On a cold, snowy Saturday morning in November, our group of paddlers set off from the Moose Lake BWCAW entry point on a mission to resupply Dave and Amy Freeman. Distributed in our canoes were various portage packs brimming with food, gear, clothing and other essentials—Including two pair of snow shoes, intended to see Dave and Amy through the critical ice-in period expected some time in the near future. A period when they will be cut off from resupply for an extended period of time when the danger of thin ice will prevent travel by either watercraft, ski, sled or snowshoe. Our course was set for a rendezvous at the Splash Lake portage.
At the time of this writing, Dave and Amy Freeman have been out living and working in the Boundary Waters Wilderness for more than seven weeks. Their work will keep them there for a full year. They are educating school children, taking water quality samples, contributing to science, photographing and filming and acting as the standard bearers for tens of thousands of people with whom they are in solidarity. The goal of this solidarity is simple: to keep the place undisturbed. We on this resupply trip felt proud and privileged to be participating in this effort.
We found Dave and Amy waiting at the portage, backdropped by snow-covered evergreens and a gurgling stream teaming with spawning whitefish. Eagles were circling overhead. I'm happy to report they both look healthy and happy, upbeat and at ease in the woods. We spent part of the morning with them visiting and repacking, organizing and loading their fresh supplies. On the portage trail there was an abundance of fresh wolf scat. Amy told us how they had heard and seen wolves the last few days. They've heard splashing as the wolves take advantage of the white fish in the shallows. Amy described the beauty of being camped near a pack that has been howling just a short distance from their tent. Dave told us how they too have been enjoying eating the fresh fish that are schooling. They recently met up with friends in the area out netting the fish.
In the early afternoon we hugged one another goodbye. Darkness comes early this time of year. Amy and Dave climbed aboard their heavily ladened canoe and paddled north toward Knife Lake and our group headed south toward the take out and our respective homes. A slate grey sky and light winds reminded us of the coming winter. Though we were parting ways, our goal is the same.
Brad Carlson is a native of Virgina, MN, and lives with his wife in a small cabin on the Kawishiwi Trail, eight miles outside of Ely. They split their time between Ely and Austin, TX. Carlson is a retired deaf blind specialist in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Carlson spent his childhood growing up in proximity to the Wilderness and Superior National Forest. He and his wife love paddling the waters of the Wilderness and exploring the back country. They feel strongly that this place should be left undisturbed—forever.
The sun broke through between dark cloud layers and shone with a warm brilliance on bronzed sedges and grasses and the cedar fringe beyond. We were in a sheltered bay, hoping for another glimpse of a moose couple we’d inadvertently alarmed back at our lunch spot. Something about the moment--the subtle fall colors in the golden light, the fresh tang of the bog edges, the deep stillness, the sense of anticipation--called to mind another October paddle of many years ago.
We were paddling the shore of Cap Lake, just past the outlet of a little stream that runs down from a beaver pond, when an odd movement caught my eye. It was at the low crown of a rock ledge that sloped up from the water. Camouflaged by a screen of hazel and dogwood, a pair of great moose antlers jerked upright … and then began to droop. Even though this was happening no more than 20 feet back from shore, it took a moment for the startling big picture to come together. A bull moose, no doubt exhausted from the rut, was dozing. Every time the end of his long nose sunk into the lush lichen garden he lay in, his head jerked up and his eyes almost cracked open ... but then sleepiness overtook him, and head and antlers sank again.
Silently we pulled the canoe tight against the shore and settled in to soak up the peaceful scene. Late fall colors, the dark moose against pale lichen behind the brown and red brushy screen, a passing breeze tossing a handful of old gold tamarack needles, the warmth of sun on back and cold of water on dipped fingers. A dark crimson bunchberry grew so close to shore that, low as it was to the ground, its four leaves cast a perfect reflection on the narrow gap of still, clear water between canoe and shore.
Suddenly a tiny least chipmunk ran down the rock to water’s edge and took a drink, so close I might have touched it, making ripples that obscured the red reflection. A drink, a long look around, then it raced back up and disappeared into an old gray root wad. We had to laugh (though silently!) and the spell was broken; we paddled on and left the bull dozing. Or maybe that’s when the spell was cast, the spell that makes that memory so fresh after nearly 30 years.
