always went in spring or fall because that was supposedly when the fishing was the best and there were fewer bugs.
SC: What are Royal Robbins company mission and values and how does that connect to conservation?
MM: I was living in NYC working in the fashion industry at the time and dad took me on a Boundary Waters trip. I was in the front of the kayak and he said “So, what do you do? It sounds like you make really nice sweaters and these fancy pants that nobody really needs”. It hit me on that trip that he was basically saying, “Son, what are you going to do with your career that’s meaningful?” I thought I was doing great making good money in NYC, but he was pressing on my values.
On the way back out we stopped for pie at the old Chocolate Moose restaurant next to the Piragis Northwoods Company store in Ely. We walked into Piragis and saw these amazing outdoor brands. I started reading some of their brochures -- they were all talking about environmental conservation and giving back. This would have been in the early 90s. I looked around and thought, “This is what I do now, except with department stores and boutiques.” I could go into this industry and do what I know how to do, but be able to give back and have a good answer for that question my dad posed to me. After that experience and 3 years in NYC, I got a job with Royal back in 1995. That’s really what got me into the industry. Luckily, I found it was a great way to tie in my passion for the outdoors with my everyday job.
I love what we do and I’ve always thought that the harder we work, the more we can give back to protect the environment. Our vision at Royal Robbins is: We’re the world's most versatile clothing for a sustainable outdoor lifestyle. Having versatile clothing allows you to adventure more with less. We try to make every decision as sustainable as possible as well. Our brand mission, what really gets us up everyday, is: to ignite the human spirit through the power of adventure. Challenging yourself, adventuring, and getting outdoors helps you grow as a person. Adventure is in the eyes of the individual.
SC: What Royal Robbins apparel in particular would be good for a Boundary Waters trip?
MM: I’d recommend the men’s Alpine Tour short and the Alpine Tour or Alpine Road pants. It’s rugged apparel that stretches, moves and breathes. On the women’s side, there’s the Expedition shirts. They have excellent sun protection, plus they’re lightweight and quick drying. They’re highly functional, but stylish as well. These styles come in our Bug Barrier collection, which uses Insect Shield® technology to protect against bugs. Anything with insect repellant is a must for the Boundary Waters.
SC: Why is it important for decision makers and everyday people to advocate for the protection of the Boundary Waters and other wild places?
MM: Wilderness gives people a rest from what is happening in the world -- all of the screen time, the hustle and bustle, the go go go. We need that time to rejuvenate and reclaim what we’re all about. It gives us time and peace to think and also poses a physical challenge to us. The more wild places we have, the better off we’ll be. There’s getting to be fewer and fewer of places we can truly unplug and reflect. That’s why I believe it's important for citizens and business leaders alike to do what we can to try to preserve those wild places.
SC: What are some ways that the business, brand, employees work on conservation - how do you engage with conservation and equitable access?
MM: Our partnerships with Save the Boundary Waters, Yosemite Conservancy, and The Conservation Alliance. One of our newer partners is the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund. I like to tell our employees that the harder we work, the more we’re going to be able to give back. Locally, we do trail cleanups in Golden Gate national park near our headquarters in San Francisco. Given our brand’s unique heritage in Yosemite dating back to the 60s, we participate in clean ups there as well.
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Established in 1909, the Superior National Forest is home to America’s most visited wilderness and Minnesota’s crown jewel, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Superior National Forest contains 3.9 million acres of land and 445,000 acres of surface water. There are 1,300 miles of cold water and 950 miles of warm water habitat. The proposed Twin Metals mine would put all of this, and the entirety of the northern forest ecosystem, at great risk.
An October 2017 study of the Arrowhead Region’s economy reveals a diverse and growing economy in which numerous industries – including healthcare, tourism and recreation, small businesses, manufacturing, construction, services, forest products and taconite mining – can coexist peacefully as long as copper mining does not occur on Superior National Forest lands in the Boundary Waters watershed.
Sulfide-ore copper mining is typically done in dry, arid environments. With 445,000 acres of surface water, the Superior National Forest is far from dry or arid. This type of mining has never been done without polluting the surrounding areas, which in this case would be the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This mine puts wildlife habitats, water quality, biodiversity, and entire ecosystems at the risk of irreparable damage (read more about the science here).
A sulfide-ore copper mine would be detrimental to the health of the Superior National Forest and all of the natural inhabitants of it. Help us protect the crown jewel that lies within it by taking action and contributing to Save the Boundary Waters today.
