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Stories of Support on Give to the Max

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Give to the Max Day is an important day for giving in Minnesota. We have been lucky to have such an amazing group of supporters behind the Campaign from the beginning and we’re grateful to everyone who has joined our efforts since. Today, many of our longtime supporters are sharing their stories in an effort to urge people, near and far, to give. Here are their stories.

Steve and Jane Koschak are the owners of River Point Resort and Outfitting Company. Located just four miles from the Boundary Waters on the shores of the Kawishiwi River, River Point has served visitors since 1944.

River Point Resort and Outfitting Company is our pride and joy. Visitors travel from all over the United States and the world to enjoy peace and serenity here. They come to get away from the noise, sights and stress of urban life.

This peaceful sanctuary will be destroyed forever if international companies succeed in building large industrial mines right across the river from us. These companies plan to build an underwater tunnel to connect the Twin Metals mine to the concentrator site here. We have a short window of opportunity to prevent these mines from being built. We have already experienced the loud and constant noise from test drilling during certain times of the year. If these mines are built, we could no longer offer the peaceful experience that our guests come here to enjoy. It would destroy our life’s work and investment - the legacy we want to pass on to our son.

But it won’t only devastate us personally. The more than 250,000 visitors who come to the Boundary Waters every year would lose the opportunity to visit and experience solitude and joy with their children and grandchildren.

Please give generously before midnight – your gift today will be doubled by people who share our love of the Boundary Waters.

Thank you so much,
Steve and Jane Koschak, River Point Resort & Outfitting Company

Nearly two months ago, Dave and Amy Freeman embarked on their 365-day journey in the Boundary Waters. Today, they’re writing from their campsite on Knife Lake.

We have been traveling in the Boundary Waters for 50 days now on A Year in the Wilderness. Because we embarked on this journey to raise awareness about the threat to the Boundary Waters posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, we have a few pieces of technology that allow us to write to you as we sit around the wood stove in our tent nestled between towering red pines.

Every day out here in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is special. More and more, we feel grounded and connected to the world around us. We remember that our time here on earth is short and precious, but the decisions we make right now will have a ripple effect long into the future.

Our journey is about bearing witness to the Wilderness. We are here to be a constant reminder to you about what is at stake. America’s most visited Wilderness area is under a serious threat that could permanently pollute the lakes and streams that we travel on each day. Even though there are times when we miss our family and friends, we know that our efforts are important.

But we can’t protect the Boundary Waters alone. We need you. A whole community of supporters is necessary for this work to be successful. This effort needs many people to raise their voices and concerns with decision makers across the country. Thank you for contributing to the cause and helping us bear witness to the vast expanses of unspoiled lakes, rivers and forests that make up the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Please give today to help preserve this amazing wilderness.

From the Boundary Waters,
Dave and Amy Freeman

Paul and Sue Schurke are the owners of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear. The couple has been sharing the Boundary Waters with people of all walks of life for more than 30 years. Steve shares their story:

I've been lucky to explore some of the most incredible and remote places on the planet. I've completed six North Pole expeditions, and trekked across Alaska and Siberia. And I have found that you can experience the same silence and immersion in nature right here in Minnesota. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is extraordinary and special.

My wife, Sue, and I have been sharing the Boundary Waters for over 30 years with people from all walks of life. We guide about 100 dogsledding trips per season, accommodating over 500 people, who come from all over the world. It's a joy to take someone out into the Wilderness on a winter dogsledding expedition. It is especially moving when they have only imagined the beauty of the Boundary Waters before coming here for the first time.

One of the things that our guests are almost always struck by on their vacation is the extraordinary night sky. The stars seem impossibly bright, and the Milky Way glows. On special nights, the sky erupts in a stunning, ethereal display of the Northern Lights.

The Boundary Waters is a true national treasure. But I worry that the Wilderness that we know and love won't be here for the next generation to enjoy. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness' Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has made incredible progress toward protecting this place. However, there is much still to be done, and it can only be accomplished with your support.

That's why I can't just sit back while the Boundary Waters is at risk from sulfide-ore copper mining. I hope you'll join me in making a gift today to fund the critical work of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Thank you so much,
Paul and Sue Schurke, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear

Thank you to all who have given today. If you haven't given, please consider supporting the Campaign today.

Boundary Waters Healing for Veterans and Families

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Posted by
Ben Putnam

While many think of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Ely area as a summer destination for canoeing and camping, there is much more to this part of the Superior National Forest that takes place throughout the year. In a milder November than recent years, locals and visitors alike are enjoying the warmer trend while hunting, fishing and taking the canoe out for one last paddle before the ice arrives. Instead of walking across the frozen water, this Veteran’s Day we are walking around flowing streams and across the boggy marshes that feed into the Wilderness while soaking in the tranquil music of the water flowing over rocks.

As a child, this Wilderness played an enormous role in the outcome of my future. I remember peeling the bark off dead-fallen and rotting birch trees to help aid our efforts to start a fire after a rainy night not far from one of our favorite campsites on Lake Two. I remember walking the short portages from Lake One that felt miles long to my little feet while contributing to the effort by carrying a paddle or a few fishing poles to the other side.  Our family trips were often in June and July, so the Kawishiwi River typically had a decent flow in the rapids that we would portage around between the two lakes. I learned at a young age how to pronounce Kawishiwi, because in Ely the name shows up almost everywhere you go—much like the river itself—as it weaves and flows through dozens upon dozens of the connected wilderness lakes.