One part of that long ago event that I don’t recall is what I was thinking. The feeling of it, the sensory impressions, yes, but not the thoughts. I’m positive, though, that I wouldn’t have been thinking that someday there would be plans for sulfide-ore copper mining operations that would devastate these Boundary Waters. I would have innocently assumed myself to be in the middle of a vast wilderness protected in perpetuity by the Wilderness Act and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act.
I know better now, but I want the next generations to have the luxury of that happy innocence. I want us--you and me, today--to be tenacious, taking this hard won chance we have to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. These days, while I’m soaking up the pleasures of an autumn paddle, I’m also vowing to myself “We have to make it happen, and we will!”
Ellen Hawkins is a board member of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. She 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.
Today, we're excited to share the first episode of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters' three-part series, Fish Out of Water. We were there to help as Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters debuted this series last night at Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park in partnership with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The event featured music from The Boomchucks and appetizers from the three chefs featured in the film. We're grateful for the help of AVEX and those who donated to the auction: Rapala, W.R. Case & Sons, Frost River, The General Store of Minnetonka, Full Curl, Far Out Fly Fishing and Derek DeYoung.
In October, three Minnesota chefs journeyed into the Boundary Waters to fish and cook. Fish Out of Water follows Boundary Waters novices, Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café and Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, as they join experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf of Al Vento and their guide, Dave Seaton of Hungry Jack Outfitters. Their adventure showcases the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.
Episode one starts the same way many Boundary Waters trips start, with a road trip up north. Enjoy!
Episode Two - Release Date: Nov. 24
Episode Three - Release Date: Dec. 1
To view the next two videos in this series NOW, please take action to show your support for
protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.
Today is Give to the Max Day, an unparalleled day of giving across the state of Minnesota. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has received an outpouring of generosity from supporters. One of the most passionate wilderness warriors in this Campaign is National Campaign Chair Becky Rom, a third-generation Ely resident. An avid outdoorswoman, Becky has unique insight into the politics of the Boundary Waters. Becky’s father, Bill Rom, studied under conservationist and wilderness advocate, Sigurd Olson, and worked as an outfitter in Ely for nearly 30 years. She began guiding trips in the Boundary Waters at the age of 14. Learn more about Becky's passion for protecting the Boundary Waters in her own words below or in her recent interview with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, in which Becky reflected on her history in Ely and connection to the Northwoods. Please give today to support our efforts to protect the wilderness.
I have loved the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness since I was a child. Growing up in Ely, Minnesota, I took my first canoe trip at the age of two (pictured right). As I grew older, I worked alongside my father, Bill Rom, in his outfitting business Canoe Country Outfitters (pictured left, below), often guiding visitors on Boundary Waters trips to experience the wonder and natural beauty of canoe country. No matter where I have lived and traveled, I have always returned here. You can canoe in spectacular wild country and catch great fish, or have an extraordinary winter adventure by dogsled. You can tell stories around the fire while the loons and wolves call and the stars pave the sky. There is no other place like it in the world.
That’s why, when I learned that a South American mining company had plans to develop sulfide-ore copper mines right in the heart of the Superior National Forest—in an area stretching for many miles, involving thousands of acres of woods and wetlands along the edge of and upstream from the Boundary Waters—I knew that we must take action.
If we allow this risky type of mining to happen along the streams and wetlands that flow into the Boundary Waters, this canoe country will never recover. The water would be polluted, large areas of woods and wetlands would be destroyed, wildlife and fish would suffer, and this would no longer be a place for families to enjoy.
Together, our voices are powerful. Whether you’ve volunteered at the Minnesota State Fair or elsewhere, traveled to Washington, D.C. with us, or simply signed a petition asking for the Boundary Waters to be protected, thank you.
With NMW’s leadership and the tireless work of fantastic volunteers and staff, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has grown with pro-bono legal support from excellent law firms and advice from some of the best and most experienced public lands defenders in the country. We are making progress every day. None of this would be possible without the financial support of people like you. We promise to spend your money wisely.
