The planning and preparation started like our many other trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Northern Minnesota; pouring through maps to find an entry point and route, securing a permit, pulling out the gear, picking up groceries, packing the packs, and loading the canoes on the trailer. The crew eagerly anticipated the upcoming trip. After the final checks and goodbyes, it was time to head east on Highway 2. It was that moment with mixed emotions as I watched the crew leave with the canoes in tow. I would not be making this trip to the BWCAW with my son Derek. With 17 trips under my guidance, he was now the group leader and ready to experience canoe country without his Dad.
As the crew left, my thoughts began to wonder if he was ready to take on this challenge. As a way to rationalize that he was ready, I did some comparing. My first trip was with my uncle and cousins in 1986 to Hog Creek and Perent Lake. After just 2 trips and at the age of 18, my friend and I took a trip to Clearwater, Johnson Falls, and Mountain Lake prior to starting college in the fall of 1987. I have made a trip every year since. Derek, on the other hand, is now 21 and has been on 17 trips. I reassured myself that he was ready, but would he make all the appropriate decisions?
In all of my trips, our group mantra has always been; “It’s all part of the experience.” As those who have traveled into canoe country know, the experience can be both positive and negative. The positive and unforgettable experiences keep us coming back to canoe country, while the adversity we sometimes experience are those we vividly remember and acquire some valuable lessons. Hopefully Derek remembered the lessons learned.
Overtaking my worrying was a walk down memory lane as I reflected back on our experiences together. In 1998 after Derek turned 4, I convinced my wife that our son was ready for his first trip to the BWCAW. My journal entry for Derek’s first trip captures the moment:
In the summer of 1986, before my senior year of high school, my uncle asked me if I would like to go to the Boundary Waters because they needed a 4th person. My first impression was that this place was something special and I promised myself to come back every year. I was also excited to introduce others such as family and friends to this special place.
The more I went the more I couldn’t wait to share it with my own children. When you were born in February of 1994, I was already planning and looking forward to our first trip to the Boundary Waters. I said, “as soon as Derek is potty trained, he’ll be ready to go.” This year (1998) the opportunity was finally here and I found some other interested family and friends that wanted to be a part of your first BWCA experience.
I started organizing and planning about 3 weeks prior to our trip. I felt (and always have) that the key to a successful trip is careful planning and organization. I was reluctant to tell you that we were going right away because I didn’t think you would understand where we were going, what the Boundary Waters was, and you would always get over anxious anytime we would go somewhere. You would countdown “sleeps” as a measuring stick to count the days. Finally, it was getting closer and I wanted you to be a part of the preparation of the trip, so I told you where we were going and who we were going with. You were really excited and immediately asked, “Dad, how many sleeps until we go?” It was 10 at that point. You did a great job of counting backwards every day. We went grocery shopping together for the food and also spent time together setting out the equipment and checking it out. You asked many questions and I explained what everything was used for.
Zero sleeps and it’s time to go. We said goodbye to Mommy. We stopped at a gas station in Grand Rapids for gas and an ice cream treat. You told the cashier; “You know what, we’re going to the Boundary Waters and I’m going to catch a big fish.”
As I read through the journal for Derek’s first trip, I was glad that I captured the moments in writing as he certainly would not have remembered the trip nor would I continue to remember the details.
Derek’s second trip in 1999 took place over the July 4th weekend (enter at Island River, Isabella River, Quadga Lake, Bald Eagle Lake, exit at Snake River). Our experiences from this trip would be forever remembered.
We’re off to the Boundary Waters for your second trip...As we approached the final portage before our destination, Bald Eagle Lake, my friends decide to try to run the rapids. We portaged our stuff to the end and waited for their appearance. A few of us made a second trip on the portage and still no sign. Finally, they emerged with the badly dented up and punctured canoe. They made a poor decision to run the rapids and were very lucky not to be injured seriously.
Sigurd Olson best described this scene; “...as long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes and a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run.”
In the morning on July 4th, we fished a little bit but then the sky started to look a little threatening. We picked up the camp and prepared ourselves for some rain. Later in the morning, a loud roar could be heard followed by some intense winds so we all headed into our tents. After about 15-30 minutes, the strong winds decreased and it rained for a couple of hours. After the rain stopped, we went fishing. We talked to another group that was camped on Bald Eagle and they said that they had many trees in their campsite get blown over, so we were pretty lucky. (Only later would we fully realize the damage that the storm did).
Since 1999, there have been many other memorable experiences during our annual trip, including introducing my other son Ben to canoe country. Some of these experiences include the long portage, Border Route Trail, Johnson Falls, jumping off rocks into the water, and trips in October. But as Derek reflects on past trips, his most memorable trip included his brother Ben, uncle, grandpa and cousins.
The trip to Hog creek to Perent Lake with grandpa’s 2 sons and 5 grandsons remains my most memorable trip. I can vividly remember grandpa enjoying the company of his grandsons. Grandpa shared his knowledge and experience in catching and cleaning fish. We enjoyed jumping off a rock into the lake which grandpa willingly kept up with his grandsons in following suit. I remember this trip as a turning point for me as a trip participant to playing an active role in all duties required for a trip into canoe country.
Looking back, my initial goal was to ensure my sons had a positive experience in the BWCAW so they would want to continually return. In doing so, I did most everything while they played, fished, and explored. Over the past several trips, I started asking more questions and turning over some of the duties to Derek and Ben. I knew that I was not going to be on their canoe trips indefinitely, so they needed to learn things on their own. As I turned over the duties, I first had them assist me with my guidance and eventually allowed them to complete tasks on their own. A few examples include, setting up a tent, starting a fire, hanging the food pack, portaging, filleting a fish, and reading a map.
Through the gradual release of my “teaching” vs. their “learning,” I noticed that even after everything I had thought I taught them, mistakes were still made. Only when Derek and Ben were allowed to do a task on their own instead of me showing and telling, did they complete the tasks more efficiently and accurately. Mostly through their struggles, were they really allowed to learn. I enjoyed watching the learning process take place through collaboration, critical thinking, failure, and redos.
