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Put a Loon On It

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

We're excited to again partner with Duluth Screen Printing and designer Geoffrey Holstad to offer fun loon design merchandise. The navy loon shirts are back, plus this time we have natural color shirts and a navy hat. A portion of the proceeds benefit Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the leader of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Available for a limited time. Get yours or find the right gift for the Boundary Waters lover in your life today!

Make your purchase today and support our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters from risky sulfide-ore copper mining. If you are looking for what to wear to the U.S. Forest Service Listening Session in Duluth, this may be it!

Duluth screen printing Boundary Waters loon merchandise







BWCA Dads: Bill Rom

Friday, June 17, 2016
Posted by
Becky Rom

Bill Rom founded Canoe Country Outfitters in Ely, Minnesota, in 1946 and served as an outfitter for Quetico Provincial Park, the Superior National Forest and what we know now as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. At the time, it was often called the largest canoe outfitter in the world. A 1976 New York Times article crowned Bill Rom the “canoe king,” and his fleet of 600 rental canoes served generations of visitors.

Growing up in and around Canoe Country Outfitters, his daughter Becky became an explorer and defender of the wilderness in her own right. And it led her to her current role as our national campaign chair. When asked why she fights tirelessly for this quiet and beautiful place, Becky said this to the Great Old Broads for Wilderness: “I have a good support network. And, I do this for me, my dad, and Sig Olson—I feel an obligation to carry on their work.” Click here to learn more about Becky.

We're sharing this and other BWCA Dad stories on Instagram and Twitter. Share your story and tag your photo with #BWCADad and @savethebwca.

"My dad treated me just as he did my brothers; I belonged in the woods and on a canoe trip just as much as the boys. I didn’t appreciate this at the time, but I do now. I attribute my love of the canoe country to my dad, as well as my determination to keep it forever wild. Here's a glimpse at my father through the years." - Becky Rom

Bill Rom- The Early Days of Canoe Country Outfitters (1940's)

Bill & Becky Rom - Route Planning (1965)

Becky Rom - Canoe Country Outfitters (1965)

Becky & Larry Rom - Crab Lake, BWCA (1956)

Bill Rom - Fishing at Camp St. Home (undated)

Bill Rom - U.S. Forest Service Fire Watchtower, Kekekabic Lake, BWCA (1938)

Bill Rom - BWCA Bush Pilot (Undated)

Bill & Becky Rom - BWCA Ice Fishing (Late 1960's)


From the Freemans: A Day In the Life

Friday, June 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

I think people often wonder what we do out here in the Wilderness. This blog post walks you through a typical day during A Year in the Wilderness. Our days are varied and there is always plenty to do. What's the weather like? Is it just Amy and me, or do we have visitors? Are we headed out on a long day trip, packing up camp and moving to a new lake, or spending the day close to home? Well, today we are staying close to our campsite.

By 5:30 a.m. the chickadees and white-throated sparrows are singing and the sun is beginning to light up the land. This is when I typically wake up. If an idea pops into my head, or I have something pressing I need to finish writing, I quietly get up, trying to let Amy sleep. If there is nothing urgent to dom I often lay in bed listening to the birds and the wind until Amy's watch alarm beeps at 6:30 a.m.

Once I am up and dressed, I grab my Helinox chair and iPad and leave the tent. Down by the water's edge I fill our pot and set up our BioLite stove. I grab the tiny, dry kindling I set aside the night before and build a small fire in the BioLite. While waiting for the water to boil, I take some photos and video if the light is good, or answer emails, edit photos, or work on a piece we will share on social media. I take a break every few minutes to place a few more tiny pieces of wood into the stove. I enjoy this quiet time when I am alone in the morning. It is a good time for me to jot down ideas and elaborate on things that floated through my head as I lay awake listening to nature. Once the water is boiled, I make a cup of coffee for myself. Once I hear Amy rustling in the tent, I brew a cup for her. While sipping my coffee, I add a cup of grits and several cups of hot water to our Fry-Bake, and put it on the stove to simmer for 15 minutes. I watch a pair of loons feeding off our campsite as I sip my Stone Creek Coffee and tend to the grits. Butter and cheese finish off the grits and Amy emerges from the tent to enjoy coffee and grits with me.

After breakfast, Amy cleans our bowls and the Fry-Bake while I set up the solar panels and the satellite terminal. Amy finishes the dishes as I finish sending and receiving email and packing up the satellite terminal. We sit by the lake and make a list of the things we hope to accomplish today. We have had a lot of visitors lately so there are a few things we need to catch up on.

Amy finds a nice spot in the sun and spends most of the morning catching up on her journal. It is supposed to be sunny and our batteries are nearly all charged, so I turn on our laptop and spend an hour backing up photo and video files on our external hard drives and importing them into our media catalogue. Afterwards I work on blog post for National Geographic Adventure and finish up our daily social media post. After Amy finishes writing in her journal she edits and proofreads everything I have written.