Fun facts about the Superior National Forest:
-Is the largest and only wilderness of substantial size east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the everglades
-Is the most heavily used wilderness in the US (less than 1% of the acreage of the NWPS, but receives 10% of the use) and ties with the Mall of America as Minnesota 's #1 tourist attraction
-Is a Class I Airshed as defined by the Federal Clean Air Act
-Is listed as one of the 50 greatest places to visit in a lifetime (along with places such as Antarctica, Amazon, Grand Canyon, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal) by the National Geographic Society and is included in 1,000 Places to See Before you Die -- a gift book that provides an around-the-world listing of must-see places off the beaten track
REI Coop has been a valued partner in our national effort to defend the Boundary Waters for years. REI has helped engage the outdoor community and elected leaders in our efforts to permanently protect the Boundary Waters Wilderness from proposed copper mining. We are so grateful for REI’s support and collaboration!
REI was an early joiner of our now 350+ member Boundary Waters Business Coalition. When called upon, they have added the Coop’s weight to important letters sent from businesses to decision makers in the federal government, helping to highlight the importance of Boundary Waters protection to the outdoor industry.
As a founding and pinnacle member of The Conservation Alliance, REI supports vital environmental conservation campaigns across the country, including Save the Boundary Waters (we’ve received generous Conservation Alliance grants, funded by its member companies, since 2015). The REI Minnesota team has also supported Kids for the Boundary Waters in their efforts to train and bring hundreds of youth advocates to Washington D.C. to meet with decision makers.
Over the years we’ve enjoyed meeting REI Coop members at store presentations we’ve hosted about the Boundary Waters, the “Boundary Waters Day” at the Bloomington MN store, and having REI help promote our events, like the Paddle Day of Action events we hosted in May 2021.
Explorers Dave and Amy Freeman have presented at REI stores about their adventure advocacy expeditions, and the Bloomington location put the Freemans’ eye-catching signature canoe on display in their store!
Spreading the word about the beauty of the Boundary Waters and the toxic threat of copper mining on the Wilderness edge is critical to our fight. We’re grateful that REI’s media publication Uncommon Path (previously called the Coop Journal) has covered the copper mining controversy in its articles.
And, we’re psyched to announce that REI Coop is sponsoring our Queer Boundary Waters trip this September! Save the Boundary Waters is co-hosting this Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness expedition specifically for a group of outdoor industry and adventure community members who identify as LGBTQ+. Ely Outfitting Company is guiding this trip in collaboration with Mikah Meyer, adventure travel influencer and founder of the Outside Safe Space, and Save the Boundary Waters. Outside Safe Space promotes LGBTQ+ welcoming spaces in the outdoors.
Thank you REI Coop!
You can buy our cool Save the Boundary Waters stickers at REI’s MN stores (in Bloomington, Roseville, and Maple Grove).
This year was my fifth year walking with our supporters in Ely’s 4th of July Parade. In past years we have normally pulled or portaged our petition canoes, and each year the number of supporters joining us in the parade and the cheers from the crowd have grown as more folks become aware of the threats posed to the Boundary Waters by proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.
After the great turnout of support in 2019, we decided to put together a float for 2020 (unfortunately, that didn’t happen for obvious reasons). This year with a borrowed large flatbed trailer (thank you Paul), an Ely Outfitting Company van (thank you Jason), and the help of some great volunteers (thank you Peta, Carolyn, Bill, Reid, David, and Erwin), we were able to put together a great loon nest float for "Ima BaLOON."
The supporter turnout for this year’s parade was phenomenal (over 80 people came and marched with us!) - it was great to meet some new supporters and to have an opportunity to catch up with old friends that I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. A huge thank you to everyone that braved the heat to walk with us in the parade! We’ll see what we can put together for next year.
ICYMI: Twin Metals' Owner Inks Deal to Supply Copper to China
Late last week, it was reported that Antofagasta PLC, owner of the Twin Metals mining project on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters, has once again inked deals to supply copper concentrates from its mines to Chinese smelters. This copper will then be turned around and sold on the world market.
"Twin Metals boosters like Pete Stauber are flat wrong when they say mining near the Boundary Waters is about American interests," said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, "Let there be no mistake, the end result of toxic mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters will be the enrichment of foreign profits at the cost of America's most visited Wilderness. Pete Stauber would turn Northern Minnesota into a resource colony for a Chilean mining conglomerate and it's multinational partners."