It was challenging for me to watch Derek and Ben struggle through certain things when I knew the correct answer or a better way to do something. For instance, I watched them put up the tent incorrectly. Other times, we added some distance to our paddles as they misread the map to find the portages. I usually knew where the portages were, but I allowed them to figure it out after they were not able to find it the first time. They worked their way through some of the obstacles, and then would ask me for assistance. I would respond with a question such as, “what do you think” or “have you thought of?” I believe I would have done my sons a disservice if I had not let them think through problems. After all… “Learning is their journey. Let them navigate. Push them to explore. Watch them discover. Encourage their questions. Allow them to struggle. Support their thinking. Let them fly (Krissy Venosdale).”
In addition to wilderness skills, I also tried to model and impress on my sons other intangibles such as the respect of this special place many fought so hard to protect. We always practiced “leave no trace,” left our campsites better than we found them, and left a small pile of prepared wood by the fire grate. They also learned the key to a successful trip is planning and preparedness. And finally, we always were mindful that help is a long way away, so we were careful and made good decisions.
In 2012, just our immediate family took our first trip together. We secured 2 permits for the same entry point so Derek and Ben could take a side trip on their own. After a couple of days, Derek and Ben set off for 2 nights. I was more sad than worried, knowing that my sons no longer needed their Dad. The boys learned a great deal about being on their own while my wife and I were just a couple of lakes away. This trip also prepared me for my own transition of letting go. This trip remains as Derek’s second most memorable trip.
I remember planning for the trip, looking through maps and talking about possible routes to explore. Then, Dad presented us with an option for Ben and I to take a side trip on our own because he knew we both had experienced many trips and were ready to experience canoe country on our own. I was not worried at all because of the number of previous trips and experiences. I really enjoyed spending time with Ben as I was leaving for college in August. The route looked doable on a map, but some of the portages were very challenging. As Ben and I paddled to the south end of Sawbill Lake, I saw my Dad and Mom in the distance sitting on the dock waiting for our arrival. Prior to gliding into shore, I was overcome by a great sense of accomplishment. Having it all come together to be out there on our own was made possible through the lessons Ben and I were afforded through our Dad. We passed the test and knew our Dad was proud of us. Only later did I fully realize how hard letting go was on my Dad.
It seemed fitting Derek would choose Hog Creek and Perent Lake as a trip leader with his friends. After Derek and his friends returned from a fun trip, they were eager to share stories from their adventure. Listening to their stories, I smiled to myself and knew my question about Derek’s readiness and ability to lead others into the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness was answered. To see four young men willing to venture into the wilderness, without Wi-Fi, and enjoy their time in the BWCAW was truly rewarding.
Letting our children fly also means letting our children pursue their passions. When I was a child I loved being outdoors and camping. After my first trip to the BWCAW in 1986, canoe country became my passion with a promise to myself to return each year. I wanted to learn everything I could about the BWCAW, so in the pre-Internet days, I went to the library to find books and periodicals. At a camping show in the Twin Cities in 1987, I picked up some information on a new publication called the Boundary Waters Journal (BWJ), which I ordered and read all the stories.
The BWCAW continues to be one of my passions. I am grateful to have shared so many trips with my sons with many wonderful memories. I made it clear they did not have to have the same interests as me and should never feel obligated to go on trips, but they always wanted to go. According to Derek, his interest in canoe country started with his first trip and grew over time:
I still remember my Dad hyping up our trip to the Boundary Waters. At such a young age, it didn’t really make sense to me about this mystical place you, along with family and friends would go canoeing and exploring. So, it seemed very interesting to me. After the first trip, I wanted to continue to hang out with my Dad. It was mostly a bonding experience; going there and being together.
Making an annual trip to the Boundary Waters became really interesting to me when I finally started to figure out how to do things on my own, through the teaching of my Dad, contributing to the group effort. The contributions I made such as finding firewood, starting a fire, cooking and other camp duties provided me with a sense of personal pride and accomplishment.
From Derek’s experiences, I asked him what advice he could pass along to anyone hoping to introduce children to canoe country.
I would take the same approach; just provide the opportunity and experiences to truly understand, and grow to appreciate, the beauty of nature in a pristine wilderness area. Being secluded, without crowds of people, offers increased chances of seeing wildlife and nature’s other treasures. Childhood experiences in the BWCAW always include life lessons that may not be replicated otherwise. Circumstances are not always perfect, adversity happens and it is up to the group to figure it out as a team. Also, let your children explore, learn, be curious, and even struggle a bit. The skills of wilderness camping are important to perfect, but the mindset of perseverance and a sense of accomplishment are even more important for children to experience. This mindset will continue to be present as children grow into adults.
The BWCAW is a place where everyone ultimately learns much more about themselves. What an incredible gift to pass along to our children and generations to come. Letting our children fly does not only pertain to the BWCAW, but life in general. Share your passions with your children, allow them to pursue their own interests, and be patient to observe their learning process in action.
Established in 1909, the Superior National Forest is home to America’s most visited wilderness and Minnesota’s crown jewel, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Superior National Forest contains 3.9 million acres of land and 445,000 acres of surface water. There are 1,300 miles of cold water and 950 miles of warm water habitat. The proposed Twin Metals mine would put all of this, and the entirety of the northern forest ecosystem, at great risk.
An October 2017 study of the Arrowhead Region’s economy reveals a diverse and growing economy in which numerous industries – including healthcare, tourism and recreation, small businesses, manufacturing, construction, services, forest products and taconite mining – can coexist peacefully as long as copper mining does not occur on Superior National Forest lands in the Boundary Waters watershed.
Sulfide-ore copper mining is typically done in dry, arid environments. With 445,000 acres of surface water, the Superior National Forest is far from dry or arid. This type of mining has never been done without polluting the surrounding areas, which in this case would be the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This mine puts wildlife habitats, water quality, biodiversity and entire ecosystems at the risk of irreparable damage (read more about the science here). While there are normally environmental standards and reviews in place to protect wild places from risky projects like this one, the Trump Administration has been working to roll back these protections and regulations.