By now it is lunchtime, so we take a break to cook some Patagonia Provisions Tsampa Soup and quesadillas. We munch of GORP and Clif Bars while the food cooks. After lunch, Amy uses the Scrubba, which is like a combination drybag/washboard to wash some of her clothes. She squeezes a few drops of biodegradable soap into the Scrubba and places a T-shirt, two pairs of underwear, and a pair of socks into the bag. Then she pours several liters of lake water into the bag, seals it, and kneads it like bread dough for about five minutes. She then walks at least 150-feet back into the woods to dump the dirty water. She repeats this process two more times without adding soap to finish cleaning and rinsing her laundry before hanging everything out to dry.

While she is doing laundry, I set up the satellite terminal and email the blog post and social media content so that it can be published on the web. After Amy is done I take a turn doing a small load of laundry, which will dry in the afternoon sun that is baking our campsite.

We haven't done any water testing on Snipe Lake yet, so in the afternoon we launch our canoe and paddle to the deepest part of the lake. Snipe Lake is over 60-feet deep so it takes us over half an hour to take measurements at 1-meter increments from the surface to the bottom. Amy lowers the probe and records all of the data while I mark our location with our DeLorme InReach and work to keep the canoe from drifting off our mark. We are measuring dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity and turbidity. When the lake is perfectly calm, it is easy to hold our position. Unfortunately, today a stiff wind is blowing so staying in place requires constant adjustments. On lakes less than 40 feet deep we can use an anchor bag with a rock in it to hold us in place, which makes collecting data much easier.

After we finish take measurements, we spend a few minutes paddling around the lake and pull over along shore to gather some firewood. Our BioLite stove only requires a few handfuls of wood per meal, but we prefer to gather our firewood well away from campsites. When we find an easy place to land we just walk back into the woods until we are out of sight from the shoreline and gather the firewood we need.

After we return to camp, Amy inventories our food and supplies while I answer a few emails. After she has a list of the food we have, we compile a list of the food and supplies that we will need brought in by a group of volunteers in about a week. It's about 5 the time our list is complete so we take a break before making dinner. Amy reads while I take a few photos and a few casts. Instead of snagging a bass, I snag a log, so I place my rod down, launch the canoe, and paddle out to unsnag my lure.

Around 6:30 p.m. we light a fire in our BioLite stove and boil water for dinner. After the water boils, I fill Amy's coffee cup with hot water, which will be used for washing dishes. Then Amy adds lentils and wild rice to the pot and lets it simmer for 10 minutes. Then she adds a handful of dehydrated veggies and lets our dinner simmer for another 20 or 30 minutes.

It's still light at 8 p.m. when we finish dinner. We enjoy the cooler evening air, sitting by the lake. The sun casts a golden glow over our camp so I take a few photos while Amy washes our dishes. A gentle breeze blows across the rocky point where we are camped, keeping the bugs at bay. We sit on the end of the point relaxing and talking about the day before retiring to our tent.

My eyes are closed before it is dark enough to need a headlamp on a June evening in the Boundary Waters. Amy will stay up for another hour reading before switching off her headlamp and calling it a day.

Tank has spent the day napping, moving from shady spot to shady spot as the sun slid across the sky. He became active when the rustling of bags signaled meal time, but mostly he was content to sleep in the shade. Since it is a clear night he is curled up under a tree not far from our tent. If it was raining he would be curled up next to us in the tent, but he seems to prefer to be outside on clear nights.

So that's a pretty typical "rest day" during A Year in the Wilderness. Not much traveling, but still plenty to do and see. Probably a little different than the average Wilderness visitor's day, but a typical day for us during A Year in the Wilderness. We are out here bearing witness to this very special place and working to protect it from Twin Metals and other proposed sulfide-ore copper mines that threaten this maze of Wilderness lakes and rivers. Please join us in our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters.

We are so excited about the announcement the U.S. Forest Service made on Monday. The U.S. Forest Service is "considering withholding consent for lease renewal" of Twin Metals leases. This would be a huge step forward in our efforts to permanently protect the watershed of this beloved canoe country.

Please urge the Forest Service to deny those leases! Speak up today! Share this with your friends, family, and neighbors and urge them to take action as well.

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.


Breaking BWCA News from the U.S. Forest Service

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

The U.S. Forest Service announced on June 13 that it is "considering withholding consent for lease renewal" of Twin Metals' request to renew two 50-year-old, expired federal mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The Forest Service said a final decision will be made after a public input period.

“The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder and key driver of the economy of Northern Minnesota,” said Becky Rom, National Chair for the Campaign to Save the Boundary the Waters. “In recognizing the incredible value of the Wilderness and the dangers posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, the Forest Service’s announcement is an important acknowledgement about the need to protect the Boundary Waters.” Read our full press release.

If the Forest Service denies renewal of these expired mineral leases held by Twin Metals (owned by Chilean mining giant Antofogasta), it would be a huge step forward in our efforts to permanently protect this beloved canoe country from risky sulfide-ore copper mining. These two expired mineral leases are located right next to the Wilderness, along waterways that flow into the Boundary Waters. They expired more than two years ago on December 31, 2013, and the federal government has the legal right to grant or withhold consent to renew them.

