Our Boundary Waters Love Story

By Paul Snyder

For years I had been coming to the BWCA , leading YMCA youth groups, and going with a few friends. In 1977, I married the love of my life.

During one of those early miscommunications, I asked, “Do you like to go camping?” She said, “yes!”. My reply was that I would plan our first trip to a very special place. I contacted Pat Magie’s company to schedule a Beaver float plane to fly us to a secluded lake, then the outfitter. We were the only ones on the lake, and the freeze dried meals back then were not close to what they are today. Also, heavy aluminum canoes, cast iron skillets, and canvas tents were common at outfitters, and I had ordered outfitting and meals for a week. We stepped off of the float plane after a delightful flight that gave a grand overview of the area. We set up camp, spent three days, then started paddling and portaging towards the vehicle pickup point. I didn’t know back then that the water drains North above the Laurentian Divide, so we went the wrong way on a portage and had to retrace the rough portage again to get back to where we started and go the correct direction.

The true depth and lifelong rewards that come from this singular wilderness find very few challengers. We have seen that we can meet the challenges in life as a hardworking, loving, sharing team.

A very long day saw us arrive in the next campsite after dark. That was the only time I have experienced what looked like a grey bush over the campfire, only to find out that it was an absolutely palpable plague of mosquitoes! Even with 100% (now known to be dangerous) DEET, they tried to get into our ears, and probed the edges of our eyelids. This was offset by serenades of Loons and wolves stroking us with soothing and special memories.

It got far colder that August than I had ever seen, and we did not have enough warm clothing, just each other. The scenery was awesome as usual, and we made it back to the pickup point where the outfitter met us. A few years later*, after we had entered a few Midwest canoe marathons and camped all over Colorado, I found out that as the plane took off, she wanted to say, “Wait! Is there one going back?” (She had thought of Girl Scout camping with mess halls and showers and so forth, none of which she could see anywhere near our lake.)

* I asked the vital question, “Was there anything about the trip that you liked?” She replied, “Yes, when you left the tent during the night and came back to tell me to stay in the sleeping bag and you picked me up in the sleeping bag and carried me to the rocky point to see the Northern Lights reflecting off of the lake!”

The challenging start of our marriage yielded a wonderfully multifaceted one that has stood the test of time. If one compares the real value of seeing how a couple will deal with challenges, consider two options: A BWCA/Quetico wilderness trip versus the current ‘3,000 of your closest friends on a cruise ship’. The true depth and lifelong rewards that come from this singular wilderness find very few challengers. We have seen that we can meet the challenges in life as a hardworking, loving, sharing team.

One canoe marathon had strong quartering headwinds with substantial waves. We were the only mixed double team, all the others were pairs of men. We finished 4th overall, and I had a trophy made for her that says, “Though we didn’t place, you win my race”.

I have communicated much better after that instructive start, finding that communication is very critical to a relationship.


Submitted by Jan and Paul Snyder for the Friends’ 2017 Wilderness Love Stories contest.

Winter Weekend 2017

Minnesota offers a whole different type of beauty and adventure during the winter, and the Friends’ annual Winter Weekend is the perfect way to experience it. This year, the skies were blue and the temperatures were in the 20s and 30s as nearly fifty people gathered at YMCA’s Camp Menogyn in the snow covered Northwoods. The weekend was full of snow shoeing, skiing, dog sledding, reading, puzzles, sledding, and of course, relaxing in the sauna before jumping into the frozen lake. We were also joined by the Friends’ first year of Conservation Fellows!

Thanks to everyone who was able to join us this year. Enjoy the pictures below and we hope you can join us next year!

Camp Menogyn covered in snow

Camp Menogyn covered in snow

Wildlife Biologist, Dr. Seth Moore presented information about Moose in the BWCAW

Wildlife Biologist, Dr. Seth Moore, presented information about Moose in the BWCAW

Sauna time!

Sauna time!

The stars were gorgeous!

The stars were gorgeous!

Wildlife Biologist, Dr. Seth Moore presented information about Moose in the BWCAW

Wildlife Biologist, Dr. Seth Moore, presented information about Moose in the BWCAW

Landscape 4

The Friend's Conservation Fellows and Science & Conservation Director, Betsy Daub

The Friend’s Conservation Fellows and Science & Conservation Director, Betsy Daub

A couple of the Conservation Fellows skiing on the back trail

A couple of the Conservation Fellows skiing on the back trail

Puzzle time!

Puzzle time!

DSC01781 DSC01724 DSC01721

Photo by Janine Cotto

Photo by Janine Cotto

Photo by Janine Cotto

Photo by Janine Cotto

Photo by Janine Cotto

Photo by Janine Cotto

Everyone was excited for the dogsledding presentation

Everyone was excited for the dogsledding presentation

One of the many cute pups who loved giving us rides in the dog sleds

One of the many cute pups who loved giving us rides in the dog sleds

Monster on Agnes: The True Wilderness Adventures of a Boy Guide

Fire by Nicholas Nicome

Photo by Nicholas Nicome

by Tom King

We named the younger boys grubs. Grubs! You know, worms. We called them that so we could prove to ourselves we were more than boys. We were eighteen, nineteen – maybe some of us even twenty years old. The Grubs, between fourteen and seventeen, were nipping right on the heels of our peach fuzzy manhood. The real difference between the Grubs and us was that we got paid a little to spend the summer living in a canoe and sleeping under the stars on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America. The grubs had to fork out some good money to the Boy Scouts to spend nine days of their summer doing the same spectacular thing we got paid to do. We knew how to paddle all day, bake an apple pie over an open fire, lope across a rocky portage with a 100-pound canoe on our shoulders, and where to find good fishing. They wanted to learn. They were Grubs.