Give to the Max Day is an important day for giving in Minnesota. We have been lucky to have such an amazing group of supporters behind the Campaign from the beginning and we’re grateful to everyone who has joined our efforts since. Today, many of our longtime supporters are sharing their stories in an effort to urge people, near and far, to give. Here are their stories.
Steve and Jane Koschak are the owners of River Point Resort and Outfitting Company. Located just four miles from the Boundary Waters on the shores of the Kawishiwi River, River Point has served visitors since 1944.
River Point Resort and Outfitting Company is our pride and joy. Visitors travel from all over the United States and the world to enjoy peace and serenity here. They come to get away from the noise, sights and stress of urban life.
This peaceful sanctuary will be destroyed forever if international companies succeed in building large industrial mines right across the river from us. These companies plan to build an underwater tunnel to connect the Twin Metals mine to the concentrator site here. We have a short window of opportunity to prevent these mines from being built. We have already experienced the loud and constant noise from test drilling during certain times of the year. If these mines are built, we could no longer offer the peaceful experience that our guests come here to enjoy. It would destroy our life’s work and investment - the legacy we want to pass on to our son.
But it won’t only devastate us personally. The more than 250,000 visitors who come to the Boundary Waters every year would lose the opportunity to visit and experience solitude and joy with their children and grandchildren.
Please give generously before midnight – your gift today will be doubled by people who share our love of the Boundary Waters.
Thank you so much,
Steve and Jane Koschak, River Point Resort & Outfitting Company
Nearly two months ago, Dave and Amy Freeman embarked on their 365-day journey in the Boundary Waters. Today, they’re writing from their campsite on Knife Lake.
We have been traveling in the Boundary Waters for 50 days now on A Year in the Wilderness. Because we embarked on this journey to raise awareness about the threat to the Boundary Waters posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, we have a few pieces of technology that allow us to write to you as we sit around the wood stove in our tent nestled between towering red pines.
Every day out here in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is special. More and more, we feel grounded and connected to the world around us. We remember that our time here on earth is short and precious, but the decisions we make right now will have a ripple effect long into the future.
Our journey is about bearing witness to the Wilderness. We are here to be a constant reminder to you about what is at stake. America’s most visited Wilderness area is under a serious threat that could permanently pollute the lakes and streams that we travel on each day. Even though there are times when we miss our family and friends, we know that our efforts are important.
But we can’t protect the Boundary Waters alone. We need you. A whole community of supporters is necessary for this work to be successful. This effort needs many people to raise their voices and concerns with decision makers across the country. Thank you for contributing to the cause and helping us bear witness to the vast expanses of unspoiled lakes, rivers and forests that make up the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Please give today to help preserve this amazing wilderness.
From the Boundary Waters,
Dave and Amy Freeman
Paul and Sue Schurke are the owners of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear. The couple has been sharing the Boundary Waters with people of all walks of life for more than 30 years. Steve shares their story:
I've been lucky to explore some of the most incredible and remote places on the planet. I've completed six North Pole expeditions, and trekked across Alaska and Siberia. And I have found that you can experience the same silence and immersion in nature right here in Minnesota. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is extraordinary and special.
My wife, Sue, and I have been sharing the Boundary Waters for over 30 years with people from all walks of life. We guide about 100 dogsledding trips per season, accommodating over 500 people, who come from all over the world. It's a joy to take someone out into the Wilderness on a winter dogsledding expedition. It is especially moving when they have only imagined the beauty of the Boundary Waters before coming here for the first time.
One of the things that our guests are almost always struck by on their vacation is the extraordinary night sky. The stars seem impossibly bright, and the Milky Way glows. On special nights, the sky erupts in a stunning, ethereal display of the Northern Lights.
The Boundary Waters is a true national treasure. But I worry that the Wilderness that we know and love won't be here for the next generation to enjoy. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness' Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has made incredible progress toward protecting this place. However, there is much still to be done, and it can only be accomplished with your support.
