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Resupply Report: Dave and Amy's Youngest Visitors Yet

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Posted by
Alex Falconer

One of the benefits of working for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is a lot more access to the Boundary Waters we’re all working so hard to protect. Last weekend, I was up in Ely on a work trip (poor me, I know) and I took the opportunity to bring my family up for an extended weekend. Dave and Amy Freeman were on Fall Lake, relatively close to the border of the Wilderness, in order to get a resupply for A Year in the Wilderness from another volunteer. So we were excited to head out and see them for the first time in 115 days! 

It was the coldest day of the year (at -24F) when we woke up, but thankfully it had warmed to a balmy -20 by the time we got to the Fall Lake entry point. Once we were all bundled up (a big shout-out to our Ely and Duluth business supporters for their mittens, hats, and mukluks we’ve purchased over the years to keep us warm), we headed out. Elsie (age 8) walked most of the mile out there (with some assistance from her mommy) and I pulled Donnie (6) and Eddie (2) in our stroller with ski attachments. 

The moment we stepped on the ice, we felt the familiar thrill and pull our hearts feel every time we step foot/dip our paddle in the Boundary Waters. There really is nothing like it. The quiet, the undisturbed forest, the only sign of humans were actually dog sled tracks.

As a family, we’ve been following Dave and Amy through their Wilderness Classroom website, blogs, and their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts. The kiddos love the pictures of the steam rising off a lake, wolves, holiday lights on their tent, pictures of them dancing on the ice, videos of the dog sleds in action and more. For Elsie in particular, heading out meant meeting up with her first celebrities! She even had a question prepared she really wanted to ask when we met up (we’ll cover that later).

About half way out, Dave and Amy came skijoring out with Tina, Tank and Acorn to meet us!! We greeted one another, met the dogs and then continued on our way. The dogs’ excitement and untapped energy could be felt, and it was exciting to watch them pull Dave and Amy back to camp. 

Upon reaching their campsite, we got the grand tour of their temporary home for the next few days. The dog's sleep on their pads and outside the tent (in case you were wondering, they’re used to the cold and overheat in the tent), the dog sled and toboggans for hauling their stuff are stashed in one spot, and their tent is set up out of the wind in another area. Our boys were especially excited to get out of the stroller/ski/sled, so the kiddos all ran off, dug through the snow to find the ice, jumped and played and got to do what kids do best in the Wilderness -- explore.   


Of course, being as cold as it was, we headed into the tent after a bit. Dave and Amy cooked up some hotdogs and we warmed up and chatted about their trip.

Elsie whispered to mommy “they’re making us food?” in a silent awe. After a bit, Elsie wanted to ask her question, but she was a bit too star-struck to say it, so we asked on her behalf (she really wanted to know this): “How do you go to the bathroom without freezing your butt?!” A very practical thing an 8-year-old would be concerned about! I don’t know if I should divulge the personal habits of Dave and Amy, but suffice it to say, Elsie learned a thing or two about the everyday needs of people living in the Wilderness year round and she was satisfied with the answers.

We did have to eventually get going, so we said our goodbyes, gave hugs and shared well wishes for the rest of winter and into spring.

The trip out for my family really touched on something we talk a lot about on the Campaign: Accessibility. It’s one thing to have a remote, untouched area full of wildlife, pristine water and a healthy forest. But it’s another to have one so readily accessible to people of all walks of life. In the Midwest especially where wilderness areas are relatively few and far between, to have 1.1 million acres within a day’s drive of major metropolitan regions is one of the reasons this is America’s most visited wilderness.

Take that into account with the fact that literally anyone can make the trip. When sharing our story on the Hill in D.C. or talking with concerned citizens at the Minnesota State Fair, I like to say “You don’t have to be able to climb 12,000-foot peaks, or carry 5 gallons of water into a dessert, or be able to afford a chartered plane to northern Alaska to experience the wilderness. All you need is a canoe for a day trip. Add to that a tent, sleeping bag and some cooking gear and you’re set for a week.”

And by “anyone” I also mean the young and the old (how many of us were introduced to the Boundary Waters by our grandparents and dream of carrying that forward to future generations?!). The physically disabled and the top physically fit people on Earth can each have their experience. Disadvantaged youth from Minneapolis or Chicago go through camps to learn life skills and come out better people, Veterans recovering from PTSD can find peace and solace and a place to heal, students from Madison and families from St. Louis … and so many more examples.

More and more as our lives get inundated by technology, busy schedules and the ongoing burden of every day life, we need special places where we can relax, feel ourselves restore, be one with nature and hear literally nothing but wind in the trees. This is one of the reasons why I am fighting to save the Boundary Waters, and it was reinforced by how easy it was for my kids, including Eddie the two–year-old, to make a day trip on the coldest day of the year.

There are, however, casualties of every trip:

"Daddy, why don’t we have a winter tent?"

"Daddy, why don’t we have sled dogs?"

"Daddy, when are we going to be in Ely again?"

At least the last question was easy to answer: "Soon, kiddos. Very soon."