As an infantry Marine Veteran of the war in Iraq, I have set foot in the murky and polluted waters of both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While the palms lining their banks made for a welcoming view after drudging through the desert for several weeks, the waters themselves left me yearning for something clean to swim and drink from. Despite all the purification technology used by the U.S. Military to make these waters “safe” to drink, we managed to get sick routinely from the negligently managed, over polluted rivers of Iraq. The first thing I did after returning to Minnesota after the war was to walk straight to the kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, and drink the clean water that flowed out. I realized over the period of a decade spent across the world and the United States that there was only one place I had been where I trusted not only drinking water from the faucet, but also straight from the lake itself.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t gone through much suffering after my medical discharge from the Marine Corps. I spent the first few years of my reintegrated civilian life living alone in San Antonio, TX, where I studied business management. In 2009, six years after returning from Iraq, I moved back to Minnesota to pursue a hopeful lifetime in Ely amongst the wilderness lakes, rivers, trees and fish. The more time I spent away from the sounds of civilization, in the woods or on the water, the more I began to heal from my own grief. Being able to share this with others became a passion of mine that I pray never dies.

This month marks the close of my fifth season as an outfitting manager and guide. Back in September I had the opportunity to share my favorite childhood campsites with a nonprofit group I was guiding called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS came to us for help in planning a healing retreat for those who lost loved ones in the service. It was my honor to serve them on this trip and it was humbling to hear them openly discuss the greatest pains and the happiest memories they had endured, while stoking the fire with balsam branches. Unlike a majority of the trips TAPS takes its members on,  the Boundary Waters regulations of 9 or fewer people to a group had them splitting up into smaller, more intimate parties. 

There aren’t many places in the country where you can embark on this kind of journey; there is a measure of healing one can find here that a lifetime of therapy may not be able to achieve. With the threat of introducing sulfide-ore copper mining, a process labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the most toxic industry in the country, into the Boundary Waters watershed; there is a level of risk too great to overlook. No one can ensure that sulfuric acid waste will not leak into this colossal connection of lakes, rivers, streams and marshes. I couldn’t imagine a Boundary Waters canoe trip where one has to bring in their own water because a mining incident made the water unsafe for consumption. With any likelihood of polluting these pure waters, is it worth the risk? 

As Veterans, we are not strangers of fighting to protect the land we love. Today, let us remember all of those who gave life and limb to defend our freedoms, let us honor them for their sacrifices. For those of us who are still able, let us stand up together and do what we know is right. It is clear that this Wilderness will not be able to protect itself from our own doing. For those who value the blessed serenity of this Wilderness, let us continue to stand up to defend her against all threats, foreign and domestic.  

St. Paul native Ben Putnam is an outfitting manager and guide at Boundary Waters Outfitters in Ely, MN. He served with the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq as a machinery gunner in the Third Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Veterans Find Calm and Healing in the Boundary Waters

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Posted by
Nick Millette

The Boundary Waters is a special place to me. I had dreamed of going there for years, and finally received the opportunity through my Boy Scout Troop when I was 18. The Troop was comprised of all of my friends, including Chris, who became my oldest son’s godfather, and nearly a brother to me. Chris and I always talked of going back to the Boundary Waters, but work, the military and school stepped in the way. Sadly, we never made it back together. His life was cut short, and at 24 he passed away before we could make it back up there.

Fast forward to 2011. I was deployed with the Minnesota National Guard 34th ID 194 CAV to Kuwait and Iraq. My platoon and section was responsible for convoy security operations during the drawdown of the Iraq war. We were very lucky, and did not have any severe incidents, but were still exposed to the strain of being deployed in a combat zone.

Upon returning home, I made the decision to go back to the Boundary Waters. I thought my oldest son was old enough, and I longed to go back. I rediscovered Entry Point 37, on Kawishiwi Lake, the original entry point I had set out from with Chris and the other Scouts in 1998. That experience sparked an annual trip out of this entry point, in memory of Chris, as well as multiple trips out of Ely with my son's Boy Scout Troop.

While I do not suffer from PTSD as a result of my service, I do have some stress and issues with people that I attribute to my time in the service. I found that the Boundary Waters provides an instant healing and calming effect over my body. When I arrive, the calming begins. Upon touching the water, nature takes over and I almost go into sensory overload taking everything in; feeling calm and "normal” again. I have talked to other veterans, from Vietnam to the current conflicts, and the Boundary Waters has a similar effect on them. Not too many places on Earth have the ability to remove one from a troubled state of mind into a state of peace and calming.

When I first started going back to the BWCA, I found it much like I remembered. I also found out that Twin Metals and other companies were proposing to build sulfide-ore copper mines near the Boundary Waters’ edge. I will admit, at first I was naive, and sympathetic to the cause of the mines. I took it upon myself to do further research and was shocked by what I found. I couldn’t believe how close in proximity exploratory drilling was taking place to the BWCA--literally on the edge of this sanctuary of nature and peace. I found that the byproduct of this type of mining, sulfuric acid, has significant dangers associated with it. The video of the Mount Polley Disaster was the tipping point for me. I was shocked and in awe of the damage that was caused when a tailings pit wall gave way. They have destroyed some of Canada’s most pristine wilderness forever. I was appalled to discover that the engineering firm that managed the Mount Polley tailings pond when it failed has done work for Twin Metals. I have found many cases of mines similar to this going bankrupt, leaving taxpayers to pay the price for cleanup, and dealing with permanently scarred land.