Sometimes, to prove how not-grub we were, we’d show them the dehydrated water. Meal times were puzzling for kids who didn’t know how to prepare their own peanut butter sandwich let alone cook a three course meal for fifteen over a pile of burning sticks. It was a good chance for guides to puff up a bit.

“See that can,” the smart aleck canoe guide would say pointing to the bright yellow and red labeled can. “The one that says dehydrated water?”

“Ya?!”, the puzzled grub scout would mumble glancing nervously between the guide and can.

“You know how to mix up water, don’t you?”

“Uh, no!?”

“You get that can opener out from the pack,” the guide explains while adding pine wood to the blazing cook fire, “open the can, pour in two cups of water, stir it fifteen times, and you’ve got water. But it’s gotta be fifteen times.”

The thing about cans of dehydrated water is they are filled with air. Nothing more. You add water and, duh!, you get water. The more alert boys figured it out sooner. They, as well as the not-so-alert boys, all eventually grinned sheepishly as they absorbed the joke.

If a guide was grown up at all, he played this joke once or twice before and then recognized its cruelty. Guiding, and being guided, caused a lot of growing up.

The situation we were in right now was not a joke. It did seem cruel. And before we were done everybody was going to grow up some.

“How is your side feeling Ralph?” I asked.

“Right now it only hurts a little,” fourteen-year-old Ralph, five years my junior, said.

Ralph was sitting, his backside in a puddle of water, in the middle of the wooden green canoe. I was paddling steadily in the stern and a sharp hot pain was knifing between my shoulders. Jose, a muscular sixteen years old from Chicago paddling bow, was starting to slack off. We’d had four hours of stiff face-into-the-wind work. I wondered if that blister Jose had on his thumb had broken. Was it bleeding now?

“How you doing Jose?” I asked.

The wind tossed my words backward. They never made it to the bow. The boy couldn’t hear me. I took another J-stroke to keep us into the wind. Even though it hurt. We had to. If we didn’t get to town Ralph’s appendix could burst. He might die.


It seemed strange. Yesterday we were in the second day of our trip. The sun was golden. Everybody was laughing. Maybe things went wrong when we shot the rapids at Kawnipi Forks. It didn’t seem like it at the time. The rapids were fun. Everybody had their life jackets on. The scouts in their poofy orange life vests paddling three green canoes on the blue water were strung out like beads on the wide river. That was one minute. The next a canoe capsized. The olive-green canvas packs were bobbing down river like ducks. And Ralph, Sam, and Randy were sputtering and gripping onto the gunwales of the swamped canoe. Jose and I came along side.

“OK guys,” I said, trying to stay calm “Remember. You can get into your canoe and paddle even if it’s full of water.”

They were scared but remembered their lessons. Carefully, one by one, they pulled into their canoe. It was floating just below the water’s surface.

“How come the canoe doesn’t sink?,” Jose asked.

It had floats built into the bow and stern, I explained. That kept it and the boys, who were sitting in water up to their chests, from sinking.

“OK, now paddle slowly toward that point with the big pine tree,” I told them. “There’s a campsite there. You can dry out.”

We stayed along side of them, sometimes paddling backwards so the current wouldn’t pull us away.

The afternoon was sunny and warm. The boys did dry out lounging under the grand old Norway Pines. The packs were retrieved. Sodden sleeping bags were spread out to dry on speckled black and white granite at the edge of the sparkling water. Tents were pitched. Dinner was cooked, including an apple pie in the shiny reflector oven. No bad jokes were told.

Everyone, exhausted from adventuring, turned in after an hour around the fire.

After making sure the fire was out, I crawled under my canoe, wrapped my blanket around me, and drifted to sleep to the music of water lapping the shore.


“Tim, Tim! Wake up.”

A hand, blue in the moonlight, was shaking me out of slumber. A loon was wailing. The hand was attached to Greg’s arm. Greg was one of the trip’s adult advisors.

“Tim. Wake up! Ralph is having terrible pains in his side.”

I crawled out from under the canoe, bumping my head sharply on the gunwale.

“I think he’s having an appendicitis attack,” Greg said.

Ralph had an appendicitis attack all right. What do you do when you’re at least two days away from emergency medical help and have an emergency? You do what we did.

Jose, who was the strongest paddler, and I gobbled a cold breakfast in the dark. Greg stuffed a pack with high-energy food – raisins, dried apples, brown sugar, oatmeal – that we could eat as we traveled. He also put in matches, a sleeping bag, a map, a piece of rope and, last but not least, toilet paper. Ralph, not hungry, sat on a rock, pale, and hugging himself.

