|Photo Credit: OutpostUSA.org|
Throughout the 20th century, the struggle over the boundary waters continued. Though mining and logging operations in the area had already diminished, the new questions became what sort of recreational facilities should be provided. In the 1940s resorts were set up in the vast roadless areas to which people were flown in and provided with mechanized gear for sport fishing. In 1948, at least 25 private planes were based in Ely, Minnesota, traveling to the most popular lakes every day. Conservationists saw this as a serious threat to the wilderness character of the canoe country and began campaigns to limit this ease of entry.
Sigurd Olson wrote, directed and starred in a short film, narrated by Paul Harvey, called Wilderness Canoe Country showing himself and his son enjoying the canoe country until a small plane roars in, deafening the silence. This film was shown everywhere. By this time the government was buying up private homes and resorts in what was known as the Superior Roadless Primitive Area. President Truman signed an executive order against airplanes flying over the area below 4,000 ft. in 1949. But conservationist proposals met with bitter opposition as this part of the state was in need of income. Olson, who made his home in Ely, was vilified. A proposed documentary on his life is noted here.
In the late 1950s the battle for what became the Wilderness Act of 1964 began. It eventually included a simple definition of wilderness: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Wilderness Act had a huge effect on what was now called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, greatly restricting motor use, lumber activity, and eliminating lodges and private residences in the park.
Wilderness Outfitters, for instance, had to cease its operation of the historic Basswood Lake Lodge, known for its exceptional log craftsmanship. The main lodge was dismantled and hauled across the ice to Snowbank Lake. In 1978 when Snowbank Lake was declared part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the federal government bought the lodge again and it is now a visitor center in Wisconsin according to the Spring 2004 issue of Wilderness News from the Quetico Superior Foundation. All of this was painful, but Wilderness Outfitters successfully adapted to changes and is still one of the foremost providers of canoe and fishing trips out of Ely.
Including the million acres of the Boundary Waters, the two hundred thousand acres of Voyageurs National Park, the 1.2 million acres of the Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks in Canada, I count two and a half million acres of contiguous area now preserved as non-mechanized wilderness through the efforts of 20th century conservationists, an incredible achievement.
But when you consider Edward O. Wilson’s current proposal that half of the earth be left to nature in order to stop species extinction, even our own, we have a long way to go. Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, published in March of 2016, “is not a bitter jeremiad. It is a brave expression of hope, a visionary blueprint for saving the planet,” says Stephen Greenblatt. Wilson points out that as a species we are way behind in adapting to the current age, that working piecemeal we think we are making progress but in fact we are slipping. He presents his idea as a goal, calculating that if humans retreated from half of the earth, it would enter the “safe zone.”
The series So Are You To My Thoughts goes unashamedly back and forth between Minnesota and California, the two places I know best. Of my three main characters, Line and Marty live along the California coast, while Paul lives in Minnesota. The whole family has a cultural base in a cabin in north central Minnesota, Mother and Dad’s legacy. My earliest memories (perhaps enhanced by a film made of it) involve a summer spent at Lake of the Woods, which sprawls over the tiny bit of Minnesota which is above the 49th parallel and into Canada. Stories of the Lake of the Woods and fishing trips the men of my Dad's church took on the Rainy River run through my earliest years. As animals ourselves, habitat is incredibly important to us. Surely we can reduce our dependence on mechanized and comfortable pleasures for our own, and the sake of other animals.