I decided to take a stand, and became involved with the Save the Boundary Waters Veterans Group. Here, I found like-minded veterans who suffer from PTSD and who have also been saved by the healing qualities of the BWCA. They too want it to be kept a pure wilderness. One of my missions after exiting the military service is helping veterans with PTSD, and preventing veteran suicide. I believe that a place like the BWCA can help deter the negative effects of PTSD. I know many veterans who have attended Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) on the edge of the BWCA, and adjacent to the proposed Twin Metals mine site. Twin Metals and other companies have drilled extensively and flown helicopters in the vicinity of VOBS, the noise from which can cause stress and trigger relapse to veterans with PTSD who have been injured by IED blasts.

A person shouldn’t have to be exposed to this when they are trying to heal. This is one of the many reasons sulfide-ore copper mining should be kept away from the BWCA. There is so much information out there about why this type of mining is dangerous for our environment, especially in this close proximity to water; but the healing factor is so strong for me. I would hate to see the wilderness ruined, especially since it has helped so many like myself.

I feel, as a whole, we need to protect this natural resource and wilderness that we are privileged to have. The Wilderness Act set aside this area for a reason. Over and over, the BWCA has been helping veterans and it would be a shame to destroy it. Especially since those who served, both at home and overseas, are fighting hard to protect it. I think we owe our veterans some thanks by protecting this area and allowing veterans to continue to be healed by the awesome beauty, tranquility and solitude it affords. I hope we can continue to preserve this treasure for generations to come so that my son's sons and daughters and their children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We owe it to ourselves. 

Nick Millette is from Pine City, MN. He is a former staff sergeant for the Minnesota Army National Guard. B Troop 194 CAV

[Photos by Adam Steinhilber]

The last few days have been all about food, fun, friends and fish. We met a few friends up on Basswood Lake and spent three days netting whitefish, eating lots of food, visiting, laughing and sharing stories. Our time in the Boundary Waters has really made us appreciate our friends and family because we can't always contact them on a whim, or get together for a meal at the last minute. It takes a lot of effort on their part to come out to visit us and bring us supplies. We really appreciate their efforts.

Each fall the DNR opens a whitefish netting season for several weeks on Basswood Lake and a few other lakes in the Boundary Waters. The season opened last Monday. Amy and I had never been whitefish netting before, so we were excited to try something new. The reward was scrumptious whitefish dinners as well as some extra fish for our friends to take home.

Basswood Lake is a world-class fishery. People trek to Basswood by canoe and motorboat during the spring, summer and fall, and by dogsled, ski and snowshoe during the winter to fish. We have a friend who has been guiding fishing trips on Basswood for nearly 20 years and many of his clients come every year to fish with him for a week on Basswood. Sport fisherman usually set their sights on scrumptious walleye, monster northern pike, and the hard-fighting smallmouth bass. However, Basswood also contains a healthy population of whitefish. Whitefish are rarely caught on a hook and line. In the fall they can be caught in nets when they move into the shallows to spawn. Their firm white meat is delicious fried, but many people also like to smoke them.

Last week Amy and I paddled and portaged up the Basswood River on our way to Basswood Lake to meet our friends. We camped on a beautiful campsite between two small rapids about a mile from Basswood Lake. Sitting on a smooth rock watching the river flow by, I couldn't help but think about how the water flowing past the proposed Twin Metals mine site eventually flows right past our campsite on the Basswood River.

The Basswood River is part of an ancient highway that Indigenous people used long before us. I can picture birchbark canoes overturned where our canoe rested and a group of travelers warming themselves around a fire and cooking a meal in the small clearing where Amy was preparing our dinner. We are on this earth for such a short time, but our decisions about altering or preserving places like the Boundary Waters will ripple through time.

Basswood Lake is directly downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine site. Pollution from the mine would flow downstream into Basswood Lake and then along the U.S./Canadian border through the heart of the Boundary Waters and into Voyageurs National Park. It is critical that we protect this pristine Wilderness by stopping sulfide-ore copper mines from being developed within the Boundary Waters watershed.

Edward Abbey said," The idea of wilderness does not need defense, it only needs defenders." Please join us and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters in defending this special place for future generations, so that they may sit along the Basswood River and experience the clean water and untrammeled Wilderness that Sigurd Olson and other past defenders protected for us to enjoy. 

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

Book Excerpt: Glimpses of Wilderness

Friday, October 30, 2015
Posted by
Kevin Proescholdt

Author Kevin Proescholdt has guided canoe trips in Minnesota's 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for 10 years, and has visited designated and undesignated Wildernesses throughout the U.S. and Canada. 

Set in Minnesota’s canoe country, Proescholdt’s book, Glimpses of Wilderness, details the author’s insights into nature and the value of wilderness areas in thirty eloquent essays. In the chapter "Wilderness Trail," Proescholdt describes a powerful meeting with a moose and reflects on the history of wilderness preservation while canoeing in the Boundary Waters late one spring evening.