That's why I can't just sit back while the Boundary Waters is at risk from sulfide-ore copper mining. I hope you'll join me in making a gift today to fund the critical work of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
Thank you so much,
Paul and Sue Schurke, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear
Thank you to all who have given today. If you haven't given, please consider supporting the Campaign today.
While many think of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Ely area as a summer destination for canoeing and camping, there is much more to this part of the Superior National Forest that takes place throughout the year. In a milder November than recent years, locals and visitors alike are enjoying the warmer trend while hunting, fishing and taking the canoe out for one last paddle before the ice arrives. Instead of walking across the frozen water, this Veteran’s Day we are walking around flowing streams and across the boggy marshes that feed into the Wilderness while soaking in the tranquil music of the water flowing over rocks.
As a child, this Wilderness played an enormous role in the outcome of my future. I remember peeling the bark off dead-fallen and rotting birch trees to help aid our efforts to start a fire after a rainy night not far from one of our favorite campsites on Lake Two. I remember walking the short portages from Lake One that felt miles long to my little feet while contributing to the effort by carrying a paddle or a few fishing poles to the other side. Our family trips were often in June and July, so the Kawishiwi River typically had a decent flow in the rapids that we would portage around between the two lakes. I learned at a young age how to pronounce Kawishiwi, because in Ely the name shows up almost everywhere you go—much like the river itself—as it weaves and flows through dozens upon dozens of the connected wilderness lakes.
As an infantry Marine Veteran of the war in Iraq, I have set foot in the murky and polluted waters of both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While the palms lining their banks made for a welcoming view after drudging through the desert for several weeks, the waters themselves left me yearning for something clean to swim and drink from. Despite all the purification technology used by the U.S. Military to make these waters “safe” to drink, we managed to get sick routinely from the negligently managed, over polluted rivers of Iraq. The first thing I did after returning to Minnesota after the war was to walk straight to the kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, and drink the clean water that flowed out. I realized over the period of a decade spent across the world and the United States that there was only one place I had been where I trusted not only drinking water from the faucet, but also straight from the lake itself.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t gone through much suffering after my medical discharge from the Marine Corps. I spent the first few years of my reintegrated civilian life living alone in San Antonio, TX, where I studied business management. In 2009, six years after returning from Iraq, I moved back to Minnesota to pursue a hopeful lifetime in Ely amongst the wilderness lakes, rivers, trees and fish. The more time I spent away from the sounds of civilization, in the woods or on the water, the more I began to heal from my own grief. Being able to share this with others became a passion of mine that I pray never dies.
This month marks the close of my fifth season as an outfitting manager and guide. Back in September I had the opportunity to share my favorite childhood campsites with a nonprofit group I was guiding called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS came to us for help in planning a healing retreat for those who lost loved ones in the service. It was my honor to serve them on this trip and it was humbling to hear them openly discuss the greatest pains and the happiest memories they had endured, while stoking the fire with balsam branches. Unlike a majority of the trips TAPS takes its members on, the Boundary Waters regulations of 9 or fewer people to a group had them splitting up into smaller, more intimate parties.
There aren’t many places in the country where you can embark on this kind of journey; there is a measure of healing one can find here that a lifetime of therapy may not be able to achieve. With the threat of introducing sulfide-ore copper mining, a process labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the most toxic industry in the country, into the Boundary Waters watershed; there is a level of risk too great to overlook. No one can ensure that sulfuric acid waste will notleak into this colossal connection of lakes, rivers, streams and marshes. I couldn’t imagine a Boundary Waters canoe trip where one has to bring in their own water because a mining incident made the water unsafe for consumption. With any likelihood of polluting these pure waters, is it worth the risk?
As Veterans, we are not strangers of fighting to protect the land we love. Today, let us remember all of those who gave life and limb to defend our freedoms, let us honor them for their sacrifices. For those of us who are still able, let us stand up together and do what we know is right. It is clear that this Wilderness will not be able to protect itself from our own doing. For those who value the blessed serenity of this Wilderness, let us continue to stand up to defend her against all threats, foreign and domestic.