Alex Falconer is state director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Water. Alex has been in the outdoors, northwoods, northshore, Boundary Waters and beyond since before he could walk.

From the Freemans: Coping With (and Enjoying) the Cold Weather

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

A hint of dread is probably the normal reaction for a weather forecast that calls for a week where the temperature hardly ever climbs above zero and brisk -20 F sunrises are the norm. However, Amy and I had been hoping for a blast of Arctic air for more than a month and last week we finally received some of the subzero temperatures that we hoped for and desperately needed.

Why, oh why, would anyone "need" cold weather you might ask. Well, with the help of Acorn, Tina and Tank we have been planning to spend December, January, February, March and hopefully a good chunk of April exploring a Wilderness blanketed in snow and ice. Winter didn't really materialize around Thanksgiving when it normally does; it waited until Christmas to arrive and didn't bring the crisp, clear polar nights that make the ice sing and the bogs freeze until last week.

Amy and I have been enjoying a slower pace for the last two months, traveling less, but often seeing more. It has been a wonderful chance to slow down, soak in the silence, and appreciate details that often go unnoticed even at the relatively slow pace that typical Wilderness travel affords. With last week's blast of cold behind us, Amy and I are headed west to explore a beautiful and wild region between Basswood Lake and Lac La Croix.

I think people often wonder how we cope with the cold. The short answer is lots of practice. Amy and I have about 25 years of combined experience leading dogsledding and winter camping trips in the Boundary Waters. Plus, we have completed a variety of extended dogsled treks where the temperatures were often colder than are typical in the Boundary Waters. For many years, our job has been to help people have safe and rewarding experiences in the winter woods. We are using the strategies, tips and tricks that we have picked up over the years working at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge to keep ourselves and our dogs happy and healthy.

Getting a good night's sleep is important no matter the season. In the winter, proper insulation and plenty of food are the keys to staying warm. Amy and I each have two sleeping pads to insulate us from the cold. First we place a Ridgerest closed cell foam pad on the snow. Then we inflate our Exped down-filled mats, which have an R value of 8 and place that on top of the Ridgerest. Then we climb into our double sleeping bags. We both use our 15-degree Sea to Summit Talus II down sleeping bags as an inner bag. Amy uses her old North Face Darkstar as her outer bag. I use an outer bag rated to about 30 degrees made by Wiggy's. Most of the time we don't zip the outer bag all the way closed, but on colder nights we have the option of zipping and cinching up tight. We have found this system to work really well, and it helps us stay comfortable on both warm and cold winter nights.

Keeping the dogs warm at night is also important. Like most sled dogs, Acorn, Tina, and Tank have lived outside all their lives. They have thick winter coats, which help keep them warm. At home they have a dog house, but these dogs typically don't actually sleep in their house, they curl up in the snow in front of their house. They are comfortable outside in the winter. However, for added comfort and to help them stay warm on below-zero nights, we have several pieces of equipment to help them have a good night's sleep. Each dog has a thick rectangle of closed cell foam, which we lay on the snow. The foam insulates them from the ground. Outside of the wilderness, mushers use straw, or cut balsam bows to make beds for the dogs. This is not allowed in the Wilderness, so we use foam mats, which I think provide more insulation. We also have special jackets and blankets for the dogs to provide extra warmth. Typically, when we stop for the day we set up a stakeout line on the ice along shore, out of the wind, and in a sunny spot if we can. There is a spot for each dog along the line and we place their foam pad down on the snow. They usually curl up on their foam pad and go to sleep. If it is cold, we put their jackets on them and use a blanket for extra insulation. They have shown no signs of being cold or uncomfortable. We have room in our tent for them if they get cold on a -40 night, but typically they are warm and happy just like we are.

We all eat more food when it is cold to help us stay warm. Our diets are high in fat. Fat burns slowly, so it helps us stay warm all night while we sleep.

Clothing is also very important. We have learned over the years that it is important to try and stay comfortably cool when on the move. We dress in layers, avoiding cotton. We wear a wool/synthetic long-underwear blend on the bottom and then additional layers on top of that. When we are skiing, gathering firewood, hauling the toboggans over portages, and staying active, which represents most of the time we are outside our tent, staying warm is not a problem and we do not need to wear a lot of clothing. When we stop for lunch, or if it is really cold and windy, we add additional layers like our Outdoor Research down jackets, and Wintergreen Northern Wear Anoraks. The key is to keep from sweating, because if we sweat we will get cold when we stop moving.

The only clothing the dogs need when running are booties on their feet. When it is cold, the snow is more abrasive. To help protect the dogs's feet on cold days, we put booties on them before they run. We also have a salve called Patch-N-Go, which we can put on their feet in place of booties under certain conditions. We can also use this salve on their feet if they get a minor abrasion or sore.

People often ask us how we go to the bathroom, as well. Usually we get this question from kids when we do school assemblies, or by email through the Wilderness Classroom, but I am pretty sure there are plenty of adults wondering the same thing. Going to the bathroom in the winter can be a bit of a challenge, but once you have done it a few times, it's not a big deal (except when its -20 or colder your hands get cold while fumbling with the TP).

