A trip to Ely offers insights into businesses which the wilderness supports, and inspiration to keep working for its future.
I went to Ely this Tuesday, to learn from people who live and work on the edge of the wilderness. It was refreshing to spend time in person with our Northern Communities staff member Ian Kimmer and, frankly, to just get the heck out of the office.
On my way north, I passed several billboards that spoke directly to the wild character of where I was headed. One showed a family dog sledding down a cathedral-like forest winter trail that went on forever. Another showed a couple relaxing next to a wood fire with a lovely view of an undeveloped lake, the pine trees on its shore drooping with snow. I related to both and bumped up the cruise control.
Ian and I spent the entire day with people who make their living in this country, right next to the 1 million acre wilderness. Either through running canoe tripping programs into and around the Superior National Forest or providing cabins with those lovely views of the lake, these people know the woods, lakes and trails and the way to get around them better than anyone. They also know how to make at least a little money, for themselves and their employees, sharing this asset with other people – the people the billboards are talking to.
We learned how sulfide mining is affecting not only their business but how it is affecting them personally. In some cases, the noise and traffic from exploratory drilling has actually created a significant decrease in their operating revenue. One told me point blank, mining and tourism are not compatible and his friend is considering leaving the home to which he just retired if mining occurs. Another said these waters and woods are everyone’s personal legacy. They are healthy now, even after so much conflict and division over the years. People love them in different ways. But they are providing a living for many of us. If we allow them to become degraded, we and our children lose.
He pointed out the window across the lake to the snowy white and grey wilderness beyond and said, “Your job is to preserve this. We need to do this and we need to succeed.” I couldn’t agree more and that’s a job I am honored to do.