In the Forest Service announcement, they said, "A final determination on consent has not been made. However, the Forest Service is deeply concerned by the location of the leases within the same watershed as the BWCAW, and by the inherent risks associated with potential copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations within that watershed. Those risks exist during all phases of mine development, implementation and long-term closure and remediation. Potential impacts to water resources include changes in water quantity and quality, contamination from acid mine drainage, and seepage of tailings water, tailings basin failures and waste rock treatment locations. Based on these concerns, the Forest Service is considering withholding consent for lease renewal."

Your incredible support and hard work across the country has brought us to this critical moment. Take action today to make sure we win permanent protection for this beloved, one-of-a-kind Wilderness. And stay tuned for details about the listening session hosted by the Forest Service to be held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on July 13.



Science Desk: Waves of Warblers Flood the Northwoods

Friday, June 3, 2016
Posted by
Ellen Hawkins

Recently, we shared a Science Desk blog about landscape ecology, which considers broad patterns of ecological relationships and processes that can never be corralled by boundaries on a map. Its principles support the eagle-eyed perspective we need to protect the Boundary Waters. Water flowing into the Boundary Waters has a huge influence on wilderness water quality and everything that depends on it, so we think in terms of entire watersheds when we consider proposals to undertake sulfide-ore copper mining here.

Thanks to science reports we've commissioned and reports in the media, we know a lot about the flow of ground and surface waters within the Rainy River watershed. We can clearly see how contaminants could be transported from mining locations into the wilderness and beyond by Spruce and Stoney Creeks and associated flowages, the Kawishiwi and Rainy Rivers, and points west and north.

What happens within our airsheds also demands the broad perspectives of landscape ecologists and wilderness advocates. Vast rivers of birds flow across oceans and continents, following flyways that connect wintering grounds with distant breeding habitat – which for many is the Boundary Waters and surrounding wildlands. The air currents that carry these great migrations would be polluted by sulfide-ore copper mining as surely as the rivers beneath.

Sometimes we get an inkling of that airy river when we hear the soft twittering of birds flying in starlight all through the night. Radar that can track migrating birds and reveal the magnitude of the great migrations has helped create the concept of flyways as rivers. That metaphor was embedded in my mind by an encounter with warblers on a cool and misty day in mid May several years ago.

I was planting trees on a campsite on Alton Lake. Across the lake, the treetops, just beginning to leaf out, were vibrant green pillows scattered across the pale landscape. A few yellow-rumped warblers preyed on a hatch of soft little flies.

By late morning the just-hatched insects covered every rock, tree, and shrub near the lake, and suddenly I realized there were warblers everywhere. Along the shore from the south came dozens, then hundreds, all on the prowl, plucking flies from every surface.  There were gorgeous redstarts, strikingly handsome black-throated greens, bay-breasteds resplendent with velvety brown heads and rich chestnut throats. Rusty-cheeked Cape Mays searched a young fir beside me while palms worked the ground practically at my feet.  By noon I’d seen more than half of the 24 species of wood warbler that nest in the BWCAW, and they were there by the thousands.

They piled up against the shore where a bay blocked their flow, until the point was alive with beautiful warblers from forest floor to canopy. Then they surged out across the bay and flew northward, pushed on by warblers pouring in from the south.

I later found that friends at Tettagouche State Park and in Grand Marais, and my husband on Knife Lake were witness that day to the same spectacle, so the crest of this wave of warblers must have been at least 40 miles wide.

Bud Heinselman, in his classic book The Boundary Waters Ecosystem, reports astonishing numbers of warblers in the Boundary Waters and surrounding wildlands. His estimates, based on studies done in the 1970s–80s, range from 1,300–2,200 pairs per square mile - which adds up to some 5 million adults and young wilderness-hatched warblers at the start of the fall migration.

Every one of these warblers preys on insects. One pair can pick off all the caterpillars from a million leaves in the 10 days it takes them to fledge their young. Even though each warbler is tiny (most weigh well under an ounce) together they provide invaluable free (and pesticide-free) insect control services throughout their nesting habitat and on down the flyway. We know about many of the hugely beneficial ways warblers interact with their environment.  For example, Tennessee, Cape May, bay-breasted, and blackburnian warblers play a big role in regulating frequency and severity of spruce budworm epidemics. Many others, no doubt, are yet to be discovered.

Chel Anderson and Heidi Fischer discuss the bird-forest relationship that is so crucial to forest health in their book North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast.  Summed up, our forests must have birds, including the all-important warblers, to maintain health and vigor; and for warblers, forests with a diversity of communities of different species and of various ages, including especially mature coniferous forests in unbroken tracts, are absolutely essential. When this relationship fails, results are dire.

