Portages: 3 possible
Fish: Lake Trout
Sigurd Olson’s passion for preservation combined with his talent for nature writing earned him icon status from environmentalists across the world. His enthusiasm for the outdoors began in childhood and only grew stronger with age. Sigurd developed a particular fondness for the Boundary Waters and found himself moving to Ely in 1923 to be closer to its wonders. His time exploring and serving as a guide provided the foundation for his beliefs that nature can yield spiritual experiences that people of contemporary society need. The Boundary Waters served as his sanctuary, and he dedicated his life to protecting it.
His conservation work began in the 1920s when he fought the building of both dams and roads in the Quetico-Superior region. He became one of the leading figures in conservation in the 1940s when he lead the crusade against airplanes flying into the Boundary Waters. Sigurd spoke with fervor about the importance of shielding the Wilderness from anything with the potential to disrupt its natural state, and his charisma would prove a valuable asset. He continued to speak for the Boundary Waters as a wilderness ecologist for the Izaak Walton League of America, president of the National Parks Association, president of the Wilderness Society and as an adviser to the Secretary of the Interior and National Park Service.
Beyond this, Sigurd aided in creating the Wilderness Act of 1964 which led to the birth of the National Wilderness Preservation System and legally established Wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” He was also a vital participant in the founding of Voyageurs National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, which prompted prominent environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League, Wilderness Society and National Wildlife Federation to each present him with their greatest awards. It is achievements such as these that set Sigurd apart as an ecological trailblazer, idolized by many environmental activists.
If these accomplishments weren’t enough, Sigurd also experienced a successful career as a writer. In total, he published nine books. His books all center around the Wilderness he so valued and include many famous quotes such as, “Joys come from simple and natural things, mists over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water.” In 1974, the stunning imagery and vivid descriptions he provided eventually won him the Burroughs Medal, which is the most prominent award in nature writing. The spiritual worth of the Wilderness is reflected through his various works, and it is this philosophic approach that sets Sigurd apart from other preservation leaders.
Ultimately, Sigurd’s commitment to conservation led to long-term protection for the Boundary Waters. He inspired a movement of people over the years, including all of us. Our greatest hope is that we will be able to uphold his outstanding legacy and keep the Boundary Waters protected in its glorious, natural state. Now, I end this post with the words of Sigurd Olson that keep us believing in our mission, “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”
Portages: 8 possible
Fish: Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Tullibee, Walleye, White Sucker, Yellow Perch
Brule Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Boundary Waters and there are no shortage of entry points to reach it. The most popular entry point is in the Southeastern corner of the Boundary Waters, but you can also reach it from Sawbill Lake or from the Gunflint Trail, via the Poplar/Liz entry point through Winchell Lake. Brule Lake is perfect for a weekend trip or a layover day on a longer trip. For those who enjoy watching the sunrise and sunset, the campsite on the island south of Cone Bay offers spectacular views of both. Besides its large size and spectacular views, the lake is also popular for swimming, long paddles and great fishing.
More information at: Paddleplanner.com
Ernest Oberholtzer, nicknamed “Ober”, took his first canoe trip to the Boundary Waters in the summer of 1907. Like so many of us, all it took was one trip to the BWCAW for him to be sold. In fact, Ober was so enamored by the wonders of the Boundary Waters that he returned in 1909 to canoe 3,000 miles of the Rainy Lake watershed. His time spent exploring here proved useful as he discovered and provided travel times for a variety of canoe routes. These early experiences proved critical in shaping Ober’s future preservation efforts, but it wasn’t until 1925 that Ober’s simple love of the Wilderness evolved into a fierce passion to save it.
It was at this time that a 41-year-old Ober heard of industrialist Edward Backus’ plan to construct seven dams and develop four central water storage areas in the BWCAW, Quetico Provincial Park, Voyageurs National Park and portions of the Superior National Forest. Upon hearing this news, Ober was instantly on the defensive. He viewed these plans as an attack on the area’s ecology, one that would lead him to assume the primary role in the national fight against Backus’ proposed plan.
In 1927, a group of Twin Cities business professionals contacted Ober and offered their support with his efforts to protect the Rainy Lake watershed. With newfound allies, Ober proceeded in his efforts to not only oppose Backus, but also actively counteract him by creating his own plan to have the Rainy Lake watershed region be controlled as its own bioregion. To do this, Ober came up with the idea to have both the United States and Canada sign a treaty marking the Quetico-Superior region an International Peace Memorial Forest in honor of all those who fought in WWI. These efforts by Ober led to the birth of the Quetico-Superior Council, which he headed, to lobby for the creation of the International Peace Memorial Forest.