We slipped the canoe into water made silver by dawn’s gray light. Everybody was up. With worried looks, the crew watched us lean into our paddles.

“Do the best you can guys,” Greg said. “We’ll wait for you here.”

“Hey, you guys,” Jose called back to shore as we glided over the glassy water into the morning mist, “do you remember how to cook dehydrated water?”

That got a laugh from everybody. Jose’s wisecrack brought a smile to our own faces and energy to our first hour of paddling.

But now it was late morning, the wind was in those previously smiling faces, a hot sun was over head, and we’d run out of jokes. One thing had been accomplished. I’d learned these two Grubs were tough kids. I knew Ralph hurt. He was scared, too. But he hadn’t complained. Instead he taught us some songs we sang together. Jose, who hadn’t paddled a canoe until three days before, wouldn’t quit. When he got blisters he told riddles.

“What’s always before you but you can never see it,” he asked Ralph and me.

“Your future!” he crowed.

But now we were out of songs. Out of dumb jokes. And it seemed like we weren’t going anywhere. Still, by early afternoon, we reached the campsite our group had camped at a day earlier. We’d covered a distance in half a day that our group had taken a day to cover. Time to celebrate with a raisin break.

It was nice sitting under a tree. Not paddling felt good. The raisins were sweet. The sunshine on my face made me sleepy. We had been paddling since 5:00 AM – nine hours. Maybe we could stay here. Maybe Ralph just had a stomachache.

“Hey, Ralph. How are you doing?” I asked. “Do you think we should stay here and see what happens?”

Ralph looked at me like he might have been ready to agree.

“No way, Tim,” Jose said staring a hole through me. “Ralph is really sick. We’ve got to go.”

I stared at Jose. Who did this Grub think he was? I was the guide. I made the decisions. But he was right. Without speaking again we packed our things, put the canoe in the water, and paddled.

We were on Agnes. Nobody ever called it Lake Agnes. Agnes. Like she was a person. That’s understandable. She had a personality. A difficult one. Agnes is long and thin. Ten to twelve miles long from north to south. Maybe a mile wide at her widest points. She’s surrounded by steep forested hills. It’s a long way through black water from a canoe’s keel to her cold stony bottom. And the wind. It’s always in your face. If you’re paddling north a cold wind splashes foam from high waves over your bow and into your face. If you’re traveling south – and we were – a hot wind sucks the moisture from you. The sun blisters you. All afternoon we faced off with that wind. We’d find a tall pine on the shore and stroke and stroke and stroke and maybe in twenty minutes we’d move by it and select the next tree. But with one minute of relaxation and we’d loose everything we’d gained.

But now, for the last hour, no wind had fought us. The sunset had been an orange explosion across the western sky. The loons were on the glassy water laughing. Again. We didn’t appreciate it. We’d been paddling fourteen hours. We were zombies. Numb paddling machines. We wanted to quit. But Ralph was hurting bad again.

Agnes is mysterious in the dark. Sweet. Gentle. Everybody I know prefers Agnes in the dark. Her dark liquid waters, the sound of a swishing paddle, the reflected starlight, all sooth the tortured body. In the dark I told the boys about Louisa Falls and the soothing waters of the natural baths.

“Louisa is above Agnes,” I told them. “As her waters fall toward Agnes there are tubs in the stone. Under the cedars there is thick moss. It’s deep and soft. You can slip over the moss into the tubs. The waterfall splashes on your head and massages your body.”

“It’s like a whirlpool,” Jose said. “Wouldn’t that be great, Ralph?”

Ralph didn’t respond.

“He’s sleeping,” I said.

“I hope so,” Jose said.

We heard Louisa Falls before we saw the campfire. The sound of falling water, first just a whispering suggestion, drew our canoe like the North Pole does a compass needle. We slipped through the silky darkness toward the sound. And there was the welcoming twinkle of a campfire. Glory. How fine hot food would taste.

“Look at that, Jose. Dinner is on. I bet they have pizza.”

Yeah. Jose still had a small reservoir of vigor. His paddle dipped and flashed in the starlight. Ralph groaned. “We’re gonna get you there, Ralph. Hang-on.”

The canoe hit the pebbles of the beach at the Louisa Falls campsite. The sound of the Falls was strong. The figures at the campfire couldn’t hear us. They couldn’t see us.

“I’ll tell them we need help. You guys wait here.”

Jose stood ankle deep in water, holding the canoe. The water was foamy from the falls. I stepped in to my knees. The water was warmer than the air. I placed my paddle against the webbed stern seat. Sloshed to the beach. Walked toward the yellow flickering flames. There were two figures. Their backs were toward me. Black. I walked across the grass. Not many campsites have grass. I saw the dew in the starlight. White. A figure turned toward me. Away from the fire’s light. I opened my mouth. I was prepared to speak. Greet. The face of the figure, or where there should have been a face, was hooded. If this wasn’t true, just a story, I’d say cowled. And something, two things, glittered where eyes should have been. Had it been facing the fire, and I don’t say it carelessly, I would say fire light reflected in it’s eyes. But the orange or red where eyes should be was not warm firelight. Wasn’t eyes. It was facing me. In the dark, it was burning inside. I froze. I became cold. Icy. Then adrenaline scorched me. With those cold red not-eyes at my back I flew across the dewed grass, into the water, and into the stern of the canoe. I said something to Jose – I don’t know what – but he understood my terror and we raced through the dark toward Meadows Portage.