These wonderful warblers are in danger from Twin Metals and the other proposed mines. An obvious peril would be the displacement of thousands of birds by the mining operations’ footprints. Nesting habitat lost to new roads, buildings, parking lots, and waste disposal sites could not be replaced, and each year would mean the loss of what should have been that generation’s offspring. 

The operations’ footprints would be irregularly shaped, meaning that new forest fragmentation would be maximized. A study of global changes in forest cover from 2000 to 2012 reveals that we’re losing forest interior three times as fast as loss of overall forest.  While there was a net loss of forest cover about 2 ½ times the size of Texas during that period, it’s the fragmentation that’s the bigger worry. The authors conclude, “Forest area loss alone from 2000 to 2012 underestimates ecological risks from forest fragmentation. In addition to the direct loss of forest, there was a widespread shift of the remaining global forest to a more fragmented condition.” This is bad because some organisms, including some songbirds, must have large stretches of unbroken forest. 

Also, interior (unfragmented) forest can better withstand impacts from things like invasive species and various kinds of pollution. At the edges of forests, and in small fragments of forest – exactly what the mining operation has produced, with its hundreds of test drill sites with access roads widely scattered throughout the forest, and which would continue to be produced should operations proceed - things like variation in soil moisture, nighttime lights and noise, and traffic have a much bigger impact.

Along the edges of the mining operations, 24/7 noise and light pollution would be more than a nuisance to wildlife of many kinds. For example, even seemingly innocuous lights like porch lights and street lamps have been shown to have negative impacts on migrating and nesting songbirds. The dead zone as far as successful nesting for warblers might extend far beyond the actual footprint of mining operations.

The air the birds travel and breath would be contaminated with dust which could carry, to name some of the toxic ingredients, mercury, sulfur, copper, nickel, cobalt, arsenic, lead, and cadmium, as well as asbestos-like fibers and non-toxic, but still unhealthy, particulates. This scary mix wouldn’t just hover above the mine sites. It would become part of the currents of air that stream up toward Ely some days and out across the wilderness and on to the North Shore on others, to be breathed into lungs, scattered across leaves, lakes, soil, caterpillars, canoeists, warbler nests, and your garden and mine. 

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Forest Ecology Director Lee Frelich discusses potential impacts likely to affect the Boundary Waters in his report Forest and Terrestrial Impacts of Mining. According to Dr. Frelich, windblown metallic dust can remain a problem for several decades after mining ceases on copper-nickel mine tailings. Once in the soil, the heavy metals can be taken up by plants and can be further distributed by forest fires. It can contribute to acidification that may lead to mineral deficiencies and slow plant growth. Essential mycorrhizal relationships may be disrupted.  Cumulatively, the overall resiliency of the forest may be diminished.

Two kinds of rivers, aerial and aquatic, intersected this morning in the form of a yellow- rumped warbler bugging above the Temperance River, not far from where it flows out of the Boundary Waters.  He flew in on last night’s front, and now he’s hunting from the top of a young cedar. From his perspective and ours each insect is backlit by golden sunlight. He eyes his prey, darts out and does some fancy maneuvering, makes the catch and flits back to his perch. He throws back his head and sings.

This bird has traveled to habitat that’s uniquely perfect for his springtime needs.  No other place in his entire range has habitat this intact, air and water this free of pollution, insects this abundant. I really wish I could tell him that his kind will always be able to come here and find clean air to fly through and clean water to hunt over.

We’re still in the early days of spring with not much happening in the woods, color-wise, so the bright yellow splashes on his rump and sides are eye-catching in a way you could say are out of proportion to their tiny size.

You might say, too, that our delight in watching one little bird is a little over the top, but I don’t think so – it feels just right, in this beautiful place, to pause and admire a perfect little predator just returned to the northwoods after an epic journey. 

Ellen Hawkins lives near the edge of the Boundary Waters, off the Sawbill Trail. Retired from the Forest Service, she finds that surprise encounters with wildlife of all kinds are still among her most delightful experiences, just as they were during her years as a Wilderness ranger.


Anderson, Chel; Fischer, Adelheid.  2015. North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast. The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Frelich, Lee. 2014.  Forest and terrestrial ecosystem impacts of mining. 

Heinselman, Miron. 1996. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem.  The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Riitters, Kurt; Wickham, James; Costanza, Jennifer K.; Vogt, Peter. 2015. A global evaluation of forest interior area dynamics using tree cover data from 2000 to 2012.



From the Freemans: Metamorphosis

Thursday, June 2, 2016
Posted by
Amy Freeman

While camped on Horseshoe Lake, we prepared to accompany our latest resupply crew to the portage to Gaskin Lake and noticed several dark shapes attached to our canoe. At first glance, it was obvious that they were dragonflies. Someone asked what they were eating and it was apparent that the insects had latched onto something. Upon closer inspection, we realized that they had recently undergone metamorphosis. They emerged from their nymph exoskeletons and were hanging off of our canoes, drying out and stretching their wings.

