This is my story of the Boundary Waters.
It’s a windless, cool night. Early June, high 50s. Clear, bright stars dance together in the tarry sky. Just north of the Canadian border, our Alumacraft 17 footers bob with the waves, the 25 horsepower motors sputter and go silent. We are silent, too. Two boats, seven of us, no words, but only for a moment.
A loon bellows out a call just beyond eyesight. Then another. The north woods soundtrack augments the focus of our intent gazes. The colors. They roll, ebb and flow in unison. Another galaxy? God? The northern lights. This was my first glimpse, and the first time I felt small while the world around me felt infinite.
My grandfather would die just a few years later. Lung cancer. He manned the motor of our boat that evening. I miss him and those trips.
Our annual trip to Saganaga Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was a rite of passage. You had to be invited, accepted as man. My grandpa Smith, my great grandfather Collins, uncles Dean, Brett and Cary, my dad, and others all made the journey over the years. We bonded, cooked shore lunches, fought, played cards and always, always brought coolers full of walleye home to share with family and friends at the remaining summer holiday parties hosted at my grandma and grandpa Smith’s. Sharing that fish is my first recollection of the prideful satisfaction of sharing your meat with others.
I grew up hunting and fishing the woods and waters of northwest Indiana but at fifteen had not yet ventured outside my home state. My hunting took place on private land, mostly from a treestand and the majority of my fishing on local farm ponds and lakes. I read voraciously as a youth: Fred Bear’s Field Notes, Bows on the Little Delta and just about every hunting and fishing magazine I could get my hands on. I dreamt often about heading off alone into the wilderness to hunt, fish, trap and gather – to live off the land, free from society’s pulsing and “progress”. The modern world is still an uneasy fit for me. I’m at home in the wild, alone with my inner dialogue, pursuing something.
The pull of the Boundary Waters, while new, was familiar. The vastness of it all was intoxicating. The possibilities for exploration endless. Returning is always a homecoming. I was back again this June with my wife and two little girls and will go back next fall for a canoe whitetail hunt. I love this place.
The Boundary Waters
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is 1.1 million acres of pristine waters and woodlands. It’s also the most visited wilderness area in the US, attracting more than 250,000 annually. Walleye, smallmouth, lake trout and northern pike thrive in quiet, clean waters. Ruffed grouse, whitetail deer and black bear thrive in the vast tracts of forest, offering unique backcountry hunting opportunities for the willing.
It also supports a northeastern Minnesota economy that generates $852 million annually and supports more than 18,000 jobs.
The value of these lands and waters though, lies not in the stats, but rather in the soul of the place – in the solitude, space and inspiration it provides to so many.
The group Veterans for the Boundary Waters organizes trips into the Boundary Waters to help vets reconnect and heal. Founder and veteran Erik Packard returned from Iraq in 2008, new battles began – battles with depression, alcohol and thoughts of suicide.
“What I found back in the BWCA was a sense of peace that I thought I had lost forever,” said Erik. “I could feel the poison that had infected my soul from the horrors of war being drawn out of me. The trip started the healing process, and when I could make it back it would always refresh me.”
The Imminent Threat
Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, is leading exploration with the objective of building a mine on the Superior National Forest, southeast of Ely, to extract copper, nickel and platinum-related metals. It is also seeking federal lease renewals it holds for mining rights on parts of the Superior National Forest outside the designated wilderness.
The regular explosions of mining exploration have already begun, interrupting the tranquility of the Boundary Waters, and echoing an auditory reminder of how sulfide-ore mining will diminish the experience for all.
Sulfide-ore mining has never been conducted in Minnesota, and for good reason. When exposed to air and water, the process by-product, tailing piles, leach sulfuric acid, heavy metals and sulfates, into groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes.
Sulfide-ore mining within the Boundary Waters watershed would pose a catastrophic risk to the clean waters, habitat and wildlife both within the BWCAW boundaries and in the surrounding areas. Water flow mapping shows that any pollutants generated will flow directly into the Boundary Waters, likely carrying into the wilderness area.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wrote this letter to Twin Cities Metal CEO Ian Duckworth and directed Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr, “not to authorize or enter into any new state access agreements or lease agreements for mining operations”. Hunting, angling and other recreational user groups applauded his efforts, urging the USFS, DNR and other stakeholders to follow his lead.
What You Can Do
Attend the upcoming USFS Listening Session on July 13th in Duluth. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters is running a free bus from the Twin Cities to Duluth. The bus will depart from the Rosedale Mall @ 1595 Minnesota 36, Roseville, MN 55113, near the AMC movie theatre, at 12 noon. Drop off will be approximately 10:30 PM. Contact Spencer to reserve your seat on the bus at [email protected].