Running to Save the Boundary Waters

Running to Save the Boundary Waters

This past May, my friend Alex Falconer ran 110-miles across the Boundary Waters and Canoe Area Wilderness to raise awareness for permanent protection of this special place in Northern Minnesota.

But Alex will be the first to tell you that the fight to protect this place is not just for Minnesotans. It's for everyone.

The issue is that a mining company called Twin Metals has proposed to build a sulfide-ore copper mine on the border of the Boundary Waters.

This would not just impact the thousands of outdoor recreation industry jobs in Ely, the town closest to the proposed mine. But it would have ripple effects, pun intended, on the entire freshwater ecosystem, on the millions of people and critters who depend on that water for basic living needs and on the downstream people whose jobs also rely on that freshwater.

For example, if this mine were built, it's almost guaranteed that drops of acid mine drainage would flow out the Hudson Bay. Water doesn't stay put and neither will the pollution from a sulfide-ore copper mine. Take a moment to squint at these two maps below and get a feel for how large and devastating a polluting mine would be on the Hudson Bay Watershed.

More information about the path of water pollution here:


Now for such a soft-spoken guy, asking Alex about the mine will get him as fired up as ever.

"It's just so dumb. Who thinks building a copper mine on the edge of a pristine watershed is a good idea? It's guaranteed to pollute, it's not if, it's when."

I'd heard Alex say variations of this over the past years. We met a few years ago at Outdoor Retailer - an indoors conference for the outdoor industry.

His words aren't belligerent. He has oodles of science and data to back up his opposition to the proposed copper mine. And as the Government Relations Director for the campaign, Save the Boundary Waters, this truly is his life's work.

It's important to note that people who work for Save the Boundary Waters all call it "the campaign." They expect to win and when the do, Save the Boundary Waters will become defunct. This is the type of environmental non-profit I can get behind. These people are not working to keep their current jobs for the next three decades, they are solely working to protect the Boundary Waters from the Twin Metals mine.  

So what are the Boundary Waters? And what is this mine?  

Let me disclaim that there are far superior sources to read and experts to listen to about the Boundary Waters, but I'll share a condensed version of why we should care.

First: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is America's most visited Wilderness area in the country with over 155,000 visitors every year. This is impressive considering it's not exactly en route to anywhere except Canada. You have to drive 4+ hours from Minneapolis to get to either Grand Marais or Ely, two portal towns into the Boundary Waters. It's not on a Midwest road-trip circuit.

Yet thousands of people specifically visit the Boundary Waters. It's a highly desired destination for paddlers, anglers, nature-seekers, water people, runners, veterans, and families.

When I first got a taste of the Wilderness area, crossing into the boundary via canoe, I immediately understood that this place is phenomenal.

Water and lakes, (10,000+ of them!) are everywhere. Most of this water is pristine: no filter needed to drink straight from the lake. Coming from the Front Range of Colorado, I was alarmed to see Alex's wife Erica dunk her water bottle directly into the lake while we were paddling. She shrugged and smiled. "It's clean."

Besides pristine water, people go here to experience solitude, bonding and healing time, and high concentrations of incredible wildlife: moose, river otters, loons, so many birds and fish, bears. The list is endless. It's a place that's been preserved by Anishinaabe people for thousands of years and since has been protected in the form of the Wilderness designation in the U.S. and Quetico Provincial Park and Voyageurs National Park in Ontario, Canada.  

Erica Falconer, Kyle Pietari and me canoeing in the BW after Alex's traverse. Photo: Brendan Davis.

So what's the mine?

Twin Metals, a U.S. subsidiary of the Chilean mining company Antofagasta, has mineral leases for a section of land that borders the Boundary Waters. They've proposed to build a sulfide-ore copper mine.

No matter the spin, it's known that sulfide-ore copper mines pollute groundwater. Twin Metals has vowed this time will be different, yet the company has a horrible pollution track record.

Yet, we also need to electrify our world if we're going to combat the ever-worsening climate crisis.

We need a lot more copper, amongst other minerals, to get electrify our transportation sector and to make our entire energy systems renewable. Wouldn't it be nice to plug in our EV at night to our electrical outlet that receives energy from wind turbines and solar arrays?

Which mines do we support and which do we put our foot down against?  

I'll let you be the judge of whether this mine is a necessary one to electrify our world.

Permanently Protect

My opinion, along with the majority of Minnesotans, is to put our foot down against mines near at the Boundary Waters. I urge you to read the science and come to your own decision. Whatever that decision is, I urge you to contact your reps about H.R. 2794.

Oh, and Alex ran 100-miles across the Boundary Waters in 38 hours and 15 minutes! It was hard, beautiful, and so inspiring. Enjoy these photos from the run, taken by photographer Brendan Davis.

Arguably on of the best views on a run, anywhere. About 33 miles in. 
So much foliage! 
Alex leads pacer Peyton Thomas, fellow Patagonia ambassador, into the thick. 
Alex and Peyton fill up directly from a river. 
At mile 25, I subbed in for pacing. We accessed this point after an hour of paddling through the Wilderness, which is probably the coolest journey to an aid station I'll ever take.
Photographer Brendan Davis is not posing. The 90-F heat wrecked his quads into the worst Charlie horses I've ever seen. Thankfully after throwing up and resting, Brendan caught back up. In total, he ran and documented 45-miles of the traverse.
Alex also felt the heat, but pushed through and even campaigned along the way, giving paddlers the spiel about the mine and how to get involved. "Always be campaigning."
Alex was crewed by his whole family, especially his wonderfully supportive wife, Erica. 
Shit got real after an hour of torrential rain. It was a long, wet, dark night. 
65 miles in and an upset stomach later, Alex was force-fed by Kyle Pietari (lawyer for Save the Boundary Waters and elite ultrarunner). 
It was a weird, sleep deprived morning that we'll never forget: Kyle force feeding a grown man gluten free bread, in front of his three children, all in the name of advocacy.
He did it! First ever FKT of the Boundary Waters Traverse! 
All about the family.