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Lake of the Week: Gabimichigami Lake

Monday, July 16, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn


Acres: 824
Campsites: 9

The great Gabimichigami lake sits right above Little Saganaga lake and is connected by a campsite to the 41 mile long Kekekabic Trail, part of the much longer 4,600 mile long North Country Trail. This lake has much to offer for those looking to expand their Boundary Waters lake repertoire and experience some great alone time. Its nine great campsites are situated in such a way that you’d think you were utterly alone even if each site was occupied by a full group.

It goes without mentioning, but be sure to bring a rod. Burbot, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, White Sucker and Yellow Perch are the usual catches here. This lake can easily be connected to Little Saganaga. A few quick portages connect the two, and then Little Saganaga is broken up into numerous smaller islands and coves that are home to a great variety of fish.

This lake has a great name, eh? If you know what it means give us a holler! What’s the name of your favorite lake in the Boundary Waters?

Waterway Jay: Paddle for Progress

Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Posted by
Jay Gustafson

Jay Gustafson, known as Waterway Jay, is spearheading a project called Paddle for Progress, which is galvanizing Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique. In partnership with local nonprofit and state agencies that are committed to water quality issues, together we can find the solutions needed to protect and preserve our waterways. Jay’s vision and ours fall right in line with each other, and we’re proud to have his voice here on our blog. Give this a read and stay up to date on Jay’s progress!

The mission of Paddle for Progress is to galvanize Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique.
In partnership with local nonprofit and state agencies that are committed to water quality issues, together we can find the solutions needed to protect and preserve our waterways.

Although I was born and raised in South Dakota, I’ve felt a connection to Minnesota since my childhood. I fell in love with paddling on a father/son trip to the Boundary Waters at age 12.  I could have never guessed that 20 years later, I would find myself feeling called to make my life’s work protecting the waters that I first discovered at such an early age.

I moved to Minnesota in 2006 upon graduating from the University of South Dakota. Soon after, I learned that in addition to endless paddling opportunities in the BWCAW, Minnesota offered a tremendous resource on it’s 34 mapped river water trails. After spending nearly every summer adventuring out of Ely, over time, I was spending more and more time adventuring on rivers such as the Rum, Snake, and St. Croix.

In 2016, my cousin Jeremy and I decided that we would pursue our long-held dream of paddling the Mississippi River from source to sea. On June 1st of that year, we began what would be an odyssey not soon to be forgotten. Traveling through 10 states and paddling over 2361 miles, we were amazed by the kindness and generosity of others from northern Minnesota down to the southern reaches of Louisiana. Waking up each morning to enjoy creation helps you realize that there is nothing greater than setting forth each day with a purpose and a passion.

Upon my return to reality in September, I found myself becoming increasingly restless at my job of nearly 10 years. As I began exploring next steps, Governor Dayton’s call for a Year of Water Action caught my interest. I was deeply troubled when I learned that 40% of our states water was considered impaired. How I wondered, could a state that is known for clean water, environmentalism, and civic engagement have nearly half of it’s water contaminated and unsuitable for aquatic life and recreation?

The more I read about the state of Minnesota’s water, the more concerned I became. Having had the space and time on the Mississippi River to understand what the pursuit of a passion felt like, I decided I could no longer stay on the sidelines. I decided I needed to do something. I started, Paddle for Progress.

In July 2017, I resigned from my job of 10 years and began paddling in their entirety the 34 rivers mapped by the DNR in order to raise awareness across the state about our water quality crisis. I believe it is imperative that the people of Minnesota understand the threats facing our water, and the steps needed to reverse course.

My goal in paddling these rivers goes beyond raising the alarm about the need for further action however. I am also making maintenance recommendations to the DNR for campsites, landings, and channel conditions. Additionally, I volunteer with the Pollution Control Agency through their Citizen Stream Monitoring Program.

I am wholly committed to protecting and preserving the water we have in Minnesota as I believe it is our states greatest asset. Whether it is the Boundary Waters or the lakes and rivers across the Minnesota landscape, we all have a role to play. The connectedness of water and our connection to it can be mistaken as an outdoor recreation or sportsman only issue. It would be shortsighted to think of water in these limited terms however. We base our economy through tourism and agriculture on water. We have a thriving craft beer and food truck industry that is not possible without water. We go up north, relax, and vacation around water. Most importantly, every day we turn on the tap to eat, drink, and bathe because of access to clean and reliable sources of water.

