"Here I am on Cam Lake in May this year. I love that little waterfall spilling over the rock slab. It was my first of 3 trips this summer. I always want to get away to the BWCA, but this year I really felt a need to get away. The effort and the reward are just what I needed to recharge myself. We saw 4 moose on that trip, but even if the only wildlife we see is a chipmunk at our campsite, I love just being in the woods and on the lakes and streams. I appreciate all the work of so many in previous generations that loved the Boundary Waters and committed their time to preserve it. It is a special gift that we need to continue to protect so that we have a wild place that we can get away to. Incredible that we have this unique place in our backyards!"
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Guest Blog Post for Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Megan Noetzel, Voyageurs Conservancy
Northern Minnesota presents some of the most striking night skies in the nation. Visitors can look up and immerse themselves in a blanket of stars, view barrelling comets, and even catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. Our dark skies provide a stunning backdrop for the Northwoods.
Dark skies are not only a starry wonder, but necessary for ecosystems, human health, and the preservation of cultural heritage. Forests and wildlife thrive on the rhythmic cycle of day and night. With dark skies disappearing at an alarming rate, but sometimes unnoticed, a coalition of public land officials, park partners, and community members have embarked on a joint initiative to preserve regional darkness.
Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, and Quetico Provincial Park are all seeking Dark Sky Park certification from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). This exciting pursuit could establish Northern Minnesota as the first International Dark Sky Region. By seeking Dark Sky Park and Dark Sky Region designation, public land managers are committing to reducing light pollution at park facilities and providing educational opportunities for the public to learn about the importance of dark sky preservation.
Dark Sky Certification
Dark Sky Park certification is responsive to a growing concern that threatens the wild character of our parks: light pollution. Dark skies are becoming scarce as technological advances have engulfed our skies with artificial light and these negative impacts are increasing rapidly. The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness states that approximately 80% of North Americans are unable to see the Milky Way due to light pollution.
Disappearing dark skies create several environmental and societal consequences. According to the IDA, artificial light has been found to alter breeding and foraging behaviors in wildlife and affect the growth rate of trees. Light pollution is especially harmful for nocturnal birds’ flight patterns, whose predation habits rely on dark skies.
Exposure to artificial light is also detrimental to our own health, as it disrupts the circadian rhythm, resulting in poor sleep quality and weakened immune systems. Researchers are continuing to study the impacts of artificial light and human health.
Lastly, losing our starry skies disconnects us from generations of cultural narratives. The Ojibwe star map is culturally significant to Northern Minnesota. These constellations have stories associated with them and many correspond with seasonal changes. French-Canadian voyageurs, gold-miners, lumberjacks, and commercial fishermen are some of the many groups who also utilized the stars. Light pollution erases the ability to connect with the constellations and these historical narratives.
Protecting Dark Skies at Voyageurs
As a community of people committed to the stewardship of Voyageurs National Park, we have a responsibility to protect the sanctity of our dark skies. Dark Sky Park certification does not carry any legal or regulatory authority, but it affirms the park’s commitment to sustainable light use and public education to reduce light pollution and protect the night sky. VNPA and the National Park Service launched our joint Dark Sky Initiative in 2019 to establish our ongoing commitment to dark sky preservation.
The first phase of dark sky preservation focuses on light fixture changes in the park. By using “dark- sky friendly” light fixtures in parking lots and park facilities, Voyageurs National Park is significantly reducing its light pollution output. These fixtures direct light downward and often utilize warmer colors and motion sensor activation. VNPA helped fund the first round of lighting changes. The park’s goal is to reach 100% “dark-friendly” lights within the next 10 years.
Surrounding neighborhoods, businesses, and communities are not required to change their lighting practices in response to this certification. However, there are a multitude of environmental and economic benefits to this transition. Dark sky tourism is a growing travel trend. VNPA will provide resources to business and cabin owners, and host special events to welcome visitors and community members to join this initiative.
While we can’t gather in-person,Voyageurs National Park Association is working to inspire the public with awe-inspiring celestial events. We’ve partnered with IDA Starry Skies of Lake Superior and Robert “Astro Bob” King to launch a bi-weekly Night Sky Explorer virtual learning series. This series introduces individuals and families to astronomy and develop an appreciation for dark skies. As Robert King states, “The greatest wilderness is the one over your head -- you only need to look up!”
You Can Protect the Night
To gaze at the stars on a clear, unpolluted sky is a breathtaking experience. However, as light pollution increases, we risk losing the powerful display of our universe. It is up to all of us to ensure future generations are able to connect with the night sky. You can mitigate the effects of light pollution through personal and community-led action. Here are three dark sky initiatives you can take in your home and community:
Thank you for doing your part to protect the night sky. We hope the Dark Sky Park certification in Voyageurs National Park, BWCAW, and Quetico Provincial Park will inspire visitors to discover the region’s cosmic treasures and preserve its unparalleled beauty for generations to come!
