Given the amount of time that Dave and I have spent on the water for the North American Odyssey, we can recount numerous threats to wild places throughout our route. Some of the threats of industrialization or development were massive and already in the political and media spotlight, such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, or the debate over the fate of the Peel Watershed in the Yukon. Other issues were less overt, like a random bay in the Inside Passage that was filled with Styrofoam and plastic debris or an island in the Florida Keys that was full of trash left by careless picnickers. We posted what we could, highlighting some major issues on our website. But we were just passersby. I can only imagine the battles being waged by local people living near these threatened wild places.
The proposed sulfide mines in northeastern Minnesota are what we see as the biggest threat to our nearby, beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This is the place where both Dave and I were introduced to wilderness. And so we are jumping into the fray with our Paddle to DC. My point is that the visitors to these threatened wild places need to stand up for them. We need to emphasize how valuable they are and remain vigilant about keeping their protections.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country." I sincerely hope that contemporary paddlers take this to heart. Your favorite paddling locale could be threatened by development, industry or pollution. Will you sit idle and watch it disappear?
What can you do as a conservation-minded paddler? Be a steward; practice a leave-no-trace ethic when paddling, picnicking and camping. Keep conservation in mind when you vote and don't hesitate to contact your elected officials about the health of your local waterways and wild spaces. Don't underestimate the value of a good story. Whether you are telling friends about your latest paddling escapade or you choose to write a blog entry or an article for your local paper, keep in mind that your role as a storyteller helps to pique peoples' interest in a place. Invite friends and family, especially those of a younger generation to go out paddling with you. Wilderness will not be protected if there are no people who care about it. It is startling to realize how few kids are interested in outdoor recreation these days. Seriously, the next time you go paddling, take a kid with you.
Dave and I have had the privilege of spending so much time out on the land, traveling slowly, under our own power. The land speaks to us. Isn't it our duty to then speak for the land when it is threatened?
Amy Freeman and her husband, Dave, founded The Wilderness Classroom to integrate outdoor education in schools across the United States. Last year, they completed the 11,700-mile North American Odyssey. This fall, they'll paddle a petition—a signed canoe—from their home in northern Minnesota to the White House in a plea to outlaw mining on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
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