Please join me in becoming part of the solutions to sustain and improve our water across Minnesota. Let us all work together to stop the degradation of this precious resource and let us together fight back against interests that threaten our beloved Boundary Waters and watershed’s across the state.

Track Waterway Jay’s Journey

You can follow Gustafson’s progress on his website: He can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter searching: @waterwayjay. Updates on rivers, events, photos, and progress will be available throughout his journey.

Help Along the Way

Gustafson is actively seeking support through funding and logistics to continue his work on, Paddle for Progress. A list of remaining rivers and tentative dates is below if you can assist with transport. Waterway Jay also has an active GoFundMe campaign set up that can be accessed at the following address:

If you or an organization you are involved in would like to find ways to partner with Waterway Jay, please contact him directly at:

What's next?

  1. St. Louis River: June 13-20

  2. Cloquet River: June 22-25

  3. South Fork of the Crow River: June 28-July 3

  4. Mississippi River: July 6-30

  5. Big Fork River: August 2-8

  6. Little Fork River: August 14-19

  7. Vermillion River: August 26-27

  8. Kettle River: August 29-31

  9. Otter Tail River: September 5-11

  10. Red River of the North: September 12-30

  11. Red Lake River: October 2-7

  12. Crow Wing River: October 9-13

  13. St. Croix River: October 15-21

NYT: Rushing to Ruin the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Monday, May 21, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn


Martin Sundberg/Corbis, via Getty Images


In the wilderness near Ely, Minn. In the wilderness near Ely, Minn.
Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images

Earlier this month, The New York Times published this opinion piece by Richard Moe. We think it’s worth your time to read and share it with your friends.

Minnesota prides itself on being “the Land of 10,000 Lakes.” At least 1,100 lie in the far northeastern part of the state, along the border with Canada, where more than a million acres of pristine waters and unspoiled woodlands are interspersed with canyons, steep cliffs and huge rock formations shaped by glaciers during the last ice age.

Today this region, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, looks almost exactly as it appeared 10,000 years ago when Paleo-Indians lived there. Sigurd Olson, the naturalist and writer who guided there for three decades, called it “the most beautiful lake country on the continent.” Few who see it would disagree. Today it is the most visited wilderness area in the United States.

But now this special place is at great risk.

Late last year the Interior Department concluded that the two expired leases held by a Chilean-owned company, Twin Metals Minnesota, should be reinstated for copper and nickel mining near the border of the Boundary Waters. This reversed a decision made at the end of the Obama administration, which rejected the leases after the Forest Service concluded that a mine there “posed an inherent potential risk” that threatened “serious and irreplaceable harm” to the wilderness. 

Then, in January, the Trump administration scaled back a review of the impact of prohibiting mining on thousands of acres of Forest Service land near the wilderness. That was followed, this month, by the Interior Department reinstating those two expired Twin Metals leases. Now, the Trump administration says those leases must be renewed once terms and conditions are worked out.

These actions are another chapter in President Trump’s continuing assault on the nation’s most precious natural and cultural lands. They are of a piece with the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent to carve out areas believed to contain oil and gas reserves and large uranium deposits. By giving the extractive industries virtually everything they want in Utah, Alaska, Minnesota and elsewhere, this administration has sent an unambiguous message: There is no place on our public lands — or waters — that is inviolable if there are resources to be exploited.

This is not the first threat to the Boundary Waters. In the early 1960s, there were battles over logging, timber roads and the use of motorboats and snowmobiles. Though the area was included in the 1964 Wilderness Act, some logging and motor use were allowed to continue. Finally in 1978 Congress passed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, which expanded its size, restricted motorboat use, ended logging and banned mining in the wilderness and some adjacent lands.

Many thought the area had been protected permanently, but 40 years later the fight continues. Twin Metals says large deposits of sulfide-based ores like copper and nickel have been found near the wilderness and wants to extract them. The danger is that mining these sulfide ores can result in contaminated water seeping and flowing into lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands and groundwater. Because of the interconnected waterways in the wilderness area, much of the area’s watershed could become polluted. Once that happens, there is no fixing it.