St. Paul native Ben Putnam is an outfitting manager and guide at Boundary Waters Outfitters in Ely, MN. He served with the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq as a machinery gunner in the Third Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Boundary Waters is a special place to me. I had dreamed of going there for years, and finally received the opportunity through my Boy Scout Troop when I was 18. The Troop was comprised of all of my friends, including Chris, who became my oldest son’s godfather, and nearly a brother to me. Chris and I always talked of going back to the Boundary Waters, but work, the military and school stepped in the way. Sadly, we never made it back together. His life was cut short, and at 24 he passed away before we could make it back up there.
Fast forward to 2011. I was deployed with the Minnesota National Guard 34th ID 194 CAV to Kuwait and Iraq. My platoon and section was responsible for convoy security operations during the drawdown of the Iraq war. We were very lucky, and did not have any severe incidents, but were still exposed to the strain of being deployed in a combat zone.
Upon returning home, I made the decision to go back to the Boundary Waters. I thought my oldest son was old enough, and I longed to go back. I rediscovered Entry Point 37, on Kawishiwi Lake, the original entry point I had set out from with Chris and the other Scouts in 1998. That experience sparked an annual trip out of this entry point, in memory of Chris, as well as multiple trips out of Ely with my son's Boy Scout Troop.
While I do not suffer from PTSD as a result of my service, I do have some stress and issues with people that I attribute to my time in the service. I found that the Boundary Waters provides an instant healing and calming effect over my body. When I arrive, the calming begins. Upon touching the water, nature takes over and I almost go into sensory overload taking everything in; feeling calm and "normal” again. I have talked to other veterans, from Vietnam to the current conflicts, and the Boundary Waters has a similar effect on them. Not too many places on Earth have the ability to remove one from a troubled state of mind into a state of peace and calming.
When I first started going back to the BWCA, I found it much like I remembered. I also found out that Twin Metals and other companies were proposing to build sulfide-ore copper mines near the Boundary Waters’ edge. I will admit, at first I was naive, and sympathetic to the cause of the mines. I took it upon myself to do further research and was shocked by what I found. I couldn’t believe how close in proximity exploratory drilling was taking place to the BWCA--literally on the edge of this sanctuary of nature and peace. I found that the byproduct of this type of mining, sulfuric acid, has significant dangers associated with it. The video of the Mount Polley Disaster was the tipping point for me. I was shocked and in awe of the damage that was caused when a tailings pit wall gave way. They have destroyed some of Canada’s most pristine wilderness forever. I was appalled to discover that the engineering firm that managed the Mount Polley tailings pond when it failed has done work for Twin Metals. I have found many cases of mines similar to this going bankrupt, leaving taxpayers to pay the price for cleanup, and dealing with permanently scarred land.
I decided to take a stand, and became involved with the Save the Boundary Waters Veterans Group. Here, I found like-minded veterans who suffer from PTSD and who have also been saved by the healing qualities of the BWCA. They too want it to be kept a pure wilderness. One of my missions after exiting the military service is helping veterans with PTSD, and preventing veteran suicide. I believe that a place like the BWCA can help deter the negative effects of PTSD. I know many veterans who have attended Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) on the edge of the BWCA, and adjacent to the proposed Twin Metals mine site. Twin Metals and other companies have drilled extensively and flown helicopters in the vicinity of VOBS, the noise from which can cause stress and trigger relapse to veterans with PTSD who have been injured by IED blasts.
A person shouldn’t have to be exposed to this when they are trying to heal. This is one of the many reasons sulfide-ore copper mining should be kept away from the BWCA. There is so much information out there about why this type of mining is dangerous for our environment, especially in this close proximity to water; but the healing factor is so strong for me. I would hate to see the wilderness ruined, especially since it has helped so many like myself.
I feel, as a whole, we need to protect this natural resource and wilderness that we are privileged to have. The Wilderness Act set aside this area for a reason. Over and over, the BWCA has been helping veterans and it would be a shame to destroy it. Especially since those who served, both at home and overseas, are fighting hard to protect it. I think we owe our veterans some thanks by protecting this area and allowing veterans to continue to be healed by the awesome beauty, tranquility and solitude it affords. I hope we can continue to preserve this treasure for generations to come so that my son's sons and daughters and their children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We owe it to ourselves.