Suddenly, everyone was engrossed– taking pictures and delicately transplanting these bizarre creatures in their vulnerable state from the sides of the canoe to nearby rocks and vegetation. While Michelle, J.B., Jessica, Tim, Katie, Denny, Dave and I are adults, we were all acting like kids as we marveled at one of nature's many little miracles. The only kid in the bunch, ten month old Jasper– our youngest overnight visitor, was also transfixed.

Over the next few days we watched this process unfold multiple times, from the moment when the dragonfly first pops its head out of its old body, to the moment when it takes flight for the first time. Every summer I rejoice when I spot the first dragonflies flying around, because I know that they will eat some of those pesky black flies that leave such a vicious, itchy bite. The past 48 hours have given me new respect for dragonflies. According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine: "A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day."

A dragonfly spends most of its life in nymph form, creeping along on the lake bottom. Many species of dragonfly spend several years living as nymphs. We have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see these primordial looking creatures emerge from the water, crawl across the forest floor and then in an upward direction. "They look like little monsters," was one observation. These dragonfly nymphs are large– and they would play the part of scary alien invaders in a sci-fi movie well if they were closer to us in size.

We've found that they settle in a spot with a slight overhang, firmly latched on, so that their new bodies can take advantage of gravity. This is why the side of our overturned Wenonah Itasca canoe was an optimal surface. We've also spotted them on the trunks of cedar trees, balsam branches, rocks, and the guy lines for our Cooke Custom Sewing Lean shelter.

First the head and legs emerge. It may shift position a little to get in the optimal spot to allow its wings to hang down. The wings are barely noticeable at first, plastered to its body. Slowly they appear to grow. The dragonfly's abdomen appears to grow too, because it emerges wide and stubby, but slowly lengthens and narrows. Eventually the dragonfly spreads its wings for some final drying in the sun and breeze. You might miss the moment when it takes flight if you're not looking carefully.

Just today, as Dave and I were returning to Horseshoe from Vista Lake, we were hugging shore due to the significant east wind. I caught a glimpse of a large brown body several yards ahead and controlled my excitement enough to whisper to Dave, "there's a moose ahead." We veered out from shore a little and were able to watch a mother moose and calf wading in the water. The mother was engrossed in munching on aquatic vegetation, stocking up on necessary nutrients to feed her young one, as we silently glided by.

What does one the BWCAW's biggest creatures have in common with one of its smallest? Both the moose and the dragonflies depend on clean water for their survival. While a dragonfly spends most of its life in the water, a moose depends on the plants that grow in the water as a food source. Although most humans inhabit cities and towns–-and are quite oblivious to the source of our drinking water beyond knowing it flows out of the kitchen sink–-we need this clean water just as much as the moose and the dragonflies.

We're pretty darn fortunate that this vast tract of wilderness–-a 1.1 million acre landscape that is effectively half land and half water–-remains unpolluted. How about we keep it that way? Mining for copper in a sulfide ore body along the edge of the BWCAW is simply not an activity that is compatible with this water-rich environment. If you feel the same, join the movement. Please take a moment to sign the petition. Be sure to let your local elected officials know how you feel. And if you have a favorite Boundary Waters moment, feel free to share it here

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.


Resupply Report: Dream Come True

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Posted by
Helen Clanaugh

I am one lucky person. In May, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet two of my heros, Amy and Dave Freeman, who are spending a Year in the Wilderness to help protect the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is a place for me where I can just let everything go for a bit and enjoy life to its fullest. I had been following the Freeman's journey since day one and it was unbelievable to experience it firsthand.

On the first day of our Boundary Waters journey, it wasn't quite all sunshine and roses, it was more like snow showers and wind gusts. When I got up in the morning, I thought to myself, ”wow this is really happening, I get to meet the people i've been dying to meet since the beginning of their epic journey.” Finally, we got on the road after all of the hard work of getting packed. We stopped at Kwik Trip to get some gas and of course our favorite donuts. The journey had begun. The drive up the North Shore was nice, and I knew it was going to be a great trip.

After getting our permits from the Tofte Ranger Station, it was BWCA or bust. The first portage of our trip came up quick. My dad and I skipped the first rapids, but after Kelly Lake we decided to save ourselves 15 minutes by going right through the rapids.

The Freemans campsite was so close we could feel it. Once we arrived, we talked for a while, and got started setting up before it started to snow. We all went inside the Freemans tipi tent and I couldn’t wait to eat. For dinner we cooked steak, pasta and stir fry. After dinner we just chilled for a while, and then some guys from Frost River came over to our campsite to hang out. We all talked in the tent listening to the wind howling and snow falling outside. It wasn’t until late that the guys went back to their campsite. We gathered outside for a group picture in the snow and then they were on their way. It was a very cold night. Day one was great, and I hoped day two would have many fun-filled adventures as well.

The second day was again very cold. We decided to stay at camp and have a relaxing day. The smell of coffee and fire burning filled the tipi tent, it was very nice. For breakfast Amy cooked some dehydrated eggs and vegetables. She added the leftover steak to the eggs and that sure added some good flavor. We relaxed for a pretty long time and it sure felt good to contemplate life in one of the most precious places in the world.