30. Wilderness Trail

I shared a trail one day in the Boundary Waters, not with another person but with a moose. It had come by earlier in the day, and had left its large cloven prints in the mud and duff. I came by much later, near sunset, after spending the entire day exploring a lake and the large waterfall that fed it, near a place that had once threatened the wild character of this land years ago.

After a long winter away, I had returned to the canoe country north and west of Lake Superior. I had come in early May by myself, to capture the feel of the land just after the break-up, to gaze down the long vistas of a special lake that haunts my memory, and to experience the pure joy of wilderness travel by canoe. I had done these things and more, and now had begun to head back, satisfied with this time in my favorite land now empty of humankind.

The water stood high in the lakes so soon after the melt, and the shorelines of the lakes I paddled had flooded, glaciated spits of rock had submerged and shoreline trees and shrubs were left standing in water. As I neared the portage landing, the low western sun glaring in my eyes, the familiar spot had gone - the rocky shelf and tiny curve of sand had disappeared. Had I not crossed this spot several times before, I would have remained perplexed, but suddenly realizing the inundated situation I began paddling my canoe inland between the flooded alder and hazel brush. After nearly 10 rods, I saw my portage trail rise out of the water in front of the canoe.

Since this portage trail ran a long distance - a mile in length - and my one large pack weighed considerably, I decided to split the load and carry it as the French voyageurs had done - in poses or half-mile segments. I set off with my pack through the aspen and spruce woods. Immediately I saw the tracks of the moose. We were the first to walk the trail this spring, the moose and I, for only our tracks disturbed the surface of the trail.  I stopped a moment to examine a particularly distinct track in the mud. The moose was large, I thought, perhaps a big bull, and it had walked this trail just earlier today. As the trail wound through a stand of aspen, the level rays of the sun highlighted every track the moose had left in the disturbed leaves on the trail. Finally I came to a good stopping point near an old beaver flowage, and I dropped the pack to return for the canoe.

I soon returned to my pack with the canoe and discovered around the corner that the trail - normally passable at this point - ran into standing water. The moose tracks disappeared under the water along with the trail. I loaded the pack in my canoe and began paddling along the “trail,” now several feet below my canoe. An eerie feeling came over me as I paddled along, trying to remember where the trail led among the tall branchless dead snags that had drowned long ago. Red-winged blackbirds flew noisily at my approach, surprised by the intrusion. A pair of blue-wing teal swam quickly away.

mooseThen, near the far end of the standing water, I heard sloshing in the water. As my canoe glided soundlessly closer, at last I could see the source of the noise - the moose from the trail! He fed in the shallows, a large bull around six feet tall at the shoulder and weighing perhaps a half-ton. His antlers had not yet grown much this early in the season, each velvet-covered antler about 15 inches long and completely horizontal, with a palmate knob at each end.
[Photo of moose and calf courtesy of Dave Freeman]

Inadvertently I made a small noise and suddenly alerted the moose, with his keen sense of hearing, to my presence. We both froze, motionless, the moose and I, waiting to see what the other would do. For long minutes we stood that way, he in the water and I in the canoe.

At long last the moose began moving off, breaking the tense silence with his sloshing in the water. As he reached a more distant spot he turned to eye me once more. First he snorted, then bellowed - not once but four times, as if to show his displeasure with my interruption. Our meeting noisily terminated, the moose headed through the swamp to the north and I returned to paddling the trail.

The sun had set now, and as I paddled ahead trying to pick out the trail through the flooded dead trees, my thoughts jumped ahead to the campsite I wanted and the routine chores awaiting me there: pitching my tent on the carpet of needles under the tall red pines, preparing and eating a simple supper, and luxuriating in the sounds and smells of another evening in the canoe country.

During this time out I had caught the rhythms of the land during the excitement of early spring, had shared my quiet and solitude with moose and warblers, bald eagles and beavers. I had visited places of great beauty and hidden history, and had captured a feel for the battles this land had seen. I mused on and searched the dusk for signs of the flooded trail.

As I peered through the fading light I realized that my experience on the trail today reflected much of the long history of the efforts to protect the canoe country. At times during the past century the route to long-term preservation of the area has been level and straight, at other times flooded with threats, at still other times fraught with conflict and confrontation. Though we have made great progress over the course of that trail, a great distance yet remains before we find the humility and exercise the restraint to grant the Boundary Waters the full wilderness protection it so richly deserves, free from motorized intrusions of all kinds, safe from all threats, and preserved as a rich wild, untrammeled legacy for all generations.

At last I found the portage emerging from the waters of this embattled wilderness and landed the canoe where the trail climbed to dry ground. I grunted as I threw the canoe to my shoulders and stared ahead at the long uphill path before me. How far must this path go? My goal awaited me in the dusk on the far side; I headed up the trail.

Kevin Proescholdt has written extensively on the Boundary Waters, and wilderness policy and history. He helped pass the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act through Congress, directed the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness for 16 years, and co-authored the 1995 book, Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For the eight years prior to joining the Wilderness Watch staff, Kevin directed the national Izaak Walton League’s Wilderness and Public Lands Program. Kevin has been active with Wilderness Watch since 1989, joined the board of directors in 2003, and served two years as president of the board. 

