Happy 30th BWCA!

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Happy 30th BWCA!

Postby PaddlerJimmy » Wed Nov 12, 2008 12:44 pm

30 Years Later, BWCA Beginnings Still Contentious
Don Shelby ELY, Minn. (WCCO), 11/10/2008 ― The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the most visited wilderness area in the United States, and this fall Minnesota celebrates its birthday. It was 30 years ago when President Jimmy Carter signed into law the protection of the BWCA forever.

Boundary Waters' one-time president, the legendary Sigurd Olson, wrote: "I have found that people go the wilderness for many things, but the most important is perspective. They may think they go for fishing or the scenery or the companionship, but in reality, it is something much deeper. They go to the wilderness for the good of their souls."

But for many, the transition 30 years ago was hardly as tranquil as Olson's words.

The trees and rocks and water don't show it, but the people of Ely remember when elitist environmentalists from the Twin Cities started to put definitions on how the land they lived in could be used.

"For decades there's been resentment by some in the local communities of outsiders, or the federal government telling them what they can and cannot do in their backyards, here in the Boundary Waters," said Kevin Proescholdt of the Izaak Walton League and co-author of "Troubled Waters," the history of the landmark battle to preserve the BWCA.

Not only were people's homes, resorts and businesses in Ely destroyed in the process, but the political fortunes of some of Minnesota's most famous figures were turned on their head.

Congressman Don Fraser led the fight to protect the BWCA, but to do so he had to take on fellow Democratic congressman Jim Oberstar, in whose district could be found the very resorts and voters he was trying to protect.

"It was stepping on one of the most sacred congressional prerogatives there is. But Don is a guy of great principle," said Proescholdt. "He believed that this is a national interest area that was owned by everybody in the country, and he was willing to step on that congressional prerogative."

Under the new bill, mining interests would be hurt, logging would be stopped, motorboats would be banned and so would snowmobiles.

Oberstar had his own ideas and his own bill. In it, he fought for his voters, which meant he had to fight the environmentalists.

"I think Jim has always had an environmental ethic," said Proescholdt. "He's one of the leaders in the Congress on clean water issues today."

Proescholdt's book "Troubled Waters" details a contentious battle for wilderness largely forgotten by a generation of Minnesotans, a fight that remains on the minds of those who lost what they believed was theirs to outside interests.

When asked if anyone explained to residents that the shuttering of their lifestyle was also in their country's best interests, Proescholdt reasoned, "I'm not sure anyone ever explained it enough or in ways that made sense to those people who had lost their resorts or their cabins. Because it's hard to see, it's hard to understand and it was very personal, as you say, to many people."

Sigurd Olson, the spirit of the BWCA, was hanged in effigy in his own town of Ely. He died in 1982, but his work and his words live.

"Ask those who have known wilderness and it will kindle a light in the eyes that have reflected the campfires of a continent, dawns, sunsets and nights under the stars. They know when pressure becomes more than they can stand, somewhere, where roads and steel are still forgotten, they will find release."
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