I decided to entertain myself by going on paddles with Dave and Don. At one campsite we visited, there were a few black-capped chickadees and chipmunks, and I got really close to the chipmunk. As we paddled back, some heavy winds started to pick up, and it made it pretty difficult to steer the canoe. Our afternoon paddle was quite windy in some spots and very calm in others, which made for an interesting trip. On the way back there was a beautiful loon. We paddled right up to it, and I got some great pictures. We took our time getting back to the campsite, because the weather was so nice.

When we arrived back at camp, Tank was very excited. I helped chop some wood, and that made my hands very cold. Amy started cooking dehydrated stir fry and rice for dinner. I had never had much dehydrated food before this trip, and it was actually quite good. After dinner we were all gathered in the tent around a nice fire. We heard a saw-whet owl that had been making a constant noise searching for a mate for quite a while. We crawled into our cold tent, and I feel asleep pretty fast.

On my final full day in the wilderness, I was finally able to hop out of our tent and not sprint straight to Amy and Dave’s warm tipi tent. It was still pretty cold, but the sun was shining over the lake nicely. I could sense it was going to be a nice day. My dad and I made some blueberry pancakes on the griddle and they were delicious. Later, all of us headed out on a day trip. I was very excited to paddle with Tank and Amy. We visited Jack and Weird Lakes and we explored the Vern River. When we got to the first portage, Amy asked if I wanted to portage the canoe. At first I was kind of skeptical, because I had never actually portaged one before. I had always let my dad do the heavy lifting. Also, that thing was huge, but with Amy’s encouragement I tried it and it was awesome.

After that we paddled to a nearby campsite to stop for some lunch. The site had been occupied not too long ago, and there was a lot of trash left behind and the fire was still smoking a bit, which is not the way you should leave a campsite. After lunch, we all picked up the trash and Amy put the fire out with her water bottle. It was so nice to be in the wilderness taking a break from my everyday school life.

We took the 10-rod portage into Weird Lake, making plenty of weird jokes. The Vern River was a very cool place and I’m so glad I got to paddle up it. On our way back to camp some sprinkles started to fall.

The closer we got to camp, the harder it rained. I put on some dry clothes on and found myself right back in the tipi tent. For dinner we made a nice vegetable and meat stew that had carrots, potatoes, onions and an array of spices. Tank was very happy to join us in the tent and he also enjoyed licking the pan before it was washed. We gathered around the warm wood stove and listened to the steady rain while enjoying each other’s company. It was very difficult for me to leave the wilderness the next day.

Thank you so much, Amy and Dave, for having me, Don, and my dad, you guys are truly an inspiration. I’m so honored to have met Amy and Dave and I can’t wait to be back. We have to keep working to save this national treasure from these horrible mining threats towards the BWCA wilderness. My hope is that by spreading awareness about this majestic place, the younger generation will want to #SavetheBWCA.

Helen Clanaugh is a 14-year-old from Duluth, Minnesota. She attends North Star Academy. This was Helen's second BWCA trip, but she plans to go back for a third time this summer. Helen enjoys playing basketball and being outdoors.




Science Desk: Protecting Clean Water

Friday, May 20, 2016
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

We can’t take our swimmable and fishable waters for granted, even in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The more time that has passed since the passage of the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, fewer people remember that our public waters used to be at the complete mercy of polluters. As memories of burning rivers and bloated fish fade from public consciousness, it becomes even more important to understand the value of Minnesota’s remaining clean water. 

What is now known as the Clean Water Act was actually a set of amendments made to the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act, spurred by increasingly visible environmental disasters. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching fire (1969 marked the thirteenth time, by one account) was perhaps the most spectacular of these, but Minnesota had its own problems with water impairment. Discharges of harmful materials, like a devastating soybean oil spill on the Blue Earth River near Mankato in 1963, were neither required to be reported nor cleaned up. Pipes emptied directly into our public waters, like the culvert releasing an “acrid smelling liquid” into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis in 1973, as depicted in this photo from the National Archives.

The Clean Water Act made it illegal for individuals and companies to directly discharge pollution into navigable waters without a permit, which in turn gave the EPA the authority to regulate pollutants being released into our public waters. The Clean Water Act allowed the EPA  and partnering states to set water quality targets for waters, as well, and to use the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to limit, but not eliminate, the discharge of pollutants by discrete sources. By controlling the flagrant dumping of toxic, flammable, and destructive materials into rivers and lakes, the Clean Water Act has achieved remarkable success in improving the overall quality of many of our waters to be fishable and swimmable, a major goal of the Act. 