The Quetico-Superior Council held its inaugural meeting in 1928 wherein Ober agreed to a six month presidency that ultimately lasted for over 30 years. It was also at this time that Ober spent much of his time in Congress tirelessly lobbying for the passage of the Shipstead-Newton Bill. Ober was persistent in his quest to make the consequences of Backus’ proposal public knowledge. This is evident as Ober wrote Backus’ plan would be, “not at private but at public expense.” He not only lobbied in Congress, but he also met with President Herbert Hoover to gain his support for the International Peace Memorial Forest. All of Ober’s work paid off in 1930 when President Herbert Hoover signed the Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act into law. This moment was historic in that it was the first U.S. statute wherein Congress ordered land to be guarded as “wilderness,” while also eliminating the sale and homesteading of federal land in the BWCAW, preventing dams from changing natural water levels and logging from being allowed closer than 400 feet to the shore.
Ober’s fight for the conservation of this region did not go unnoticed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, in 1934, appointed Ober as first chair of the newly formed Quetico-Superior Committee, which served the same purpose as the Quetico-Superior Council but on a federal level. Ober’s service didn’t end there as he continued to fight for wilderness preservation as a part of the Wilderness Society, which he helped found to help future generations to experience the outdoors as those before them had. In 1967, Ober received the recognition he deserved from the Department of the Interior as he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award for his preservation efforts.
Ernest Oberholtzer dedicated his life to protecting the wilderness, making countless personal sacrifices along the way. We admire Ober for relentlessly doing that which we strive to do everyday, speaking loudly for a quiet place, and for that he is forever a Boundary Waters Legend.
Portages: 3 possible
Fish: Northern Pike, Rock Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, White Sucker, Yellow Perch
Entering Big Moose Lake is a unique experience compared to other lakes. You can paddle in from Big Moose River or portage over two miles from your car. There are many large beaver ponds around the lake with active dams, so keep your eyes out for beavers hard at work. The depth is relatively shallow compared to other lakes with the deepest area being 23 feet. Big Moose Lake has historically supported a good fish population, which is one reason it is a popular destination among anglers. Practicing and encouraging catch-and-release fishing will help preserve this great resource for future generations.
More information at: Paddleplanner.com
I was terrified. My first solo guided Boundary Waters trip was off to a great start until that day. The gentle current of water channeling into the Frost River lapped the laces of my boots, and slowly cleaned the mud off of them. A friend told me the Frost River was “fun” and that I would “love it”. The promise of beaver lodges, excellent moose habitat and flowing interconnected waterways was enough to draw me to the river found at the heart of the Boundary Waters. After hours of wrong turns, dead ends, hot rain and steep portages, my whole group was exhausted. At this point I didn’t know which bend of the Frost River we were in after looking at the map, but I knew we couldn’t have much further to go. I wasn’t quite lost, but I dreaded the feeling of not knowing exactly where I was with the campers that I was responsible for.
Sure enough, we came to a long portage into the western edge of Frost Lake. After seeing the water that marked the end of our journey, we hooted and hollered, piled into our canoes and headed toward the first campsite we could find. I didn’t notice any boats at the other four sites on the lake, saw no smoke from fires and heard nothing other than the strokes of weary paddlers and the low croon of the swan, infamous for honking at paddlers that came too close, that lived in the eastern side of the lake. With the lake to ourselves, I tried to put my mind at ease.
“What could go wrong?”
Canoes were unloaded, turned upside down on the shore and camp chores commenced. The tent was raised, campers dispersed in search of wood, bundles piled up and the campers ran back to the fire grate with fistfuls of birch bark, ready to get warm by the fire. One camper (there’s always one) was taking a few minutes longer than he should so I wandered into the woods calling his name. After a few tries, he finally called back, “I found something! Come here, fast.”
I ran toward the noise and came to a clearing where I saw the camper holding a shiny hand saw. He’d found it lying against a tree, a couple hundred feet from the campsite. I told him not to worry, that it was probably someone from the Forest Service doing campsite maintenance and that we should go back to the fire with the rest of the group. Weighting the saw in my hands, I thought about how weird it was for someone from the Forest Service to actually do that. They teach Leave No Trace ethics, and this saw was nice. I never liked to lie to the campers on my trips, but I figured he might sleep better not worrying about why a new saw would be in the middle of the Boundary Waters. The more I thought about it, I wanted to sleep better not worrying about this saw. I tried to focus on the group, and leaned the saw against the fire grate.
Later, as we slid into sleeping bags and settled in for bed, I looked out the tent screen at the fire grate, wondering what to do with the saw. Deciding there was nothing I could do about it that night, I nodded off trying to read my book, the hum of mosquitoes on the other side of the screen keeping me company.