Twin Metals argues that the risk for pollution from the sites will be minimal. But the idea that pollution can be prevented by mitigation measures has proved wrong time and again at other mines. Studies undertaken for opponents of mining have concluded that the highly toxic waste from a single mine in the wilderness area’s watershed could continuously pollute the Boundary Waters for hundreds of years.

Even so, the Trump administration appears to be eager to help Twin Metals. In addition to agreeing to renew the leases, it has moved to reduce environmental scrutiny of any other future mining activity near the Boundary Waters. In the waning days of the Obama administration, the Interior Department authorized an environmental impact study on whether to ban mining for 20 years on 234,000 acres of Forest Service land near the wilderness, including the Twin Metals locations.

This year, the Trump administration sharply scaled back the comprehensiveness of that review. At the very least, the Interior Department should have waited for the results of this study, however less rigorous, before moving forward with leasing. What’s the rush? Any decision should be based on facts, and the value of what is at stake.

The Forest Service considers the Boundary Waters to be one of its premier wilderness areas, priceless but vulnerable because of the very qualities that make it unique — the vast interwoven system of lakes, rivers, and wetlands holding pure, clean water. Give the Forest Service a chance to make a case for a 20-year mining ban. Then it will be up to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on what do with those 234,000 acres.

Walter Mondale, the former vice president and a native of Minnesota, worked throughout his career to protect Boundary Waters. He says the Interior Department’s decision to renew the mining company’s leases runs counter to the long bipartisan Minnesota tradition of preserving its most important places, and that the proposed mine “could cost us the soul” of the wilderness. He told me he first visited it in his mid-20s, and over the decades returned frequently.

Countless others have found visiting the Boundary Waters a transformative experience. In a manic world, it remains a glorious landscape where you can go days without seeing another human. It’s essential that this special wilderness remain unspoiled. As Sigurd Olson put it: “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”

About the author: Richard Moe is a former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is on the board of the Conservation Lands Foundation. He served from 1977 to 1981, as chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale

Read the article on the New York Times website at

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Business Spotlight: North 61

Friday, May 18, 2018
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

North 61 is a Voyageur Sponsor of Pedal to DC.

The North Shore has inspired many of us to get outside, to explore, to try new adventures. To the family behind North 61, the area inspired the creation of their own company. Founded in 2017, North 61 (named for the scenic drive in Minnesota) is a conscientious, family-operated company selling American made and upcycled adventure gear. From clothing and gifts to bison leather bags, they’ve always got something cool to check out.

We’ve been lucky to have the support of North 61 for a while now. You may have seen their 1982 VW Westphalia pop-up at our Broken Clock Brewery festival or other events. You’ll definitely catch a glimpse of their logo on Dave and Amy Freeman’s bike helmets if you spot the Pedal to DC ride by.

Since North 61 is inspired by nature and a love of place, it’s no wonder they place value on protecting the Boundary Waters. We’re glad to have their support in our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. The company “takes pride in giving to Minnesota non-profits regardless of our company profits.”

This weekend (May 18 through 20, 2018), North 61 will donate 25% of all net sale proceeds to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters! Shop here.

Q&A: Deciphering the Decision of the Department of the Interior

Friday, May 4, 2018
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

There has been another attack on America’s most visited Wilderness. The U.S. Department of the Interior recently took another step to allow sulfide-ore copper mining on public lands next to the Boundary Waters: a decision that reinstates two expired mineral leases to the Chilean-owned mining company, Twin Metals Minnesota.

How did this happen and what does it all mean for you and our public lands? Read the Q&A below to find out.

Q: Wait. What just happened?

A: On May 2, 2018, the Department of the Interior and its agency the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a decision that reinstated two expired mineral leases for the benefit of Twin Metals Minnesota, owned by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta. These leases give Twin Metals possession and control of approximately 5,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands for the end-purpose of mining. These mining activities include exploratory drilling, hydrogeological drilling, road building, construction of mining facilities, and the extraction of minerals for the profit of Antofagasta.

Q: What areas are these leases for?