We got out into the shallow water near the portage. Jose took the paddles and our small pack and I, knee deep in water, rolled the canoe onto my thighs and then to my shoulders. Sloshing out of the water we followed the trail into the woods. It was a relief to walk after so many hours. The adrenaline had done its work and now I was exhausted. I explained some of what I’d seen to Jose as we prepared to portage.

The rest of that night is a blur. Somehow we got to the canoe-base landing. Somehow Ralph, Jose, and I got into the canoe-base truck and onto the dark winding road to town. And somehow we got to the hospital emergency room. The sun was just coming up


Later that day I rode in the bow of a motor canoe to Meadows Portage. The fresh wind felt good on my face. The bow slapped the waves. I napped. It was peaceful. At Meadows I shouldered the canoe. The other guy, I don’t remember his name, took the gas and motor. They smell bad and are awkward.

At the north end of the portage I told the guy about what I’d seen at Louisa Falls. He didn’t believe me. We motored over there. With a motor you can’t hear the falls. The guy shut the motor off. We could hear their soothing sound as we drifted in. I got out before we hit the beach and gently brought the canoe along side. The campground was empty. The fire pit hadn’t been used for days, maybe weeks. The guy shrugged. He said something polite but didn’t look at me.

We shoved off and motored up to my crew.

Tim King is the 2016 winner of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness’ Spooky Stories contest. Cover photo by Conservation Fellow, Nicholas Nicome. @nicholasnicome

The Future of the Environmental Movement Looks Good, But It’s Not What You Expect

by Annika Sampson, Intern at the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

On a blustery April day in St. Paul, two Brower Youth Award winners arrived at Macalester College to lead a discussion on the future of the environmental movement. Kate Weiner and Ryan Camero both won the Brower Youth Award in 2015 for their roles as environmental leaders in their communities. With the help of the Friends’ Science & Conservation Director Betsy Daub, Kate and Ryan engaged in meaningful discussion with an enthusiastic group of students.

The forum sought to answer the question: What is the future of the environmental movement? At the root of this inquiry is a deeper fear: What is the future of the environment? Our planet? With the inescapable realities of climate change looming, especially for vulnerable populations, the loss of land to corporate interests, and a lack of inclusivity in the movement itself, the answer is not clear. However, this community of youth leaders was filled with optimism, critical thinking, and creativity. Coming from Detroit, Wisconsin, California, Maine, and beyond, and from backgrounds in studio art, biology, and environmental science, they represented the next generation of global stewards.

Ryan Camero works with Restore the Delta in Stockton, CA to advocate for a community facing both a drought and water privatization. With the help of the Beehive Collective, an activist arts collective, he has created an interactive presentation that draws parallels between corporate efforts to privatize California’s water and peoples’ struggles against large-scale infrastructure projects throughout Mesoamerica. At the forum, he talked about his own experience in the environmental movement. Ryan’s work has taken him to Paris and around the country, but it grew from a desire to help his hometown. Being an artist and an organizer, he used his tools, gifts, and connections to support an intersectional environmental equality movement that draws parallels between indigenous struggles in the Amazon and California’s water privatization. And, he does it all with a sense of humor, an earnest empathy, and a beautiful voice. He concluded our forum with a song: “There is one question with a thousand answers / or perhaps only one answer to a thousand things to ask. / But hey, don’t you know there’s no need to feel dejected / because all of our grievances are connected.”

Kate Weiner is a graduate of Wesleyan University and explores collectives as a tool for impactful engagement in sustainable living and social change. In 2014, she founded LOAM, an environmentally-themed magazine, and Wild Walls, low-cost wall gardens built and maintained by students. Kate spoke eloquently and deliberately on the dangers of catastrophic thinking, the power of self-sufficiency, and the importance of taking action for this world, this moment. Of her journey, she said, “I started LOAM as a junior at Wesleyan. I felt despondent in a lot of my environmental studies classes. For myself, as someone who was an artist and a dancer, I understood best through creativity. That was how I grasped these environmental issues. And I thought, there must be a lot of people on campus who feel the same way.”

As both a poet and an environmentalist myself, I understood exactly what she was talking about. Other students chipped in with their own stories of feeling excluded from conventional “environmentalism.” It’s no secret that the current environmental movement has a diversity problem. Environmentalism needs to speak to all people, and be as diverse as America in order to survive and thrive. And although it has achieved many victories and pursued its goals with tireless dedication and passion, the emphasis on higher education, intensive scientific study, and the rugged individualist archetype has left many non-white, non-male, and/or younger environmentalists out of the conversation.