Last week’s copper supply contract with the Chinese smelters covers at least the first half of 2022, and extends a long line of such supply/smelting contracts with Chinese smelters, dating at least to 2015. Antofagasta’s long history of supplying Chinese smelters, and the supply deal signed last week, show that any metals mined by Twin Metals would likely continue to supply China.
The Boundary Waters is the most heavily visited wilderness area in the United States, attracting more than 160,000 visitors from all over the world and helps drive more than $900 million in annual economic activity and helps support over 17,000 jobs. In 2016 the US Forest Service terminated the Twin Metals project because of the inherent risk of irreparable harm to the Wilderness. Nearly seventy percent of Minnesotans support a ban on sulfide-ore copper mining near the Wilderness to permanently protect the Boundary Waters.
Bill Hohengarten is a board member of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the organization that leads the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. He also chairs our DEIJ Committee. He lives on the edge of the Boundary Waters with his husband David and their dog Kahshahpiwi.
During the past year, our nation has focused with new urgency - long overdue - on issues of racial equality and, more broadly, on promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (“DEIJ”) for all. Like many organizations, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which is a project of our nonprofit organization Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (“NMW”), have taken a deeper look at how DEIJ initiatives fit in with our mission to protect and advocate on behalf of Wilderness generally and the Boundary Waters in particular. In 2020 NMW’s board formed a DEIJ Committee comprising board and staff members to guide and expand the efforts that have been undertaken by a DEIJ workgroup at the staff level for several years. We are committed to increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice within our own organization, and in our outreach, advocacy, and membership initiatives. In addition, we are seeking ways to promote the broader aim of eliminating barriers and increasing enjoyment of the Boundary Waters by all people, including groups who have long been underrepresented here.
I’ll be honest, though: we’ve received some pushback when we have put out statements about our commitment to DEIJ generally and racial justice in particular. Some people question if an increased focus on DEIJ is a distraction from our core mission of protecting the Boundary Waters. Sure, they may say, DEIJ is important. But there are other organizations that are dedicated to promoting diversity and racial justice. In contrast, they may argue, NMW’s mission is literally to save to the Boundary Waters - the rocks, the trees, the water, the animals, the air. From this perspective, promoting DEIJ may look like “mission creep,” taking us into new territory that is best left to others, and distracting from our true goal of Wilderness advocacy and protection.
I believe this way of looking at the issue gets it wrong. DEIJ is in fact a core part of our mission of protecting and advocating for the Boundary Waters. There are a lot of different reasons why this is true. For me personally, the main considerations center on two key points.
The first and most obvious reason is that in order to ensure the continued protection of the Boundary Waters, we need to engage the largest and broadest coalition of Wilderness enthusiasts possible. Our Wilderness advocacy depends on mobilizing countless citizens to engage with lawmakers and regulators, and to serve as ambassadors for the Boundary Waters among their friends and in their communities. This effort cannot succeed if our outreach is limited to one subset of Americans, such as the traditional “outdoorsy” stereotype of the white heterosexual male. People of all stripes must be (and are) part of the movement. And that imperative is growing every day as people of color make up an ever larger proportion of the U.S. populace - soon to be the majority.
To be as effective as possible, our campaign must be as inclusive as possible. That means our board and staff should reflect the broad spectrum of Americans. We need to understand the distinctive concerns of different communities in order to communicate with and mobilize everyone. We have to reach out to and engage the widest range of Wilderness lovers so they can join us as advocates on behalf of the Boundary Waters. And, to grow the ranks of Wilderness defenders, we must strive to make the Boundary Waters experience as inclusive as possible, so that people who have been underrepresented in the Wilderness can experience it first hand. Protection of the Boundary Waters now and forever depends on getting as many Americans as possible to care about the Wilderness and advocate on its behalf.
Thus, DEIJ is central to our mission of protecting the Boundary Waters because our advocacy depends on it. But I think there is a second, equally important reason why DEIJ is central to our mission. This second reason might be a little less obvious at first, but once you see it, it is, to my mind, even more compelling. The basic point is that the very thing we are dedicated to protecting - the Boundary Waters and Wilderness generally - is devalued if people are excluded from it by barriers based on things like race, gender identity, religion, or sexual orientation. The value of Wilderness is not just the purity of the rocks, the trees, the water, the animals, the air. Wilderness is important - sacred - to people, to society. But if Wilderness is the exclusive preserve of some while others are excluded, its sacred value is diminished. It is polluted just as surely as if sulfuric acid mine runoff is poured into its lakes and streams.
