Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota
CROWDS AREN’T ALWAYS a bad thing. Boundary Waters is one of the country’s most visited wildernesses, and since the area’s currently locked in a debate pitting mining against conservation, the swollen ranks of hikers and paddlers have never been more welcome.
In 2016, Chilean company Antofagasta petitioned the BLM to renew a mining lease in the Superior National Forest adjacent to Boundary Waters Canoe Area, hoping to start up a sulfide-ore copper mine in the same watershed as the wilderness area. Mining has long been a part of Minnesota’s economy, but this kind of copper extraction would release sulfuric acid—the same corrosive stuff used in batteries—into the drinking water of moose, endangered Canada lynx, and blue-spotted salamanders found throughout the Boundary Waters. Now, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service are conducting an environmental analysis of a proposed 20-yearlong mining moratorium, but Minnesota congressional members are trying to block it. The public comment period has ended, but it’s never too late to show your support.
With 1 million acres of wilderness and more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, Boundary Waters has plenty of glacially carved lakes and forested basins to go around. See what the hype is about by staging a paddle through Birch Lake, a long stretch of silver nestled amid a spruce forest pocked with aspens. Put in near Kramer Bay, and camp at any number of lake islands. When you return, consider calling local representatives and telling them why the place is worth keeping pristine for the next 20 years—and beyond.
TRAILHEAD Birch Lake Boat Access (47.7355, -91.9423) SEASON June to October PERMIT Required; reserve six months in advance at recreation.gov (starting at $16 per person). CONTACT bit.do/boundary-waters
Paddlers ply Birch Lake at sunrise.