“How do you engage with the environment?” we asked each other. For some, it was through public health. For others, through gardening. Many engaged in community organization and activism. The forum began to collect answers to that pivotal question: What is the future of the environmental movement? First and foremost, it will be a place of inclusion. It will be a space where binaries are blurred, where closed-loop cooking is as valued as conservation, where non-white environmental leaders are acknowledged and honored for their commitment to their land and communities. Where all voices are respected, though they may not be saying familiar things.

The environmental movement has a powerful and important journey ahead of it, and these students are a few of its many pioneers. Currently, mainstream environmental organizations suffer from a lack of diversity. The percentage of non-white members of America’s “Ecological Base” is vastly lower than America as a whole. In Diversity and the Future of the Environmental Movement, a collection of essays and studies compiled by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Management, Emily Enderle writes that “study results presented in Toward a New Ecological Majority indicate that, of the nation’s Ecological Base (10% of the population and 15% of the electorate), 89% of members are white, 82% are older than 35, 78% have attended at least some college and 26% earn more than $80,000 year. According to United States Census Bureau, in 2000 more than 31% of people in the U.S. were not white (12.7% Black, 12.6% Hispanic, 3.8% Asian and 2.5% Other).” And with a range of environmental problems affecting every human being on this planet, this exclusivity poses a threat to thoughtful, urgent, and lasting change.

Marcelo Bonta, a conservation biologist and philanthropist, notes, “We are not making a conscientious effort to be inclusivediversifying the environmental movement needs to include every organization, business, agency, foundation, and academic institution that is working on environmental issues.” After all, as the gathering of young environmental leaders proved, the change needed to protect our planet and human communities demands all voices, all skills, all perspectives and passions. Bonta adds: “The environmental space is heady — it’s full of data, numbers, and acres saved. But change can only happen when you engage the head and the heart.”

And the environment does not end at the boundary of a Wilderness Area. Places and spaces are often subjective to our own experience within them. These personal, human elements of the environment are often overlooked in major environmental organizations and media outlets. And this is a problem. Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces, writes extensively on her experience as a non-white outdoorswoman and scholar. She calls for inclusion, recognition, and redefinition of environmentalism. Framing the environment as a space for stories, legacies, and infinite futures is essential for incorporating all voices into the conversation and movement. As Finney says, “Specifically, for African-Americans memory, both collective and individual, allows us a way to name and re-create a place, which gives us (or reaffirms) the power to recreate ourselves and the places we live in. This allows us to construct environmental spaces in our own image. Focusing on preserving a piece of the past is a way to say ‘we were there’ and indirectly allows for more control and power in deciding who we were and who we are. Consequently, memory, as a way of evoking the past, becomes an important vehicle for involving the community in environmental preservation, conservation, and participation.”

“The environmental space” a whirling, interconnected, vibrant system. Watersheds, seasonal cycles, wildernesses, suburban sprawls, highrises, farmland, taigas, deserts, and seas. Macro and micro, heads and hearts. Bacteria and belugas and Boundary Waters. And in many ways, it is also a space for our stories, the stories of those who have come before, and even paths for the stories yet to come. The BWCA remembers those whose feet and paddles passed through long before it was known by an acronym at all. The birchbark hulls of Ojibwe canoes slipping through glacier-carved lakes. Voyageurs heaving pelts over portages. Sigurd Olson teaching and writing amongst the pines. We are reminded of these stories when we return to this land, and other lands, that we love. We build upon them with our children and friends and family. We make our own, and honor those of others. We will stop at nothing to sustain these spaces for all those yet to come.

The environmental equality movement fights for the protection and celebration of all sentient beings and the right of ecosystems to exist regardless of their economic value. It will continue to do so as people find their own ways of loving and supporting each other and the Earth. But as we move forward, into increasingly complex, diverse, terrifying, thrilling futures, the environmental movement should and will make conscious efforts to expand traditional notions of “environmentalism” and “environmentalist”. Is this too idealistic? Should we abandon our values and communities under the banner of despair, disguised as realism? Fear is a paralyzing force, and all too powerful. We all share in the beauty of this Earth and wild places like the Boundary Waters. We will all share the coming days of uncertainty. But Ryan Camero and Kate Weiner embody hope through their purposeful and inclusive work. They, as well as the students present at the gathering, answered the questions of a suffering world with more questions. What do you care about? What can you do? What is your story? If you love the Boundary Waters, stand up against PolyMet and Twin Metals with whatever tools and gifts you have, even if it’s simply your voice or a signature on a petition. Prove the dangers of sulfide mining if you’re an engineer or a scientist. If you care about education equity in your neighborhood, bring your skills. Build a vertical garden, like Kate has done across America. Act. Take small steps. Teach. Write. Go to meetings and protests, gatherings and shared meals. Learn. Discover, or relearn, the stories of environmental activists like Charles Young, Winona LaDuke, John Francis, Betty Reid Soskin, maybe even your own grandparents or children. Listen. When we live in these answers, then the true movement begins. Then the power shifts. Then there will be song.

Full Moon Magic

by Gary Clements

I was 22 then. She was 20. Now I’m 72. She’s 70.

Here’s how it happened.

