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Winter in the Wilderness

Thursday, January 7, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

On Christmas Day, Star Tribune Outdoors featured Dave and Amy Freeman's A Year in the Wilderness. Read an excerpt below and the full article online or in a PDF of the print edition.

Trip to spend year in BWCA builds on career of advocacy

If the journey by Minnesota adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman looks idyllic, that is the point: They're determined to show what's at stake in light of the prospect of mining. 

Special to the Star Tribune
December 25, 2015

We’ve seen adventurers Amy and Dave Freeman dancing on a frozen lake (in Sorels!). We’ve seen ice-coated branches, the sky getting rosy in the east, wolf tracks in the snow.

Maybe, too, those following online have experienced the small — a pine martin dashing after a snowshoe hare — and the grand — fuchsia sky reflected in black water — as if we’ve been with them in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).

That’s the whole idea. Instead of escaping to the wilderness, the two are sharing every portage, every Technicolor sunset to show house-dwellers the stunning legacy belonging to Minnesotans and what they see threatened by the prospect of copper-nickel mining. Those last words fall with an awkward clunk amid this talk of natural beauty, but irreparable harm is the high-stakes back story to the Freemans' seemingly idyllic adventure. Their “Year In The Wilderness” is not just an adventure; it’s adventure advocacy to them. They partnered with the Ely, Minn.-based Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters to maximize the impact of the message: Their mind-boggling pictures and captivating real-time stories draw followers right to their campsite.

The couple have made a career of sharing the wilderness with others, either literally, as guides for canoe and dog sled trips in the BWCA, or virtually through their Wilderness Classroom school partnerships, podcasts and blog posts. They’ve paddled the Amazon and Lake Superior, and spent three years crossing the North American continent, to name a few expeditions, all with an environmental education/activism agenda.

For more on A Year in the Wilderness, visit the expedition page, read regular Campaign blog posts, view the Freeman's social media or follow along on their map.

Resupply Report: Ringing In the New Year with Dave and Amy

Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Posted by
Sarah Whiting

Jason Zabokrtsky (of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service) and I were fortunate to be able to spend this New Year's Eve with Dave and Amy Freeman in the Boundary Waters. The trip was even more memorable because it marked Dave and Amy's 100th day of A Year in the Wilderness! To celebrate, we brought a delicious dinner (rotisserie chicken, fresh asparagus, baked potatoes, salad and ice cream), hats and noisemakers, and games.

We walked to their campsite on foot, pulling our supplies behind us on sleds. The conditions were ideal for travel. It was about 20 degrees out with a light dusting of snow, and we had a good view of the majestic snow-covered trees surrounding the interconnected lakes. Along the way, we saw several animal tracks. My favorite was the otter, which you can spot by its unique "hop-hop-slide" movement.

Our evening was filled with delicious food, laughter and good conversation. Highlights included soccer on the lake, making Swedish glogg, and lighting beautiful ice candles in a circle around the tent. Our evening was spent enjoying each other's company, laughing and playing games, and there was something very satisfying in that. I felt renewed and gained a sense of clarity that I could carry into my daily life. Spending New Year's with Dave, Amy and Jason reminded me of how special the Boundary Waters is and the importance of protecting such a valuable resource.

Sarah Whiting grew up in northeastern Minnesota, enjoying camping and the outdoors from an early age.  She is currently an attorney in Minneapolis and makes frequent trips to the Boundary Waters.

I can still picture the living room floor in my childhood home covered with bags, each containing a specific meal for the trip ahead. These handmade cloth pouches were telltale sign of an impending adventure -- BWCA time! Childhood trips with my family fueled the passion in me that eventually led the way to summers of guiding canoe trips as a college and medical student. What better way in the world is there to spend a summer than in the woods? The endless lakes of varying character and personality, crystal clean water from which to drink, coffee enjoyed while sitting on the rocks, campfires, fresh fish, blueberries, crispy swims, rainy days, starry nights, northern lights. Those summers became engraved in my DNA.

As I met the man I eventually married, he of course needed to pass “the BWCA test.” Despite the perils of a mosquito-infested first trip, he passed the test and grew to love the wilderness as well. He paddled in to our wedding site, where I waited on the banks of a northern lake, wearing a white dress with flowers in hand. We honeymooned on nearby BWCA lakes.

Our first child took her first trip when she was six months old, and her two younger brothers followed suit. Ample chocolate filled the food pack for many years, to ensure the trip would be fun and treat filled for all. The strategy worked. Family BWCA adventures have become a staple in summer.