Nick Millette is from Pine City, MN. He is a former staff sergeant for the Minnesota Army National Guard. B Troop 194 CAV
[Photos by Adam Steinhilber]
The last few days have been all about food, fun, friends and fish. We met a few friends up on Basswood Lake and spent three days netting whitefish, eating lots of food, visiting, laughing and sharing stories. Our time in the Boundary Waters has really made us appreciate our friends and family because we can't always contact them on a whim, or get together for a meal at the last minute. It takes a lot of effort on their part to come out to visit us and bring us supplies. We really appreciate their efforts.
Each fall the DNR opens a whitefish netting season for several weeks on Basswood Lake and a few other lakes in the Boundary Waters. The season opened last Monday. Amy and I had never been whitefish netting before, so we were excited to try something new. The reward was scrumptious whitefish dinners as well as some extra fish for our friends to take home.
Basswood Lake is a world-class fishery. People trek to Basswood by canoe and motorboat during the spring, summer and fall, and by dogsled, ski and snowshoe during the winter to fish. We have a friend who has been guiding fishing trips on Basswood for nearly 20 years and many of his clients come every year to fish with him for a week on Basswood. Sport fisherman usually set their sights on scrumptious walleye, monster northern pike, and the hard-fighting smallmouth bass. However, Basswood also contains a healthy population of whitefish. Whitefish are rarely caught on a hook and line. In the fall they can be caught in nets when they move into the shallows to spawn. Their firm white meat is delicious fried, but many people also like to smoke them.
Last week Amy and I paddled and portaged up the Basswood River on our way to Basswood Lake to meet our friends. We camped on a beautiful campsite between two small rapids about a mile from Basswood Lake. Sitting on a smooth rock watching the river flow by, I couldn't help but think about how the water flowing past the proposed Twin Metals mine site eventually flows right past our campsite on the Basswood River.
The Basswood River is part of an ancient highway that Indigenous people used long before us. I can picture birchbark canoes overturned where our canoe rested and a group of travelers warming themselves around a fire and cooking a meal in the small clearing where Amy was preparing our dinner. We are on this earth for such a short time, but our decisions about altering or preserving places like the Boundary Waters will ripple through time.
Basswood Lake is directly downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine site. Pollution from the mine would flow downstream into Basswood Lake and then along the U.S./Canadian border through the heart of the Boundary Waters and into Voyageurs National Park. It is critical that we protect this pristine Wilderness by stopping sulfide-ore copper mines from being developed within the Boundary Waters watershed.
Edward Abbey said," The idea of wilderness does not need defense, it only needs defenders." Please join us and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters in defending this special place for future generations, so that they may sit along the Basswood River and experience the clean water and untrammeled Wilderness that Sigurd Olson and other past defenders protected for us to enjoy.
Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.
Author Kevin Proescholdt has guided canoe trips in Minnesota's 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for 10 years, and has visited designated and undesignated Wildernesses throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Set in Minnesota’s canoe country, Proescholdt’s book, Glimpses of Wilderness, details the author’s insights into nature and the value of wilderness areas in thirty eloquent essays. In the chapter "Wilderness Trail," Proescholdt describes a powerful meeting with a moose and reflects on the history of wilderness preservation while canoeing in the Boundary Waters late one spring evening.
30. Wilderness Trail
I shared a trail one day in the Boundary Waters, not with another person but with a moose. It had come by earlier in the day, and had left its large cloven prints in the mud and duff. I came by much later, near sunset, after spending the entire day exploring a lake and the large waterfall that fed it, near a place that had once threatened the wild character of this land years ago.
After a long winter away, I had returned to the canoe country north and west of Lake Superior. I had come in early May by myself, to capture the feel of the land just after the break-up, to gaze down the long vistas of a special lake that haunts my memory, and to experience the pure joy of wilderness travel by canoe. I had done these things and more, and now had begun to head back, satisfied with this time in my favorite land now empty of humankind.
