Don’t bother getting out your calculator, it’s about 70 miles. It’s also the length of portage trails that volunteers brushed and cleared this year through the Superior Wilderness Volunteer Connection program.
For the last several years, the Friends has partnered with the Superior National Forest and REI to administer this program that connects volunteers who want to give back to the wilderness with opportunities and training. Since wilderness work is challenging and the tools are somewhat specialized (2-person cross cut saws, for example), a formal program like this one is essential.
In 2014, volunteers working through the Superior Wilderness Volunteer did an amazing amount of work to maintain portages and campsites in the BWCA.
By the numbers, Superior Wilderness Volunteers….
- Spent 402 days in the field
- Cleared 48 miles of hiking / ski trails
- Brushed and cleared 22,616 rods of portage trails
- Maintained 614 campsites
- Dug 88 latrines for those campsites
- Cleared 493 hazard trees in campsites
As you can see, volunteers are incredibly important to maintaining the parts of the BWCA that you might encounter as a visitor. Thanks to them for all of their hard work, and thanks to our partners, REI and Superior National Forest for partnering with us.
(Photo credit: Wilderness Volunteers)
by Paul Danicic, Executive Director
Last month, on the 50th anniversary of the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, I was on trail in the Boundary Waters Wilderness with a group of people I did not know. We were all there to celebrate our country’s creation of wilderness areas, discuss what wilderness means to us now, and talk about what issues it faces today and in the future. Though I was prepared for serious work, I had a great time.
The canoe trip featured a diverse group of paddlers and perspectives. We had Forest Service leaders, congressional staffers, scientists, educators, local residents, younger paddlers and wilderness advocates like me. Not all were Boundary Waters experienced but all were prepared to paddle, bone up on wilderness values and have the types of conversations about them you can only get around a campfire in the wild.
This trip was not meant to harbor panel or workshop-type discussions but to allow people to really dive deeply into how they felt about wilderness, its meaning, its threats and their own hopes for the future. The Forest Service folks were keeping notes. They want ideas in advance of their Forest Planning process coming up in a few years. We talked about values contained in the Wilderness Act – untrammelled, natural, undeveloped, opportunities for solitude or a primitive, unconfined type of recreation.
Canoe trip participants plan their route (Photo courtesy J.P. Yates)
Untrammelled means unmanipulated; unshackled from human manipulation controlling ecological systems. Often mistaken for “untrampled,” this is a primary difference between wildernesses and other protected lands. By calling a place a “wilderness,” we collectively decide to leave it alone – a very difficult thing for us humans to do.
- Natural speaks to wilderness areas being substantially free from the intended or unintended effects of modern civilization. Natural systems dominate after an area is designated wilderness.
- Undeveloped assures wilderness retains its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements from human habitation. The moose and bear and fish and turtles are at home here and we are simply guests.
- Ensuring opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation was a thoughtful part of the language of the Wilderness Act. Knowing that the pace of modern civilization had the ability to gobble up just about every speck of land, the Wilderness Act’s authors sought to ensure a place where Americans can have “… an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium,” in the words of Sigurd Olson.
Everyone found their own value within these character traits of wilderness. But it was also agreed that wilderness means much more than these four qualities. For many people, wilderness is a spiritual realm. For others, wilderness sustains their business and their community’s economy. Many visitors come for the scenic beauty of wilderness, others come searching for a proving ground of sorts where young people can undergo a positive rite of passage.
Anything that degrades wilderness also degrades our society’s ability to experience these wilderness values, and that would be a huge loss to future generations. In discussing threats that face wilderness and in particular the Boundary Waters, it was clear how great a threat copper-nickel or sulfide mining proposals pose. In my trail group it was discussed at length. A discussion with all three trail groups at the end of the trip showed that this new type of mining so near to the Boundary Waters was a matter of serious concern to all.
The other very clear common concern was how the next generation would relate to the wilderness. Would it be only through virtual experiences? Will they value the opportunity to experience absolute silence like they can in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, one of only a handful of places left to escape human made noises? Will they vote to protect it for their children? People in my group were concerned about connecting the millennial generation to the BWCA as deeply as older, more seasoned paddlers.
I came away from this trip refreshed, and not just because I was paddling boreal rivers and lakes and camping with interesting people. I found that other people with different perspectives and from different occupations shared similar values, concerns and hopes for the future of the Boundary Waters. Another participant, Friends intern Emily Northard, and I attended the Lake Superior Wilderness Conference in Duluth immediately after the trip. There again we heard these same two concerns discussed at length.