A: One lease is immediately adjacent to the Boundary Waters near the Gabbro Lake area and the second lease is a few miles away. Both leases are along the South Kawishiwi River. One lease includes lands along Birch Lake.

Q: Why did they do this?

A: In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service declined to consent to the renewal of these leases because of the risk of harm to the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest. Twin Metals challenged the denial of its requests to renew old mining leases. Twin Metals claimed that it ‘owned’ the public’s minerals because it held two expired mining leases and therefore neither the Forest Service nor the BLM could deny it new leases. In a new legal opinion issued on December 22, 2017, the Department of Interior’s legal department reversed course and determined that original mining leases issued in 1966 gave the mining company mandatory rights to renew the leases, even though the area had never been developed into a mine.

Q: Does this mean Twin Metals will start mining?

A: No. The May 2, 2018 decision reinstated two expired leases and two applications to renew these leases. The next step for the BLM and the Forest Service is to process applications to renew the leases. This will likely include a limited environmental review of the impact of sulfide-ore copper mining on the environment. If the leases are renewed, Twin Metals says it intends to design a mine and a plan of operations and then begin applying for the many permits and approvals necessary for mining.

Q: What about the two-year study by the Forest Service on its proposal for a 20-year mining ban?

A: In January 2017 the Forest Service submitted an application to the BLM for a 20-year ban on mining on 234,328 acres of Superior National Forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The BLM accepted the application and imposed a two-year moratorium on any new mining decisions while the Forest Service conducted a study of the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the ban. The study is expected to be concluded by January 2019.

Q: What areas are covered in the study by the Forest Service?

A: The area covered by the study for the 20-year ban includes the 5,000 acres covered by the two expired mineral leases that were reinstated. After the study is completed, the Secretary of Interior will make a decision on the Forest Service’s application for a 20-year ban.

Q: What can we do to stop this?

A: The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters will challenge this decision in court. However, we need you to demand that our elected officials take a strong stand against this order and ask that it be reversed. The public must express, in strong terms, its disapproval of the decision and copper mining near the Boundary Waters to elected officials and the land management agencies.

Contact your elected officials

Call your elected officials using the U.S. Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Lake of the Week: Hegman Lake

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn

South Lake: 121 acres, 3 campsites

North Lake: 113.1 acres, no campsites

15 miles northeast of Ely, by way of the Echo Trail, lies South Hegman Lake—entry point 77 into the Boundary Waters. Together with North Hegman Lake, the combined Hegman Lake experience offers much in the way of wintertime activity. What is especially unique about this parcel is the presence of a pictograph site on the northern lake.

Native American occupations of this area extend as far back as 9,000 years, and the pictographs have been dated to have been made within the last 500 to 1,000 years. Although half of the images are too abstract to be accurately interpreted, a handful of these historical remnants depict tools, human figures, mythological creatures, animals such as moose and birds, and human hand prints. Nearly all of them are painted in a red ochre, bound in bear-grease or fish eggs.

This site is one of 30 or so pictograph treasures hidden throughout the Boundary Waters. They’re a spectacular day-trip in the winter by snowshoe or cross-country ski, and a worthy stop on any canoe outing. You can find them (if you dare) on a granite cliff-face in a narrows area between North Hegman and Trease Lake—the exact location, we leave to you explorers out there.

Have you seen any of the other pictographs in the Boundary Waters?

Wall for Wilderness Stories

Friday, April 13, 2018
Posted by
Cooper Silburn

First of all, thank you to everyone who submitted a story for the Wall for Wilderness. We have so enjoyed reading back through well over 100 stories submitted by you all, our fellow BWCA lovers. Memorable tales of moose and bear encounters, close calls with fires, moments of deep and uninterrupted silence, stories of love and of loss, blueberries and backcountry cooking all made it into the mix. A few of these stories really stood out to us and we wanted to share them with everyone. Pour yourself another cup of coffee and enjoy!