About Voyageurs Conservancy
Voyageurs Converancy (formerly: Voyageurs National Park Association) is the official charitable partner of Minnesota’s National Park. Voyageurs Conservancy works in close partnership with the National Park Service to expand water and land protection, advance environmental education, and increase accessibility to public lands.Voyageurs Conservancy works to preserve the wild character of Voyageurs by funding projects and programs that will sustain it for generations to come.
Today, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, with two other conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Wilderness Society, filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration over its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits that could lead to an expanded Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine.
Any sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters would cause irreparable damage to America’s most visited Wilderness. This isn’t just our opinion, but also the conclusion of the U.S. Forest Service.
The renewed prospecting permits allow Twin Metals to drill exploration holes, build roads, and do other mining exploratory work throughout more than 15,000 acres of Superior National Forest. The goal of Twin Metals is to find additional mineral deposits and to expand its proposed mining project. Altogether the renewed permits extend well beyond the geographic footprint of the proposed Twin Metals mine. The area covered by the renewed permits extends south along Birch Lake and east to the very edge of the Wilderness. All are within within the watershed of the Boundary Waters and within the headwaters of lakes and rivers that flow into the Wilderness.
The Bureau of Land Management, in deciding on May 1 to extend the prospecting permits for four more years, failed to consider how Twin Metals’ mine plan, mineral leases and permits could harm the critical resources of the Boundary Waters and its watershed. The Bureau also failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over potential harm to three federally listed endangered species and their critical habitat: Canada lynx, gray wolves, and northern long-eared bats.
This is the fourth lawsuit the Campaign, working with conservation partners, has filed in response to the Trump Administration’s continuous attacks on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Critical decisions are being rendered without consideration of scientific and ecological knowledge and without public notice or input. The proposed Twin Metals mine project has been resurrected from the dead, while bedrock environmental laws and regulations are being rolled back, weakened, or eliminated - risky sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters is being fast-tracked.
Under the Obama administration, federal officials terminated Twin Metals mineral leases because the U.S. Forest Service concluded that sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters was risky and threatened irreparable harm to the Wilderness - harm that could never be fixed or mitigated.
With this new lawsuit, there are now FIVE LAWSUITS in the state and federal courts related to protection of the Boundary Waters. Here’s a bit of a primer and reminder on the other lawsuits:
Federal lawsuit #1: Reinstatement of Leases - This lawsuit is against the federal government for reinstating two expired federal mineral leases previously held by Twin Metals. These leases were lawfully extinguished in 2016, but brought back to life by the Trump administration. This suit was decided against us in the Washington, DC, District Court, but we appealed. The case is now under consideration in the DC Court of Appeals. We are represented by the national law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
Federal lawsuit #2: Renewal of Leases- This lawsuit is also against the federal government. In it, we and the other plaintiffs claim that the federal government failed to follow rules under NEPA to adequately evaluate the renewal of the two resurrected Twin Metal mineral leases. This suit was filed in May 2020 in federal district court in Washington, DC. We are represented by the national law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
State lawsuit: Minnesota Rules - This lawsuit was filed against the State of Minnesota in June under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. In this suit, the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the sole plaintiff, is represented by the law firm of CiresiConlin, LLC. We are challenging the Department of Natural Resources’s nonferrous regulations which we believe are insufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. If we are successful, the DNR will be compelled to rewrite the rules, and there will be an opportunity for consideration of current science. Specifically, we request that the rules be changed to prohibit sulfide-ore copper mining in the entire Rainy River Headwaters, which is the watershed of the Boundary Waters. Sulfide-ore copper mining is currently banned in the northern half of the Rainy River Headwaters (the Boundary Waters) but the southern half - which constitutes the headwaters of the watershed - is unprotected. Our contention is that the only way to ensure that the waters of the Boundary Waters remain clean and without degradation from mining is to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the southern half. All waters in the southern half flow north into the northern half. Eighty percent of the Boundary Waters is in the northern half of the watershed and are at significant risk unless the DNR regulations are updated to reflect modern science and common sense.
NEPA Lawsuit: Environmental Rollbacks - While Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters) is not a party in this lawsuit, our National Campaign Chair - Becky Rom - is cited as one of the affected persons. This lawsuit against the Trump administration challenges the recent evisceration of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Our partners in the fight to protect the Boundary Waters - EarthJustice and The Wilderness Society - are defending one of the nation’s most important environmental protection laws. Changes the Trump administration made will mean polluted water, degraded natural landscapes, and air that’s not fit to breath and sharply limit public involvement in some of our nation’s most important natural resource decisions.
Federal Lawsuit #3: Renewal of Prospecting Permits - This lawsuit challenges the Trump administration over its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits that could allow Twin Metals to significantly expand its proposed sulfide-ore copper mine.
Your support to protect the Boundary Waters is critical. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is leading the fight to protect America’s most visited Wilderness. Help us stop this rush to build a dangerous mine on the doorstep of our beloved canoe country. Donate now.