It is good to know so many others, including those who manage the resource the Friends is sworn to protect, have this deep concern for the Border Lakes region, its woods, waters, wildlife and gateway communities. On this 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, it is clear the BWCA is relevant, vibrant, much loved, and cherished. This gives me hope that it will be around 50 years from now. I can see people having a good time paddling together and discussing how important it is to their lives.
by Aaron Klemz, Communications and Engagement Director
This week, over 100 people gathered in St. Cloud for the Minnesota Water Trails Summit to celebrate 50 years of the Minnesota Water Trails program and share best practices for developing paddlesports recreation in Minnesota. I joined them to learn more about how people across Minnesota are integrating paddling into their communities, developing the next generation of paddlers, and creating economic opportunities based on paddlesports.
This event was attended by a wide variety of outfitters, local government officials, park professionals, nonprofit groups, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employees who work on the Water Trails program. Here are some facts that I learned at the summit:
Participants canoed through the Beaver Islands in St. Cloud and listened to presentations about this section of the Mississippi
- Minnesota has over 4,500 miles of designated water trails on 33 rivers and the shoreline of Lake Superior
- Designated water trails have signed and maintained access points, maps, and many have campsites
- Registrations of non-motorized boats (like canoes, kayaks, and standup paddleboards) are a quarter of all boat registrations in Minnesota
- Registrations of canoes in Minnesota are steady, and registrations of kayaks and stand up paddleboards are increasing dramatically
- Tourism is a $12.5 billion industry in Minnesota, creating 245,000 jobs and comprising 17% of all sales tax revenue
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness may be the crown jewel of Minnesota’s paddling opportunities, but Minnesota offers an incredible breadth of paddling opportunities. Sometimes you only have a day, or just an afternoon to get on the water. Minnesota’s Water Trail system offers amazing access to great paddling in urban, suburban, and rural environments – from near wilderness experiences to highly developed places.
The continuum of paddling options in Minnesota is also critical for the growth of paddle sports and the development of the next generation of water stewards. Greg Lais of Wilderness Inquiry (WI) kicked off the conference with a speech that described how his childhood experiences led to a lifelong love of paddling. It also introduced people to the Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures program and WI’s outreach programs to inner-city schools. Keynote speaker Natalie Warren of Wild River Academy described how she first experienced paddling in the Boundary Waters through YMCA Camp Menogyn, and then went on develop a non-profit dedicated to outdoor education. As she described it, her wilderness experiences inspired her to retrace Eric Sevareid’s “Canoeing with the Cree” route to Hudson Bay. On that journey, she enjoyed the interactions with people in communities along the way. Subsequently, she’s organized long-distance river expeditions called “Paddle Forward” that interact with students and community members as part of the trip.
Protecting the Boundary Waters can only be accomplished if there are a lot of people out there who love it. Events like the Minnesota Water Trails Summit showcase the work that many people are doing to pass on a love of water-based recreation to the next generation. The abundance of paddling options and the number of people working to highlight paddlesports in their communities bodes well for our work to protect clean water in the Boundary Waters and across the Quetico-Superior.
A recent rescue of eight canoeists from Basswood Lake after their canoes capsized in high winds was a scary episode that ended as well as it could. We’re very glad that nobody was hurt in this incident, and we think there’s great value in using it as an opportunity to reflect on smart wilderness travel practices in the Boundary Waters and its challenge in general. To be clear, this is not second guessing the party that was rescued, just using the experience to help others learn.
First of all, this rescue once again demonstrates the professionalism and heroism of first responders. From the time a call for help was received, it was a matter of hours before rescue crews had located and evacuated the stranded party. It’s truly a testament to the preparation and skill of these folks, and they deserve our respect and thanks.
It’s also important to remember that you cannot rely on this kind of rescue when you are in the Boundary Waters. In this case, the party had a high-powered radio that allowed them to communicate with a nearby resort, but normal means of communication like cell phones are not reliable in most of the Boundary Waters. If you are traveling in the wilderness, you need to be prepared to self-rescue. This means having the training within your party to provide at least basic first aid to an injured person, to have the equipment needed to evacuate, and to have the mindset that you are primarily dependent on yourself and your traveling companions to get out safely in the case of an emergency.
Better yet, take care to avoid the need for a rescue in the first place. As serious as this incident was, it is exceedingly rare. Despite nearly 250,000 visits to the Boundary Waters each year, only a handful of rescue operations occur annually, and only a tiny number are as serious as this one. Visiting the Boundary Waters is very low risk, as long as you prepare and maintain an expedition mentality. Respecting and paying attention to the weather and your group members’ conditions is the best way to avoid the need for rescue.