A sulfide-ore copper mine would be detrimental to the health of the Superior National Forest and all of the natural inhabitants of it. Help us protect the crown jewel that lies within it by taking action and contributing to Save the Boundary Waters today.
Fun facts about the Superior National Forest:
-Is the largest and only wilderness of substantial size east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the everglades
-Is the most heavily used wilderness in the US (less than 1% of the acreage of the NWPS, but receives 10% of the use) and ties with the Mall of America as Minnesota 's #1 tourist attraction
-Is a Class I Airshed as defined by the Federal Clean Air Act
-Is listed as one of the 50 greatest places to visit in a lifetime (along with places such as Antarctica, Amazon, Grand Canyon, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal) by the National Geographic Society and is included in 1,000 Places to See Before you Die -- a gift book that provides an around-the-world listing of must see places off the beaten track
Jake Marble is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (go Packers!). He hopes to combine his passions for creative writing, sustainability, and the outdoors, and maintains a blog / writing collection dealing largely with nature, environmentalism, and sense of place.
I didn't grow up Minnesotan. My dad did—a product of South Minneapolis, local public schools (go, Washburn Millers!), and only the most Midwestern, Brady Bunch family of 16. But me, I was raised a foreigner, an alien; a… Badger—and a haughty one at that.
For years, our family has scoffed at Dad’s cornucopia of ingrained, unshakeable ‘Sotan -isms and behaviors: to us normal folk, a hot dish is anything not served cold, I mean duh; killing ‘em with kindness is a true possibility (Yes, the blank-faced, teenage cashier knows that you appreciate it, Dad…); and by god, I’ll show you where you’re about to get popped if you call a soda "pop" one more time!!
The point being, that though every Christmas of childhood was rung in by making the 6-hour hike up I-94, screaming my little head off on Mall of America roller coasters, and renting out an entire hotel floor for the Marble-Larson family reunion, very little time was spent exploring the rest of the state’s offerings.
So when 18-year-old Jake made the previously unthinkable, nearly blasphemous decision to become a Golden Gopher (may his fiercely proud Badger spirit rest in peace…), he’d troop into freshman year with blissful innocence—virtually unfamiliar with the Minnesota outside of Nickelodeon Universe, the Bloomington Embassy Suites, and 50+ relatives sharing hot di… dammit, I mean, CASSEROLE!
An unacquaintance which, regretfully, includes the Boundary Waters. Despite a late-high-school, crystallizing love of environmentalism + outdoor adventure, it wasn’t until I walked into my very first UMN Outdoors Club meeting—nervously eager to trek ‘round my adopted state—that I ever received a primer on the BWCAW. Call it a Wisconsin boy’s ignorance, call it (in only veiled, Midwest passive-aggressive terms) plain insanity, but my first impression of the so-called “B-Dub’s” was one of some confusion over its hushed reverence: Like, why are these overzealous students in matching green t-shirts preaching the sanctity of this place like it’s some northwoods Mecca?
Don’t get me wrong, no one needed to convert me to the wonders of the open water with a strong canoeing sermon. At that point, I was fresh off a high school class expedition traversing the entire Milwaukee River, plus profited from a lifetime of casual, summer paddling in Door County—WI’s compressed, definitely less adventurous riff on the North Shore.
And so, perhaps my thinking went, I’ve already run the length of a watershed, portaged quite literally through small-town Wisconsin streets along the way, glided awe-struck under thick crustings of stars, and seen the last few years pass from the stern (and the duff…), on the trail, and between thin nylon walls; how much better can it get?
But, oof da, even at the expense of my home state pride, never have I been so glad to be wrong.
Ironically, no matter my freshman enthusiasm, I wouldn’t actually get to the Boundary Waters that first fall. A backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail was a more-than-wonderful substitute, bear bag-hanging troubles and all, after which northern Minnesota would have me nabbed hook, line, and sinker.
My first BWCA opportunity would, though, come a season later—smack-dab in mid, why-the-heck-is-it-not-spring-yet April, when the lakes were still powdered ice blocks, and pitching a tent an exercise in relative masochism. So we didn’t, our joint group from Outdoors Club and Gophers for the Boundary Waters—being neither geared up nor hardcore enough for snowglobe camping—electing instead for the Schurke’s Wintergreen Lodge (and can anyone possibly complain about that?). We’d tend to their army of lovable sled dogs, crunch across the lakes in snowshoes, unsuccessfully lay out for the northern lights, visit proposed mine sites near Ely, and get familiarized with the campaign, the issues, and the area itself.
In short, it was a blast. Sorry, Door County, but they’ve reeled me in.
Almost exactly two years later, and my freshman self would be proud, and a bit shocked, to have so much to look back on. I’ve since returned to the BWCAW three (unfrozen) times, have made dozens of other treks up north, and find myself in the once-curious place of leading trips myself.
But at this moment, the yipping sled dogs, that good burn from hours turned days turned seasons of paddle dragging, and maybe most of all, intimate, quality time spent in the wilderness with good people… feel one miles-long portage away. Still feeling the heartbreak of my study abroad semester in Senegal cut short, nothing in the world sounds better than an escape to the backcountry, thudded back in my country as I am. But that, of course, isn’t all that feasible right now. Not only having forced me home, COVID-19 has also wrenched me away from places in nature I love—as it has so many of us.
After months in arid West Africa far removed from forests, friends, campfire-tinged clothes, and even the never-before-realized luxury that is grass, I couldn’t wait to hike, climb, and re-explore my home-away-from-home. Senegal, much as I loved it, taught me to never again take these things for granted; but all of us outdoors-people, I think, are receiving similar lessons from the COVID-19 crisis nearer to our own backyards. On the best of days, some aspects of outdoor adventure are risky, bordering on reckless, but carelessly pursuing them now is downright negligent—not so much for ourselves as for the people and environments around us: our overtaxed hospitals, understaffed parks, the more vulnerable of populations. Staying home means staying (close to) home. It’s just not the time for a backcountry rescue.