I woke up to the first warmth of the sun, facing east toward the fire grate. Groggy, as always, I lit a corner of birch bark to start a small cook fire for coffee. I read my book by the fire until steam spilled over the top of the pot on the grate. The chaos of yesterday was finally mellowing out, the weather was better today and there was a light breeze that would push us the direction we needed to go. Things were looking up, and as my first camper walked out of the tent I had a smile on my face, ready to crack some joke to start off the day. Then I heard him say, “What happened to the saw?”
My mind started racing and I looked around frantically. The saw was gone and the plot of every horror movie that ever took place in the woods ran from start to finish in my mind. What did the characters usually do next? I had to make sure I didn’t do whatever that was. I have no idea what I said to the camper looking back, but I’m sure I gave him at least three answers. The Forest Service ranger came back and picked up his saw, a bear interested in carpentry must have taken it in the middle of the night or there was a sudden wind, that none of us felt, that blew it into the lake. To this day, I still have no idea what happened to that saw, but I do know we set the world record for quickest break down of a tent and packing into canoes. I tried to remain calm, but as I paddled out of Frost Lake I felt a strange chill run down my spine.
What happened to the saw of Frost Lake? It’s impossible to know. Was it the most well-orchestrated prank ever pulled on a guide at a YMCA camp? It could be, but whatever happened be sure to keep your eyes peeled on your next trip to the Boundary Waters. You never know what you might find!
In the 1940s if you were to ask someone to name a hero, they would likely have named a man. This was especially true if you asked them to name a wilderness hero. However, there were many exceptional women living during this time who deserve recognition, and Dorothy Molter stands out above the rest, man or woman, as a true wilderness legend. Dorothy visited the Boundary Waters for the first time at age 23. One time was all she needed as she fell in love with the Knife Lake area and never looked back. She was determined to make the Northwoods her home, so in 1934 she began helping out at the Isle of Pines Resort, and by 1948 she was the sole proprietor.
Dorothy was not following the life trajectory that was typical of a woman in the 1940s, and that was perfectly alright with her. She had always been a fiercely independent woman with an unwavering strength, and was once quoted as saying, “If I can ever find a man who can portage heavier loads, chop more wood, or catch more fish, then I’ll marry him.” No man ever met these qualifications, which left Dorothy to live by herself sans electricity and running water, and to be solely responsible for cutting wood and performing maintenance duties on cabins and boats on the resort.
Although she lived on her own, Dorothy was never alone. Despite her isolated location, she was once visited by 7,000 people in a single year, in no small part due to the attention her homemade root beer attracted. The business of making root beer began when Dorothy discovered the plethora of empty pop bottles on her property, and like the innovative woman she was, decided to give the bottles purpose again and filled them with her homemade root beer. Her root beer was especially popular with visitors who had drank nothing but lake water after spending days in the Wilderness. In fact, Dorothy’s root beer was so sought after that she couldn’t always keep up with the demand for it and had to limit the number of root beers per person. Summer was her busiest season and in the height of her fame she was filling around 10,000 bottles per summer. Thus, the famous nickname of “The Root Beer Lady” was born.
Dorothy also holds a certain notoriety for her fight with the U.S. Forest Service. The Wilderness Act of 1964 made it so Dorothy was no longer allowed to live in the Wilderness she had come to call home. However, area residents took this up with the federal government by petitioning that Dorothy be granted the right to stay, and after much interest generated by the media and a lengthy legal conflict, she was awarded the right to stay there for the duration of her life. With that, Dorothy became the final non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters. To this day, Dorothy Molter inspires all of us at the Campaign with her admirable ability to live simply, and with the utmost respect for the wildlife and environment surrounding her. She was a force of nature, living peacefully within it, and for that she will always be a Boundary Waters legend.
Portages: 10 possible
Fish: Burbot, Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish, Northern Pike, Rock Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Tullibee, Walleye, White Sucher, Yellow Perch
For the first time, our federal government is conducting a thorough study to identify and assess the environmental, economic, and social impacts if sulfide-ore copper mining were to be allowed on Superior National Forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Claims by supporters of such mining that this study is unnecessary because such a study was “already done” are demonstrably untrue.
In December 2016, the U.S. Forest Service requested that the Secretary of the Interior exercise authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to withdraw 234,328 acres of federally-owned minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters from the federal mineral leasing program for 20 years. FLPMA requires environmental review (in this case, preparation of an environmental impact statement) to determine the effects on land, water, wildlife, people, and the economy if the proposed action is, or is not, undertaken. The two-year environmental review process began in January 2017.