Check out the recording and slides from our August 13 town hall where we heard from Save the Boundary Waters Campaign National Chair Becky Rom and Alison Flint, Senior Legal Director for The Wilderness Society, about how we are working together to protect the Boundary Waters.
On July 29, two of our partners in the fight to save the Boundary Waters filed a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the recent evisceration of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These partners - EarthJustice and The Wilderness Society - are defending one of the nation’s most important environmental protection laws. Changes the Trump administration made will mean polluted water, degraded natural landscapes, and air that’s not fit to breath.
Passed in 1971, NEPA is one of our nation’s bedrock environmental protection laws. It provides for a thorough review of environmental impacts for any project the federal government must approve. It guarantees that alternatives are considered, that the public has an opportunity to review the project and offer recommended improvements, and that the review process is transparent and fair. This is what we would expect our federal government to do.
It has special significance to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta is proposing a huge sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the BWCAW. Under the Obama administration, federal officials terminated leases for the project because they found sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters risked irreparable harm to the Wilderness. Under the Trump administration, this science is being denied and suppressed, the project has been resurrected from the dead, and now the environmental protections are being rolled back and eliminated so the project can be fast-tracked. The proposed Twin Metals mine could be one of the first projects where the new NEPA rules will be used - a guarantee that a bad project would proceed.
While Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (we lead the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters) is not a party in this lawsuitsuit, our National Campaign Chair - Becky Rom - is cited as one of the affected persons, and we have been working with the plaintiff, The Wilderness Society, and the law firm, Earthjustice. With this new suit, there are now FOUR lawsuits in the state and federal courts related to protection of the Boundary Waters. Here’s a bit of a primer and reminder on the other 3 lawsuits:
Federal lawsuit #1 is against the federal government for reinstating the expired federal leases previously held by Twin Metals. These leases were lawfully extinguished in 2016, but brought back to life by the Trump administration. This suit was decided against us in the Washington, DC, District Court, but we appealed and it is now under consideration in the DC Court of Appeals.
Federal lawsuit #2 is also against the federal government. In it, we and the other plaintiffs claim that the federal government failed to follow rules under NEPA to adequately evaluate the renewal of the federal leases. This suit was filed recently in federal district court in Washington, DC, and no judicial action has yet taken place.
A lawsuit was filed against the State of Minnesota in June under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. In this suit, the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness is the only plaintiff. We are represented by the law firm of CiresiConlin, LLC. This suit claims that the regulations the Department of Natural Resources follows to govern mining are insufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. If a judge agrees, the DNR will be compelled to rewrite the rules, and there will be an opportunity to bring current science into the new rules. We are requesting that the rules be changed to prohibit sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Headwaters, which is the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
Lawsuits take time and are very expensive, so must be used judiciously. We are extremely fortunate to have outstanding partners in our pro-bono law firms. In addition to CiresiConlin, mentioned above, we are represented in federal court by Morrison & Foerster, LLC. and EarthJustice. Without their excellent help, we would not be able to bring these powerful cases against the government.
Jordan Lake -Alyssa Brault, Business Relations Associate
Clearwater Lake -Nicole Kari, Administrative Coordinator
Photo Credit: Brad Carlson
Lac La Croix- Levi Lexvold, Regional Organizer & Ely Office Manager
Birch Lake -Lisa Pugh, Science and Policy Associate (not technically a Boundary Waters lake but important to this issue!)
Clearwater Lake -Megan Wind, Communications Specialist
Gabbro Lake -Tom Landwehr, Executive Director
Clear Lake - Marley Kehew, Campaign Intern
Lake Agnes- Ingrid Lyons, Development Director
Knife Lake -Samantha Chadwick, Deputy Campaign Manager
The planning and preparation started like our many other trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Northern Minnesota; pouring through maps to find an entry point and route, securing a permit, pulling out the gear, picking up groceries, packing the packs, and loading the canoes on the trailer. The crew eagerly anticipated the upcoming trip. After the final checks and goodbyes, it was time to head east on Highway 2. It was that moment with mixed emotions as I watched the crew leave with the canoes in tow. I would not be making this trip to the BWCAW with my son Derek. With 17 trips under my guidance, he was now the group leader and ready to experience canoe country without his Dad.
As the crew left, my thoughts began to wonder if he was ready to take on this challenge. As a way to rationalize that he was ready, I did some comparing. My first trip was with my uncle and cousins in 1986 to Hog Creek and Perent Lake. After just 2 trips and at the age of 18, my friend and I took a trip to Clearwater, Johnson Falls, and Mountain Lake prior to starting college in the fall of 1987. I have made a trip every year since. Derek, on the other hand, is now 21 and has been on 17 trips. I reassured myself that he was ready, but would he make all the appropriate decisions?
In all of my trips, our group mantra has always been; “It’s all part of the experience.” As those who have traveled into canoe country know, the experience can be both positive and negative. The positive and unforgettable experiences keep us coming back to canoe country, while the adversity we sometimes experience are those we vividly remember and acquire some valuable lessons. Hopefully Derek remembered the lessons learned.