So for now, it seems nature is telling us to bide our time, and dream of better days unconfined by our roofs, our screens, this social distance. There’s no need to wallow, though. We can have Zoom calls with old trip buddies, smooth out the maps stored away in garages and gear boxes; dedicate time to smaller adventures, more local ones; maybe rekindle something for walks in that forgotten park, or bike rides around the town.
This is a maddening situation, absolutely, antithetical to the spirit of the outdoors, the spirit of the Boundary Waters. Canoes aren’t paddled alone, and that’s what the BWCAW does best—brings people, space, and place together.
It’s certainly bound me in ways I never could have known, when I first listened skeptically to those hyper-animated club officers. Many have since become my closest college friends, tied to the water, the land, and each other by shared experience. I guess I’ve become the earnest one—once-disciple turned preacher—as now it’s me up there espousing the value of outdoor adventure, experiential / environmental education, and the community-building they engender.
Four years ago, I never could have imagined it. Tell a 17-year-old who’s just seen his first camp stove that 40+ trips later he’d be here… well, he’d probably just laugh. Which is to say that all of this, then, really isn’t about me, but an ode to the boundless, precious, transformative value of our wilderness areas. The Boundary Waters has played a part in changing the course of my life.
And as tragic as COVID-19 is, maybe it’s kind of the wake-up call we needed—all of us with a love for the wilderness, but perhaps also a bit of complacency, assuming that our cherished places will always, simply, be accessible. This crisis could remind us of the necessity, but also fragility, of areas like the BWCAW. Maybe we’ll see more clearly their need for ramped-up protection, or even a general re-energizing of environmental movements—towards those natural environments we’ve been missing. How we return to a new normal post-crisis will say volumes about both where we were as a society, and where we’re going.
I may not have grown up Minnesotan, but oh how I’ll cherish the day I trundle back up I-94, down a pop and some hot dish, get a paddle in my hand, and explore Minnesota’s outdoors once more. (But shh, don’t tell Wisconsin I said that.) For me, for all of us, that day can’t come soon enough.
ELY, MN--Today the Trump Administration today announced another major environmental rollback as it finalized new rules that gut the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock environmental law often referred to as an "environmental bill of rights." This is the most radical rollback of the Administration as the new rules reject the fundamental principles of NEPA: that the federal government and its agencies take a hard look at the environmental impacts of proposed major actions before making decisions and proceeding with projects, and, that we as a nation make better decisions when we first understand the impacts of major actions on the human and natural environment. Citizens will now have much less ability to understand and improve projects that they as taxpayers are funding.
Today’s new NEPA rules sharply limit both the scope of environmental review and Americans’ ability to comment effectively on proposed actions, and to challenge federal agencies whose decisions appear to violate the law. Specifically, the new NEPA rules:
prohibit consideration of cumulative effects and climate impacts of projects;
impose arbitrarily short timelines and page limits on reviews which will prevent thorough analysis of proposed major federal actions and those actions’ consequences;
result in the rejection by federal agencies of many if not most citizens’ comments; and,
bar judicial review of some federal environmental review decisions.
This announcement is just the latest in a series of attacks that undercut the power of the public to impact and challenge major federal environmental actions such as permitting dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.
In response to today's announcement Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters said:
"The Trump Administration is relentless in its pursuit of delivering America's public lands to the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected. Piece by piece it is stripping away the basic protections that the American people have relied upon for five decades to protect the nation’s air, water, land, and human communities. If the Trump Administration has its way, one of the first casualties will be the Boundary Waters. Because the new NEPA rules are to be implemented immediately, Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta's Twin Metals project will be one of the first projects evaluated under the new, weakened NEPA rules."
The Trump administration announced on June 30th that it had begun the NEPA review process for Antofagasta's Twin Metals, a sulfide-ore copper mining project that, if built, would pollute the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters, America's most visited Wilderness, and change forever this iconic national treasure.
The Trump administration has weakened or flat-out eliminated over one hundred environmental protections, many that directly protect the clean air, water, and land of Minnesota and the public health of its citizens. For example, 2020 changes to critical Clean Water Act regulations mean that Minnesota can no longer protect its own lakes, streams, and wetlands from degradation. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says these weakened regulations would leave the State unable to address potential water quality concerns in or near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness likely to be caused by a Twin Metals mine. Other actions eliminating protections include a recent Presidential Executive Order that directs agencies to waive or restrict environmental laws and reviews of risky projects. Taken together these represent the most sweeping and significant attacks on the environment in American history and leave the Boundary Waters especially vulnerable.
Born, raised and residing in Ohio, I'm 881 miles from the edge of the Boundary Waters at Echo Trail Entry Point #16. I've journeyed in there at ages 17, 18 and 19.
On my first voyage in a group of high school students whom teachers transported by van and bus... I would soon disgust McDonald's but adore hot sauce. I remember the northern lights the first night, being so awe struck, so mesmerized. I gazed as loons called across the still Moose Lake and I fell in love with them.
We canoed up the Nina Moose, as tranquil a stream as I'd ever seen. The way each gentle reed bent yielding to the soft current. The sound of the paddle. What I knew of canoe trips on the Little Miami River in Ohio were not like this. Beautiful yes but over-crowded peak-season with beer-drinking screamers and a very fast current. This was totally different. This was worth the bus ride.
Over 2,200 campsites spread across 1,000+ lakes and visited by over 200,000 people a year... it's the most visted wilderness in the United States.
That said, you might only glimpse someone else paddling let alone hear them up here. We paddled across Nina Moose Lake, through to Lake Agnes for camp. My guide sent me out to fetch water and I was stunned that we would drink this untreated from the lake. To know lake water can exist so clean made me wonder. Why not live here?