Science Desk: The Threat is Mounting; You Can Take Action Today

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

As you know, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a beloved canoeing, fishing and hiking destination, known around the world for its wild landscape, deep silence and opportunities for solitude. Those qualities are threatened by Twin Metals mining company’s proposal to drill hundreds of wells as it seeks to develop a massive sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters. The threat is mounting now, and you can take action today.

Earlier this month, the US Forest Service released an Environmental Assessment of Twin Metals’ request to begin drilling hydrogeologic wells on Superior National Forest land. Twin Metals itself argues that the hydrogeologic study is necessary so it can develop its proposed mine on the edge of the Wilderness. We’re concerned that in acting only on the application, the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment ignored the devastating impacts that mining itself would have on the Boundary Waters and the communities it supports. By dodging this opportunity to study the cumulative impacts of mining-related activities, the Forest Service has acted in a way that will allow these harmful impacts to the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters to multiply until their wild characteristics are fatally undermined and permanently lost.

The proposed drilling program, combined with previously approved exploratory drilling, is estimated to subject 6,968 acres of the Boundary Waters Wilderness to drilling and mechanical noise. A total of 13,406 acres of the Superior National Forest open to recreation (including the Boundary Waters Wilderness acreage) would be impacted by the noise. Instead, the Forest Service should assess the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining on America’s most popular Wilderness before allowing mining companies to carve up the Superior National Forest and threaten the solitude of the Boundary Waters.

We hope that you will take action to ask the Forest Service to use common sense: assess the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining before allowing companies to riddle the Superior National Forest with more holes.

This proposal is just the tip of the iceberg. We're counting on your continued support to make sure we protect the clean water and unspoiled forests of the Boundary Waters for this and future generations.

Here’s the message you can send to the US Forest Service today by taking action (there’s also the option to edit this or write your own). The comment period closes November 9.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest are irreplaceable national treasures. The watershed of the nation’s most popular Wilderness is an inappropriate place to site sulfide-ore copper mines, which have a consistent history of toxic pollution.

As the Twin Metals Minnesota Hydrogeologic Study Special Use Permit Environmental Assessment (EA) acknowledges, the Forest Service must preserve the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters (“untrammeled,” “undeveloped,” “natural” and presenting “opportunities for solitude”). Allowing sulfide-ore copper mines to be sited along the edge of the Boundary Waters would have major negative environmental and economic impacts, including harm to the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters. The EA inappropriately limits its scope to solely consider the impacts of the proposed hydrogeologic study special use permit and not the impacts of the mining activities that it is designed to bring about. Instead, the EA should include sulfide-ore copper mining as a reasonably foreseeable connected action; Twin Metals Minnesota would not propose the hydrogeologic study if it did not seek to develop a massive sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

In addition to the inappropriately limited scope of the EA, the proposed drilling  would have unacceptable impacts to the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters for sustained lengths of time. Twenty-four hour drilling for up to 4 weeks at a time for 6-18 months would severely impair opportunities for solitude, especially when combined with the already approved exploratory drilling programs. Drilling noise would disrupt recreation opportunities on 13,406 acres of the Superior National Forest (including 6,968 acres within the Boundary Waters), which would impact a significant number of summer and winter users. The number of both summer and winter visitors impacted by drilling should be kept at a minimum.

Finally, should the special use permit be approved, it is essential that the hydrogeological data collected by Twin Metals be shared in a digital, useable form (i.e., Excel spreadsheet instead of static PDF) with both the agencies and the public. If Twin Metals is allowed to abuse public lands, it must share its results with the public.

Please take action today in helping protect this beloved national wilderness. Add your comment to express your concerns. There’s more work to do, but this is an important step in our efforts to gain permanent protection for this watershed.

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

The Land That Binds

Thursday, October 22, 2015
Posted by
Piper Donlin

My trip to Ely was not planned. I hadn’t anticipated spending nearly a month living and working at Sustainable Ely on the famed East Sheridan Street. Had it not been for my brief stint volunteering at the Minnesota State Fair with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, I might have missed this small gem of a town. Having only traveled through it on my way to the North Shore of Lake Superior, my knowledge of Ely was limited.  During my stay, several things left a lasting impression on me. The most prominent was the fervent passion for the land expressed by Ely’s citizens and visitors.

I knew that Ely was a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but I didn’t realize the sheer volume of tourists that flock from across the country to see it. I couldn’t believe the shops and storefronts that cater to this crowd either. From the Brandenburg Gallery, sporting stunning prints of the Northwoods, to Piragis Northwoods Company’s sprawling eclectic variety of everything outdoors. From the spa advertising pedicures for the weary paddler, to Steger Mukluk’s mystical front window display and Wintergreen Northern Wear’s classic sub-zero apparel.

Ely isn’t an ordinary small town; the dynamic is truly eclectic. Many have been visiting for generations, others stumbled across it on a whim and never left. Never before had I met such passionate people committed to tradition and history. Ely is a community with deep roots in both wilderness preservation and mining. It is often talked about in polarized dichotomies and animated discussions about the issues that have faced the area, but despite the contrasting opinions, it was clear that people are drawn here for the land and its wealth. 

Either in the utilitarian sense of the word, through its timber and mineral resources, or through its inherent intrinsic value; its waters, vast landscapes, ancient sprawling white pines, lichen covered rocks, and diversity of flora and fauna, people can connect to the land. It is the landscape that binds Ely together. There is something inherently powerful and intriguing about this massive network of lakes laced with boreal forest.

