I had the fortune of attending the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act conference in Duluth earlier this month. It was set up and endorsed by the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute of Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.
Although there were a number of graybeards there, including noted wilderness author Michael Frome, 94-years young, I was pleased to see so many young men and women present. This bodes well for the future of the wilderness movement.
Of course, we all know about our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), one of the original areas designated in the 1964 federal legislation. Two lesser known wilderness areas in Minnesota are the Agassiz and Tamarac, located in their National Wildlife Refuges respectively.
The BWCAW is the largest wilderness area, about 1.1 million acres, east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades. Besides being the most heavily visited wilderness area in the national system, it is the only significant lakeland area where travel is primarily via waterways.
Along with Sigurd Olson, the iconic wilderness author, other champions of wilderness in Minnesota include Ernest Oberholtzer of Rainy Lake, Chuck Dayton of St. Paul and Ely, Mike Link and Kate Crowley of Willow River, and Kevin Proescholdt of Wilderness Watch. A number of good speakers had words of wisdom at the conference, including neighbors from Wisconsin and folks from Canada.
Threats to wilderness continually occur, such as the proposed copper-nickel sulfide mining proposals near Ely. The conference fittingly ended by sending off a young couple, Dave and Amy Freeman,from the shoreline of Lake Superior in a canoe signed with names protesting new mines near clean water.
The couple will paddle through the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence Seaway, and down assorted waterways to Washington, D.C. to spread the message of the proposed threat and hopeful protection.
Very few new wilderness designations have occurred since the early 1990’s, and none in the last six years have passed Congress. It’s the spirit and commitment of the Freeman’s and the other young people that gathered at the conference to light the fire and increase wilderness once again.