Huron, Cree, Dakota and Ojibwe (Chippewa) all lived in this area. Soon I would see their handprints and artwork on great rock faces overlooking the water. I was told they made these where the sky, land and the water meet. The Ojibway people call themselves 'Anishinabe' in their own language, which means 'original person.'
I portaged for the first time to reach Iron Lake. This taught me some endurance for pain and mental fortitude I did not know I had. It was worth it to reach a beautiful site with sunsets across the water and scattered boulders on the shore. It was worth it to hear a wolf for the first time in my life close enough to make the hair stand up on my neck. I was peacefully fishing the shore alone when it started low, a sweeping groan, which grew in pitch until it made its presence known to me with a howl. What a world I was in. It seemed, I was in a dream. This is how a person falls in love with the wild of the boundary waters.
There, on Iron Lake I also heard a grouse for the first time as I explored a bit. Very unusual sound which can be frightening if you don't know what it is. I went running back and told my guide "a human is in the woods beating their chest, like an ape. Or, maybe an ape was beating their chest at me?" No... just a secluded, wild fowl flapping their wings to attract a mate.
On my second trip we went into Tiger Bay of Lac La Croix and camped at the site I now regard as the best I've camped, ever. Sunsets were directly across the water and it even had a sandy beach shore scattered with pine cones. They substituted nicely as golf balls in the middle of the day, coupled with a large stick for a golf club. I preferred the northern woods in August than in June because the water is warmer for swimming. And still not too hot for a climb atop Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix.
There I stood and felt so high, so free.
I tasted my first northern pike this return trip... basted in Parkay after being caught in the reeds of Crooked Lake. Yes many bones but it was the best fish I've ever tasted.
For my return trips, my sister loaned me her manual lens camera to capture this place and its wonder. It further connected me to the Boundary Waters, making me ever more curious to find photographs. Such a place awakens the soul, soothes the mind and envigorates the body. When you are one with nature it is hard to leave. I had to convince myself I would return even to endure what I admit was scary... Wind Lake on a stormy day. But, (of course;) there is always calm after a storm.
I am now an online volunteer with the campaign to "Save The Boundary Waters" because it must exist not just as a destination for adventure or serenity but as a reality of wild purity. Few places are left in this developed world; still offering such wonder, such WATER. This wonder would not exist without its pure water. If it were poisoned by careless, avoidable, human error... what a tragedy. For all of us who hold it dear; for whom drank of it, we ask that they stop unnecessary, greedy, dangerous mines from threatening to poison what is so unique about this place (the water). To keep it safe for generations to come is my greatest goal.
I noticed there ARE rules about who can enter the park, specific to limiting numbers of groups in order to reduce impact on the pristine wild. Yet, there are possibly risks of obliteration from new, toxic mine permits? How could the forest service even consider mines so dangerous?? It makes no sense and that is what I want to stress to people. Not here.
Since the Boundary Waters opened up for overnight trips on May 18, many of our supporters have been wondering what a trip to the Boundary Waters looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a list of the top 10 things to remember when visiting the Boundary Waters in the next few months:
Protect yourself and others by wearing a mask
Maintain a distance of 6 feet when going into any stores or outfitters
Wash/sanitize your hands before and after going into buildings or touching things, especially at gas stations (consider an eco-friendly hand sanitizer like Dr.Bronners!)
Be patient on portages and spread out (when you are able to)
Consider buying groceries before hand
When possible, send only 1 member of your group into any store/outfitter
Print your permit and/or fishing license at home before traveling
Be patient with outfitting staff and other service workers. We are all trying our best to navigate these tricky times together!
If you choose to pick up a meal on the road, opt for restaurants that offer drive-thru or curbside service.
Watch the USFS “leave no trace” videos at home before you come to ensure you leave the BWCA better than you found it.
Part 1: https://youtu.be/nen7lRqEjm8
Part 2: https://youtu.be/nQ176Q3eMrQ
Part 3: https://youtu.be/Z8msTMqbvoc
We all know that Boundary Waters trips are a highlight of many peoples’ summers; however, safety is a top priority. If you or someone in your group feels sick before your planned travel, stay home except to get medical care and as always, please follow the specific guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html.
For up to date information regarding forest closures or restrictions, please visit: www.fs.usda.gov/superior
Thank you to all who participated in our online Save the Boundary Waters Garage Sale June 25th-July 2nd. In total we collected 231 items and raised almost $10,000! Half of the proceeds will be donated to MIGIZI, an incredible local nonprofit that focuses on empowering native youth that we have collaborated with in the past. They were impacted by the civil unrest surrounding the murder of George Floyd, when on Friday, May 29th their building in Minneapolis (one street over from the 3rd precinct) went up in flames. Learn more about their work here.
Thank you again for participating, we hope you can put this gear to good use in the remainder of this summer. Unless otherwise coordinated, all items will be mailed out in the coming week, so keep an eye out for them!
I'm Alex Falconer, the Government Relations Director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. My primary role is focused on our federal strategy to achieve permanent protections for the Boundary Waters through legislation like Representative McCollum's HR5598, the Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. HR5598 would remove the threat of sulfide-ore mining from the watershed of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park forever.
In my spare time (which admittedly is not a lot with my job and 3 kids) I'm either in the Boundary Waters or running - a lot. I have a side project of actually running all the major back country hiking trails in the Boundary Waters as a way to bring awareness of our fight to our running, and specifically, our trail running community.
Photo by Brendan Davis
Trail runners depend on vast areas of protected public lands to enjoy our passions. Across the country other runners have stepped up to use their running to protect areas like Bears Ears and Grand Escalante, Red Rock Desert, Arctic Wildlife Refuge and other roadless and wild places across the country. I've been particularly inspired by Clare Gallagher, an elite professional trail runner dedicating her running toward fighting climate change and saving our wild places.