Here are a few things that any Boundary Waters traveler should learn from this incident:
- Pay attention to the weather conditions: Remember that the waves in the middle of a large lake can be much more challenging than near shore or in a sheltered area.
- Wear your PFD when in the canoe: This rescue could easily have turned into a tragedy without them.
- Be ready and willing to wait for better weather: Allocate extra time in case you become windbound or encounter another unforeseen delay. Rushing to meet a deadline can cause you to make more risky decisions.
- Don’t rely on cell phone coverage: You can rent a satellite phone from an outfitter or use a device like SPOT if you want a reliable way to contact the outside world for help. If you use a satellite phone, have your rescue numbers written down and ready to use. 911 may not work on a satellite phone. This party had a high powered radio and well defined protocol for contacting authorities.
- Bring emergency equipment: A well-stocked first aid kit is an absolute must. In this case, the party used a strobe light to signal for help, which helped rescuers locate them. Plan ahead and prepare. Local outfitters are excellent resources for beginning BWCA explorers.
Hundreds of thousands of people safely enjoy the incredible beauty and the physical, mental and spiritual renewal of the Boundary Waters every year. But a wilderness area requires your respect and attention, as its wildness makes it unforgiving. We’re very glad that nobody was hurt in this incident, and we are thankful for the quick response by the professionals and volunteers with Lake County, St. Louis County, the Minnesota State Patrol, and the U.S. Forest Service.
- Aaron Klemz, Communications Director, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Editor’s note: Staff members at the Friends of the Boundary Waters regularly take trips in the wilderness that we all love. Membership and Administrative Coordinator Cori Mattke wrote this trip report from her August trek. This is part of two – you can read the first part here.
Entry & Exit Point: #22 Mudro Lake
Number of Days: 5
Season: August 2013
Blueberries!! Scads of them. All over the campsite. I suppose that is one silver lining to the extremely late spring the BWCAW experienced this year – blueberries ripening in August. Who would have thought? Not us. Though we enjoyed it thoroughly.
Fueled by blueberries and sunshine we set off the next morning and traveled south through Friday Bay, down Papoose Creek to Papoose Lake, Chippewa Lake, Nikki Lake, and on to Wagosh and Bullet Lake. We camped that night on Moosecamp Lake. A lake that is deceptively long as you paddle across it once, and then twice, looking for an open campsite…
The next morning we woke to much cooler temperatures and a thick fog that not only obscured the lakeshore, but short distances within our campsite itself. It was equally as eerie as it was stunning.
After waiting out the fog we were on the water again. We were headed south down the Moosecamp River to Fourtown Lake for our last evening in the woods. A short paddle, but not an easy paddle, as we encountered water levels that had dropped significantly in the few days since we began our journey at Mudro. I am a firm believer that polling your way through a reedy BWCAW river is a character builder. No question. And it offers an experience of the wilderness that is much different than the experiences one has paddling in high water levels, or even normal water levels. Polling your way through water lilies and pulling the boat over mud ridges offers a bit of unfiltered truth to the wilderness experience. It keeps the challenge alive and reminds you that you have to earn the opportunity to see the complex beauty of this place. Pristine lakeshores and sunsets are one thing, but can you find the beauty in a backwater lily patch, half-eaten by bugs?
In time, we made it to Fourtown. Found a campsite, ate lunch, and then spent the afternoon reading in the park-like Red Pine forest that was our home for the evening. I’ve become a big fan of this slow exit of the wilderness – taking time to soak in the last hours of silence and the colors of a sunset before turning our boat to the exit point.
Our last day and true to form, morning coffee takes twice as long – anything to stall the final pack-up. It was sitting by the lake that morning that I realized that we had done it, we had had the ideal trip. Not a drop of rain during the day, wonderful travel days, restful hours in between, good food, good company, and a route that toured the diverse micro-landscapes of the BWCAW.
Wilderness tripping takes time to get good at. I don’t pretend to know the best way to set-up a tarp, the winning structure for starting a camp fire, or how to perfectly balance travel days, but I have learned over time and refined my routine trip after trip. My traditions have mixed with experience and now, have mixed with the traditions and routines of those that I travel with. It’s a wonderful collaboration of history, experience and interaction and I can’t wait to see how it develops in the years to come.
(Photos by Ryan Mattke)
Editor’s note: Staff members at the Friends of the Boundary Waters regularly take trips in the wilderness that we all love. Membership and Administrative Coordinator Cori Mattke wrote this trip report from her August trek. This is the first part of two.
Entry & Exit Point: #22 Mudro Lake
Number of Days: 5
Season: August 2013
A week-long BWCAW trip is an annual tradition for me and my husband. We started paddling together when we first started dating and over time have learned each other’s tripping styles. It’s a delicate dance to wilderness camp and travel with new people. You take routine, preference, and personality, stir them all together and you never really know how it’s all going to come out. Sometimes the people you hardly know at the entry point, turn out to be your ideal wilderness companion.