Overtaking my worrying was a walk down memory lane as I reflected back on our experiences together. In 1998 after Derek turned 4, I convinced my wife that our son was ready for his first trip to the BWCAW. My journal entry for Derek’s first trip captures the moment:
In the summer of 1986, before my senior year of high school, my uncle asked me if I would like to go to the Boundary Waters because they needed a 4th person. My first impression was that this place was something special and I promised myself to come back every year. I was also excited to introduce others such as family and friends to this special place.
The more I went the more I couldn’t wait to share it with my own children. When you were born in February of 1994, I was already planning and looking forward to our first trip to the Boundary Waters. I said, “as soon as Derek is potty trained, he’ll be ready to go.” This year (1998) the opportunity was finally here and I found some other interested family and friends that wanted to be a part of your first BWCA experience.
I started organizing and planning about 3 weeks prior to our trip. I felt (and always have) that the key to a successful trip is careful planning and organization. I was reluctant to tell you that we were going right away because I didn’t think you would understand where we were going, what the Boundary Waters was, and you would always get over anxious anytime we would go somewhere. You would countdown “sleeps” as a measuring stick to count the days. Finally, it was getting closer and I wanted you to be a part of the preparation of the trip, so I told you where we were going and who we were going with. You were really excited and immediately asked, “Dad, how many sleeps until we go?” It was 10 at that point. You did a great job of counting backwards every day. We went grocery shopping together for the food and also spent time together setting out the equipment and checking it out. You asked many questions and I explained what everything was used for.
Zero sleeps and it’s time to go. We said goodbye to Mommy. We stopped at a gas station in Grand Rapids for gas and an ice cream treat. You told the cashier; “You know what, we’re going to the Boundary Waters and I’m going to catch a big fish.”
As I read through the journal for Derek’s first trip, I was glad that I captured the moments in writing as he certainly would not have remembered the trip nor would I continue to remember the details.
Derek’s second trip in 1999 took place over the July 4th weekend (enter at Island River, Isabella River, Quadga Lake, Bald Eagle Lake, exit at Snake River). Our experiences from this trip would be forever remembered.
We’re off to the Boundary Waters for your second trip...As we approached the final portage before our destination, Bald Eagle Lake, my friends decide to try to run the rapids. We portaged our stuff to the end and waited for their appearance. A few of us made a second trip on the portage and still no sign. Finally, they emerged with the badly dented up and punctured canoe. They made a poor decision to run the rapids and were very lucky not to be injured seriously.
Sigurd Olson best described this scene; “...as long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes and a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run.”
In the morning on July 4th, we fished a little bit but then the sky started to look a little threatening. We picked up the camp and prepared ourselves for some rain. Later in the morning, a loud roar could be heard followed by some intense winds so we all headed into our tents. After about 15-30 minutes, the strong winds decreased and it rained for a couple of hours. After the rain stopped, we went fishing. We talked to another group that was camped on Bald Eagle and they said that they had many trees in their campsite get blown over, so we were pretty lucky. (Only later would we fully realize the damage that the storm did).
Since 1999, there have been many other memorable experiences during our annual trip, including introducing my other son Ben to canoe country. Some of these experiences include the long portage, Border Route Trail, Johnson Falls, jumping off rocks into the water, and trips in October. But as Derek reflects on past trips, his most memorable trip included his brother Ben, uncle, grandpa and cousins.
The trip to Hog creek to Perent Lake with grandpa’s 2 sons and 5 grandsons remains my most memorable trip. I can vividly remember grandpa enjoying the company of his grandsons. Grandpa shared his knowledge and experience in catching and cleaning fish. We enjoyed jumping off a rock into the lake which grandpa willingly kept up with his grandsons in following suit. I remember this trip as a turning point for me as a trip participant to playing an active role in all duties required for a trip into canoe country.
Looking back, my initial goal was to ensure my sons had a positive experience in the BWCAW so they would want to continually return. In doing so, I did most everything while they played, fished, and explored. Over the past several trips, I started asking more questions and turning over some of the duties to Derek and Ben. I knew that I was not going to be on their canoe trips indefinitely, so they needed to learn things on their own. As I turned over the duties, I first had them assist me with my guidance and eventually allowed them to complete tasks on their own. A few examples include, setting up a tent, starting a fire, hanging the food pack, portaging, filleting a fish, and reading a map.
Through the gradual release of my “teaching” vs. their “learning,” I noticed that even after everything I had thought I taught them, mistakes were still made. Only when Derek and Ben were allowed to do a task on their own instead of me showing and telling, did they complete the tasks more efficiently and accurately. Mostly through their struggles, were they really allowed to learn. I enjoyed watching the learning process take place through collaboration, critical thinking, failure, and redos.