A unique aspect of my advocacy is that people see the Boundary Waters - and rightfully so - as canoe country. So it's my idea to collectively run hundreds of miles in a landscape of over 1,100 lakes that also holds 20% of the freshwater in the US Forest Service System to draw a unique perspective to our fight. In addition to world class canoe adventures, are these remote wilderness backcountry trails. Typically they are multi-day hiking and backpack camping routes, and all of them very remote, rugged and wild. There's only one human made bridge on any of these trails - the rest constructed by beaver dams. The trails themselves are cut through the only section of the Canadian boreal forest in the lower 48 and are some of the rockiest and rooted trails I've ever run on. Often times they're flooded (again the beavers) or blocked by downed trees or hard to follow as they wind through recent forest fire areas or...I could go on forever.
I started my project in 2019 intending to run both the Border Route Trail (BRT) and the Kekekabic Trail (the Kek) individually and then combine the two this summer for one long ~ 110 mile run east to west across our cherished canoe country. My two first segments can be read about in my previous blogs hosted here. However this year, with COVID hitting our country and shutting us down in March, the logistics of organizing the trip, support necessary, some awesome athletes who were going to join me to make a big deal about it all started to unravel and I have to delay the full run by another year.
But with lemons, make some backcountry lemonade (the water is so clean you can drink straight from the lakes and rivers afterall).
This summer I'm instead running a series of trails in addition to re-running the BRT and the Kek to keep the drumbeat of trail running advocacy beating. These trails are all 20 miles or more in length (I'm also adding in Eagle Mountain connected with the Brule Lake Trail for another 8 or so miles to climb the summit of Minnesota at a nose-bleed altitude of 2,301 feet!).
Snowbank Lake - Snowbank Lake actually has 3 concentric loop trails of roughly 20, 26 and 31 mile distances by adding extra lake trails to run around. Snowbank Loop itself is 20 miles, Snowbank-Disappointment - which I ran in May and you can read about here - is 26 miles, and Snowbank-Old Pines-Disappointment loop is another extending 31 miles. Each runs along the Kek at the western side where you can choose which route to take in a choose your own adventure run around Snowbank Lake!
I successfully ran the Snowbank-Disappointment loop in May this year as my first run in this summer series. Run report here and I set a fastest known time (FKT). I'm planning to run the other two loops this summer, likely in the August timeframe.
Sioux Hustler Trail - This one is coming up this weekend! I'm attempting this trail on the 3rd and I'm currently in the midst of planning for this run. It is going to be a hot run (94 degrees predicted) but there's a lot of access to water and I'm starting out as early as possible to get at least the first half done before the sun is directly overhead. The heat is a serious compounding factor for this run - the last thing I want is another bout of heat exhaustion when so remote and inaccessible. Starting early, carrying plenty of water and electrolytes in addition to enough calories is paramount. The trail runs alongside several lakes and streams for refilling options and campsites are along the way to go for a rest and refill as needed as well. During last year's BRT on the hottest summer of the year I paused for a half hour at one point to jump in Rove Lake - not a bad way to cool down either! Stay tuned for updates, and my main website www.runningforthebwca.com will have a linked gps tracker of my run.
Powwow Trail - Likely also in August, I'll run this trail and from reports it may be the most challenging as it is the least maintained trail according to the US Forest Service site. They haven't updated the trail info since 2016 and there are reports of several trail clearing expeditions. So, I'm researching the trail and it's status as I keep planning for that route. It's a 27 mile loop in the southern central part of the BWCA north of Tofte, MN.
The BRT and Kek - I will re-run both of these probably in September and October. Last summer the BRT won. A mixture of heat exhaustion and a broken toe and I had to pull off at mile 56 after 20 hours on the trail, just 9 miles shy of finishing. The lessons learned however were life changing for how I run these trails. Nutrition, training tempo, weather, and gear have all been re-evaluated and refined. It's a great example of how the wilderness is a classroom for life - pushing to uncomfortable levels with no choice but to keep going and taking those lessons home.
2021 Boundary Waters Traverse: BRT + Kek
I, along with the rest of the world, hope 2021 brings better times. As we await science to catch up to the current health crisis, hopefully we'll have a viable vaccine soon and a chance to regain some normalcy, travel, and mixing among our family, friends and strangers again. These trails mean the world to me and to so many other people. The Wilderness to even more people. I hope 2021 brings a scenario in which I can run the BRT and Kek in one contiguous run but that's a big wait and see. Until then I'll keep planning as we do for all our Wilderness trips - plan as best we can, build in flexibility, adapt as needed, have the time of our lives.
On June 29, the Trump Administration announced they are beginning the official review process of Antofagasta’s Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to begin reviewing the Twin Metals project, located on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
This notice of intent confirms that the Bureau of Land Management’s highest priority under this Administration – even in the Boundary Waters watershed – is an exploitation of Americans’ public lands for private gain.
Under direction from the Secretary of the Interior, the agency will conduct the most superficial of reviews – at breakneck speed and with arbitrary page limits.
This is a reckless push to build a toxic mine right next to the most popular Wilderness in America. Just a week ago, the state of Minnesota declared this Twin Metals mine plan to be incomplete and some material representations to be false.
Make no mistake – the Trump Administration is gutting our environmental laws. If this mine were built, it would damage the Boundary Waters. Every sulfide-ore copper mine has polluted water, and this one would, too.
The Trump administration has:
All with the goal of handing over America’s most popular Wilderness to be exploited for the benefit of a Chilean mining giant Antofagasta.
America has 24 mines producing copper. There is no shortage of copper, but there is only one Boundary Waters.
Save the Boundary Waters is leading the effort to prevent copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters. This approach already includes multiple lawsuits, a permanent protection bill in the U.S. Congress, an intensive expert review of the Mine Plan of Operation to expose the dangers, and much, much more.
December 2016: Twin Metals leases deemed too dangerous by the US Forest Service and not renewed. Mineral withdrawal and study of impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining on Boundary Waters announced.
December 2017: The Trump administration rejects the unanimous view of the Johnson, Obama, and Reagan administrations, instead announces “legal error” in previous Twin Metals’ lease decision.
May 2018: Arbitrary reinstatement of expired Twin Metals leases.