Thankfully for us, our tripping styles meshed pretty well but it got me thinking about tradition and how each of us carry tradition with us into the wilderness, like a compass and guide. Tradition is a part of everything we as paddlers do out there, from where you set up a tent and how you build a fire, to the route itself and how you structure your days of travel.
I think it’s safe to say that on this trip, we nailed it. We found that perfect balance of covering ground and relaxation, of “pushing it” and enjoying exactly where we were.
Our trip started at the Mudro Lake entry point. We arrived early in the morning, fresh and ready to get on the water. The sky was the clear, the air slightly cool, and the water calm.
The week before our arrival, Ely had experienced a string of late summer storms that swelled lake levels and we coasted down the entrance to Mudro with uncharacteristic ease.
Our route took us quietly through Sandpit Lake and Tin Can Mike Lake, to Horse Lake where we stopped from lunch and contemplated our targets for camp.
With sunny clear weather on our side, we decided to push on down the Horse River for a site on Basswood Lake, near Lower Basswood Falls. With a little entry-day luck we secured a site on a point, just east of the falls. It was wide and open, with shady pines and a breeze that lasted all evening.
After a night of sound sleep we filled our bellies with oatmeal, packed up camp, and launched out onto a sunny, flat Basswood Lake.
We made a brief stop at Lower Basswood Falls to see the recent influx of water charging through the channels of bedrock between Basswood and Crooked Lake. Lower Basswood Falls is one of my favorite sets of rapids in the BWCAW. It’s right up there with Curtain and Rebecca Falls. There is something about the sheer power behind water and the glassine way it flows over rocks at the beginning of its violent journey down into Crooked Lake. It’s hard to believe that years ago voyageurs with the Hudson’s Bay Company would run these rapids with fully loaded canoes. Which also makes it no surprise that so many of those canoes capsized, leaving little bits of trading history wedged under the base of the falls.
The rest of our day was spent paddling on Crooked Lake – up through the eastern channel and through Wednesday Bay. Stopping to take in the pictographs and offering a moment of reverence for the now dismantled Table Rock.
Before long, the sun started to slip in the sky and our hunger and tired muscles began to suggest finding camp. After two long days of travel, we were ready to find a campsite worthy of a layover day. The criteria: a relatively flat tent pad, ample downed wood, a latrine that isn’t full, sunbathing rocks, and a point out onto the water to see the Perseid Meteor Shower as it passed through that evening. After checking a number of sites, we found the perfect one nestled between Thursday and Friday Bay.
Part Two of Cori’s trip report is coming soon!
(Photos by Ryan Mattke)
by Paul Danicic, Executive Director
Last week I had the good fortune to present on the value of wilderness to the Ely Tuesday Group. The brainchild of Ely business owner Steve Piragis, this is an active group of about 60 Ely area residents who meet for lunch on Tuesdays and hear from different speakers on many diverse topics, often centering around furthering their community. It was also very good fortune to be presenting alongside Dr. Stephen Wilbers, senior fellow with the Technological Leadership Institute at the U of M and long-time Boundary Waters Wilderness paddler and author. Having not spent enough time on trail this summer, we couldn’t resist taking a quick overnight wilderness paddle after the presentation.
At the luncheon, we talked about the value of wilderness. We spoke of wilderness as an economic engine, as a place to spend time with family and friends free of distractions, as a place where positive rights of passages happen for young people, as a place that provides ecosystem benefits like purifying water and air, where we can learn from cultural artifacts still being discovered, and where our spirit can be renewed. We talked about wilderness being special for what was not there, essentially signs of modern human activity. In other words, it is special specifically because we decided to leave it alone. This ultimate act of societal humility is precisely what gives it value to our generation and the next.
On our paddle, we decided to check out the visual impact on the wilderness horizon of the 450 foot Fernberg cell tower AT&T built earlier this year. The Friends, with pro bono assistance from Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, had argued for a 199 foot unlighted tower that would have provided comparable service without being visible within the wilderness. My co-presenter Steve had written eloquently on the impact this tower would have on the wild wilderness horizons especially as a reasonable alternative was proposed. It turned out to be a very pleasant, if brief, trip with a purpose.
Our goal was to travel to several of the sites used in a visibility study used in the court case and see what we could see. These areas included Fall, Mud, Ella Hall and Basswood Lakes. Steve and I paddled across Fall Lake into the BWCAW immediately in sight of the new tower. It dominated the southern skyline hundreds of feet taller than the surrounding birch and spruce forest. We pulled over at the northernmost campsite on Mile Island, one of the first sites within the BWCAW. Nearby, up a well-used overlook, the tower showed clearly above the trees.