The water stood high in the lakes so soon after the melt, and the shorelines of the lakes I paddled had flooded, glaciated spits of rock had submerged and shoreline trees and shrubs were left standing in water. As I neared the portage landing, the low western sun glaring in my eyes, the familiar spot had gone - the rocky shelf and tiny curve of sand had disappeared. Had I not crossed this spot several times before, I would have remained perplexed, but suddenly realizing the inundated situation I began paddling my canoe inland between the flooded alder and hazel brush. After nearly 10 rods, I saw my portage trail rise out of the water in front of the canoe.
Since this portage trail ran a long distance - a mile in length - and my one large pack weighed considerably, I decided to split the load and carry it as the French voyageurs had done - in poses or half-mile segments. I set off with my pack through the aspen and spruce woods. Immediately I saw the tracks of the moose. We were the first to walk the trail this spring, the moose and I, for only our tracks disturbed the surface of the trail. I stopped a moment to examine a particularly distinct track in the mud. The moose was large, I thought, perhaps a big bull, and it had walked this trail just earlier today. As the trail wound through a stand of aspen, the level rays of the sun highlighted every track the moose had left in the disturbed leaves on the trail. Finally I came to a good stopping point near an old beaver flowage, and I dropped the pack to return for the canoe.
I soon returned to my pack with the canoe and discovered around the corner that the trail - normally passable at this point - ran into standing water. The moose tracks disappeared under the water along with the trail. I loaded the pack in my canoe and began paddling along the “trail,” now several feet below my canoe. An eerie feeling came over me as I paddled along, trying to remember where the trail led among the tall branchless dead snags that had drowned long ago. Red-winged blackbirds flew noisily at my approach, surprised by the intrusion. A pair of blue-wing teal swam quickly away.
Then, near the far end of the standing water, I heard sloshing in the water. As my canoe glided soundlessly closer, at last I could see the source of the noise - the moose from the trail! He fed in the shallows, a large bull around six feet tall at the shoulder and weighing perhaps a half-ton. His antlers had not yet grown much this early in the season, each velvet-covered antler about 15 inches long and completely horizontal, with a palmate knob at each end.
[Photo of moose and calf courtesy of Dave Freeman]
Inadvertently I made a small noise and suddenly alerted the moose, with his keen sense of hearing, to my presence. We both froze, motionless, the moose and I, waiting to see what the other would do. For long minutes we stood that way, he in the water and I in the canoe.
At long last the moose began moving off, breaking the tense silence with his sloshing in the water. As he reached a more distant spot he turned to eye me once more. First he snorted, then bellowed - not once but four times, as if to show his displeasure with my interruption. Our meeting noisily terminated, the moose headed through the swamp to the north and I returned to paddling the trail.
The sun had set now, and as I paddled ahead trying to pick out the trail through the flooded dead trees, my thoughts jumped ahead to the campsite I wanted and the routine chores awaiting me there: pitching my tent on the carpet of needles under the tall red pines, preparing and eating a simple supper, and luxuriating in the sounds and smells of another evening in the canoe country.
During this time out I had caught the rhythms of the land during the excitement of early spring, had shared my quiet and solitude with moose and warblers, bald eagles and beavers. I had visited places of great beauty and hidden history, and had captured a feel for the battles this land had seen. I mused on and searched the dusk for signs of the flooded trail.
As I peered through the fading light I realized that my experience on the trail today reflected much of the long history of the efforts to protect the canoe country. At times during the past century the route to long-term preservation of the area has been level and straight, at other times flooded with threats, at still other times fraught with conflict and confrontation. Though we have made great progress over the course of that trail, a great distance yet remains before we find the humility and exercise the restraint to grant the Boundary Waters the full wilderness protection it so richly deserves, free from motorized intrusions of all kinds, safe from all threats, and preserved as a rich wild, untrammeled legacy for all generations.
At last I found the portage emerging from the waters of this embattled wilderness and landed the canoe where the trail climbed to dry ground. I grunted as I threw the canoe to my shoulders and stared ahead at the long uphill path before me. How far must this path go? My goal awaited me in the dusk on the far side; I headed up the trail.
