Save the Boundary Waters!

For a few days at the end of July, I was fortunate enough to join my three brothers on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.  [And when I say fortunate, what I mean is that I’m thankful my wife allowed me to leave her and our two young boys to have an adventure that I know for a fact she wished she could be on with us.]

But, as I was saying…I’d never been up that way, even though one of my younger brothers worked up there for more than six years at Outward Bound.  My wife and I always wanted to go, but just couldn’t find the time.  Finally, for my younger brothers’ 30th birthday, we were making the trip.

[Ignore the date on the image–we didn’t change any settings on the knock-off Go-Pro cam we bought right before the trip. And yes, our Kentucky Is Water T made it to the Boundary Waters]

I’d never been up to Minnesota before, aside from being in downtown of the Twin Cities for meetings and flying back home.  I had an inkling of what to expect from the scenery, just from my base knowledge of the landscape, and from trips to similar regions around the country.  Lakes. Right?  Lots of lakes? Turns out I was not mistaken.  But there was much more.

On the drive up, we were fortunate enough to see a mother moose and her calf.  Following such an amazing moment, we pulled in to our destination and stepped out of the car at 9:30 CT, only to be swarmed with nothing less than 5,000 mosquitoes.  The bugs are no joke.

The real challenge came the next morning: learning to portage.  We made our entry nearby the Outward Bound camp.  We loaded the canoe up, hopped in, and then hit our first portage no more than five minutes later.  I completely underestimated the strain that a heavy pack plus heavy canoe puts on your legs.  My first attempt was a fail – I dropped the pack, took the canoe, and returned for the pack.  Then, load back up and then back on the water!

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The beauty of the Boundary Waters encapsulates you. A landscape of Jack Pines, White Pines, Spruces, Firs, Aspens, Birches with some bogs and wet prairies provide year-round greenery.  It is the only large-scale protected sub-boreal forest in the lower 48 states.  During the summer, those tree lines on the horizon shine, as they reflect off the lakes during calmer water.

The lakes and landscape of the Boundary Waters host an abundance of wildlife and fish, including loons, bald eagles, and osprey.  We were fortunate to see a handful of bald eagles, including a pair that perched nearby our camp waiting for us to eat our breakfast one morning.  Pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, and others abound.  I can attest to the pike and walleye being tasty.

The Boundary Waters are also host to several threatened species, including the Canada lynx, northern long-eared bat, gray wolf, and the moose.  The last one was news to me.  Apparently, moose populations in Minnesota have been in decline for over a decade, with causes that include disease, climate change, habitat disruption, and increased predation by wolves.  I feel pretty fortunate to have seen a mother and calf.

I could go on, but I won’t.  I want to get to the heart of the matter.  The Boundary Waters are under a grave threat from sulfide-ore copper mining proposals.  Aside from decimating the surface of the land within the mine’s footprint, these mines also include an extremely dangerous feature: tailings ponds.  Full of sulfuric acid and heavy metals, these tailings ponds routinely have leaks and release toxic pollution into the surrounding landscape, and that doesn’t even include the many examples of tailing pond dams failing, causing downstream ecological destruction.  Because of the hydrologic interconnectivity of the Boundary Waters landscape, much of the region would be at risk from a single mine existing.

Why is this important?

I wanted to tell folks about this for a couple of reasons.  The most important reason is to encourage you to sign the petition by the Save the Boundary Waters campaign to not allow this mining to occur.  But it goes much further than that.  Minnesota Representatives recently added an amendment to a House appropriations bill that would defund an environmental review intended to assess the full risks of these mining proposals.  Signing the petition is good, but a great action would be to call the offices of those Representatives and to also call your own Representative in Kentucky.  Let them know that the long-term health of our environment and our people outweigh the short-term economic gains to be had from any such mine.

I also wanted to tell this story in hopes that it encourages everyone that reads it to get outside and get on the water! Doing so is the best way to appreciate water’s value, to know whether it’s clean or polluted, to understand the uses of our waterways and the history of a place.  Whether it’s doing local things like canoeing or kayaking on the beautiful Green River with Big Buffalo Crossing Canoe and Kayak, the Elkhorn with Canoe Kentucky, Rockcastle, Russell Fork at Breaks Interstate Park, doing Stand Up Paddleboarding with SUP Kentucky, doing other outdoors activities with the Explore Kentucky Initiative, or taking trips out around the country and enjoying the Boundary Waters, Yosemite, the Colorado River, the New River and more, don’t wait.  Our country is full of special “water places” that are both amazing experiences and places we need to stand up together to protect.  I’m sure many others have similar stories as mine, so please feel free to share your stories with us!