A thought experiment helps drive this home. Imagine the Boundary Waters just as it is - except that at each entry point there is a sign that says “WHITES ONLY.” And now imagine your mission is to protect the Boundary Waters. Would you say that your efforts should be limited to stopping physical impairments like air and water pollution, noise, resource extraction, and the like? Or would ending the racial exclusion from the sacred experience of Wilderness also be central to your mission of protecting it? I for one believe that a racial exclusion like in our thought experiment mars the sacred value of Wilderness just as much - maybe more - as cutting down a vast forest in its midst. To protect the Wilderness, we must get rid of those “WHITES ONLY” signs.
Of course there are no such signs at Boundary Waters entry points - although not so long ago such signs were a defining feature of life in much of America (including many National Parks and other public outdoor spaces). But the sad reality is that even without such signs, many groups are effectively deterred from enjoying the Wilderness by the historical legacy and continued existence of forms of discrimination that might not be obvious to the majority, but are no less powerful in excluding people of color or other underrepresented people. As one woman, Linda Ji, said in response in to a post about racial justice on a Save the Boundary Waters Facebook post: -
I am very glad about your post. There is so much hate in Minnesota. I actually stay away from Minnesota lakes because its not safe for me. I have had men spit on the ground by me and drive their trucks by me fast. But once I went with white women on a women’s hiking trip and then I felt safe. So you are absolutely correct in what you say. But the haters can’t see their hate. Also not all white people are haters. I don’t believe that. But some are small minded and hate what they fear. They never even take time to know us.
As Linda’s statement powerfully conveys, racism and other forms of discrimination can and do put an exclusionary wall around the Wilderness experience for many people. Based on their life experiences, people of color, lesbians and gays, transgender persons, and others may reasonably fear they will be discriminated against or even physically harmed if they take a Wilderness trip - something a straight white male may take for granted. I have experienced this myself as a gay man. Thus, racial and other anti-discrimination justice movements like Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, or Transgender Lives Matter are just as relevant to the Wilderness as they are to urban and suburban America.
To protect the Boundary Waters, we must help ensure that all people feel welcome, safe, and at home in the Wilderness. Only then will the Boundary Waters have the largest possible corps of advocates and protectors. And only then will the Boundary Waters be protected from the pollution of discriminatory social forces that exclude many Americans from ever enjoying it.
Our Boundary Waters ally and champion in Congress, Rep. Betty McCollum, is fighting to protect the Boundary Waters via a provision she included in the Department of the Interior budget appropriations bill this week to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Wilderness
This is great news for the Boundary Waters!
The Boundary Waters is currently threatened by proposed sulfide-ore copper mining from Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta's Twin Metals project. A provision from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) in the Interior Appropriations bill would protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) by barring the Department of the Interior from using funds to advance sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Watershed, the area upstream from the Boundary Waters. The project was terminated by the US Forest Service in 2016 because it posed an inherent risk of unacceptable damage to an irreplaceable Wilderness.
Section 435 of the Interior Appropriations bill states: "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to review or approve a mine plan proposed within the Rainy River Watershed of the Superior National Forest."
MN Rep. Betty McCollum also introduced a bill entitled “The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act” in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2794) in April 2021. The intent of that bill is to permanently prevent sulfide-ore copper mining on federal lands in the Rainy River Headwaters watershed which drains into the BWCAW and Voyageurs National Park. You can find her summary of the bill here. We are thankful for the continued leadership demonstrated by Rep. McCollum.
The Biden administration is currently reviewing the history of the leases and the Trump administration's actions surrounding Antofagasta's Twin Metals project, including the unlawful reinstatement of terminated mineral leases and the last minute cancellation of a study to determine the impact of sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
The dangerous Twin Metals mine proposal should never have been resurrected by the Trump administration, and Save the Boundary Waters is working every possible avenue to defeat this toxic mine and protect the Boundary Waters forever.
Our strategic efforts, day in and day out, make this kind of progress possible.. Right now, we have a special ONE DAY match opportunity - give now to double your impact for the fight to save the Boundary Waters.
We are making major headway in this fight, but we need your help. Take advantage of this one-day opportunity to double your gift - don’t wait, this match ends TOMORROW, July 1 at Midnight!
There are moments that stand out in our lives as highlights and unforgettable memories. These memories and moments have often happened in a certain place for me - in the Boundary Waters with my husband and three children. The memories created, the wilderness and all it’s silence and glory change you and stand out as amazing experiences that are difficult to express to others.