Alison Bents

I sat in my tent as still as I possibly could, my heart hammering in my chest. It was just a single overnight alone on Flame Lake, a tiny, single-campsite lake in the southern part of the Boundary Waters. It was late August and I hadn’t seen a moose my whole summer of working at Sawbill, a canoe outfitter on the edge of the wilderness. But now, alone as I had probably ever been, now I started to hear the dripping, the sloshing, the mucky suction as she picked her hooves up and placed them in front of her again and again, these noises getting closer and closer. I wanted so badly to peek out the window and look toward where she had to be moving around, but hardly dared to breathe, and beside that, there was only the smallest moon making it unlikely that I’d see anything anyway. It felt like both hours and only a few brief moments, but her footsteps and sloppy slurping started to move farther away, eventually only some cracking of branches as she made her way out of the water and back into the forest, and then, stillness again.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. My heartbeat started to calm back down, and my lizard-survival brain fell back into neutral. Had I been absolutely scared out of my mind, alone, this enormous 800-1000 pound, poor-sighted creature, lumbering toward me? Absolutely. And at the same time, the awe that, to this day, stays lodged in my bones from this experience is incredible. Not only the moose herself, but what she represented at that moment – the power, might and awe that I have for this world that is often easy to forget about and pass by as everyday and normal.

Chas Hertlein

My friend Tim Gellenbeck and I were camped at the very bottom of Lake Insula and out fishing nearby on the morning of September 14, 2011. For the first time in all of our years of Boundary Water trips, a very low-flying Forest Service floatplane buzzed us and actually landed nearby and offloaded a canoe with a pair of Forest Service rangers who promptly paddled over to us and told us a forest fire was racing our way, the lake was closed and we had to get out right now! But we could not go out through the numbered lakes as we had planned (and where we were to be picked up), but instead would have to paddle all the way back up to the top of Lake Insula and find some way out that way.

We raced back to our campsite, packed our gear, and started north up Insula toward Thomas. By the time we got started the smoke was already thick and we could see the fire racing up both sides of the long and narrow lake. The winds picked up, and the water was rough. At times the visibility was just a few feet due to the heavy smoke. We spent all day fighting winds, waves and smoke to get away from the fire. The Forest Service airplane periodically circled over us, but we were on our own.

We later learned that several fire fighters had been forced to dig in and shelter under a fireproof blanket while the fire flashed over them, right about where we had been camped; fortunately they survived.

During our long paddle that day, we did see one other group far ahead of us, but since we had been camped in the last campsite in Insula in the direction of the fire, we were fairly certain we were the last ones out of Lake Insula ahead of the fire.

Tim and I made it to Thomas Lake that evening where we camped, with a birds eye view of the big yellow fire suppression aircraft that repeatedly swooped down on the water right in front of our campsite to scoop up loads of water to dump on the fire just to the south.

We ended up paddling out through Ima and eventually to Snowbank, where another Forest Service ranger with a satellite phone was able to contact our outfitter, Dan Waters, to let him know where to pick us up.

It was a remarkable experience that Tim and I will never forget.

Bethany Haus

During a 7 day trip in the Boundary Waters, our crew stopped for our layover day on Lake Hatchet. The campsite had enough of a breeze to kept away the mosquitos, and a lovely view of the lake, perfect for sunset photos. During our lay-over, a few girls from our all female crew, went across the lake and discovered a huge patch of wild blueberries. They collected as many as the three could carry in a single gallon pail, returning from their foraging as heroines. We all had handfuls of blueberries to eat with dinner, and for dessert, we stuffed our campfire cheesecake to the brim with these small saphires.

After cleaning up the campsite for the night, Lake Hatchet gave us a beautiful surprise--smooth as glass water for a beautiful sunset. In the morning, to our astonishment, we awoke to find we were seemingly on a mountain--the fog of the morning obscured the water, and make it seem like we were high above the earth. Lake Hatchet was beautiful and peaceful from the time we arrived, to the time we descended from the clouds.

Lake of the Week: Little Trout Lake (Voyageurs National Park)

Thursday, March 22, 2018
Posted by
Jack Leschisin

Every year around this time of the season, it gets especially difficult not to daydream about packing a lunch, grabbing a tackle box, and spending a summer afternoon up at Little Trout Lake in Voyageurs National Park. What Little Trout Lake lacks in size it makes up for in solitude. Reaching it requires a short hike or portage from Sand Point Lake, but the scenery is well worth the extra effort. Like many of the region’s lakes, Little Trout is a perfect spot for swimming, canoeing, and taking in the beauty of northern Minnesota’s wilderness. Visitors can also enjoy hiking along the rocky shoreline of the lake or pitching a tent to make it a memorable stop on a backcountry camping trip.

