Welcome to the BWCAW blog of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service!

See our websites at ElyOutfittingCompany.com and BoundaryWatersGuideService.com.

We are a Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitter, Quetico outfitter, and guide service in Ely, Minnesota. This Boundary Waters blog shares photos, stories, humor, skills, and naturalist insights from guiding in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Most entries are from our founder and head guide, Jason Zabokrtsky. He is the Boundary Waters Blogger.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Winter's Arrival in Ely

Last week's spring-like weather has given way to winter. Yesterday it started snowing and today, we woke up to about four inches of the fluffy white stuff. We have buttoned up all of our summer gear and are getting ready for another Northwoods winter. Bring on the dog sleds!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Final Canoe Repairs of 2010

Above average temps in the fifties today allowed me to do some maintenance on "Lilly," a cedar strip canoe I built several years back.  She took the 2010 season off while I worked on some fiberglass and epoxy repairs to the turn of the bilge.  I put the first coat of varnish on the hull exterior today, and hope to complete the second coat tomorrow.  She'll be ready for the 2011 season!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Moose Brains

Today's Halloween, so here's a moose brain.  It's about the size of a grapefruit. 

While this post is a lighthearted holiday entry, the brain shown here is undergoing important scientific research that may help people better understand the moose population in Minnesota.  I helped extract this brain from a bull moose harvested up the Echo Trail near Ely, MN, earlier this month.  At the time, I was assisting the MDNR with the moose check-in and sampling station in Ely. 

Scientists know that a brain parasite fatal to moose is causing moose mortality, and that the parasite is carried by white tailed deer.  The full extent and effect of the brain parasite issue is still being researched.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Garrison Keillor, Eat Your Heart Out

Lake Wabegon is Garrison's fictitious community on the edge of the prairie. It's full of Norwegian Lutherans and colorful characters.

Here in Ely, Minnesota, we live on the edge of the wilderness with plenty of colorful characters, and some Norwegian Lutherans.

Today we're driving south to see the live performance of Garrison's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, at the Fitz in St. Paul. When I'm driving south, I usually stop at SuLu's Espresso Cafe a half hour south of Ely in Tower.  I typically order a skinny latte (fufu, I know, but SuLu's are my favorite).

You'll see the second drink listed on the menu behind the owner, Brenda, is the "Lutheran."

What is the "Lutheran?"   Every Sunday after church, ladies from the Lutheran church stop by SuLu's for coffee. But the SuLu "Coffee" is just too strong for them. They asked to cut it with a little water. And should they pay full price for a coffee that has extra water? Of course not. Thus, the "Lutheran"coffee is a nickel less.

Garrison Keillor, eat your heart out, and be sure to stop at SuLu's on your way to Ely for a Boundary Waters canoe trip.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pine Marten Breakdown

I awoke to a Pine Marten peering from an overturned canoe outside my bedroom window this morning.  Then a second one appeared.  Then they loped around the cabin to the deck.  Once on the deck, one of them took up residence in a flower pot, and the other one decided that looked like a fine idea.  This video shows what ensued.  Keep an eye on which one starts in the planter and which one ends up in the planter.

Pine Martens are about the cutest creatures in all of the North Woods. They are typically chocolate-brown, have a golden throat patch, and a 12 to 18 inch body followed by a seven to ten inch tail. They are smaller than the related fisher (30-47 inches long, including tail). As omnivores, they subsist on Red-backed Voles, squirrels, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, birds, insects, seeds, worms, and berries. They reportedly particularly like raspberries. Pine Marten are excellent climbers, freely jump between trees, and can rotate their back hips to run headfirst down a tree trunk.

They are active all year. In winter, you may see their paw prints in the snow. Their tracks are less than two inches wide and show five toe pads around a rounded heel pad.

The Pine Marten stick to high ground and loathe water that mats their unoiled fur. In summer, you may seem them on portages. However, the brown cat-size creature dancing along the shoreline rocks is more likely to be its water-loving relative with a contrasting white throat patch, the Mink.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Women in the BWCA Wilderness

I recently guided two all-women's camping trips. What a blast! Both groups of talented, smart and go-get-em women sought out a female guide for their Boundary Waters camping experience.

