By Susan Elliott

Exploring the wilderness that encompasses Minnesota's great rivers and the expansive routes of the Boundary Waters have filled decades of time for Duncan Storlie. It began in 1931 when his parents acquired a German-made Klepper folding double kayak. "My dad was a teacher then and the two of them would sometimes spend weeks at a time paddling and portaging in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota and into Canada," recounts Storlie. "So, in a sense, I grew up in a kayak paddling lakes and rivers in Minnesota, especially the St. Croix River before it became a part the Wild and Scenic River System." Today the St. Croix offers a wild corridor for floating. Duncan remembers the easy traveling along its path with his family and learning to swim, snorkel and paddle there. "We saw deer, bears, and beaver as well as huge 6-foot-long sturgeon in the current," he describes. "We were all excited and relieved when the St. Croix got the Wild and Scenic designation in 1964, saving it from development forever so its wild nature is now preserved for future generations as a natural place for healthy recreation!"

Storlie guiding a swamp boat in the Grand Canyon in 1969. Photo by Joanne Elliott

As he grew into roles as a Grand Canyon guide and wilderness canoe guide and teacher, Duncan's quiet exuberance undoubtedly spread to his guests, as well as his fondness for the river and conservation ethics far and wide through his guests who visited from around the country. Today, Duncan has nearly completed a book of his poems and photography inspired by his deep connection to free-flowing water.

What is different about a Wild and Scenic River compared to most other rivers you've floated and fished?
What is most important is that Wild and Scenic Rivers are managed for their ongoing value for recreation and a positive common good for all, and not seen as a resource for lumber or mining or real estate profits.

If you could protect another river as Wild and Scenic, which would it be and why?
In the state of Minnesota, the Dept. of Natural Resources has designated 35 state river trails where people may paddle, fish, etc. Though not designated as wild, they certainly are scenic and subject to some protections.

I think every state could look to Minnesota as a model for designating their rivers for recreation and protection from damaging development. All rivers should be managed in a way that protects the water for future generations who deserve clean water as a fundamental right of the public's commons.

More on the St. Croix River:

MORE FROM C&K
— See more on the 50-year anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and more from Susan Elliott: ‘The Party That Saved the Gauley

— Check out Susan and Adam Elliott’s new ‘Paddling America’ guidebook, inspiring exploration of 200 protected U.S. rivers.