September 2018: Mineral withdrawal and study abruptly canceled just prior to release. The Trump administration has refused countless demands from the public, Congress, and the press to release the study and background reports.
May 2019: After the most superficial of environmental reviews that did not even consider the impact of mining, Twin Metals is granted sweetheart lease renewals granting it use of public lands next to the Boundary Waters in perpetuity.
June 2020: The Trump administration finalizes changes to the Clean Water Act that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says will prevent Minnesota from protecting the Boundary Waters from a Twin Metals mine.
June 2020: Citing the Coronavirus pandemic, Trump signs an Executive Order instructing federal agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws making it easier to expedite harmful projects.
Minnesota’s 27-year old rules for sulfide-ore copper mining (“nonferrous mining rules”) prohibit mining within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness but fail to ban mining on lands next to the Wilderness and along waters that flow directly into it. Peer-reviewed science tells us that if sulfide-ore copper mining were permitted upstream from and near the Wilderness, industrial mining pollution would degrade water that flows directly into the Wilderness, air that flows everywhere, and thousands of acres of terrestrial habitat outside the Wilderness that is seamlessly-connected to—indeed, is part of—the Boundary Waters ecosystem. Obviously this would violate Minnesota’s commitment to protect the Boundary Waters.
On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), the lead organization for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, filed a lawsuit asking a Minnesota state district court judge to direct the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to amend state rules to protect the Boundary Waters from the damage that would inevitably result from nearby sulfide-ore copper mining. Specifically, NMW requests that the rules be amended to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the entirety of the Rainy River-Headwaters. See the map below.
The northern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters is protected as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Indeed, most of the Wilderness - 80% - is within this watershed. National Wilderness Areas have the highest protected designation under federal law. The Wilderness Act of 1964 mandates the preservation of the wild character of National Wilderness Areas: untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, and providing outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. In addition to having federal protection as a National Wilderness Area, the Boundary Waters is Minnesota’s only state Wilderness. But the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters - 46% - is unprotected and is not within the national or state Wilderness System. All of these waters in the Rainy River-Headwaters flow north through the Boundary Waters, Quetico Provincial Park, and Voyageurs National Park. By amending the nonferrous mining rules to expand the mining prohibition to the entirety of the Rainy River-Headwaters, including the currently unprotected southern portion, the DNR would ensure that the Boundary Waters would be fully protected from damage by sulfide-ore copper mining.
The Rainy River-Headwaters is no place for a sulfide-ore copper mine. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency concluded in 2017 that “[t]he majority of the water bodies within this watershed [have] exceptional biological, chemical, and physical characteristics that are worthy of additional protection.” Fifty-four percent of the Rainy River-Headwaters is protected as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The southern 46% of the watershed contains very popular recreational lakes, such as Burntside Lake. In the area proposed for mining, the Birch Lake-South Kawishiwi shoreline is listed by the U.S. Forest Service as a “Recreation Use in a Scenic Landscape” Management Area. Birch Lake-South Kawishiwi is one of the most popular recreational lake areas in the Superior National Forest. Thirty businesses are located in the immediate area of proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. Thousands of homes and cabins are located in the southern portion of the watershed.
Current Minnesota nonferrous mining rules were not intended or designed to protect a world-class water-intensive Wilderness Area such as the Boundary Waters from the major damage that sulfide-ore copper mining always causes. The rules establish standards for mining districts, places where significant changes to ecosystems and landscapes are permitted and where degradation of air and water is acceptable. The rules purport to limit but not prohibit pollution of the environment; this is unacceptable in the Boundary Waters and its headwaters. If sulfide-ore copper mining were developed in the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters, such degradation and pollution would inevitably damage the Boundary Waters.
These critical shortcomings compelled NMW to file a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court under Section 10 of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (“MERA”) to challenge the non-ferrous mining rules.
Section 10 of MERA gives citizens and organizations the right to challenge rules and regulations that are inadequate to protect the air, water, land, or other natural resources in the state from pollution, impairment, or destruction. In the lawsuit, NMW is seeking a decision and order from the Court that Minnesota’s nonferrous mining rules are inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters because they fail to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Wilderness (the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters). NMW will prove to the court the inadequacy of the rules and ask the court to require the DNR to institute administrative proceedings to take evidence and make findings regarding NMW’s claims. The DNR will be asked to protect the Boundary Waters by prohibiting sulfide-ore copper mining on lands in the entire Rainy River-Headwaters.
Mining proponents assert that Minnesota has strong environmental protection standards relative to other states. That is not completely false. For example, Minnesota has a unique water quality standard—the wild rice sulfate standard—that prohibits industrial discharge of wastewater that exceeds 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfate into lakes and rivers that produce wild rice. Research has shown that exceeding 10 ppm can kill native wild rice. No other state is so protective. However, although Minnesota has this protective standard, it has failed to enforce it.
But the real question is “Do Minnesota’s state environmental regulations sufficiently protect the Boundary Waters?” The answer clearly is “no.” For example, if the sulfide-ore copper mine proposed by Antofagasta’s Twin Metals discharged sulfate at the allowable level of 10 ppm, that is between 300% and 600% more than the current level of sulfate in the waters of the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, which flow into the Boundary Waters. Thus, the existing state rule ALLOWS water quality degradation—it doesn’t require that water quality be maintained. Any change in chemical composition—for example, increasing the sulfate level in the water—can have multiple negative effects; for example, an increase in sulfates not only harms wild rice, but also it starts a process that results in fish taking up more mercury in their bodies.
The policy of Minnesota has long been to protect the water quality in the Boundary Waters. Waters in and around the Boundary Waters are among the cleanest in the United States. The waters of the Wilderness are designated as Prohibited Outstanding Resource Value Waters under Minn. R. 7050.0335, subp. 3. These waters are afforded the highest level of protection under state and federal law. No degradation of these waters is allowed (Minn. R. 7050.0265, subp.7). Applying Minnesota’s existing nonferrous mining rules to proposals for sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters would make a mockery of the Prohibited Outstanding Resource Value Waters designation.