Following my summer at Sustainable Ely, I was inspired to continue to help the Campaign gain permanent protectionof the Boundary Waters watershed. I began working as a full time employee for the Campaign in the beginning of October. It has been clear from the beginning that this is truly a motivated and proactive group of passionate individuals working for a worthy cause. I am proud to be a part of the effort to protect this unique place and the communities that thrive because of the wilderness.

Piper Donlin is the Campaign's administrative coordinator and has a degree in environmental science and policy. She took her first trip to the Boundary Waters to Brule Lake at age 7.

Couple Hopes Year in BWCAW Will Stop Mining Proposals

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

This piece, written by Javier Serna, assistant editor, originally ran in the October 8, 2015, issue of Outdoor News and is reprinted here with permission.

Dave and Amy Freeman’s expeditions have been dictated by distance and deadlines, measured by miles.

In their latest quest, which they launched on Sept. 23, they will run the clock out

Amy and Dave Freeman paddle the Kawishiwi River as part of a planned year-long trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area inside the boundaries of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

They are planning to spend an entire year in the BWCAW, in hope they can raise the kind of awareness that would thwart mining proposals that are feared would harm the beloved border country.

“This journey is about bearing witness to the wilderness and helping people understand what a special place it is,” Dave Freeman said.

The Freemans are not new to wilderness expeditions, having completed several major treks around the globe since 2005.

Last year, they traveled by canoe and sailboat from their Ely home near the BWCAW to Washington, D.C., a trip that was also part of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign, which, in opposing mining inside the watershed shared by the BWCAW, is backed by several environmental and conservation groups, including the Minnesota Conservation Federation and the Izaak Walton League of America.

It was during that trip that the Freemans began to think about and plan to spend a year inside the BWCAW. The 38-year-old Dave Freeman, who was raised in the suburbs outside of Chicago and first visited the Boundary Waters when he was a teenager, said it’s something he’s thought about for a long time.

“The idea really solidified then,” Dave Freeman said. “We talked about what we could do because we realized that the next year is really critical in the protection of the Boundary Waters. We wanted to put it all out on the table and do as much as we could do.”

It wasn’t the first time the couple had talked about it.

“When he (originally) shared the idea with me, I said, ‘That would be neat. We should do that sometime,’” Amy Freeman said. “We have the skill set to go out traveling, camping for a long period of time. We are not lawyers, but we are equipped to communicate in places where there is no cell phone signal. We feel like we’re using the unique skills that we have to work to protect this place. There are different roles that need to be filled in this battle.”

The couple plans on posting bits and pieces (video, photographs and stories) of their journey frequently on the Internet – five times a week. Using solar panels and energy storage coupled with satellite connections, the couple will be able to connect to the Internet and to social media.

While the Forest Service has also issued the Freemans a research permit (the Freemans will be collecting water samples from many lakes), and a commercial filming permit (they will be broadcasting their journey through Wilderness Classroom) they plan on using a single overnight paddle permit that anyone would. These permits have no time limit, said Kris Reichenbach, a spokesperson for the Superior National Forest, who pointed out that they become invalid once a permit’s “trip leader” leaves the Boundary Waters, and that 14 days is the maximum amount of time a party may stay in a particular campsite.

Since the Freemans plan on visiting all three sections of the wilderness, which are not contiguous, they can do it all on the same permit as long as they take a direct route between the sections, without spending a night outside the BWCAW and without stopping in town or anywhere to resupply themselves, Reichenbach said.

The Freemans plan on staying at about 120 campsites and traveling roughly 3,000 miles using either a canoe, hiking shoes, snowshoes, skis, and dog sleds.

“We do want to try to get to all of the major lakes, all of the major travel routes, and as many obscure lakes as we can,” Amy Freeman said.

They will rely on volunteers to resupply them with food throughout the trip, something they are expecting about every two weeks, except for the two particularly dicey times for Boundary Waters travel after the lakes freeze in the fall and when they break up around spring. At those points, they will receive five-week supplies, so that volunteers can avoid having to take any chances traveling in sketchy conditions. The volunteers will also switch out their gear, from canoes to a three-dog sled team, then back to canoes.

Despite years of extensive expeditions, the longest the couple has been away from civilization is about six weeks, when they paddled from Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories to Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan.

“I think the disconnect from family and friends, that’s what we’ll feel the most,” said Amy Freeman, mentioning that the departure day was probably the last time she will see her parents until they meet up in the spring, something like a five-month break.

The solitude, on day two of their trip, had already hit them, as the wilderness area largely clears out of visitors after Labor Day, though there are visitors year-round.

“There was so much hullabaloo before we took off,” Amy Freeman said. “It was a really big release when it was suddenly just the two of us in a canoe. It feels pretty good, that solitude.”

Dave Freeman said he’ll look forward to interactions with resupply volunteers, along with random encounters with other visitors.

“A year is a long time,” he said. “I know there are going to be some times throughout the year, it’s hard to know when, when we will have low points. We are hoping to get through those times.”

That sacrifice will be worth it, if the BWCAW and the watershed it sits in is ultimately protected from mining, he said.

“What we are doing is much bigger than us,” he said.