My daughter and I now have annual mother-daughter trips with a group of mother-daughter friends. Girls who were in kindergarten and barely able to hike over portages without tears can now out-paddle and out-portage their mothers. The BWCA: Pristine. Ageless. Timeless. Soul-filling. Strength and character-building. Treasure.

Perhaps I was naïve to assume that the Boundary Waters would always be the sanctuary that it’s been. Given that the BWCA is the most visited wilderness area in the country, I assumed uncompromised protection. It’s not so simple. If one looks at a mining prospecting map of northern Minnesota, it is a polka-dotted blueprint of that which imposes on the boundary of this pristine wilderness. The Duluth Complex: a vast swath of mineral-containing rock, worth billions to the mining industry, embedded under the surface of our northern Minnesota soil and water. The region is no stranger to mining.

But one needs not dig too deeply to realize that sulfide-ore mining is a much different type of mining than anything done within our borders up until now. Once sulfide-containing rock is extracted and exposed to air and water, it becomes a potential source of acid mine drainage for centuries. I have been unable to find evidence of a sulfide mine in existence that has not had significant deleterious affects to the surrounding waters and ecosystem. Couple this reality with the water-rich geography of northern Minnesota and it’s hard not to be concerned. Current proposals underway would put our last mother-daughter trip campsite on the Kawishawi River at ground-zero for acid mine drainage. The thought is quite sobering.

As a physician, the concerns run even deeper. The World Health Organization lists the Top Ten Environmental Toxins of Greatest Risk to Human Health. Of these 10, at least five of these are known toxins released from sulfide mining: mercury (as well as the sulfides released that methylate mercury already in the environment to its more toxic form- methylmercury), arsenic, lead, manganese and air pollution.

More and more medical literature is connecting the dots between environmental toxins and the eventual effects on human health. Take the Lancet article from February 2014 as one of many examples:Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence …. we identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, arsenic ….”

We can no longer separate toxic assaults to our environment from eventual potential effect to human health. Suffice it to say, a much longer blog post would be needed to address each of the specific toxins, the known deleterious effects to human health, and the risks to each vulnerable population: unborn fetuses, children, on site-workers, nearby residents, and frequent utilizers of the Boundary Waters. We do know, however, that effects will be insidious and that the generations to come will be the ones paying the price.

It is not possible to mine to the border of one Boundary Waters lake, and continue to drink straight out of the water and eat the fish out of the next for decades to come without effect. Our treasured wilderness, and the environmental and human health that go hand-in-hand, is at risk. There are some things too precious to compromise. As my own kids have caught fish, swam, paddled, and portaged alongside their grandparents, my hope includes doing the same with my grandchildren in decades to come. Perhaps best summarized in the wise words of Sigurd Olson: “Not only has wilderness been a force in molding our character as a people, but its influence continues, and will, if we are wise enough to preserve it on this continent, be a stabilizing power as well as a spiritual reserve for the future.“

Now is the time to raise our voices, to assure that this beloved wilderness can continue to be a stabilizing power and spiritual reserve for all, long into the future.

Dr. Jennifer Pearson is a family medicine physician from Duluth.

We have reached a milestone in A Year in the Wilderness today. Today is our 91st day in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the earth has completed 1/4 of its annual journey around the sun since we waved goodbye to the floatilla of wilderness-warriors and well-wishers who paddled with us up the South Kawishiwi River from River Point Resort to the edge of the Wilderness.

For the last 3 months the sun has risen a couple minutes later and set a few minutes earlier. Last night (10:48 PM CST) was the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, which marks the longest night of the year. Tomorrow will be 6 minutes longer than today, and each day we will be blessed with a little more light until the summer solstice 6 months from now.

To celebrate the longer days ahead we made luminaries of ice to decorate our campsite. We spent several hours filling special balloons with water and placed them in the snow to freeze overnight. It would be relatively easy to attach each ballon to your kitchen faucet and turn on the tap, but with no tap for miles around we devised a system of gathering water from the ice hole, filling our Klean Kanteen narrow mouth water bottle, blowing up the ballon, stretching the ballon over the mouth of the water bottle, and pouring the water into the balloon. We repeated this about twenty times to make our four luminaries. We smiled and laughed as we lit our luminaries last night around 3:30 PM as it started getting dark.