I recently had one of these unforgettable moments with my 13 yr old daughter, Elsie. We had a “girls trip” into the Boundary Waters which was about 2 years in the making. Elsie had taken a daddy/daughter trip when she was 10 yrs old and in the past couple of years really wanted to go with mommy. We were finally able to make it happen. I would be lying if I hadn’t paused and worried a bit about doing this type of trip as a female, doing it alone and being out in the wilderness, but also knew that I was strong and capable and it would be a great example for my daughter to show how women can do more than what society tells us we can do. Would it be challenging? Probably. Would there be unknowns? Yes. Would I create unforgettable memories with my daughter? Yes, definitely.
The idea of a Boundary Waters trip can be intimidating, but with the right gear and the right planning, it can be so easy to navigate and execute. We planned for a few months and got our permit for Sea Gull Lake. Originally we were going to go for a route with a short portage but given the timing and needing to be a shorter weekend this time around, we planned on Sea Gull to paddle and find a campsite. It worked in our favor! We drove up from the cities on a Wednesday night after school got out (great end of school trip!) and slept in the car in the lake access parking lot. We had stopped at Tobie’s for a treat (a must!) and had stopped in Grand Marais for gas, also checking on the weather since storms were north of us and most definitely going to hit us when we pulled in. They did and we got wet! There were a few other groups sleeping in their cars as well so we weren’t alone in the idea to get an early start. The rain and storms passed in the middle of the night and by 4am the sky was more clear. As Elsie and our dog slept, I watched as a couple groups of men unloaded their trucks and canoes to headed out around 4:15am. I let Elsie sleep in for a bit and then woke her up so we could get on the water. After some breakfast in the car we took off on the water by 8am.
We were stopped by a group of 3 who were out fishing and one of them asked about our gear, stating he had never done what we were doing and was curious. We had two Granite Gear canoe packs (our favorite gear bags), a bear barrel, and a couple small bags. Together we took the canoe off the top of our Expedition - another feat that we were proud to do together and loaded up the canoe while Ginkgo, our golden retriever ran proudly around gathering sticks in his mouth and getting excited about his upcoming canoe trip!
We were paddling for about an hour and a half before we saw that the island sites we were interested in were already taken. As a female traveling with my kid, I really wanted an island site. They seem safer from wild animals (even though I realize bears and wolves can swim!) and they have a sense of safety to me. This was not in the agenda for us, however, and after 2 hours and 4 miles of paddling we found a mainland site that Elsie loved. We could have continued on to see if a couple more island sites were open but she fell in love with this site and we set up camp! I realized that I didn’t have to be nervous - we had each other, we had a good system and we had our dog, even though honestly he would just roll over and play with anything that would approach us!
We set up camp and enjoyed the next few days just the two of us, making fires to cook our food, needing to find downed trees around our site for more firewood, paddling around to check out a nearby waterfall, exploring a nearby small island, staying in our screen tent and cooking with the propane during a windy rainy day and enjoying our time playing a lot of Phase 10 and making bracelets with thread.
What I learned is this - we are strong and we are mighty. We saw dozens of canoes every day paddling around and only one other female during the few days we were out. My daughter noticed this as did I. Why aren’t we taught that we can be in the wilderness, that we don’t need a male figure to keep us safe and start the fires and cook the steaks to perfection? My daughter was so energized and excited to show me how to make the fire better, “you’ll need more smaller sticks to keep the fire going!” And, we were both very excited when our roasted potatoes and steaks turned out perfectly over the fire in our cast iron (we never go into the BWCA without the cast iron!). She helped out in everything and was a rockstar in sawing downed branches and washing dishes. We were a good team, which I already knew, but this was different. We did it together and we felt strong. We felt a part of nature. She found rocks of rainbow color, she saved dragonflies that had fallen in the water, she caught a frog and talked to it, she found a dragonfly nymph and watched it morph into a dragonfly, unfolding its’ wings before flying off to a nearby tree.
The Boundary Waters slows us down - it brings life into focus of what’s important and reminds us of silence. The sounds of silence are unmatched - maybe only by the silence in the winter months out here, but listening to the haunting beautiful calls of the loons, hearing the paddlers paddles on the sides of their canoes, listening to the calls of the birds super early in the morning. It’s a beautiful thing to not have reception on our cell phones, to really engage with each other, knowing that the day holds all the possibilities of laying in a hammock, reading books, playing card games and making our food. Time slows down and helps us create space to enjoy smaller things such as making a fire that will be hot enough to roast potatoes for dinner or for our reflector oven to make our cookie bars!