 Like a sentinel pine, it takes time to grow…

Through the early and mid 1960s, I was a counselor at St. Paul YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, located near Ely, and led small groups of teenagers into the amazing country that would become BWCA with the Wilderness Act of 1964. I had known the canoe routes as a camper there from 1957 to 1961, and the magic of two week wilderness trips, of deep forest and clean, drinkable water immediately pulled my heart from the great plains of Nebraska.

“I’ll never know exactly how much my overture was aided by the mellow evening air, the scent of pine, or the glow of the rising moon…”

During those years of counseling, the camp ran sessions for both boys and girls, but they were never in camp at the same time. Thus the men’s staff and women’s staff seldom had much time together.  But we were always keenly aware of each other, as college age youth are wont to do, and through stories and occasional opportunities to interact, we came to know about each other, for better or for worse.

Summer romances were not uncommon, where opportunity existed, and both my future wife and I experienced our share, though not with each other.  We did know of each other, and had a good appreciation for each other’s work as counselors and wilderness explorers.  It wasn’t until the summer of 1966, when we were both working as in-camp staff during the month of August, that we had a more regular opportunity to interact. When summer came to a close and it was time to return to city life, she and I sat on the steps of the path below the dining hall, looking at the full moon rise over Burntside Lake. It was just before Labor Day, and my simple query was whether I might call on her when we were both back in St. Paul, where I was beginning a teaching job and she was in her last year at the University of Minnesota.


How quaint it seems now, to have been a suitor with that approach. But she said yes, and gave me her contact information. I’ll never know exactly how much my overture was aided by the mellow evening air, the scent of pine, or the glow of the rising moon, but I have no doubt that our common experiences over those years of paddling and portaging had already created a subconscious foundation for a relationship, and we were married a year later.  I know this because there have been very few summers in the 48 years since then that we have not loaded our wood/canvas (and now kevlar) canoe, and slid into the quiet waters of the BWCA and Quetico.  Sometimes we have traveled with another couple, sometimes by ourselves, and sometimes with our children and grandchildren, who have also developed a firm love for the wilderness.

It takes a long time to grow a sentinel pine.  You can still see them along some of the border routes, standing tall above the hillsides, beckoning the way as their ancestors did for the Ojibwe and the Voyageurs centuries ago. And it takes some time for a couple to move beyond the romantic buzz, maturing into a relationship with a foundation as solid as the granite walls that line the Basswood River. I will be ever grateful for the role the wilderness has played in that development for Jane and me, where we could teach our children the value of solitude, self-reliance, self-examination and reflection in a land where the spirit emerges, and reaches out for a kindred soul.


The Rest Is History

by Emily E. Bredon

I was already in love with John when I first brought him to the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Of course, I hadn’t told him that yet. That came later. However, on that very first trip and without words, John and I formed a deep connection that surpassed any other we had ever experienced. I owe that connection to the lakes, portages, rivers, woods, and yes, even mosquitoes, of the Boundary Waters. Though we did not meet in the BWCA, nor were either of us seasoned canoers when we first met, our story truly begins in that nearly indescribable wild. After all, the Boundary Waters are the reason John and I are married.

After our first nearly week-long trip, we felt strong both in our bodies and our spirits. We were determined to visit the BWCA annually. And so, every year around August we packed up our borrowed canoe, our packs, water purifier, sleeping bags, our tiny burner and cooking utensils, and of course our lovely yellow lab Jane, and we set off on our wilderness adventure. Each year for six years John and I would spend nights in the deep, dark, desolate woods, listening to the loons and the occasional wolves as we pondered the stars and figured out how to hang our bear pack. We were in continuous awe of the beauty of the woods and waters.

    “It is all of what life is and should be. It is pure and raw natural beauty. It is love, fear, togetherness, isolation, hope, frustration, determination, and humbleness.”   

Our weeks in the Boundary Waters have not all been s’mores and smooching, however. John and I found new ways to argue while navigating both large and small waters, we suffered some injuries, and we went nights without sleep as we rode out some pretty scary storms. And of course, we endured the mosquitoes. I can recall one day, after we had spent an exceptionally long time portaging and rowing in rain, we finally found a campsite. We frantically tried to set up our tent and tarp as the wind mocked us, and we were cursing at each other as mosquitoes had their way with our only exposed skin: our faces. I remember it with a smile now, though at the time I yearned for the indoors and to be as far away from John as possible.

That is what the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is though. It is all of what life is and should be. It is pure and raw natural beauty. It is love, fear, togetherness, isolation, hope, frustration, determination, and humbleness. John and I have experienced all of that together and that has made us fall in love more deeply.


In 2012, we again made our usual August trip to the beautiful Boundary Waters. We dropped in late afternoon, and so were astounded to see that there was a gorgeous campsite on the west-facing side of an island with a sandy beach. Before even setting up our tent, I took Jane to the beach and watched her play as I sat out looking at the sunset. It was everything I had waited for all year. There was nowhere else I’d rather be. Soon, John sat next to me. I was about to ask where he had been when he pulled a small box from behind him. A perfect amethyst ring sat neatly inside it, and my eyes filled with the happiest of tears. The rest is history.