We have always taken note of the summer and winter solstice, but this year, fully immersed in the Wilderness it has taken on special importance. Wilderness helps connect us with the earth and appreciate the things that are truly important.

The short days of November and December have provided us with lots of time to reflect. I think at the end of the year it is common to look back on the year gone by. Over the last few weeks we have found ourselves reflecting on the last several years.

Around the 2013 summer solstice Amy and I sat on the grass behind Sustainable Ely with Becky Rom, and Paul and Sue Schurke. Sustainable Ely was the new education center being set up in downtown Ely to educate people about Twin Metals, and the other sulfide-ore copper mines that are being proposed in the Boundary Waters Watershed. People were dropping off furniture and signing up to volunteer each week. A handful of dedicated local folks were starting a movement that would become the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

A shiny new canoe with a few dozen signatures on it sat on sawhorses inside, while Amy and I hatched a plan with Paul, Sue, and Becky to paddle and sail the signature canoe from the Boundary Waters to Washington D.C. as a way to raise awareness about the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines that threaten the Boundary Waters and help create a national movement to protect the Boundary Waters.

Amy and I jumped into the effort with both feet, feeling the need to protect this place that is just too precious to risk. Our jobs and our way of life are threatened, and adventure advocacy through Paddle to DC, and A Year in the Wilderness are the best way Amy and I know how to leverage our strengths to further the cause. It has been a real pleasure to work side by side with all the folks that are working so hard to protect the Boundary Waters. Your passion and talents are inspiring.

Every day we spend in the Wilderness is a true gift to be savored. We are constantly learning new things about ourselves, and the Wilderness that surrounds us. It is critical that the Boundary Waters is preserved in its untrammeled state for future generations to enjoy. Thank you for speaking loudly for this quiet place.

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.

Science Desk: Where Do We Stand, and Where Do We Go From Here?

Friday, December 18, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

2015 has been a big year for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We are grateful to our partners, supporters and canoe country lovers who have worked so hard over the last year towards our goal of permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park watershed. But where are we now, and where are we going in 2016?

As December draws to a close, we have many reasons to celebrate. Two full years after Twin Metals Minnesota’s federal mineral leases expired, there have been no renewals or issuances of new federal mineral leases within the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs watershed. In March, the Campaign delivered more than 60,000 petitions demanding permanent protection of the watershed to lawmakers and decision makers in Washington, D.C. As a result of these tens of thousands of people speaking up, Rep. Betty McCollum introduced the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Forever Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it has since gained 30 co-sponsors representing communities from coast to coast. Closer to home, hundreds of volunteers have tabled at local events, educated passerby at the Great Minnesota Get Together, phonebanked, written letters of support and toured officials around Ely and the South Kawishiwi River, where Twin Metals proposes to build its sulfide-ore copper mine.

Strong passion for the Boundary Waters and the surrounding canoe country, plus an underlying understanding of the ecological and economic threats posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, helps explain 2015’s high degree of activism. People from across the country and across the world care about the Boundary Waters, especially since it is so accessible from both technical and distance standpoints. I routinely hear stories from people I meet all across the country how their first meaningful fishing trip, their first extended wilderness trip, or the first time they went camping with their family happened in the Boundary Waters. When they learn that this beloved place is threatened by proposed sulfide-ore copper mines whose pollution would flow downstream into it, it spurs concern and action. To date, more than 100,000 people have taken at least one action demanding permanent protection of this national treasure.

The concern deepens upon reflection on the mechanisms of pollution that would threaten the Boundary Waters. In May, we discussed the longstanding track record of water pollution caused by sulfide-ore copper mines. Routine spills of toxic materials, chemicals and industrial wastewater are common at these types of mines, even in the United States. We watched in horror as the Animas River turned orange [photo: Durango Herald] as it ran through beautiful Durango, Colorado, and shuddered to think what would happen to Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River if sulfide-ore copper mining were to be allowed on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Finally, we considered the still great impacts of building an underground mine, including infrastructure footprints, wildlife corridor disruptions, traffic, noise, dust and light. These are only a few of the impacts that the Boundary Waters and the people it supports would experience, of course.

It can be easy to get lost in worrying about the potential impacts, but it is also important to remember why canoe country is such a beloved place. The Boundary Waters is a stunning example of a large, intact ecosystem. It supports charismatic wildlife like bear, wolves and moose, which we discussed in June. The wilderness also supports people, whether they only visit once or have lived alongside the wilderness for years. Generations have visited the Boundary Waters and other wilderness areas in search of healing, self-knowledge, challenge and personal development.