Supporters of Antofagasta’s proposal to dig sulfide-ore copper mines in the watershed of the Boundary Waters oppose this FLPMA-mandated environmental review process. They wrongly claim that an environmental impact statement has already been prepared with respect to such mining. Proponents of this false claim point to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Federal Hardrock Minerals Prospecting Permits Project, which led to Records of Decision (ROD) by the U.S. Forest Service in May 2012 and by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in September 2012. Those RODs authorized the issuance of 28 prospecting permits on Superior National Forest lands in the Boundary Waters watershed. Both state plainly that they are limited to prospecting – or exploration - and that any applications for federal mineral leases would require a new environmental review process. For example, the Forest Service ROD, which is signed by the Acting Supervisor of the Superior National Forest, says:
To be clear, this decision facilitates prospecting (i.e.exploration) activities described in the Federal Hardrock Minerals Prospecting Permits Project Final EIS. It is not a minerals development project (i.e. it is not a mining project). Issuance of prospecting permits by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) based on Forest Service consent to them confers exclusive rights to the permit holder to prospect on and explore the specific lands within a permit area to determine the existence of a valuable mineral deposit. I understand that it is possible that a permit holder may apply for a noncompetitive lease to develop minerals in these permit areas should exploration find a valuable deposit. However, any subsequent application for a lease to develop minerals would be subject to a separate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance process on its own merits, and require specific decision-making in which the Forest Service would exercise its consent to leasing authority (see Attachment 2, Forest Service Stipulation #9). (p.6)
The clear distinction that the ROD draws between prospecting and mining is directly applicable to the environmental review process that is currently underway. Because the EIS being prepared as a result of the proposed withdrawal will examine whether all sulfide-ore mining, and not just prospecting, will be barred for 20 years in the Boundary Waters watershed, the EIS will take into account factors such as the vastly greater impact that mining development (massive and varied infrastructure, excavations, and waste) would have in terms of the nature and degree of the disturbances; the areas affected; the lands, waters, flora, and fauna affected; and the amount of time over which the disturbances would occur. The prospecting permit EIS considered none of these things in the context of the development of mines and mine infrastructure.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a crown jewel of America and an international treasure. It is the most heavily-visited Wilderness Area in the United States because it is the most family-friendly and accessible, and because it is within relatively easy travel distances of major population centers in the heart of the nation. It is the largest Wilderness east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades. It is our only large lakeland Wilderness. It is the linchpin of the sustainable Wilderness-edge economy that characterizes Ely, Grand Marais, Lutsen, Tofte, and adjacent rural areas of the Minnesota Arrowhead.
The Boundary Waters is priceless and irreplaceable. The idea of putting a major sulfide-ore mining district in its watershed is irresponsible. Misrepresenting the efforts to assess the threat is inexcusable.
"You know a Year is a really long time,” that’s what our friend Jason Zabokrtsky told us as we were preparing to paddle in to the Wilderness for a year on September 23rd, 2015. A year is a long time, but we were in the Wilderness for the purpose of protecting it from Twin Metals and other proposed sulfide-ore copper mines within the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We were kept busy from dawn to dusk paddling, portaging, gathering firewood, hauling water, and bearing witness to the Wilderness. Slowly the seasons changed, the loons migrated south to the Gulf of Mexico and returned in the spring as the ice retreated. Before we knew it the earth had made one full rotation around the sun and it was time for us to paddle out of the Wilderness after 366 days.
Now it’s September 23rd, 2017 and all of the seasonal changes that we experienced during a Year in the Wilderness have repeated their timeless cycle once more and another year has passed. Amy and I have spent most of the past year outside of the Wilderness, but the Boundary Waters remains in our hearts and we are continuing to speak loudly for this quiet place.
Shortly before we exited the Wilderness on September 23rd, 2016 Daniel Slager the CEO of Milkweed Editions paddled into the Boundary Waters to discuss publishing a book about our Year in the Wilderness. Milkweed has published several of our favorite books including Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner and Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer and we were thrilled to leverage Milkweed’s talents to create a book with them about our journey and Wilderness that we all love so much.
On the one-year anniversary of our exit from the Wilderness we are thrilled to release A Year in the Wilderness: Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters. We hope you can join us on September 25th from 6 to 8 PM at Able Brewing Company in Minneapolis for a book release party and silent auction in support of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Tickets are $15 and they are going fast so please purchase your ticket right away.
For Amy and me the coming months will be filled with book signings and speaking engagements that will take us from New York to Nebraska and many places in between. We are excited to use our new book as a tool to elevate and protect the Boundary Waters and we hope that you can use it as a tool to share the Boundary Waters with others as well. Please encourage your local library and local bookstores to order the book, consider buying a copy for yourself, and sharing it with friends. Please consider writing a review on Amazon and use it as a conversation starter and a call to action. The Boundary Waters needs our help more than ever so please join us in continuing to speak loudly for this quite place.