Despite these historic achievements, our clean water is leaking through our hands. In April 2015, the Star Tribune reported that “half the lakes and rivers in southern Minnesota are too polluted much of the time for safe swimming and fishing,” results from a survey by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The MPCA’s work to update and reauthorize taconite mining NPDES permits under the Clean Water Act have stalled, and the commissioner admitted that the work is paused, despite an active investigation by the EPA as to whether the MPCA is sufficiently upholding the Clean Water Act. The Izaak Walton League of America reported results from a nation-wide survey that Minnesota’s waters are plagued with mercury, nutrients and sediment, bacteria, PCBs (a possible carcinogen), and salts that are detrimental to the aquatic environment. The Minnesota Department of Health has raised alarms about elevated nitrate levels (found in fertilizers, animal waste, and human waste) found in rural groundwater systems, since it can infiltrate drinking water wells and cause “blue baby syndrome,” a serious condition for infants under the age of six months. If we continue taking our remaining swimmable, fishable, and drinkable water for granted, we might not have much left.

One important step to protecting our clean water is to understand where the high quality waters remain and where waters have been degraded, and how. The Izaak Walton League’s report calls for increased frequency of testing water quality as an important step. Because state budgets can be tight, citizen involvement such as with the MPCA’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Program can help expand the reach of the water quality monitoring program. Explorers Amy and Dave Freeman are participating in this program and collecting additional water quality data as part of their Year in the Wilderness expedition in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The next step must be to protect sensitive watersheds that contain increasingly rare pristine water. The waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are so clean that they are swimmable, fishable, and even (at your own risk) drinkable. In fact, the State of Minnesota rates the waters of the Boundary Waters as “outstanding resource value water” for their “high water quality, wilderness characteristics, unique scientific or ecological significance, exceptional recreational value, or other special qualities which warrant stringent protection from pollution.” As part of the administrative rules that govern the State of Minnesota, these waters may not be degraded by either new or expanded sources of pollution. Such concern for the Boundary Waters Wilderness is highly warranted, especially since half of the state’s waters have been found to be unsuitable for swimming and fishing.

We have the responsibility to ensure that the Boundary Waters Wilderness retains its clean water for this and future generations. We must prevent new sources of toxic pollutants, like from sulfide-ore mining, to be placed in its watershed.


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.

From The Freemans: That Squiggly Line Is Our Route

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

Take a look at our DeLorme Map above. It is probably hard to tell if there is any rhyme or reason to the line, which starts to looks like a bowl of spaghetti. People often ask us how we decide where to go during A Year in the Wilderness. In this blog post, I will try to explain some of the factors that help us plan our route.

We spent most of winter in the greater Ely area. We did this for several reasons. First, the logistics associated with organizing our resupplies in the winter were more complicated due of the added skill and specialized clothing and equipment necessary for our visitors to safely travel in the winter woods. Amy and I have led dogsledding trips for Paul and Sue Schurke at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for many years. Paul and many of the folks at Wintergreen used their dog teams and winter skills to assist with the resupplies, bringing many people out to visit us. For many of our winter resupply volunteers, it was their first time visiting the Boundary Waters Wilderness in the winter. Bert and Johnnie Hyde, Bobby Shusta, Elton Brown, Jason Zabokrtsky and many other area residents also donated their time and efforts to organize and lead these resupplies, and of course Levi at Sustainable Ely was in the thick of it all, helping to organize volunteers and to purchase, pack and ready all our food and supplies. A large number of volunteers with varying skills were needed for the winter resupplies and we are very thankful that so many people stepped up to assist.

As it turns out, this winter was a warm one! The lakes froze several weeks later than normal and many bogs, creeks and streams did not freeze solid until well into February. The weather created abnormal travel condition so a few places that we had planned to explore in the winter we had to avoid because of the unusually warm conditions.

Now that the canoe season has started in earnest, we are traveling east into territory we have not visited during the first seven months of our Year in the Wilderness. Our resupplies between now and the middle of July will be brought in by groups of volunteers from entry points scattered throughout the eastern half of the Wilderness. Then we will head west again and spend our final months exploring the far western side of the Wilderness. We have visited 217 different lakes, rivers, and creeks during the first 231 days of A Year in the Wilderness. We are hoping to visit at least 500 different bodies of water. As we plan our route for our final four and a half months in the Wilderness we are trying to visit as many new lakes as we can.

Visitors are another factor that we consider when we are choosing our route. Beside standard resupplies, which come in approximately every two weeks, we have groups of friends, family, reporters and other people who are coming into the Wilderness to meet up with us. All visitors much have their own permit, so plan our schedule to be near the entry point where they will enter the Wilderness so we can greet them.

Our route planning has been pretty loose; we have been going with the flow. As we visit more and more lakes, we will have to think more strategically about our specific route. One overarching routing question that we have been pondering is: Should we visit the Gunflint section and the Trout Lake section of the Wilderness?