I have guided canoe trips over ten summers for teenage and adult women in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, working at the Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base and here at Boundary Waters Guide Service. I have become a believer in the truly different and remarkable experience that is possible with a group of only women.

I haven't seen the statistics for travel by men versus women, but what I have noticed personally is that there are substantially more men traveling in this wilderness area. By far, the majority of groups are exclusively men, with a fair amount of groups with one or two women. This reality underscores just how unique an all-women's trip is in the Boundary Waters.

As much as I tried to deny it when I first started guiding canoe trips in the Great North Woods, women really don't have the muscle mass that men do. The canoe that men (of many ages) can pick up without any technique does not go on my shoulders without teamwork or some real practice. That applies big-time to groups of first-time women to the Boundary Waters. Teamwork really becomes key.

During an orientation before getting out on the water, we tackled portaging technique, which is typically the most intimidating aspect of a BWCAW trip. Each group learned how to use three people to flip the canoe upside-down, and then each person took a turn carrying the lightweight Kevlar canoe. The task was surprisingly conquerable to most, even a breeze to a couple of the stronger women!

After our first few hours of paddling, everyone discovered, despite their trepidation, that the portaging was actually quite do-able, though still a workout. Both groups of women smiled with accomplishment (and maybe a little tiredness) at the end of their first long portages. Everyone was definitely appreciative a little while later of a campsite where we could rest and relax.

The eight ladies of the first group were friends since having their children involved together in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and boy, were they a get-er-done kind of group. They gathered armloads of firewood, found time to relax, and shared much laughter. Some felt a little nervous about the physicality of a canoe trip, others just looked forward to relaxing and not having to cook. These ladies were all made for this kind of canoeing adventure, amusingly calling themselves "Kate Plus Eight."

My second group of ladies, four this time, were nurses or nurse practitioners with numerous stories about the many babies they had delivered. Lovely women with great stories, also quick learners and very capable in a canoe in the gusty conditions we experienced. These four ladies had worked together in their profession for years and were absolutely great at working with each other in this new environment.

These two trips in the late summer season had lovely weather -- highs up toward 70 degrees and low temps in the 40s, sometimes dipping down to the 30s. Since women typically tend to feel colder, I used another trick for our ladies: we filled everyone's water bottle with hot water overnight to keep our sleeping bags toasty warm. It proved to be a delightful surprise.

It seems to be true no matter the woman's age: after experiencing an all-female canoe camping trip, there is a definite sense of empowerment. I believe these already intelligent and accomplished women were no exception. Being "out there" for three or four days and relying only on each other for forward movement tends to build trust, make a lot of fun moments, and create an experience that will not be quickly forgotten.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Boundary Waters Autumnal Colors

Fall colors are here! In fact, they are at peak already. If you've got the time, head on up to Ely and enjoy the beautiful colors. Here, two photos from recent guided canoe trips. These beautiful light purple flowers really complement the yellows, oranges and red of the autumn woods.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bob Cary Print Sale and Our Last Hurrah of the Summer

Jackpine Bob Cary is an Ely legend: a radio personality, an artist, a fisherman, and generally a beloved character who passed away a few years ago. His daughter Barb Cary Hall is hosting a big sale of all things Cary, including his prints, both color and black & white, and his books. Many of his beautiful pieces are signed and numbered. These pleasant folks stopped by today and found some great classic prints at a wonderful price.
While here at our shop, Barb is also swapping stories about her dad. Come on by anytime this weekend to share a story or two. Our shop is open from 10am-4pm every day this weekend, to go along with Ely's Harvest Moon Festival. In addition to the Bob Cary print sale, everything else in the store is at least 10% off, with a few items even 40% off. Come on by! We'd love to see you here!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bluegills in Their Underwater World

We found these extraordinarily curious Bluegills on Hustler Lake in the Boundary Waters. They are called Bluegills thanks to the dot of color you can see on the side of both fish. That blue or black spot is actually an extension of the gill cover. They are excellent fish to eat, and these particular fish sure didn't make themselves too hard to bring in. Lucky for them, all I had was my camera! They are known for nibbling on bait, and you might notice that one of the fish went for my finger shortly after I put the camera in the water. (Apologies for jerking the camera a little at that point... I wasn't sure if it would hurt! In fact, I don't think I even felt it at all.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day Hiking in the Boundary Waters on the Sioux-Hustler Trail