The natural amenities of the wilderness and surrounding Superior National Forest also support hundreds of businesses along its edge, from wilderness outfitters and retailers to manufacturing companies that rely on the high quality of life to attract and retain a skilled workforce. Of course, these lands have sustained people for much longer than the five decades the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The lands lie within the 1854 Ceded Territory, and as such are supposed to be maintained for hunting, fishing, gathering and other usufructuary rights for members of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage Bands, who have relied upon the lands for generations.

We have accomplished much in 2015, and there is still much more work to do in 2016. At some point, the federal agencies will make a decision whether or not to renew Twin Metals’ federal mineral leases. We also hope that the agencies will allow for a broader conversation and decision on whether sulfide-ore copper mining is an appropriate activity adjacent to the nation’s most popular wilderness. Guided by the principles that the Boundary Waters is a special and beloved place, that sulfide-ore copper mining is a toxic and risky industry, and that future generations deserve to inherit a wilderness as healthy and life-giving as it is today, we will push tirelessly for its permanent protection. We hope you join us.

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.

Infographic: Celebrating 2015!

Friday, December 18, 2015
Posted by
Ellie Bayrd

You made it happen! We accomplished a lot in 2015, thanks in large part to our committed partners, tireless supporters and thousands of devoted Boundary Waters lovers like you. Join us as we look back on this amazing year and look forward to an exciting 2016.

Infographic designed by Next Day Animations, which also created our award-winning animation video, Drawn to Save the Boundary Waters. The video won first place for 2015 Outstanding Environmental Video at the State Environmental Leaders Conference this November in Baltimore, Maryland. View all our Campaign videos here and videos from Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters here.


Resupply Report: Flashback to October Filming

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Posted by
Nate Ptacek

It’s a cold, dreary day along the Minnesota-Canadian border. With temperatures hovering in the low 40s, a brisk northwest wind whisks whitecaps across Basswood Lake. Rain drums steadily on the walls of the tent; the titanium woodstove groans and creaks with the heat of perfectly split cedar.

Late October is no time for a canoe trip, but this isn’t just any old canoe trip: We’re here filming the story of my dear friends Amy and Dave Freeman, who recently embarked on A Year in the Wilderness expedition to save the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from the threat of dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining proposals just upstream. Highlighting the unique and wild character of the Boundary Waters, Amy and Dave are using a satellite terminal to share their story as they travel the wilderness by canoe, ski, snowshoe and dogsled, and we’ll be joining them periodically throughout the year to film the experience.

For right now, the experience is hot bannock and tea. While the warmth of the stove feels nice, I remember that we have a job to do, and anxiously peer outside, the jagged horizon of spruce and pines on the Canadian shoreline still barely visible through the steady rain. Despite the dismal weather, it feels good to be back in canoe country. Now a video editor in southern California, I used to live and work as an outfitter on the Gunflint Trail, and in recent years the Boundary Waters has increasingly come to feel like home to me. I wish I could spend a whole year out here too, but a week in the rain in late October will have to suffice.

Finally, a small break in the weather. My partner, Matt, eagerly dons a hooded wetsuit, gloves and booties - and on top of all that, Amy’s bright orange drysuit. An avid alpine climber and outdoor photographer from Washington, this is his first time in the Boundary Waters. He admits that he’s probably more at home on a snowy peak than on the water - or rather, in the water - but that’s exactly where he’s about to go for some critical underwater footage.

As we paddle out to our location in a shallow bay around the point, I can tell that Matt is beginning to understand why the Boundary Waters is such a special place. And I’m enjoying this opportunity to share the nuances of travel by canoe with someone new. What had once seemed so commonplace to me is suddenly new and wonderful again as I explain the history and ecology of the region.

Stories and memories come flooding back, yet I too am beginning to see this place from a fresh perspective. It’s been five years since I moved from Minnesota to southern California, and on each trip back, the traffic, sprawl and drought of my new home contrasts ever more sharply with the abundant wilderness and fresh water we are fighting to protect here in Minnesota. It’s never been more clear to me exactly what’s at stake.

We soon arrive at our location near a swath of wild rice, and Matt dives in with camera in tow, encased safely in a waterproof housing. It takes a few tries to get the shot set up, but Amy and Dave graciously oblige our many requests to paddle past the camera “just one more time.” For a moment it all seems a bit ridiculous - swimming and paddling in circles in a near-freezing wilderness lake in late October - but I know the results will be worth it when the film is finished (see trailer below).