The Boundary Waters Wilderness is broken up into three sections. The main section is approximately 800,000 acres. The Gunflint and Trout Lake sections are each about 100,000 acres. To enter the Gunflint section we would have to leave the Wilderness and paddle for about 10 miles across Gunflint Lake. Then, after spending about 10 days visiting the Wilderness north of the Gunflint Trail, we would paddle back across Gunflint Lake and return to the main body of the Wilderness. To access the Trout Lake section we would have to leave the Wilderness for a couple miles and portage across the Echo Trail as we enter and then exit the Trout Lake section. There are specific travel routes that allow you to travel from one section to another without needing to obtain a new permit as long as you follow a few basic rules like not spending the night outside the Wilderness and not obtaining food or supplies while crossing from one section to the other.

We are trying to decide if we should remain in the main section for the whole year, or if we should travel to the Gunflint and Trout Lake sections. The Wilderness north of the Gunflint Trail is rugged and beautiful, and Amy and I have never visited the Trout Lake section, so there is appeal to visiting both. However, there is a part of us that doesn't want to cross a road, or leave the Wilderness even for a couple hours. If we do not visit the Gunflint and Trout Lake areas we would not be able to see as much country and visit as many lakes, but we would have more time to explore smaller lakes and streams that are off of the main travel routes. These smaller lakes are not linked by portages and you often have to crash through the forest, slog through bogs, and climb over beaver dams to visit these hidden gems.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Send us a message on Instagram or Facebook, or email

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.

Resupply Report: A Throwback to Winter

Thursday, May 5, 2016
Posted by
Dave Caliebe

Scratching my head, I wondered how to fit all the supplies strewn on the ground at my feet into two sleds. A 40 pound bag of dog food, another 15 pounds of frozen chicken, five Frost River bags the size of watermelons, three sleeping bags, a duffle bag full of base layers, and a bag of Snickers. The sleds designed more for youthful exuberance down the local sledding hill than hauling gear over a mile into a Wilderness Area. Layered up and full of gumption, I set off across the frozen, wind-swept lake towards my destination – two folks living a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  

I spotted Dave and Amy Freeman’s tent and heard their sled dogs barking to the sky. A solitary skier emerged from camp, heading my way with a dog. Amy arrived with a smile and escorted me into camp. Arriving in camp, Dave and the other two dogs welcomed me. 

With the frozen burritos of gear unpacked, the Freemans took Tina, Tank and Acorn out skijoring to let the dogs release a little energy. I found a spot sheltered from the breeze and prepared my sleeping system (when in doubt, add another sleeping bag).

After a hearty meal followed by a couple hours of post-dinner talk, I retreated to my sleeping burrito outside.

I awoke from sunlight grazing the ice crystals that had formed around the air hole of my sleeping bag. The sunrise brought false warmth to the frozen landscape. The dogs rose from their beds when I approached, eager to begin the day. I wandered around camp, taking photos until I realized my unprotected hands were not functioning properly. I retreated to Amy and Dave’s tent to warm my hands and grab breakfast. The Freemans were in the middle of morning chores, cooking breakfast for the dogs, boiling water for coffee and beginning to plan the day.

Soon, we were headed out of camp, and Acorn dutifully pulled my sled towards the edge of the Wilderness while I lagged behind. I caught up with the dogs, the Freemans and a new group that was just arriving. Introductions quickly transitioned to goodbyes as we parted ways.

The silence of the Wilderness soon enveloped me. The crunch of my boots, the dragging of the sled on the packed down path and the breeze flowing past my face were all sounds, but sounds that best occur in a quiet place, a Wilderness Area. The bustle of man carries well across lakes and through forests and that is why we need solitude, quiet, the peacefulness of Nature. 

What does the Boundary Waters mean to me? The West Coast has Yosemite, Olympic and the Redwoods. The Mountain West has Yellowstone, Glacier and the Rockies. The southwest has the Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches. The southeast has the Everglades and the Smokies, the northeast has Acadia and Niagara Falls. But what does the Midwest have that resonates on the national level? We have the most visited Wilderness Area in the country. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park in Canada encompass the greatest canoe country in the world. 

I love the Boundary Waters because the only thing that my dad asked me to do when graduating high school was to spend a couple weeks in the Wilderness. I love it because my dad knew Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady, and she wanted to hire him to be a guide. I love it because I can travel for days and not see anyone. I love it because it is mostly unchanged since the days of the Voyageurs. I love it because every whiff of spruce imbued in the wind reminds me of the words of Sigurd Olson. I love it because it’s bigger than my lifetime. I love it because the portages are measured in rods (which are 16.5 feet). I love it because of the Rose Lake cliffs and the North Hegman pictographs. I love it because it’s our Yellowstone, our Yosemite, our Smoky Mountains and our place of worship. 

We must protect this national resource so my kids and their kids can experience the same joy I do when the loon calls or wolf howls while paddling across a quiet lake.

Dave Caliebe spent his youth sauntering through the woods of Wisconsin and now works for a non-profit helping people to enjoy the outdoors. After listening to the Freeman's speak at Canoecopia in 2015, Dave began his effort to do his part to protect a landscape he holds dear. Having first visited the Boundary Waters in 1995, Dave became enamored with the landscape and has visited ever since.