Statewide Blog

50 years of memory making in the Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters is often described as a pristine nature getaway. With 1,500 miles of canoe routes it's easy to forget the time admiring the endless amount of beauty. Amid this beautiful escape memories are made in campsites along the shores, while campers are working hard portaging and canoeing, and spending time with friends and family.

Photo courtesy of Monty Mertz

The Boundary Waters' beauty has been preserved for the past 50 years by the Wilderness Act. The Act protects 1 million acres of the Boundary Waters, MPR News reported, and ensures that future generations can enjoy a piece of Minnesota's natural habitat.

Two Harbors resident Gordon Hommes first traveled to the Boundary Waters when he was a kid with his Boy Scout troop. Since then Hommes makes a point to visit the Boundary Waters at least three times a year, which always includes a dogsled trip in the winter, a trip during fishing opener, and a two week summer canoe trip. If he's lucky he gets to visit the Boundary Waters another time during the year with his family.

Photo courtesy of Gordon Hommes

Hommes and his oldest son, who was 11 at the time, went on a five day excursion in the Boundary Waters a few summers ago. "I wanted to show him a pristine sky, completely free from light pollution, now very rare in most of the Lower 48 states," he said.

Hommes was good on his promise. "The Milky Way was bright all the way down to the horizon, and the stars were so bright and numerous in the moon-free sky that they cast shadows on the ground." His oldest son is now a nature fanatic like his old man, Hommes said.

A childhood voyage to the Boundary Waters became the reason Alyssa Johnson began to become a fan of nature.

"Distinctly, I remember weighing 90 pounds. My pack weighed exactly 45 pounds, half my weight," Johnson said about her first trip to the Boundary Waters when she was 10 years old. She recalls the peacefulness of the lake and sending young frogs down small waterfalls and watching them swim towards shore.

Johnson said she was "dragged" by her father to go on the trip, but now she can only thank him for it. "My trip to the BWCA was such a serene, close-to-nature experience, and it only fed my intense love for the Minnesota outdoors."

Though the Boundary Waters are indeed beautiful, the hard work of portaging and grittiness that the wilderness offers is another lasting memory. "It was the first time in my fourteen years that I was far away from 'civilization,'" Lauree Guyer explained about her first Boundary Waters trip she took as a teenager.

"The only signs of other people ever having been there were small wooden signs indicating how long the portages were, and a couple of campfire remains," Guyer said. "It was a very freeing feeling for me, and I have always cherished the peace, comfort, and adventure I feel when trekking through the woods."

Debra Moon- Akason, who also went to the Boundary Waters as a teenager, specifically remembers the alienating feeling of not being near civilization and not having what are now considered normal amenities. "It was quite the experience for a suburbanite teenager," Moon-Akason said. "Drinking water from the lake, which we added some sort of tablet that purified it?! Then of course [we] added Kool-aid to it and nicknamed it 'bug juice' because it always had a bug, or three, in it."

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kallestad

Self-proclaimed "BWCA Evangelist" Jamie Kallestad had a similar experience battling the wilderness with a group of his college friends. A majority of their trip was spent on figuring out creative ways to keep warm and dry, he said.

"In working so hard to stay warm and protected from the elements, our 'civilized' anxieties about work and school just fell away," Kallestad said."We achieved a new level of escape. As my co-captain murmured before falling asleep on our last night, 'It's amazing to be dry in a very wet world.' Amen."

Simplicity. That's what the Boundary Waters has offered many. For some that's admiring the beauty that surrounds us.

Mary Cody tries to explain her time at the Boundary Waters and all the wonders she witnessed: "Listening to wolves howling on my birthday was an absolute top notch experience. But then so was swimming at night, in the fog, in perfectly calm water, feeling like there was no boundary between earth and sky, like floating in space. Or maybe it was sitting in the canoe, also at night, again on perfectly calm water, with a full sky of stars reflected in the water- 360 degrees of stars. Or maybe laying on a big, flat rock in the lake watching the northern lights, exhausted from a day of paddling and portaging but not wanting to fall asleep ever."

Photo courtesy of Roger O'Daniel

It's all these things and more that replay over and over in the minds of those who have visited, and there's the Wilderness Act to thank for that.

Quotes and photos were submitted to MPR News via Public Insight Network. You can read more and share your own memories here, or tell us about your BWCAW memories in the comments below.

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