Our main goal through A Year in the Wilderness is to raise awareness about the threats that Twin Metals and other sulfide-ore copper mining companies pose to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and encourage hundreds of thousands of people to speak loudly for the Boundary Waters. We need to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining along the edge of the Wilderness. Hundreds of thousands of people must speak out for the Boundary Waters in the coming months to achieve our goal of permanent protection. However, long before Amy and I knew about the mines being proposed along the southern edge of the Boundary Waters, which put our jobs and our way of life a risk, we started introducing young people to the Boundary Waters and wild places around the globe. We are excited to continue to work with students, teachers, and families during A Year in the Wilderness through the Wilderness Classroom.

The Wilderness Classroom is a nonprofit organization that I helped start almost 15 years ago. Like many important aspects of my life, the Boundary Waters played central role in the formation of the Wilderness Classroom. In the winter of 2001, I spent six weeks on a solo trek through the heart of the Boundary Waters. My only companion was a trusty sled dog name Tundra who helped me haul two toboggans loaded with food and supplies. I wanted to share the Boundary Waters with others, so I convinced my fifth grade teacher, and four other classrooms from Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana to follow along through a simple blog that I updated with a first-generation satellite phone and an old laptop computer. Afterward, several of the teachers invited me to speak at their schools. While visiting with students, I was blown away by how much they had learned and all of the in-depth questions they asked about the animals I encountered and what it was like to be in the Wilderness. I had stumbled on a new way to spark a kid's interest in Wilderness and nature, and the seeds for the Wilderness Classroom were planted.

Over the years the Wilderness Classroom has grown and we expect that more than 100,000 students and 3,500 teachers from schools across the country will participate in A Year in the Wilderness. Through Wilderness Classroom, elementary and middle school classrooms use lesson plans aligned to Common Core Standards, worksheets, blog posts and an interactive map to learn about the Boundary Waters and join us virtually from their classrooms. Plus, kids can use polls to help decide what we study and they can email us questions.

Today's children are tomorrow's decision makers. It will be up to them to protect wild places like the Boundary Waters for future generations. It is critical that we use all of the tools we can to  introduce young people to wild places. Tools like the Wilderness Classroom can help introduce young people to the idea of Wilderness and get them excited about being in nature. However, there is no substitute to providing young people with opportunities to visit wild places and spend time in nature.

I have had the privilege of leading wilderness canoe trips and dogsled trips for the past 15 years. Most of these trips involve families or groups of young people. I love listening to the call of a loon, feeling the line go taught when a walleye inhales my jig, and gazing at the stars on a cold winter night, but after experiencing these special moments hundreds of times you can start to take these experiences for granted. Introducing young people to the Boundary Waters firsthand provides a constant reminder of how special the Boundary Waters is to so many people.

For the last few summers, Amy and I have worked with a young teacher from Chicago who started a Wilderness Club at the inner city school where he works. For the Wilderness Club's first camping trip, we took a busload of students to Indiana Dunes State Park, which is about an hour from Chicago. We roasted marshmallows, went hiking and slept in tents. All of these were new and exciting experiences for most of the students. I will never forget standing on the beach looking out over Lake Michigan with a group of students. One of the girls smiled at me and said that she had never been to the beach before. She lives five miles from Lake Michigan.

Every summer since, Mr. DiChara has brought a group of students up to the Boundary Waters. The Wilderness Club takes several trips each year to the Indiana Dunes, they go canoeing on nearby rivers, and explore the natural world near home. The Boundary Waters canoe trip is a reward for the most dedicated students who participate in all of the other Wilderness Club activities and maintain a good academic record.

Last summer, Mr. DiChara and his students piled out of the van after a 11-hour drive from Chicago and we had the canoes loaded an hour later. As we paddled across Sawbill Lake at dusk, we spotted a pair of loons with two fuzzy chicks riding on one of their parent's  backs, moments later a moose and her calf swam across the lake in front of our canoes and we watched them emerge from the water and stare at us before crashing through the woods.


It was dark by the time we had camp set up and the dinner dishes cleaned. Everyone was tired, but it was a moonless night and the Milky Way arched across the sky. We piled in the canoes and floated off the campsite staring up at the stars.

On the last day of our trip, we paddled down Sawbill Lake. It had been raining hard all day (the next day we would learn it rained more than two inches). We planned to camp on our first night's campsite just a mile from our take out because Mr. DiChara and the students had to drive home the next day. I mentioned to Mr. DiChara that we could paddle all they way into the landing and camp at the Sawbill campground if the group wanted. We asked Brandon, one of the older students, what he thought we should do. He looked at us for a second and said, "that's easy, we should stay in the Wilderness," so that's what we did.

This year, the Wilderness Club is adding an environmental justice component. They are helping spread the word about saving the Boundary Waters in their community and using their experiences in the Boundary Waters and natural places to help protect the Boundary Waters. The Wilderness Club is also organizing a resupply trip next summer as a way to help Amy and me during A Year in the Wilderness.

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: Back to School Edition, The Benefits of the Wilderness

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

With October nearly at hand, we at the Campaign have heard story upon story of the summer’s exciting adventures into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Our interns, supporters on college campuses across the state, family members and friends have regaled us with tales of delicious walleye and paddling and portaging through Minnesota’s beloved canoe country.