The power of film is unique as a tool for storytelling, allowing the audience to be immersed in the sights and sounds of a place, if only for a moment. I recognize that not everyone may have the desire or ability to come visit the Boundary Waters, but if they can simply take the time to watch a film, they too may understand what’s at risk and be compelled to protect our nation’s most popular Wilderness. And so with that in mind, we dive back in for yet another take … “just one more time!”

Nate Ptacek is a native of Wisconsin and former Minnesota resident. He is based in Ventura, California, where he works full time as a video editor for Patagonia. Nate filmed Dave and Amy Freeman’s Paddle to DC last year for the film, A Quest for Clean Water.

From the Freemans: Transitioning from Water to Ice Travel

Thursday, December 10, 2015
Posted by
Dave Freeman

While we were getting ready to spend a year in the Boundary Waters people often asked us what we would do during "freeze up." Now we are in the middle of freeze up and we want to share with you what it is like to be in the Boundary Waters during this unique time and how we are transitioning from traveling on the water to traveling over the snow and ice.

Amy and I are currently camped on Ensign Lake. Ensign Lake is covered with two to five inches of ice. Most of the lake is covered in enough ice for us to safely travel across. The lake is free of snow, so it is easy to walk across the ice.

We are using our canoe like a sled to haul our supplies across the ice when we move from one campsite to another. Once we get the canoe moving, it slides quite easily.

We have mini crampons that slip onto our shoes to help us walk across the ice without slipping and we each have a long rope attached to a harness that is tied to the bow of the canoe. Our ropes are different lengths so that we are spread out as we walk. When the ice is thin, it is important to spread out rather than walking close to each other or the loaded canoe.

Ensign Lake has been frozen for almost three weeks, but shallow lakes like Ensign freeze earlier than deeper lakes. Many of the deeper lakes are partially frozen, or covered in very thin ice that is not thick enough to safely walk across. The largest deepest lakes in the Boundary Waters like Knife Lake are still basically ice-free.

Yesterday we walked across Ensign and Splash Lakes to Newfound Lake. Ensign and Splash were covered in plenty of clear, strong ice, but Newfound Lake is over 40 feet deep. The ice was thinner, and we could see steam rising from the center of the lake signaling that a large portion of the lake is still covered in open water.  We have about 10 days of food left and we are waiting for Newfound Lake and Moose Lake to freeze thick enough so that more food and our winter supplies can be safely brought in to us.

When volunteers bring in our next resupply, we will haul our canoe, paddles, lifejackets, other equipment that we don't need in the winter, and an accumulation of garbage (both our own and stuff we've found) and meet them close to the wilderness border. The volunteers will haul in our food, winter sleeping bags, skis and other winter equipment into the Wilderness on two toboggans made by Black River Sleds.

Over the last month we have not moved around a much as we did before the ice started forming. We have only changed campsites seven times during the last month. We are getting a little antsy and are looking forward to being able to travel more freely once snow and ice grip the Wilderness.

With that said, it has been a real pleasure being forced to slow down and really immerse ourselves in a sliver of the vast Wilderness that surrounds us. We have spent many hours watching the clouds float across the sky, listening to the ice sing, wolves howl and wind sweep over the ridges.

Sigurd Olson said, "Wilderness offers [a] sense of cosmic purpose if we open our hearts and minds to its possibilities."

Slowing down as the seasons change and allowing ourselves to soak in the majesty that surrounds us has allowed for meaningful reflection. A better understanding of who we are, how we fit into the untrammeled Wilderness that surrounds us and the world beyond its borders is perhaps the greatest gift that Wilderness offers us all.

We have spent thousands of days in Wilderness around the world, but being frozen in,  forgetting timelines and schedules, and truly being in the Wilderness with no other agenda than to bear witness to it and fully immerse ourselves in it has allowed us to learn more about ourselves and appreciate the Boundary Waters more than ever.

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

From the Freemans: Inside a 10-Day Resupply

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Posted by
Dave Freeman

The wind is howling and big fluffy snowflakes tumble down the steep walls of our Seek Outside tipi tent. The radiant heat from our wood stove and an ample supply of dry, split firewood neatly stacked along the edges of the tent add to our sense of comfort and the homey feel of our surroundings. The strong northwest wind that is churning up Knife Lake blew in colder weather. We're hoping that the lows in the teens and twenties will cause the lakes to start freezing soon.