We hiked about a quarter of the historic Four Mile Portage out of Fall Lake. On Ella Hall, a beautiful lake off the main canoe trails, we camped and paddled the lake on a beautiful starry night under the milky way. On the northwest part of the lake where the report showed the tower would be visible, a bright, laser-like red light exploded into the night sky, blinking regularly. Steve and I were both shocked by its intensity and it jolted us out of the wilderness and into the world from which this lake was set aside.
The next day, paddling up Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake we viewed the changing fall colors and breathed the warm pine scented autumn air. Because our work and family commitments required us to leave at a certain time, we were unable to reach a specific site on Pipestone Bay that was a part of the study. “Next time.” I said as we turned the bow of our canoe south, “Or perhaps someone else can check it out, but that would require them looking for it while on a trip taken specifically to go away from all it represents.” We had a generous amount of time to discuss the strangeness of the purpose of our trip. As Steve said afterward, “Paul and I found ourselves paddling with mixed feelings, both hoping not to see the tower and searching for it to verify the claims of those who oppose it.” From USFS staff and others, I have heard this tower is being reported as “visible” from within the BWCAW in other places.
The value of the Boundary Waters Wilderness is real enough for thousands of people to support the work the Friends does to protect it. It is real enough to warrant sacrifice from industry and from ourselves. Is this value reduced by seeing visible signs of human development from within it’s boundaries? I believe it is. The Boundary Waters Wilderness’ value comes specifically from it being a land set apart from our improvements. We should honor our culture’s sacrifice and and our collective humility by keeping it that way.
Sigurd Olson once famously said, “This is the most beautiful lake country on the continent, we can afford to cherish and protect it.” Steve and I both came away from this trip knowing we couldn’t agree more.
Eight days into a paddling trip, your muscles are beginning to have an earned ache, your skin is burnt and dotted with bites, and your mind? Totally clear, except for the soundtrack that has started bubbling up unexpectedly in your mind. Many of us have experienced it, the constant flow of 80′s classics, camp songs, and current hits that seem to jump out of the deepest reaches of our brains when we least expect it.
Its an odd and frequent phenomenon and begs the question, if the Boundary Waters had a soundtrack, what would it include? Yep, it would probably include all of the above. However, for this paddler, there isn’t a better collaboration of place and music than paddling to a reel of bluegrass in your head. Even better if it’s local bluegrass – Minnesota music in a truly Minnesota place.
3 lucky people who signed up to our email list won signed posters
This past month the Friends were invited by local bluegrass heroes, Trampled By Turtles, to attend their shows in Duluth and Minneapolis as part of their 10th Anniversary Tour. It was a wonderful opportunity for us talk to new audiences about the uniqueness of the BWCA as well as the threats that face it. Our booth fielded a steady stream of concert goers each night and each TBT song from our corner of the venue was punctuated by exclamations of “I love the BWCA!” and “What can I do to help?”
We met so many new and great people and were heartened by your enthusiasm for the BWCA. Thank you to all of you who came out to the shows, stopped by and said hello, and offered your support.
Thank you also to TBT for your support and generous invitation to be a part of such a memorable tour. Here’s to the next ten years of TBT and Minnesota bluegrass in the wilderness.
Just in case anybody is confused, this post was published on April 1st, 2013. To see our official reaction to the erection of the AT&T mega-tower go here.
In response to the City of Ely’s ban on social media, AT&T announced plans this morning to tear down a 450 foot tall cell phone tower it just finished erecting on the Fernberg Road outside of Ely.
A clearly frustrated spokesman for AT&T sent out a series of tweets this morning expressing bewilderment about the announcement that Ely was banning social media and was considering a ban on all electronic devices.
City of Ely bans social media? But we just got done building a 400 foot cell tower! This is worse than Bloomberg banning Big Gulps!
— ATTEly (@ATTOpsEly) April 1, 2013
That’s it, if Ely wants to ban electronic devices, we’re tearing the tower down. I can’t believe this.
— ATTEly (@ATTOpsEly) April 1, 2013
All of this non-electronic fun in the wilderness will really hurt the bottom line. Thanks a lot, Ely.
— ATTEly (@ATTOpsEly) April 1, 2013
Unnamed sources in Ely tell us that it will be at least a day or so before someone from the city responds to AT&T’s decision. Not only will it take time to draft a letter on stationery, it will be a couple of days before the mail reaches AT&T’s offices.
Happy April 1st!