These stories are told with a twinkle in the eye and smile on the face that convey much more than entertainment. Most Boundary Waters lovers understand intuitively that experiences in the wilderness also offer a wide range of personal benefits, from stress relief to building confidence to spending valuable family time together. What many don’t know, however, is that researchers have studied and documented these benefits for decades.

Researchers have divided the benefits from wilderness into three main categories:

  • Personal (e.g., the benefits felt by individuals who have experienced wilderness)

  • Social (e.g., aggregated personal benefits to the societal level or a non-user’s knowledge that wilderness is protected in the country)

  • Intrinsic (e.g., the value felt by animal and plant species that rely on large, intact habitats such as the Boundary Waters)

While social and intrinsic benefits are also important, personal benefits are the ones that fuel the most stories about the Boundary Waters. When a teenager returns from a Boundary Waters canoe trip organized by a faith group or summer camp boasting of newfound skills and inseparable bonds with her groupmates, she is the poster child for the developmental benefits of wilderness. These include changes in self-concept (how one understands oneself), self-actualization (the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals), and self-confidence, among others.

As a former wilderness expedition instructor in the Boundary Waters, I used to marvel at the pride with which my teenaged students showed me the knots they’d learned to tie a few days prior. Knot-tying is a small skill with little application in the frontcountry, but when my students persisted in trying to improve at it, they learned that they were able to learn new skills and overcome challenges. The same was true for all of the other skills necessary to travel and live comfortably in the wilderness, which encouraged my students to learn and perform their daily tasks to the best of their abilities. Mosquitoes and rain storms were especially compelling.

But anecdotes aren’t the only evidence to support the importance of nature. Decades of research have shown the wide range of personal benefits that stem from wilderness. These include developmental benefits (e.g., change in self-concept, self-actualization, skill development, etc.), therapeutic benefits, physical health benefits, self-sufficiency benefits, social identity benefits, educational benefits, spiritual benefits, esthetic and creativity benefits, and symbolic benefits (Driver et al., 1987).

More specifically, studies have found that it is common to gain confidence by learning new skills and overcoming challenges thought impossible (Arnould & Price, 1993). Relating with others day after day while trying to accomplish a common goal helps individuals develop a sense of identity and belonging in a group, so much so that the creation of community often becomes a central theme in a wilderness experience (Arnould & Price, 1993; Driver et al., 1987; Roggenbuck & Driver, 2000). A study of outfitters and guides also found that those tied to wilderness for commercial gain saw the powerful, positive role wilderness plays in people’s lives (Parker & Avant, 2000).

Organized programs for youth, families, veterans and other specific populations use the wild settings of the Boundary Waters to facilitate meaningful experiences for their participants. The wilderness itself can play a vital role in the participants’ education, as it provides the unexpected--and often challenging--circumstances that the participants must learn to overcome.

Additionally, the Boundary Waters is ideally suited to host groups of people from a variety of backgrounds. Due to its relatively low technical requirements, the Boundary Waters welcomes those who only know the rudiments of camping, canoeing and navigation and don’t have the resources to acquire necessary but expensive equipment. When was the last time you heard of someone needing a climbing harness or avalanche beacon to traverse it? Whether these participants are middle school students learning what they’re capable of in a YMCA camp, teens learning that college is within their reach through an Upward Bound program, or veterans experiencing the support of community in the wilderness with Voyageur Outward Bound School or Wilderness Inquiry, they can learn much from the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters.

It’s no secret that the Boundary Waters is the nation’s most heavily visited wilderness area, but what we can sometimes forget how lucky Minnesota and the Midwest Region is to have such an incredible and iconic place in their own backyard. A reasonable drive can deliver people from all over the region to the edge of a nationally beloved wilderness area that offers unlimited opportunities for self-discovery, self-confidence building and restoration of the body and soul. The Boundary Waters is ideally suited to offer the personal, social, and intrinsic benefits that decades of research show result from protecting wilderness, and Minnesota has the responsibility for keeping it that way.

Have you had a personally significant experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness? If so, we’d love to hear about it! You can share your story with us at

For Further Reading:

Arnould, E. J., & Price, L. L. (1993). River magic: extraordinary experience and the extended service encounter. Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 24–45.

Driver, B., Nash, R., & Haas, G. (1987). Wilderness Benefits: A State-of-Knowledge Review. In R. C. Lucas (Ed.), Proceedings--National Wilderness Research Conference: Issues, State-of-Knowledge, Future Directions. Paper 78. (pp. 294–319). Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station.

Parker, J. D., & Avant, B. (2000). In Their Own Words: Wilderness Values of Outfitter / Guides. In S. F. McCool, D. N. Cole, W. T. Borrie, & J. O’Loughlin (Eds.), Wilderness science in a time of change conference--Volume 3: Wilderness as a place for scientific inquiry; 1999 May 23-27; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. (pp. 196–201). Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Roggenbuck, J. W., & Driver, B. L. (2000). Benefits of Nonfacilitated Uses of Wilderness Purposes. In S. F. McCool, D. N. Cole, W. T. Borrie, & J. O’Loughlin (Eds.), Wilderness science in a time of change conference--Volume 3: Wilderness as a place for scientific inquiry; 1999 May 23-27; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. (pp. 33–49). Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

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. [top photos courtesy of Olivia Ridge; bottom photo by Rachel Garwin]