It is important to go to the bathroom well away from the water, so when we set up camp we pack a trail back into the woods at least 150 feet from the water. That way, when we have to go, we have a trail already made and a good spot picked out. When it is time to go, we carry our TP and hand sanitizer back to our spot, dig a hole in the snow, go to the bathroom, cover it up with snow, mark it with a stick, and then burn the TP in our wood stove.

Another key to comfort when it is cold is using a pee bottle. We each have a 1 liter bottle which we pee in a night without having to leave the tent. Then in the morning we can empty it back in the woods. Each morning we use a shovel to scoop up the dogs frozen poop so that we can dispose of it back in the woods as well.

I hope this blog post helps you understand how we stay warm and comfortable out in the winter woods. It's not all fun; there are moments of cold fingers and toes. Everything is a little harder in the cold, but in many ways this is our favorite time to experience the Wilderness, in part because we love working with the dogs.

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


From the Freemans: Welcoming Acorn, Tina and Tank

Thursday, January 7, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

It feels like so much has happened since our last blog post. Our friends Jason and Sarah walked into the Wilderness on New Year’s Eve with a sled full of goodies. For about six weeks during freeze-up we were totally isolated and had to ration our food so that our supplies would last until more supplies could be brought in. Now, it is like the floodgates have opened and visitors have been stuffing us full of treats for the past several weeks. Jason and Sarah packed in a whole roasted chicken, baked potatoes, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fudge, cookies, and other homemade holiday treats. Along with a feast, they brought silly hats and games which made for a festive New Year’s Eve in the Wilderness.

Then on Saturday, January 2, Frank Moe pulled up to our campsite with eight of his sled dogs. Last summer, when Frank and Sherri Moe found out that we were looking for a few sled dogs to join us for the winter, they decided they had a few dogs that would be perfect team members

Frank dropped of Tank, Tina and Acorn, the newest members of our team on Saturday. We had been looking forward to their arrival for a long time and finally there was enough snow and ice to starting using sled dogs. Tank, Tina and Acorn are seasoned Alaskan huskies with many dogsled races, including the Bear Grease, under their harnesses

Acorn has been Frank's lead dog for many years. She was in lead when Frank dogsledded up to the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul with a sled full of petitions signed by thousands of people who were concerned about the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines in northern Minnesota in 2012 (which he wrote about in Sled Dogs to Saint Paul). It seems fitting that Acorn, Tina and Tank are joining us now as we work to educate people about the Wilderness and protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mines that are being proposed along the southern edge of the Wilderness

After Frank left our campsite on Newfound Lake, we were excited to take the dogs out for a run. We quickly put on our ski boots, harnessed up Tank, Tina and Acorn, and headed out skijoring. Amy was hooked up to Tank and I was hooked up to Tina and Acorn. It was a little tricky getting our skis on with the dogs barking and lunging in their harnesses, but as soon as my boots were clipped into the bindings, Acorn and Tina shot off down the lake. The lake was covered in just a couple inches of snow and the dogs easily pulled me along at seven or eight miles an hour. It was faster than we had gone in a long time and it really felt like we were flying across the lake. Tank was right on my heels pulling Amy with his ears and tongue flopping as he trotted along. It was obvious the dogs were having as much fun as we were and we were excited be working with dogs again. They require extra care and attention, but they each have their own personality and are a real joy to work with.

We had been following Frank's dogsled track back towards the Wilderness boundary and the Moose Lake landing. As we approached the boundary, I wondered if it was going to be hard to get the dogs to turn around. However, when I said "Acorn gee, Acorn gee," she left the trail and turned to the right. A few more "gees” and we had looped around and were headed back to our campsite.

Acron and Tina are both lead dogs and respond to "gee," which means right, and "haw," which means left. Yesterday we packed up our campsite and moved about six miles to a new site on Basswood Lake. Today, we headed out skijoring again and for much of the day there was no trail for the dogs to follow. In the beginning, Tina and Acorn were hesitant to leave the trail and lead across the unbroken expanse, but slowly they grew more comfortable and by the end of the day they led us across the untracked bay to our campsite without a hitch.

We are looking forward to getting to know the dogs better over the coming weeks and I am sure there will be many more stories about them in future blog posts and on social media.

We are so happy that snow and ice are now covering the Wilderness and we are enjoying traveling and working with sled dogs again. We look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you soon. We are also very thankful to be joined by three furry Wilderness ambassadors who will help us explore the Boundary Waters all winter long.

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.

Winter in the Wilderness

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

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

Trip to spend year in BWCA builds on career of advocacy

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

Special to the Star Tribune
December 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Posted by
Sarah Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infographic: Celebrating 2015!

Friday, December 18, 2015
Posted by
Ellie Bayrd

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

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


Resupply Report: Flashback to October Filming

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Posted by
Nate Ptacek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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