It is hard to know when exactly the lakes will freeze or how long the tenuous season, when the lakes are covered in ice too thick to paddle through but too thin to walk on, will last. On a shorter trip into the Wilderness this could be a nerve-wracking time to be out, fearing that the forecasted cold nights could freeze the lakes unexpectedly. Luckily for us, we are here for the long haul, with nearly a month's worth of food stock piled in our two 60-liter food barrels. Not to mention we have snowshoes, sleeping bag liners, and winter clothing neatly packed in a Granite Gear pack, tucked under our tarp, waiting for winter to arrive in earnest. 

On November 8, we were especially thankful that a hardy group of volunteers paddled up the snowy Moose Lake chain into the Wilderness to bring us our critical last resupply before freeze-up. Sitting in our tent, we are secure in knowing we have plenty of food and the proper equipment to wait for the lakes to freeze.

Levi Lexvold is the mastermind behind this extremely important aspect of A Year in the Wilderness. Levi runs Sustainable Ely, which is also an important hub of A Year in the Wilderness activity. Part of Levi's job is to purchase and organize all of the food that is brought in with each resupply and organize groups of volunteers who bring in those supplies. He also organizes all of the equipment that is brought in and out with different resupplies as the season change. 

A Year in the Wilderness would not be possible without the critical support that we receive from Levi and the volunteers who physically bring in our resupplies and help in many other ways. Volunteers have sent in honey from their beehives, homemade granola, baked goods, chocolate and other goodies. Several uber-volunteers are busy dehydrating fruits and veggies that are sent in with each resupply. Others are helping to organize A Year in the Wilderness parties, entering the scientific data we are collecting into spreadsheets, and a variety of other supportive tasks. 

Amy and I are physically very alone and isolated out here in the Wilderness as the lakes begin to freeze, but we are comforted and inspired to know that we are a part of a much larger team working towards our shared goal of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. 

You may wonder what is packed in those giant blue barrels, brimming with so much food they are hard to lift onto our backs. Levi packed our supplies in 10-day increments so that it is easier for us to manage our food, and we don't use up our chocolate, toilet paper, or other coveted items too quickly. Below is an example of the items packed in a typical 10-day re-supply. We have found that simple foods packed in bulk, like flour, oats, rice, cheese, milk powder, nuts, butter, dehydrated fruits and veggies and olive oil are nutritious, cost effective, pack well and store well. We are also very lucky that several companies have donated some delicious food to supplement our regular supplies. Patagonia Provisions, Trailtopia, Clif Bar, and Kakookies have all donated a wonderful assortment of food, which add nutrition and variety to our diet. We are also very excited to welcome our newest food supporter Stone Creek Coffee, which has offered to donate all the coffee we will drink for the remainder of our year in the Boundary Waters.

Our 10-Day Supply List

1 quart size bag of dehydrated apples
1 lb. grits
1 lb. granola
1 lb. oatmeal
1 lb. hot flax/whole grain cereal
1 lb. carrot cake mix
1 cup egg powder
2 lb.  whole wheat flour
8 oz. Klean Kanteen jar of honey
1 lb. coffee
1 lb. whole milk powder
1 quart size bag of herbal tea
1 lb. walnuts
1 lb. sunflower seeds
1 lb. fruit leather (made by Dave's mom)
4 lbs. Patagonia Provisions bars/Clif Bars
4 lbs. spaghetti
2 lbs. Basmati rice
1 lb. brown rice
2 lbs. lentils
0.5 lbs. tomato sauce powder
3 quart size bags dehydrated veggies
3 lbs. cheese
1 small container of olive oil
0.25 lb. butter
1 container parmesan cheese
1 lb. peanut butter
2 packets Patagonia Provisions salmon
1 lb. coconut oil
3 chocolate bars
2 Trailtopia ramen
6 Patagonia Tsampa soups
1 lb. turkey lunchmeat
2 packets of tortillas
8 oz. Klean Kanteen jar pesto
2 rolls of toilet paper
1 pack Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes

Note: Before sending out our supplies, Levi removes any excess packaging and repackages anything that comes in a glass container or can into a durable, reusable container. He also reuses plastic bags and other containers whenever possible to help reduce the amount of waste we are producing. We send out all trash, recyclables, bags and containers to be reused, recycled or disposed of properly.

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.

Science Desk: Sampling Water Quality to Protect the Boundary Waters

Monday, November 23, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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