Voyageurs National Park is home to over 218,000 acres of protected land and water along the Canadian border, just northwest of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. While a majority of the Park is open and accessible to motorized watercrafts, several lakes within the Park mimic the restrictions of the BWCA. The pristine waters of northern Minnesota make places like Voyageurs an ideal destination for recreation of all sorts. So whether you’re looking to catch a lunker or camp under the stars, start planning your trip to Voyageurs National Park today!

Do you have a favorite lake? Tell us about it! Email

God’s Country

Thursday, March 22, 2018
Posted by
Steve Sikkema
Written by Steve Sikkema (to the tune of John Prine’s Paradise)

When I was a child my family would travel
up to Northern Minnesota where the pure waters flow.
And the people around there fought many a battle
To protect the wilderness where we loved to go.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

We’d canoe the clear water and hike the tough portage
and listen for the call of the eagle and loon.
We might see a moose or family of otters
and a sky full of stars and the brilliant full moon.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

Well the ore company came and tore the earth open.
They made lots of money but ignored the cost.
And profits will always outweigh protection,
so in the end the great treasure was lost.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

And when I am gone my spirit will travel
to float on these waters and cover the land.
And generations to come will enjoy these wild places
If people again are willing to take a bold stand.

And Daddy won’t you take me to the Boundary Waters
up near the border where God’s country lay.
Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,
the Twin Metals Ore Mine has turned it all gray.

Community Stories: Lori Petrauski

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Posted by
Lori Petrauski

Learning that spiders shouldn't be squished for being spiders

“If he can somehow keep alive a spark of adventure and romance as the old time voyageurs seem to have done, then any expedition becomes more than a journey through wild country. It becomes a shining challenge and adventure of the spirit.” –Sigrud Olson

I first wrote about the Boundary Waters when I was 12. I was enamored by my first canoe trip and I wrote an essay about what wilderness meant to me. The trip left from Moose Lake outside of Ely and lasted 7 days. Here’s a snippet from that essay: “A loon shrieked from across the lake. I sat up in my sleeping bag as my head hit the side of the tent. It was a chilly morning and mist covered beautiful Hanson Lake.” The Boundary Waters was my first experience in a wilderness area, and the endless shores and waterways felt like freedom, even at a young age.  I was lucky enough to do several more week-long trips during my childhood, which led me to become a guide for a season after I spent several years living out of state. From my first trips through the Boundary Waters I remember swimming in clear cold water, floating on the surface of calm golden lakes, and struggling over portages while looking out from under silver canoes. A land of rock, water, and wood.

Once I became a guide, I appreciated the freedom the water trails offered. Freedom to explore dead end streams and freedom to take long portages ending at tiny lakes with only one campsite and no outlet. Freedom to hug the shoreline and take the long way around the lake. I felt content following myself on a map – a tiny line meandering across a canvas of blue and green.

As a guide, I led trips for mostly middle and high school students from all over the country. One middle schooler in particular reminds me of the value of wild places like the Boundary Waters. Throughout his trip, he was very vocal about the aspects of being outdoors that did not suit him. He paddled in the bow seat of my canoe most days, so I could handle his attitude and encourage him to enjoy himself. Sometimes just having an ear to absorb the sarcasm is enough to lift spirits, at least that is what I was hoping. In particular, he did not like all the creepy crawlies that live outdoors and I had to stop him from needlessly squishing insects on multiple occasions. However, on the last morning of a 5-day trip, he found a large hairy fishing spider resting under his life jacket, which had been stored under the overturned canoe for the night. From across the campsite, I watched him exclaim in surprise and then gingerly probe the spider on to a tree with a twig. I was so touched by his actions, but I didn’t dare let him know that I saw his uncharacteristic act of mercy. Even if he didn’t readily admit it, his trip in the Boundary Waters changed his perspective.  If nothing else, he realized spiders shouldn’t be squished for being spiders.

As I’ve moved on from guiding canoe trips, I frequently think longingly of the crisp mornings and seas of birch trees. The Boundary Waters has been a formative force in my life and I try to keep that spark of adventure with me everywhere.