Kevin Proescholdt has written extensively on the Boundary Waters, and wilderness policy and history. He helped pass the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act through Congress, directed the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness for 16 years, and co-authored the 1995 book, Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For the eight years prior to joining the Wilderness Watch staff, Kevin directed the national Izaak Walton League’s Wilderness and Public Lands Program. Kevin has been active with Wilderness Watch since 1989, joined the board of directors in 2003, and served two years as president of the board.
As you know, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a beloved canoeing, fishing and hiking destination, known around the world for its wild landscape, deep silence and opportunities for solitude. Those qualities are threatened by Twin Metals mining company’s proposal to drill hundreds of wells as it seeks to develop a massive sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters. The threat is mounting now, and you can take action today.
Earlier this month, the US Forest Service released an Environmental Assessment of Twin Metals’ request to begin drilling hydrogeologic wells on Superior National Forest land. Twin Metals itself argues that the hydrogeologic study is necessary so it can develop its proposed mine on the edge of the Wilderness. We’re concerned that in acting only on the application, the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment ignored the devastating impacts that mining itself would have on the Boundary Waters and the communities it supports. By dodging this opportunity to study the cumulative impacts of mining-related activities, the Forest Service has acted in a way that will allow these harmful impacts to the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters to multiply until their wild characteristics are fatally undermined and permanently lost.
The proposed drilling program, combined with previously approved exploratory drilling, is estimated to subject 6,968 acres of the Boundary Waters Wilderness to drilling and mechanical noise. A total of 13,406 acres of the Superior National Forest open to recreation (including the Boundary Waters Wilderness acreage) would be impacted by the noise. Instead, the Forest Service should assess the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining on America’s most popular Wilderness before allowing mining companies to carve up the Superior National Forest and threaten the solitude of the Boundary Waters.
We hope that you will take action to ask the Forest Service to use common sense: assess the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining before allowing companies to riddle the Superior National Forest with more holes.
This proposal is just the tip of the iceberg. We're counting on your continued support to make sure we protect the clean water and unspoiled forests of the Boundary Waters for this and future generations.
Here’s the message you can send to the US Forest Service today by taking action (there’s also the option to edit this or write your own). The comment period closes November 9.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest are irreplaceable national treasures. The watershed of the nation’s most popular Wilderness is an inappropriate place to site sulfide-ore copper mines, which have a consistent history of toxic pollution.
As the Twin Metals Minnesota Hydrogeologic Study Special Use Permit Environmental Assessment (EA) acknowledges, the Forest Service must preserve the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters (“untrammeled,” “undeveloped,” “natural” and presenting “opportunities for solitude”). Allowing sulfide-ore copper mines to be sited along the edge of the Boundary Waters would have major negative environmental and economic impacts, including harm to the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters. The EA inappropriately limits its scope to solely consider the impacts of the proposed hydrogeologic study special use permit and not the impacts of the mining activities that it is designed to bring about. Instead, the EA should include sulfide-ore copper mining as a reasonably foreseeable connected action; Twin Metals Minnesota would not propose the hydrogeologic study if it did not seek to develop a massive sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters.
In addition to the inappropriately limited scope of the EA, the proposed drilling would have unacceptable impacts to the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters for sustained lengths of time. Twenty-four hour drilling for up to 4 weeks at a time for 6-18 months would severely impair opportunities for solitude, especially when combined with the already approved exploratory drilling programs. Drilling noise would disrupt recreation opportunities on 13,406 acres of the Superior National Forest (including 6,968 acres within the Boundary Waters), which would impact a significant number of summer and winter users. The number of both summer and winter visitors impacted by drilling should be kept at a minimum.
Finally, should the special use permit be approved, it is essential that the hydrogeological data collected by Twin Metals be shared in a digital, useable form (i.e., Excel spreadsheet instead of static PDF) with both the agencies and the public. If Twin Metals is allowed to abuse public lands, it must share its results with the public.
Please take action today in helping protect this beloved national wilderness. Add your comment to express your concerns. There’s more work to do, but this is an important step in our efforts to gain permanent protection for this 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.