Voices from the river

Voices from the River: A year in the Boundary Waters

Dave Freeman with his chosen mode of transportation for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. Courtesy Dave Freeman.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Dave Freeman. He spent a year in the wilds of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with his wife, Amy, to raise awareness about proposed mines in the area.

By Dave Freeman

My mind was already unpacking the canoe, setting up our tent and cooking a brimming pot of spaghetti on the smooth sloping rock a half-mile ahead. My wife, Amy, was in the stern steering us toward our home for the night as we paddled slowly across the middle of Gillis Lake’s glassy surface.

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Dave Freeman with a bonus lake trout caught while paddling to a new campsite in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Courtesy Dave Freeman.

Fishing is a way of life for many folks like us who live in Ely, Grand Marais and other wilderness-edge communities in northern Minnesota.

We guide canoe trips and for many of our clients the lunkers cruising the depths of these pristine lakes are as much of a draw as the silence and solitude that one finds here. We took a break from guiding to spend a year in the wilderness to help protect our jobs, which are threatened by the massive industrial mining zone being proposed just upstream from the Wilderness boundary.

Another fishing memory comes to mind over the year we spent touring the Boundary Waters.

The Goldstein family paddled in to join us for a week in August. Our campsite on Basswood Lake, which we ended up dubbing the Hilton, became a hive of activity when the Goldsteins arrived.

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The Goldstein family came to visit Dave and Amy Freeman during the year they spent in the Boundary Waters. The experience the Freeman’s had with the Goldsteins helped Dave realize one of the reasons why the special place needs to be protected. Courtesy Dave Freeman.

Joseph (15), Jacob (12), Joshy (6), and Jonah (6), their parents Jeff and Kemia, and Jason from Ely Outfitting Company paddled up as we relaxed on the expansive beach in front of our site. It did not take long for the family to start fishing.

We dropped our anchors on a reef in 20 feet of water. It wasn’t long before a feisty walleye found my lure and shortly after I had it in the boat Jacob worked to land a 20-inch smallmouth bass.

For several hours it seemed like at least one person was battling a fish and doubles were not uncommon. Joshy was so excited as his dad lifted his first smallmouth bass of the day out of the water I thought he was going to leap right out of the canoe.

This action-packed afternoon of fishing was a moment of clarity for me. This is what we are fighting hard to protect for the Goldstein boys and future generations. Basswood Lake is arguably the best fishery in Minnesota and it is directly downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine.

A lot of progress has been made towards protecting the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mines over the last year, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to do and as fishermen, we must protect pristine fisheries like the Boundary Waters for future generations.

On Jan. 13, the United States Forest Service announced a two-year pause on mining activities in approximately 234,328 acres of the Superior National Forest, a vital portion of the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The announcement started a 90-day period for the public to comment on the Forest Service’s application for withdrawal of these lands and minerals from the federal leasing program.

Please submit a comment before April 12 and speak loudly for this unique place—future generations of anglers and wilderness enthusiasts are depending on us.

Dave Freeman can be reached at dave@wildernessclassroom.com

By Brett Prettyman.