Fish Hook

by Stephanie

Unlike some love stories, this one didn’t exactly start in the BWCA. Stephen and I had been seeing each other a few months when we decided to spend a week in northern paradise–just the two of us. I’d guided a few trips with large groups before, but he had never been. I saw our trip together as an opportunity to determine his worthiness and see if he could survive a week a) paddling, b) paddling with me, and c) in the real wilderness that the BWCA offers.

Little did I know that he’d prove his worth early on in our journey.

“I thought this guy was someone I can count on if a bear really does come after our food pack.”

After a nasty encounter on day one at Lake Saganaga with a nasty red squirrel who compromised some of our provisions, day two promised to be more relaxing with fishing and paddling on the agenda. I sterned, of course! Nothing so progressive like letting a woman steer the way. After making camp at a new island, Stephen, not a regular fisherman, landed a sizeable pike and needed my “expert” help bringing it in. After much thrashing by the pike, it became extremely tangled in a hand net– the hook too. In trying to detangle the lure from the net for him with an unhappy fish in tow, I soon found a treble hook lodged…. deeply in my ring finger! With a fish still attached! Unable to push the barb through for easy removal, my wilderness doctor rushed into action. He grabbed a multi tool to snap the lure (still attached to an angry pike) from the hook in my hand, which reassuringly caused the tool to break…. Gently, without disturbing the fish, he was able to free the hook from the lure, leaving only me attached, or hooked, rather, to a little wooden bait. With a shot of whiskey for each of us and a pocket knife, he calmly looked me in the eye and performed some trail surgery to cut the hook from my finger. Soon, I was freed!


It was hilarious, embarrassing, and terrifying. Still, in that moment, I had a feeling he was someone I could be with forever. Maybe it was the pulse in the new hook-gouged mark on my itchy ring finger, maybe it was the whiskey. I could have been lightheaded from the miniscule loss of blood, or the euphoria of being out in our wonderful wild place. Whatever it was, I suddenly looked at him in a whole new light. Misty sunset light. I thought this guy was someone I can count on if a bear really does come after our food pack. I’m sure I teared up at the revelation.

A year later, we’re still together for the long haul. Though he may have to work on his catch and release skills, when it comes to the right way to approach some BWCA first aid, he is definitely a keeper. So was the pike, by the way. We ate it for dinner, in the rain. With a few more rounds of whiskey.


The BWCA Bar Trivia Challenge


On Wednesday, July 15, Indeed Brewing hosted the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in their taproom as part of their “Indeed We Can” program. It works like this: Indeed employees nominate their favorite non-profit organizations to receive the proceeds from the taproom every Wednesday evening, and that nonprofit gets to feature their work. We’re grateful that we were nominated and we had a great time talking to folks about our work keeping the Boundary Waters wild and protected forever.

As part of the festivities, there were two sessions of Boundary Waters Wilderness bar trivia. We had some strong competition in each session, with just one point separating the top three teams. Here are the winners:


     Game #1 (out of 40 points)

  1. Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers 28
  2. Air, Water, Bread Dough 27
  3. Abstract Feather 26

Game #2 (out of 40 points)

  1. An Album Cover 30
  2. Canoewering 29
  3. All American Woodcocks 28

If you missed it, keep an eye out for future events like this. Folks had a good time and learned something about the Boundary Waters by playing. If you think you can do better than our champions, here’s your chance. Take the quiz below. We gave 2 points for the exact answer, and 1 point for a partial or nearly correct answer. Here’s Game #1, can you beat the Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers score of 28? The answers are below, but cheaters never win, so no peeking!

  1. The highest point in Minnesota is located in the BWCA, what is its name?
  2. What is the maximum number of watercraft permitted in a single group in the Boundary Waters?
  3. What is the largest and deepest lake located in the BWCA? (Hint: it is not entirely within the BWCA boundaries)
  4. Name two officially designated hiking trails in the BWCA Wilderness.
  5. What is the most popular overnight paddling entry point to the Boundary Waters Wilderness by number of entry permits per day?
  6. Who was the last permanent human resident of the BWCA Wilderness?
  7. What is the least popular BWCA wilderness overnight paddling entry point from among these choices? Crocodile River, Angleworm Lake, North Fowl Lake, Mudro Lake
  8. Which Forest Service scientist retired so that be could lobby to protect the BWCA as a wilderness area in the 1970s?
  9. How many rods are in a mile?
  10. How long are you permitted to stay in the BWCA after you have entered?
  11. Which one of these is not a waterfall located in the BWCA? Curtain Falls, Basswood Falls, High Falls of the Pigeon River, Johnson Falls
  12. What is the oldest, still operating resort on the Gunflint Trail?
  13. According to the Leave No Trace video shown to BWCA visitors, how far away from the shoreline are you supposed to bathe, wash dishes, or dig a cathole?
  14. Which wilderness advocate was hung in effigy outside of Ely Junior High School in 1977?
  15. Which portage along the border route divides the Rainy River and Lake Superior watersheds?
  16. The Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, of which the BWCAW is part. In what year was the Wilderness Act passed?
  17. Which bird found in the BWCA is commonly known as the Whiskeyjack or “Camp Robber”?
  18. On what date (the actual, precise date) did the infamous “Boundary Water Blowdown” storm happen?
  19. True or false, the Boundary Waters is bigger than Quetico Provincial Park.
  20. Which of the following items are allowed in the BWCA wilderness? Stand-up paddle boards, Sails, Portage wheels, Drones

TIEBREAKER: How many lakes 10 acres in size and larger are in the BWCA?

