U canoe enthusiasts protest BWCA changes

by Bei Hu

More than 60 canoeists paddled down the Mississippi River on Saturday to protest increased use of motorized vehicles in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.
Jennifer Hunt of Voyageurs Region National Park Association said the “21-canoe salute” was held to send a message to legislators. Next month, legislators will look at proposed bills that would allow motorized boats to be used in more areas of the parks.
“We want them to leave Voyageurs Park and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness alone,” Hunt said.
The association Hunt belongs to is part of the Minnesota Wilderness and Parks Coalition, which sponsored the event and consists of 29 local and national groups. The coalition came into being in 1995 in response to proposals to increase motor access to the two scenic areas in northern Minnesota.
The University’s Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which is part of the coalition, helped coordinate Saturday’s event.
The Boundary Waters is more than a million acres in size and extends nearly 150 miles along the U.S.-Canadian border. The coalition’s sources said it is the largest wilderness area east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Everglades. Voyageurs, home to such endangered species as bald eagles and eastern timberwolves, is the only national park in Minnesota. Together the parks draw about 400,000 visitors a year.
Protesters, ages 4 to 70, paddled Saturday from East River Flats Park behind University Hospital to the Lake Street Bridge in more than 30 canoes.
Canoeists carried signs that read “Save the BWCA and VNP,” “No more motors,” and “BWCA forever.” They also chanted slogans such as “Keep it wild, keep it free.”
A motor boat, with its engines off, floated down the river following the caravan of canoes. Two men in the boat displayed signs reading “Canoes only in BWCA,” and “Boaters for no motors in BWCA.”
The event ended in a rally on the river bank north of the Lake Street Bridge. Participants stood in a row holding signs that again spelled out “Save the Boundary Waters and VNP.”
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., and Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., have introduced bills that would allow boats into more areas of the parks.
The congressmen have said that restricting motorized use in the two areas has hindered the growth of Minnesota’s tourist industry and local economy.
Legislative hearings of the bills are scheduled for mid-July.
U.S. Representative Bruce Vento, D-Minn., said to a cheering audience standing in the scorching sun as the temperature soared to the mid- 90s, “We are not going to make a compromise anymore.”
A strong opponent of Oberstar’s and Grams’s bills, Vento proposed legislation this year that called for further restrictions on motorboat usage and the addition of thousands of acres of land to the wilderness.
Vento said, “We have to have a sort of discipline that suggests something beyond instant gratification.”
John Galland, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, said a disability doesn’t have to limit someone from going to the BWCA or Voyageurs National Park. “We can all get up there with this idea of helping each other, of interdependence,” he said.
Event participants signed a white canoe. Calling it a “very unique kind of petition,” Kevin Proescholdt, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters, said the canoe will be sent to Washington, D.C.
Proescholdt, a spokesperson at Saturday’s event, said the coalition will arrange for some Minnesotans to go to the nation’s Capitol, where they will testify in legislative hearings on Oberstar’s and Grams’ bills.