It was challenging for me to watch Derek and Ben struggle through certain things when I knew the correct answer or a better way to do something. For instance, I watched them put up the tent incorrectly. Other times, we added some distance to our paddles as they misread the map to find the portages. I usually knew where the portages were, but I allowed them to figure it out after they were not able to find it the first time. They worked their way through some of the obstacles, and then would ask me for assistance. I would respond with a question such as, “what do you think” or “have you thought of?” I believe I would have done my sons a disservice if I had not let them think through problems. After all… “Learning is their journey. Let them navigate. Push them to explore. Watch them discover. Encourage their questions. Allow them to struggle. Support their thinking. Let them fly (Krissy Venosdale).”
In addition to wilderness skills, I also tried to model and impress on my sons other intangibles such as the respect of this special place many fought so hard to protect. We always practiced “leave no trace,” left our campsites better than we found them, and left a small pile of prepared wood by the fire grate. They also learned the key to a successful trip is planning and preparedness. And finally, we always were mindful that help is a long way away, so we were careful and made good decisions.
In 2012, just our immediate family took our first trip together. We secured 2 permits for the same entry point so Derek and Ben could take a side trip on their own. After a couple of days, Derek and Ben set off for 2 nights. I was more sad than worried, knowing that my sons no longer needed their Dad. The boys learned a great deal about being on their own while my wife and I were just a couple of lakes away. This trip also prepared me for my own transition of letting go. This trip remains as Derek’s second most memorable trip.
I remember planning for the trip, looking through maps and talking about possible routes to explore. Then, Dad presented us with an option for Ben and I to take a side trip on our own because he knew we both had experienced many trips and were ready to experience canoe country on our own. I was not worried at all because of the number of previous trips and experiences. I really enjoyed spending time with Ben as I was leaving for college in August. The route looked doable on a map, but some of the portages were very challenging. As Ben and I paddled to the south end of Sawbill Lake, I saw my Dad and Mom in the distance sitting on the dock waiting for our arrival. Prior to gliding into shore, I was overcome by a great sense of accomplishment. Having it all come together to be out there on our own was made possible through the lessons Ben and I were afforded through our Dad. We passed the test and knew our Dad was proud of us. Only later did I fully realize how hard letting go was on my Dad.
It seemed fitting Derek would choose Hog Creek and Perent Lake as a trip leader with his friends. After Derek and his friends returned from a fun trip, they were eager to share stories from their adventure. Listening to their stories, I smiled to myself and knew my question about Derek’s readiness and ability to lead others into the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness was answered. To see four young men willing to venture into the wilderness, without Wi-Fi, and enjoy their time in the BWCAW was truly rewarding.
Letting our children fly also means letting our children pursue their passions. When I was a child I loved being outdoors and camping. After my first trip to the BWCAW in 1986, canoe country became my passion with a promise to myself to return each year. I wanted to learn everything I could about the BWCAW, so in the pre-Internet days, I went to the library to find books and periodicals. At a camping show in the Twin Cities in 1987, I picked up some information on a new publication called the Boundary Waters Journal (BWJ), which I ordered and read all the stories.
The BWCAW continues to be one of my passions. I am grateful to have shared so many trips with my sons with many wonderful memories. I made it clear they did not have to have the same interests as me and should never feel obligated to go on trips, but they always wanted to go. According to Derek, his interest in canoe country started with his first trip and grew over time:
I still remember my Dad hyping up our trip to the Boundary Waters. At such a young age, it didn’t really make sense to me about this mystical place you, along with family and friends would go canoeing and exploring. So, it seemed very interesting to me. After the first trip, I wanted to continue to hang out with my Dad. It was mostly a bonding experience; going there and being together.
Making an annual trip to the Boundary Waters became really interesting to me when I finally started to figure out how to do things on my own, through the teaching of my Dad, contributing to the group effort. The contributions I made such as finding firewood, starting a fire, cooking and other camp duties provided me with a sense of personal pride and accomplishment.
From Derek’s experiences, I asked him what advice he could pass along to anyone hoping to introduce children to canoe country.
I would take the same approach; just provide the opportunity and experiences to truly understand, and grow to appreciate, the beauty of nature in a pristine wilderness area. Being secluded, without crowds of people, offers increased chances of seeing wildlife and nature’s other treasures. Childhood experiences in the BWCAW always include life lessons that may not be replicated otherwise. Circumstances are not always perfect, adversity happens and it is up to the group to figure it out as a team. Also, let your children explore, learn, be curious, and even struggle a bit. The skills of wilderness camping are important to perfect, but the mindset of perseverance and a sense of accomplishment are even more important for children to experience. This mindset will continue to be present as children grow into adults.
The BWCAW is a place where everyone ultimately learns much more about themselves. What an incredible gift to pass along to our children and generations to come. Letting our children fly does not only pertain to the BWCAW, but life in general. Share your passions with your children, allow them to pursue their own interests, and be patient to observe their learning process in action.
Jake Marble is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (go Packers!). He hopes to combine his passions for creative writing, sustainability, and the outdoors, and maintains a blog / writing collection dealing largely with nature, environmentalism, and sense of place.