(Answers below)









  1. Eagle Mountain – elevation 2,301 feet.
  2. 4
  3. Saganaga
  4. Any two of Border Route, Angleworm, Kekekabic, Pow Wow, Sioux Hustler, Big Moose Lake Trail, Disappointment, Eagle Mountain, Herriman Lake, Norway, South Lake, Snowbank
  5. Moose Lake
  6. Dorothy Molter
  7. Crocodile River
  8. Miron (Bud) Heinselman
  9. 320
  10. No limit (as long as you can stay in, 14 day limit at a specific campsite)
  11. High Falls of the Pigeon River (in Grand Portage State Park)
  12. Clearwater Lodge – founded in 1915
  13. 150 feet
  14. Sigurd Olson
  15. Height of Land Portage
  16. 1964
  17. Gray Jay
  18. July 4, 1999
  19. True
  20. Stand-up paddle boards


Launching the Heart of the Continent Geotourism Initiative

Jim Dion announcing the website launch in Duluth

Jim Dion announcing the website launch in Duluth

By Shannon Boehm, Friends Intern

In March, I had the privilege to be a part of a monumental event for The Heart of the Continent Partnership: The launch of their geotourism website for National Geographic. This initiative was started by Jim Dion of National Geographic. With this project, National Geographic partners with a host of regions to create a framework for engaging communities and creating a regional geotourism infrastructure for locations throughout the world. The project creates an interactive website for the region that will assist people all over the world in planning trips that sustain or enhance the geographical character of a place. With other regions throughout the country providing great success stories, The Heart of the Continent Partnership has been working with National Geographic to become one of them, and this past week’s media launch marked the beginning.

Mayor Ness and HOCP Chair Jewell at Glensheen Mansion

Mayor Ness and HOCP Chair Jewell at Glensheen Mansion

The media launch for this initiative was a two-day, three-city journey to spread awareness and gain support, with all events being held at locations showcased on the new website. On Thursday morning we started in Duluth at the historical Glensheen Mansion. We heard from several supporters and contributors to the initiative including Frank Jewell, County Commissioner for St Louis County and HOCP Chairman, Don Ness, the mayor of Duluth. We then ventured along the north shore to Grand Portage National Monument, where we were welcomed with a drum circle performance by local tribal members, and graced with the words of one of the their tribal leaders, along with other speakers promoting the new website. Our last stop was in Thunder Bay, Ontario on Friday morning at Fort Williams Historical Park. We heard from more supporters of the geotourism initiative including representatives from the offices of the mayors from both Thunder Bay and Atikokan.

Drum Circle at Grand Portage

Drum Circle at Grand Portage

This was a really great way to see the ways that people from not only different backgrounds, but also different countries can work together to support such a great initiative. They all recognized the unique attributes and natural wonders our region has to offer as well as the benefit that this National Geographic initiative could have for all of the local communities involved. I was very honored to be a part of such great discussions regarding tourism and the environment, and I look forward to watching this partnership and the geotourism initiative progress.

Visit the website www.traveltheheart.org and download the mobile app for iPhone or Android.

Winter Weekend Wonderland

Over 40 people joined the Friends for our annual Winter Wilderness Weekend at Camp Menogyn on the edge of the BWCA Wilderness January 16th through 19th. The weather was great, with light snow, mild temperatures and just enough clear sky to see a glimpse of the northern lights. Here are some shots from the weekend’s snowshoeing, dogsledding, and other winter activities (though there are no shots of the sauna and jumping in a hole cut in Bearskin Lake.) If you missed this weekend but would like to do something similar, YMCA Camp Menogyn offers another winter family weekend over Presidents Day weekend in February. You can register and learn more here.

Thanks to everybody who joined us and made it such a memorable weekend. Truly, the Boundary Waters are not just for summer fun – there’s a ton of fun to be had in the winter too!

The campers get an orientation to dogsledding from the Camp Menogyn mushers

The campers get an orientation to dogsledding from the Camp Menogyn mushers

The view from the dogsled, heading along the back trail behind Camp Menogyn

The view from the dogsled, heading along the back trail behind Camp Menogyn

This group went snowshoeing on the Caribou Rock Trail. This is the overlook of Bearskin Lake.

This group went snowshoeing on the Caribou Rock Trail. This is the overlook of Bearskin Lake.

The view from the top of the Caribou Rock Trail overlook of Bearskin Lake.

The view from the top of the Caribou Rock Trail overlook of Bearskin Lake.


The hill behind the dining hall is a great place to go sledding!


The Menogyn boathouse is covered in snow, but whispers a promise of canoeing in the spring



The kids had a great time in the snow

The kids had a great time in the snow

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