Boundary Waters should be open to everyone

by Jeffrey

The debate about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is once again heating up. Attempts to federally mediate a solution to this 33-year-old conflict have failed. A settlement can only come from Washington, D.C., where the legislation originated.
In 1964, then-Senator Hubert Humphrey included the area now known as the BWCAW in the National Wilderness System. He recognized the uniqueness of the Boundary Waters and promised the people living near this area that they would always have motor access on Basswood, an extremely large lake in the wilderness system, popular among fishermen.
Congress designated the 1,075,500 acres in northern Minnesota in 1978 as the nation’s only lakeland-based federal wilderness area. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act also included commitments allowing motorized use of select lakes and portages, but contained several errors.
The act divided lakes into nonmotorized and motorized ones, and included limits on horsepower allowed. Some of these lakes were declared partially motorized with only an imaginary line separating the two sides. These imaginary lines need to be addressed. They are hard to enforce, and it is difficult for the users to know where the boundaries lie.
Modest and common sense reforms need to be made to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act. The Boundary Waters contain 1,175 lakes for all people to enjoy. Five of these lakes are extremely large: Basswood, Birch, Saganaga, Sea Gull and Lac La Croix. These lakes are currently both motorized and nonmotorized. These five lakes are too large and often too dangerous to canoe across. Providing motor access to all parts of these lakes is the only reasonable solution. This would provide for the transport of canoeists to their entry points without encountering the large and treacherous whitecaps produced by the wind.
Access to the Boundary Waters also needs to be addressed. A portion of the 1978 legislation provided motor vehicle access to three specific portages. The related clause expired in 1984, but motorized access was not supposed to end if the federal government could determine that “there is no feasible nonmotorized means of transporting boats across the portages.”
The key word in this debate is “feasible.” These three portages have their own unique obstacles: Prairie Portage has a dangerously steep hill, Trout Lake Portage is often too muddy to transport a boat by nonmotorized means and the problem with Four Mile Long Portage is self-explanatory.
The 8th District Court of Appeals bowed to political pressure in 1982 and closed these portages without ever seeing them. They relied on the testimony of environmental exclusionist groups and video tape to make their decision. The court’s ruling has not only limited access to the young and strong, but also congested entry points by forcing most visitors to attempt Prairie Portage’s steep hill.
I spent this past summer working at Prairie Portage. In my opinion, crossing this portage is neither practical nor feasible, and is, in fact, quite dangerous.
The steep hill at the base of Sucker Lake dubbed “Heart Attack Hill,” represents a hazard for all those using the portage. Portaging an average 16-foot fishing boat requires a team of strong young men. The average family cannot portage themselves safely, and motorized portages are the only means for the elderly and disabled to enjoy this natural treasure.
Two Minnesotans, Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., and Rep. James Oberstar, DFL-Minn., of the 8th District, have attempted to provide a bipartisan solution to this heated conflict. Their proposal would provide the common sense reforms needed — including those I have suggested — and would allow local input to ensure that the people who use this resource have a say in its management. The two lawmakers’ attempts to provide reforms, however, have been blocked by environmental exclusionist groups wishing to keep the area to themselves.
The time has come for Congress, led by the Minnesota delegation, to work out a solution and provide access to the Boundary Waters. Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., needs to recognize that his proposed mediation has produced no solution, and he should take a stand for common sense reforms. Wellstone should visit these portages and see for himself the perils they pose, because reasonable access to these lakes and the classification of the five large lakes as motorized lakes, need to be addressed.
The experience of local users should be heard in an attempt to bring about a resolution to this conflict. The Boundary Waters Area shouldn’t be an elitist sanctuary for the sole enjoyment of the young and strong of this nation.

Jeffery W. Bloemker is a CLA junior.