Boundary Waters Canoe Area

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Winning Nomination

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) has had a lasting impact on the state's natural resources as well as on its political history. When the Wilderness Act of 1964 was created it still took 14 more years to create the Boundary Waters Act of 1978. During those 14 years, advocates of wilderness designation and those opposed battled relentlessly for their causes. Groups were formed and many national politicians became involved in the final creation of the BWCAW.

Today, the BWCAW is still a place where 250,000 people each year find solitude and peace. It is the largest protected wilderness east of the Rockies. It has also provided economic support for the thousands of people who live around it. Minnesota just wouldn't be the same without the one million acres of protected wilderness considered one of the crown jewels of the Forest Service's protected wilderness.
~Ryan Blaisdell, Lutsen, MN

Runner-up Nominations

The Wilderness Act of 1964 designated the BWCAW as a wilderness area. It is the only large/lake land wilderness in the designated Wilderness Areas of the contiguous US.
~Jane Greenberg, Minneapolis, MN

It serves to protect a beautiful and vulnerable wilderness for our use. All around it loggers are clearing large tracts of land, but the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will continue to bring in adventurers from all over the world as well as serving Minnesotans. It is also an important and extensive habitat for animals which are otherwise beleaguered by lakeshore development.
~ Catherine Brown, Minneapolis, MN

Minnesota is well known for its water. While the Mississippi River starts here, it goes south and is shared by several states along the way. Lake Superior is the same way. And our triple watershed is a geological feature shared by Montana in the Glacier National Park area. And of course, we have the 10,000 lakes (actual total closer to 13,000). But something we have that isn't shared by any other state is the BWCAW. This is a magnificent, unique natural wonder right here in Minnesota. People travel to Minnesota from all over the country and all over the world to take in its beauty and splendor. This definitely belongs well up on the list of 150 most influential forces in our state...
~David Boline, Eden Prairie, MN

BWCA blowdown on July 4,1999 Changed the landscape and created turmoil on whether to log off the areas or wait for a fire to clear the areas.
~Val Hill, Gilbert, MN

The BWCAW shows that people are interested in saving areas of wilderness for future generations. The BWCAW gives people a low cost place to go to get away from everything and enjoy the great outdoors.
~Mary E. Frey, Eden Prairie, MN

The Boundary Waters epitomize the Great North Woods, which Minnesota is known for. People can still go there, in this era of technology, and experience the wilderness, getting away from it all, which is a feeling, a state of being that is hard to come by in today's world. Thank goodness our forefathers had the sense to preserve it. Lately, educators and scientists are saying that interacting with nature makes for better children, students - and probably neighbors, and citizens too. The Boundary Waters is a Minnesota treasure, a national treasure and a world treasure.
~Kathleen Schoenfelder, Winsted, MN

The BWCA makes me proud to live in Minnesota. The canoe area is a living testament to our outdoor values, and offer incredible and affordable ways to experience the wild.
~Adam Pagel

The BWCA is the most unique and unspoiled wilderness area in the world. People travel from around the world to canoe this wilderness and witness its pristine beauty. It gives the adventurer a glimpse into the past lives of the Ojibwe people's traditional lifestyle of traveling around by canoe and co-existing with the natural world. I am proud to be Minnesotan because Minnesota preserved this wilderness area for non-motorized vehicles and I see it as one of the only true wilderness areas in the world. It truly puts Minnesota on the world map in my mind.
~Jodell Meyer, Onamia, MN

The Boundary Waters, because it shows off Minnesota's beauty.
~Kristy Meissner, Chaska, MN

Historic wilderness designation with limited motorized access makes it a true state treasure.
~Mark Emme, Columbia Heights, MN

The Boundary Waters becoming a protected area. This shows our commitment to the environment and the wild creatures.
~Dawn Olson, Onamia, MN

This is a Minnesota gem, unlike anything else in the United States.
~Carey Bell, White Bear Lake, MN

Preserved a wilderness site for the entire country.
~Christine Hope, St. Paul, MN

There is no other place on earth like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where ancient native American paths connect the lakes such that one can travel hundreds of miles for months at a time in a true wilderness setting. The fire grate and latrine give the traveler all the essentials that are unique only to the BWCAW!
~Brian Wieber, Rogers, MN

Provides conservation, education, beauty, green preservation and recreation. Model for parks around the world.
~Danuta Warec, Minneapolis, MN

Secured a wilderness for all to use as God intended.
~Toni Watt, Minneapolis, MN

This park was one of the first, if not the first, primitive area in the United States. Also, it is an international park combining with Quetico in Canada. It represents our concern and love of nature and the vision to reach out internationally.
~Mark Nelson, St. Paul, MN

Though controversial in its establishment, is the most popular wilderness area in the nation, drawing some 200,000 visitors per year.
~Sam Cook

Voyageurs National Park Thousand of years ago the glaciers melted away and left these beautiful lakes with unusual rocks along our Minnesota and Canadian border. The park came in this area in 1975 to preserve this precious wilderness land. Voyageurs was named for French-Canadian canoemen who traveled these waters in their birch-bark canoes. They transported goods to trade with the Indians in return for furs. The Indians were the first inhabitants. Voyageurs National Park is largely composed of water. It is 218,054 acres with 83,789 acres being water and 134,265 acres of land. It is the only national park without a road. You will need a boat to camp in the park. All campsites are accessible by water only. Roads approach the park in four locations along highway 53. People enjoy visiting the park to camp, snowmobile, fish and mostly to see the breathtaking scenery.
~Calisa Hanson, Buffalo, MN



A long fight to preserve the wilderness

On July 8, 1977, ecologist and author Sigurd Olson addressed a crowd of 1,000 people that was gathered at Ely High School to participate in a congressional hearing. Shouting over boos and catcalls, with an effigy of himself swinging from a nearby post, Olson defended a bill sponsored by Congressman Donald M. Fraser that would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978. "This is the most beautiful lake country on the continent," Olson said. "We can afford to cherish and protect it. Some places should be preserved from development or exploitation for they satisfy a human need for solace, belonging, and perspective."

That's the Boundary Waters for you: on the one hand, a place of unmatched beauty that inspires odes to peace and solitude, and, on the other hand, arguably the state's most controversial piece of land. This million-acre wilderness area within the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota became the subject of broad public debate in the 1920s, when environmentalist Ernest C. Oherholtzer mounted a successful opposition to logging companies seeking to build dams in the region. Henrik Shipstead, U.S. Senator from Minnesota, sponsored the Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act in 1930, which was an early statute ordering that the land be retained as wilderness. In 1949, airspace over the area was restricted. The push-and-pull between preservationists and industrialists continued until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964. Sponsored by Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, the act designated the BWCA as a place where vehicles were not allowed, where no permanent structures could be built, and where wildlife would be kept in as primitive a setting as possible.

If the second chapter in the story of the BWCA was the signing of the BWCA Wilderness Act, then the third was the signing of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Act fourteen years later. The third act banned logging, mineral prospecting, and mining; all but banned snowmobile use; limited motorboat use; and officially changed the name of the region to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It also provided stipends for resort owners and outfitters who stood to lose customers due to stricter regulations.

But the third chapter in the story of the BWCA is still being written. Canoeists and motorboat owners, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers continue to debate the region's best use. In the mid-1990s, mediators helped reach a compromise on whether trucks could be used to carry boats across portages between motorized lakes. As outfitter Bill Hansen put it in 2003, "Full wilderness status for the Boundary Waters is a very open goal. Having that happen the next year? Probably not. You know, next decade? Probably not. In our lifetimes? Probably not. But, eventually."

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