I didn't grow up Minnesotan. My dad did—a product of South Minneapolis, local public schools (go, Washburn Millers!), and only the most Midwestern, Brady Bunch family of 16. But me, I was raised a foreigner, an alien; a… Badger—and a haughty one at that.
For years, our family has scoffed at Dad’s cornucopia of ingrained, unshakeable ‘Sotan -isms and behaviors: to us normal folk, a hot dish is anything not served cold, I mean duh; killing ‘em with kindness is a true possibility (Yes, the blank-faced, teenage cashier knows that you appreciate it, Dad…); and by god, I’ll show you where you’re about to get popped if you call a soda "pop" one more time!!
The point being, that though every Christmas of childhood was rung in by making the 6-hour hike up I-94, screaming my little head off on Mall of America roller coasters, and renting out an entire hotel floor for the Marble-Larson family reunion, very little time was spent exploring the rest of the state’s offerings.
So when 18-year-old Jake made the previously unthinkable, nearly blasphemous decision to become a Golden Gopher (may his fiercely proud Badger spirit rest in peace…), he’d troop into freshman year with blissful innocence—virtually unfamiliar with the Minnesota outside of Nickelodeon Universe, the Bloomington Embassy Suites, and 50+ relatives sharing hot di… dammit, I mean, CASSEROLE!
An unacquaintance which, regretfully, includes the Boundary Waters. Despite a late-high-school, crystallizing love of environmentalism + outdoor adventure, it wasn’t until I walked into my very first UMN Outdoors Club meeting—nervously eager to trek ‘round my adopted state—that I ever received a primer on the BWCAW. Call it a Wisconsin boy’s ignorance, call it (in only veiled, Midwest passive-aggressive terms) plain insanity, but my first impression of the so-called “B-Dub’s” was one of some confusion over its hushed reverence: Like, why are these overzealous students in matching green t-shirts preaching the sanctity of this place like it’s some northwoods Mecca?
Don’t get me wrong, no one needed to convert me to the wonders of the open water with a strong canoeing sermon. At that point, I was fresh off a high school class expedition traversing the entire Milwaukee River, plus profited from a lifetime of casual, summer paddling in Door County—WI’s compressed, definitely less adventurous riff on the North Shore.
And so, perhaps my thinking went, I’ve already run the length of a watershed, portaged quite literally through small-town Wisconsin streets along the way, glided awe-struck under thick crustings of stars, and seen the last few years pass from the stern (and the duff…), on the trail, and between thin nylon walls; how much better can it get?
But, oof da, even at the expense of my home state pride, never have I been so glad to be wrong.
Ironically, no matter my freshman enthusiasm, I wouldn’t actually get to the Boundary Waters that first fall. A backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail was a more-than-wonderful substitute, bear bag-hanging troubles and all, after which northern Minnesota would have me nabbed hook, line, and sinker.
My first BWCA opportunity would, though, come a season later—smack-dab in mid, why-the-heck-is-it-not-spring-yet April, when the lakes were still powdered ice blocks, and pitching a tent an exercise in relative masochism. So we didn’t, our joint group from Outdoors Club and Gophers for the Boundary Waters—being neither geared up nor hardcore enough for snowglobe camping—electing instead for the Schurke’s Wintergreen Lodge (and can anyone possibly complain about that?). We’d tend to their army of lovable sled dogs, crunch across the lakes in snowshoes, unsuccessfully lay out for the northern lights, visit proposed mine sites near Ely, and get familiarized with the campaign, the issues, and the area itself.
In short, it was a blast. Sorry, Door County, but they’ve reeled me in.
Almost exactly two years later, and my freshman self would be proud, and a bit shocked, to have so much to look back on. I’ve since returned to the BWCAW three (unfrozen) times, have made dozens of other treks up north, and find myself in the once-curious place of leading trips myself.
But at this moment, the yipping sled dogs, that good burn from hours turned days turned seasons of paddle dragging, and maybe most of all, intimate, quality time spent in the wilderness with good people… feel one miles-long portage away. Still feeling the heartbreak of my study abroad semester in Senegal cut short, nothing in the world sounds better than an escape to the backcountry, thudded back in my country as I am. But that, of course, isn’t all that feasible right now. Not only having forced me home, COVID-19 has also wrenched me away from places in nature I love—as it has so many of us.
After months in arid West Africa far removed from forests, friends, campfire-tinged clothes, and even the never-before-realized luxury that is grass, I couldn’t wait to hike, climb, and re-explore my home-away-from-home. Senegal, much as I loved it, taught me to never again take these things for granted; but all of us outdoors-people, I think, are receiving similar lessons from the COVID-19 crisis nearer to our own backyards. On the best of days, some aspects of outdoor adventure are risky, bordering on reckless, but carelessly pursuing them now is downright negligent—not so much for ourselves as for the people and environments around us: our overtaxed hospitals, understaffed parks, the more vulnerable of populations. Staying home means staying (close to) home. It’s just not the time for a backcountry rescue.