Moreover, Minnesotans cannot rely on federal laws and regulations. Bedrock federal environmental regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, are being eviscerated by the Trump administration. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says that changes to Section 401 regulations of the Clean Water Act kneecap its ability to protect the Boundary Waters from a sulfide-ore copper mine in the Rainy River-Headwaters.
State agencies have authority to make rules as prescribed in laws passed by the Minnesota legislature. Laws state the goals or policy of the state. Rules are the roadmap to implementation of the goals or policy. If the rules don’t achieve the goal, then there is a major disconnect. If you intend to go to Ely but the roadmap instead takes you to Rochester, you need to get a new map. Such is the case with rules related to sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters. The current Minnesota DNR nonferrous mining rules simply will not protect the Wilderness in the way the legislature has intended. Minnesota’s 1976 statutory ban on mining within the Boundary Waters is meaningless if state rules allow mining in the Wilderness headwaters that will degrade the waters of the Wilderness and the ecosystem of which the Wilderness is a part.
NMW’s lawsuit under MERA utilizes that crucial state law to challenge the nonferrous mining rules that fail to protect the Boundary Waters. MERA (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 116B) says that the goal of Minnesota is that “present and future generations may enjoy clean air and water, productive land, and other natural resources with which this state has been endowed.” MERA provides the backbone for the enforcement of many of Minnesota’s environmental protections by allowing citizens and organizations to bring civil actions in court. NMW’s lawsuit is filed under Section 10 of MERA, which allows a legal challenge to rules that are inadequate to protect air, water, land, or other natural resources within Minnesota from pollution, impairment, or destruction.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Minnesota DNR Rule 6132 is inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters. Minn. R. 6132, which was adopted in 1993, regulates how nonferrous mining (i.e., not iron mining but including sulfide-ore copper mining) can be conducted in the state. It provides direction for how nonferrous mines should be constructed—including buffers, tailings basin design, dust suppression, and other physical considerations. The rules prohibit nonferrous mining within the Boundary Waters but do not prohibit siting such mines in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. The rules don’t meet the goal of the legislature’s policy because they would allow this uniquely toxic and accident-prone form of mining to occur in the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters—the source of waters that flow into the Wilderness. Sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters would threaten the water, air, land, vegetation, and wildlife of this unique and irreplaceable Wilderness Area owned by the American people.
Scientific reports and studies of sulfide-ore mines in other places have taught us a lot about the environment and sulfide-ore mining in the 27 years since Rule 6132 was adopted. The Minnesota rules need to be updated to incorporate that knowledge. We now know that protecting water quality of Outstanding Resource Value Waters requires among other things protecting the watershed. Runoff from the proposed Antofagasta/Twin Metals mine would enter Birch Lake and flow into the Boundary Waters—that is a certainty. Even small changes in concentration of pollutants will affect the ecosystem. The clean waters of the area have virtually no calcium carbonate, and thus will not buffer or moderate acid mine drainage pollutants. Keeping pollution out is the only feasible protection. Further, water quality degradation would make the Boundary Waters susceptible to an army of invasive species—both aquatic and terrestrial. These don’t respect boundaries, and a mine operation of this type and magnitude would facilitate the introduction of scores of species into the Boundary Waters that are not native and that would disrupt the functioning ecosystem. Noise, light, and air pollution would be carried for miles into the Wilderness, and the massively ugly tailings pile would be there forever.
Part of Minn. R. 6132.2000 deals to some extent with the siting of nonferrous mining operations. Subpart two lists locations within the state where no such mining may occur, including the Boundary Waters. This is consistent with state policy to protect the Wilderness from the negative impacts that inevitably flow from mining. We know from a host of high-quality scientific studies and from simple observation that water, air, land, and wildlife degradation would be severe. The human experience of the Boundary Waters would be negatively impacted by nonferrous mining outside the Wilderness perimeter itself but in its headwaters. NMW’s lawsuit asks that the entire Rainy River-Headwaters be added to the list of locations that are off-limit to nonferrous mining.
Subpart 3 of the current rule establishes “buffer areas.” The goal of that section is, in part to “... minimize adverse impacts on natural resources and the public. Separations shall be maintained between mining areas and adjacent conflicting land uses.” The rule goes on to define a buffer between the Boundary Waters and any nonferrous mining surface disturbance. In some places, the buffer is only ¼ mile in width. Clearly, the drafters of the rule knew that mining activity near the Boundary Waters would be detrimental. Unfortunately, they didn’t have today’s science that proves that mining anywhere in the watershed would be detrimental to the Wilderness. That disconnect between state policy and rules is the essence of NMW’s legal challenge.
The lawsuit asks that the existing DNR rule be updated to reflect modern scientific knowledge. The DNR needs to acknowledge the 27 years of scientific advancement and study since the rule was adopted and recognize that, in order to protect the extensively interconnected hydrology of the Boundary Waters, we must protect the whole watershed. The entire Rainy River-Headwaters must be off-limits to sulfide-ore mining. It is unrealistic to think that a rule that provides a small buffer but that continues to allow nonferrous mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters will provide adequate protection. In fact, it is a roadmap to disaster.
The lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court. If the judge agrees that our case has merit, the judge will order the DNR to initiate a new rulemaking process. This is a 2-year, public process that would incorporate current knowledge to develop a new rule to guide future projects. The DNR would submit a draft rule, and the judge would take evidence to determine whether the rule is adequate. If it is not, the agency will be compelled to revise; if it is, it becomes the new rule.
NMW is fortunate to be represented by Ciresi Conlin LLP. The firm’s attorneys have experience with MERA, and are bringing great expertise, knowledge, and skill to the table. We are extremely grateful for their help!
The existing rule falls far short of achieving the stated policy of the State of Minnesota to protect the Boundary Waters. We know that 70% of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The policies and the rules of the state should reflect current science and the public interest in preserving the nation’s most popular Wilderness. Here is a chance to make that true!