I guided a group of five strong sixty-something hikers this week. It was their first canoe trip, but certainly not their first experience camping! These pleasant folks from Virginia have been hiking and backpacking on some big adventures all over the United States. With this background, the group was keen on hiking for a day in the Boundary Waters. On our layover day, then, we decided to head over to the Sioux-Hustler Hiking Trail to see what we could find.

We discovered that the nearly mile-long Oyster to Hustler portage is flooded out for about ten rods (or canoe-lengths). While a few portages may have some muck and mud, I have never seen another portage as flooded as this. Not to be dissuaded, our group went for it.

Fortunately, it was solid ground as we waded through the mid-thigh-deep water and headed on down the trail on a perfect day. We turned on to the Sioux-Hustler trail from the portage and shortly discovered an extraordinarily large beaver dam. The beavers here had been hard at work for years to create this stunning piece of engineering.

This dam held back about four vertical feet of water. I checked out the different growth to be found in this wetland growing in the dam itself and discovered this pretty green leaf. It is called Sensitive Fern and is apparently named such for its sensitivity to cold temperatures. After tonight's predicted frost, these leaves will be some of the first to wilt and disappear.

Though this 100-foot long dam was constructed like all beaver dams in such a fashion that a person can walk on it, our group decided to turn back and investigate the other direction of the trail. Upon a high rock, we found these beautiful specimens of Gray Reindeer Lichen, sometimes called Caribou Lichen or Caribou Moss. It is named for its obvious resemblance to the antlers these animals sport through the summer months. It is also the primary source of food farther north for caribou in the winter. Caribou were once found occasionally in this corner of Minnesota. Now they are only very rarely found in a small portion of northwestern Minnesota, coming down occasionally from Canada.

These lichens probably took around 80 to 100 years to grow up to the eight-inch height we found. Lichens are a complex partnership of fungus and algae, and are pioneers in bare, rocky areas. They break down rock minerals with their lichenase acids, creating a small crack in the rock where water can freeze and ultimately create more cracks in the rock. This makes a place for the lichen to gain a foothold and thrive. Dust and dirt blow in, slowly creating organic build-up, and ultimately allowing more growth to eventually come in. As part of their assurance of success, the lichen dries out with the weather. During a dry spell, the fungal portion of the lichen thickens the walls and slows or shuts down the photosynthesis process to await a more friendly environment. This ensures that it can survive the extreme heat and cold of northern Minnesota. In the summer, after a dry spell, the slow-growing plants will crunch down into dust under weight, which is why our group stuck to the trail.

The group had a great time out on the water, paddling, portaging and exploring along the hiking trail. I only hope that I am that active and strong in my sixties. An inspiration to us all!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Lovely Painted Lady

Greetings from this lovely Painted Lady butterfly living near Wood Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness!

This beautiful butterfly may look familiar to you, and for good reason: they are quite common, even around the world. They migrate from Mexico all the way to Canada just below the Arctic circle and are also found around the globe, including Europe, Asia, and Africa. In fact, because of this multi-national policy, this butterfly has the nickname "Cosmopolitan." The only places the Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui) is not found is Antarctica and Australia.

Unlike the Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly, the Painted Lady lays one egg at a time, on the top of a plant leaf. Once the larva grows into a caterpillar, this animal loves to eat thistle. This gives it yet another name: the Thistle Butterfly. Like other butterflies, once well-fed, it wraps itself in silk, changes form, and emerges as the lovely butterfly we see in the summer here in northern Minnesota.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Trail Work in the BWCAW

We ran into this group of hard-working Minnesota Conservation Corps volunteers out on the trail recently. It had been a hot and humid week, and this day was certainly no exception. These folks had been working hard most days since mid-June.