My daughter was proud of herself - it was evident in everything she did. She felt grown up and I think she did grow up a lot in front of me those few days out in the wilderness. She knew her worth and value in being a part of the team and I didn’t have to tell her, although I did many times! She felt it. We needed each other and it was so natural and beautiful and I loved being out there with my sweet girl.
This trip was one of what will be many. This girls trip will be a new tradition every year in our household. We are already planning next year with a portage or two because we are feeling so strong and capable. Girls can do hard things. So, if you’ve been thinking about it and trying to decide if you can do it or not - get out there! Let’s be sure to show our children that we can be strong female role models and can go on trips into the woods and create strong memories with each other! Here’s to the next adventure and hopefully to not losing so many hands to Elsie in our next Phase 10 tournaments!
One of the gateways to the Boundary Waters is the artsy and outdoorsy community of Grand Marais in Cook County. This is an adventurer’s dream with some of the most breathtaking views of Lake Superior and only minutes away from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The BWCA has a substantial economic impact on the regional economy and Minnesota’s tourism economy, which generates $969 million in revenue per year and sustains more than 17,000 jobs that local families and businesses rely on. (Explore MN)
Communities such as Grand Marais in Northeastern Minnesota rely on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for its amenities-based economy. Sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters would harm the regional economy; a ban on copper mining in the watershed of the BWCA would result in more jobs and more income for the region over the next twenty years than would be generated by copper mining. The inevitable degradation of the landscape and ecosystem, water and air pollution, and industrialization of the wilderness edge would make the area unattractive to visitors and residents, resulting, for example, in property value losses of over $500 million. While the current proposed Twin Metals mine is west of Grand Marais and near Ely, pollution from the mine would impact all businesses in the Arrowhead region that rely on the Boundary Waters. In 2016 the U.S. Forest Service concluded that copper mining posed an unacceptable risk of harm to the Boundary Waters and that damage from this type of mining to the BWCA could not be remediated, fixed, or mitigated.
Nationally, over the past two decades, outdoor recreation and recreation amenities, especially Wilderness amenities, have been the basis for economic growth in rural areas. Many local economies have moved away from traditional extractive industries and manufacturing into services and recreation as the primary engines of economic development. A diversified economy built on the region’s natural assets – clean air, clean water, scenic beauty, and recreational opportunities – is deeply embedded in the fabric of life near the Boundary Waters.
Research finds that protecting the Boundary Waters will generate jobs, boost personal income in the region, and provide long-term support to the local economy. Over the next 20 years, 4,500 more jobs and up to $900 million in additional revenue would be generated if the Boundary Waters watershed were protected, compared to if sulfide-ore copper mining is introduced on the edge of the Wilderness. (Harvard University Department of Economics)
The Boundary Waters is the prime natural amenity in the Arrowhead region’s diversified and growing economy. The wilderness-edge lifestyle this region offers creates the foundation for a stable and sustainable economy. These natural amenities attract entrepreneurs, tourists, trades workers, retirees, businesses, nonprofits and others to Boundary Waters gateway communities while retaining residents who might consider moving elsewhere. (Boundary Waters Business Coalition)
“I draw inspiration from the rare beauty of the [Gunflint] Trail and the opportunity of living near the shores of Lake Superior.” - Katie Mumm, Wildlife Photographer on the Gunflint Trail.
There are many great businesses and inspiring individuals that live in the region. Be sure to check out some of the Boundary Waters Business Coalition members near Grand Marais including Hungry Jack Outfitter, Rockwood Lodge, Birchwood Wilderness Camp, Bearskin Lodge, Wilderness Canoe Base, Sydney’s Frozen Custard and Wood Fired Pizza, Lake Superior Trading Post, Angry Trout Cafe, and more.
Want to hear more stories of the incredible people living on the Wilderness-edge along the Gunflint? Read Ashley Bredemus’ blog here and Wildlife Photographer on the Gunflint Trail Katie Mumm’s recent blog,
Plus, join us for an upcoming Save the Boundary Waters Update in Grand Marais with National Campaign Chair, Becky Rom, on Wednesday, June 30th, at 5:30 pm in the Cook County Community Center. We'll be covering all of the major developments in our effort to protect the Boundary Waters. RSVP here.
“Clean water is more valuable than copper. Healthy forests are more valuable than nickel. Accessible wilderness is more valuable to the world's citizens than corporate profit. Last I checked, they aren't making any more wilderness.” - Dave and Nancy Seaton, Hungry Jack Outfitters, Gunflint Trail