So for now, it seems nature is telling us to bide our time, and dream of better days unconfined by our roofs, our screens, this social distance. There’s no need to wallow, though. We can have Zoom calls with old trip buddies, smooth out the maps stored away in garages and gear boxes; dedicate time to smaller adventures, more local ones; maybe rekindle something for walks in that forgotten park, or bike rides around the town.
This is a maddening situation, absolutely, antithetical to the spirit of the outdoors, the spirit of the Boundary Waters. Canoes aren’t paddled alone, and that’s what the BWCAW does best—brings people, space, and place together.
It’s certainly bound me in ways I never could have known, when I first listened skeptically to those hyper-animated club officers. Many have since become my closest college friends, tied to the water, the land, and each other by shared experience. I guess I’ve become the earnest one—once-disciple turned preacher—as now it’s me up there espousing the value of outdoor adventure, experiential / environmental education, and the community-building they engender.
Four years ago, I never could have imagined it. Tell a 17-year-old who’s just seen his first camp stove that 40+ trips later he’d be here… well, he’d probably just laugh. Which is to say that all of this, then, really isn’t about me, but an ode to the boundless, precious, transformative value of our wilderness areas. The Boundary Waters has played a part in changing the course of my life.
And as tragic as COVID-19 is, maybe it’s kind of the wake-up call we needed—all of us with a love for the wilderness, but perhaps also a bit of complacency, assuming that our cherished places will always, simply, be accessible. This crisis could remind us of the necessity, but also fragility, of areas like the BWCAW. Maybe we’ll see more clearly their need for ramped-up protection, or even a general re-energizing of environmental movements—towards those natural environments we’ve been missing. How we return to a new normal post-crisis will say volumes about both where we were as a society, and where we’re going.
I may not have grown up Minnesotan, but oh how I’ll cherish the day I trundle back up I-94, down a pop and some hot dish, get a paddle in my hand, and explore Minnesota’s outdoors once more. (But shh, don’t tell Wisconsin I said that.) For me, for all of us, that day can’t come soon enough.
ELY, MN--Today the Trump Administration today announced another major environmental rollback as it finalized new rules that gut the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock environmental law often referred to as an "environmental bill of rights." This is the most radical rollback of the Administration as the new rules reject the fundamental principles of NEPA: that the federal government and its agencies take a hard look at the environmental impacts of proposed major actions before making decisions and proceeding with projects, and, that we as a nation make better decisions when we first understand the impacts of major actions on the human and natural environment. Citizens will now have much less ability to understand and improve projects that they as taxpayers are funding.
Today’s new NEPA rules sharply limit both the scope of environmental review and Americans’ ability to comment effectively on proposed actions, and to challenge federal agencies whose decisions appear to violate the law. Specifically, the new NEPA rules:
prohibit consideration of cumulative effects and climate impacts of projects;
impose arbitrarily short timelines and page limits on reviews which will prevent thorough analysis of proposed major federal actions and those actions’ consequences;
result in the rejection by federal agencies of many if not most citizens’ comments; and,
bar judicial review of some federal environmental review decisions.
This announcement is just the latest in a series of attacks that undercut the power of the public to impact and challenge major federal environmental actions such as permitting dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.
In response to today's announcement Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters said:
"The Trump Administration is relentless in its pursuit of delivering America's public lands to the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected. Piece by piece it is stripping away the basic protections that the American people have relied upon for five decades to protect the nation’s air, water, land, and human communities. If the Trump Administration has its way, one of the first casualties will be the Boundary Waters. Because the new NEPA rules are to be implemented immediately, Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta's Twin Metals project will be one of the first projects evaluated under the new, weakened NEPA rules."
The Trump administration announced on June 30th that it had begun the NEPA review process for Antofagasta's Twin Metals, a sulfide-ore copper mining project that, if built, would pollute the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters, America's most visited Wilderness, and change forever this iconic national treasure.
The Trump administration has weakened or flat-out eliminated over one hundred environmental protections, many that directly protect the clean air, water, and land of Minnesota and the public health of its citizens. For example, 2020 changes to critical Clean Water Act regulations mean that Minnesota can no longer protect its own lakes, streams, and wetlands from degradation. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says these weakened regulations would leave the State unable to address potential water quality concerns in or near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness likely to be caused by a Twin Metals mine. Other actions eliminating protections include a recent Presidential Executive Order that directs agencies to waive or restrict environmental laws and reviews of risky projects. Taken together these represent the most sweeping and significant attacks on the environment in American history and leave the Boundary Waters especially vulnerable.
Born, raised and residing in Ohio, I'm 881 miles from the edge of the Boundary Waters at Echo Trail Entry Point #16. I've journeyed in there at ages 17, 18 and 19.
On my first voyage in a group of high school students whom teachers transported by van and bus... I would soon disgust McDonald's but adore hot sauce. I remember the northern lights the first night, being so awe struck, so mesmerized. I gazed as loons called across the still Moose Lake and I fell in love with them.
We canoed up the Nina Moose, as tranquil a stream as I'd ever seen. The way each gentle reed bent yielding to the soft current. The sound of the paddle. What I knew of canoe trips on the Little Miami River in Ohio were not like this. Beautiful yes but over-crowded peak-season with beer-drinking screamers and a very fast current. This was totally different. This was worth the bus ride.
Over 2,200 campsites spread across 1,000+ lakes and visited by over 200,000 people a year... it's the most visted wilderness in the United States.
That said, you might only glimpse someone else paddling let alone hear them up here. We paddled across Nina Moose Lake, through to Lake Agnes for camp. My guide sent me out to fetch water and I was stunned that we would drink this untreated from the lake. To know lake water can exist so clean made me wonder. Why not live here?
Huron, Cree, Dakota and Ojibwe (Chippewa) all lived in this area. Soon I would see their handprints and artwork on great rock faces overlooking the water. I was told they made these where the sky, land and the water meet. The Ojibway people call themselves 'Anishinabe' in their own language, which means 'original person.'
I portaged for the first time to reach Iron Lake. This taught me some endurance for pain and mental fortitude I did not know I had. It was worth it to reach a beautiful site with sunsets across the water and scattered boulders on the shore. It was worth it to hear a wolf for the first time in my life close enough to make the hair stand up on my neck. I was peacefully fishing the shore alone when it started low, a sweeping groan, which grew in pitch until it made its presence known to me with a howl. What a world I was in. It seemed, I was in a dream. This is how a person falls in love with the wild of the boundary waters.
There, on Iron Lake I also heard a grouse for the first time as I explored a bit. Very unusual sound which can be frightening if you don't know what it is. I went running back and told my guide "a human is in the woods beating their chest, like an ape. Or, maybe an ape was beating their chest at me?" No... just a secluded, wild fowl flapping their wings to attract a mate.
On my second trip we went into Tiger Bay of Lac La Croix and camped at the site I now regard as the best I've camped, ever. Sunsets were directly across the water and it even had a sandy beach shore scattered with pine cones. They substituted nicely as golf balls in the middle of the day, coupled with a large stick for a golf club. I preferred the northern woods in August than in June because the water is warmer for swimming. And still not too hot for a climb atop Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix.
There I stood and felt so high, so free.
I tasted my first northern pike this return trip... basted in Parkay after being caught in the reeds of Crooked Lake. Yes many bones but it was the best fish I've ever tasted.
For my return trips, my sister loaned me her manual lens camera to capture this place and its wonder. It further connected me to the Boundary Waters, making me ever more curious to find photographs. Such a place awakens the soul, soothes the mind and envigorates the body. When you are one with nature it is hard to leave. I had to convince myself I would return even to endure what I admit was scary... Wind Lake on a stormy day. But, (of course;) there is always calm after a storm.
I am now an online volunteer with the campaign to "Save The Boundary Waters" because it must exist not just as a destination for adventure or serenity but as a reality of wild purity. Few places are left in this developed world; still offering such wonder, such WATER. This wonder would not exist without its pure water. If it were poisoned by careless, avoidable, human error... what a tragedy. For all of us who hold it dear; for whom drank of it, we ask that they stop unnecessary, greedy, dangerous mines from threatening to poison what is so unique about this place (the water). To keep it safe for generations to come is my greatest goal.
I noticed there ARE rules about who can enter the park, specific to limiting numbers of groups in order to reduce impact on the pristine wild. Yet, there are possibly risks of obliteration from new, toxic mine permits? How could the forest service even consider mines so dangerous?? It makes no sense and that is what I want to stress to people. Not here.
Since the Boundary Waters opened up for overnight trips on May 18, many of our supporters have been wondering what a trip to the Boundary Waters looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a list of the top 10 things to remember when visiting the Boundary Waters in the next few months:
Protect yourself and others by wearing a mask
Maintain a distance of 6 feet when going into any stores or outfitters
Wash/sanitize your hands before and after going into buildings or touching things, especially at gas stations (consider an eco-friendly hand sanitizer like Dr.Bronners!)
Be patient on portages and spread out (when you are able to)
Consider buying groceries before hand
When possible, send only 1 member of your group into any store/outfitter
Print your permit and/or fishing license at home before traveling
Be patient with outfitting staff and other service workers. We are all trying our best to navigate these tricky times together!
If you choose to pick up a meal on the road, opt for restaurants that offer drive-thru or curbside service.
Watch the USFS “leave no trace” videos at home before you come to ensure you leave the BWCA better than you found it.
Part 1: https://youtu.be/nen7lRqEjm8
Part 2: https://youtu.be/nQ176Q3eMrQ
Part 3: https://youtu.be/Z8msTMqbvoc
We all know that Boundary Waters trips are a highlight of many peoples’ summers; however, safety is a top priority. If you or someone in your group feels sick before your planned travel, stay home except to get medical care and as always, please follow the specific guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html.
For up to date information regarding forest closures or restrictions, please visit: www.fs.usda.gov/superior