Often, portages require some maintenance, particulary those that are heavily-used or particularly wet. As portages get trod over, they can become muddy and mucky, particularly in a rainy summer. When that happens, many people tend to walk around the mud puddle instead of through it. That causes the mud puddle and the trail to get wider and wider, as portagers trample down the natural growth on either side of the trail.
This team was gathering rocks by digging into the shallow dirt and bedrock a short distance off the side of the trail and using sledge hammers to break large rocks into smaller pieces, digging out the main portage trail, adding those rocks upon which to walk, and surrounding the rocks with dirt. Not an easy task, and certainly made harder by the hot and humid conditions of this particlar day.

The work is hard, but it will last a long time into the future. There are 42 Conservation Corps volunteers out in the Boundary Waters this summer, plus more elsewhere in Minnesota doing trail work. All of these "MCC" members are ages 18 to 25, and are part of the Americorps program, which saw a big boost with federal stimulus money last summer. The Conservation Corps members are now enjoying their second summer in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with hope for many years to come.

This particular group of two women and three men seemed exceptionally pleased to be out there, despite the fact that the only non-mud color on every person was their yellow Conservation Corps-issued hard hat. A job well-done!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly

We found this pretty butterfly out in the Boundary Waters recently. It alighted on our dark-colored life jackets, shirts and pants multiple times. Perhaps it was warming itself, even with the sun already fairly high.

It is the Compton Tortoiseshell (nymphalis vaualbum), which is a species found in much of the northern half of the United States. We felt lucky to find such a beautiful specimen that was also helpfully still for a photo.

This butterfly, like most others, eats only liquids as an adult. However, unlike many other butterflies whose main source of nourishment is nectar from wildflowers, this butterfly prefers sap and rotting fruit. Fortunately, there are plenty of raspberries and blueberries this season! The adult lays her eggs in clusters, typically in hardwood forests. This particular butterfly likely started out life on one of our plentiful paper birch trees, as it emerged from its egg stage. As a caterpillar in the larva stage, it started out munching on the tasty birch leaves. After gaining enough nourishment, it then transformed itself into the pupa stage (also called chrysalis), and later emerged as this beautiful butterfly.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cedar Waxwings and Pin Cherries

Summer is a busy time for Cedar Waxwings here in northern Minnesota. Much of the summer, you will find these birds on their perfect perch waiting for dinner to pass by. When the 7-inch bird spies its scrumptious meal of mosquitoes or moths, it swoops down, snatches the bugs up, and returns to the same perch to await more unaware passersby. These birds typically eat the abundant bugs of summer, but come mid-July, tasty berries lure them away from their carnivorous ways.

We found these Cedar Waxwings enjoying quite a meal in the BWCAW from the relatively small (not more than 20 feet high or so), smooth-barked Pin Cherry tree. The Pin Cherries ripen in mid- to late-July, and are bright red and partially translucent with a large pit in the middle. Fortunately for the birds, who are wild about the cherries, the fruit is very sour to our human taste buds. It takes a lot of sugar to make the Pin Cherry taste decent!

While a lot of fruits fall to the ground during the tree's short lifetime of 25-30 years, you won't find this tree all over the forest. It needs plenty of sun. Often the pits of the Pin Cherries fall in the shade of the tree itself where they can't immediately germinate. Fortunately, the pit has a waterproof coating which prevents the seed from rotting, even as long as fifty years or more! When a disturbance eventually happens, like a strong windfall or forest fire, sunlight fills the ground and the seeds germinate en masse. Soon after, there will be a solid stand of even-aged Pin Cherry trees. The trees that we found were in a very sunny spot on the top of a high hill overlooking one of the many beautiful lakes of the Boundary Waters.

There was one other little guest hiding in the tree. This chipmunk was perched a few feet up in the tree enjoying his own snack of Pin Cherries!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Underwater Photography in the BWCA

Travel in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is mostly via lakes and waters. So how do you deal with cameras around all that water?

Some people embrace the water and bring along waterproof cameras. They definitely take some of the stress out of the possibility of dunking an expensive camera. Kate is carrying a waterproof camera this summer and she really likes that she can keep it at hand rather than packed away in a cumbersome case. She shot this photo by holding her camera under water and pointing it toward the sky. My favorite part of this perspective is that you can see the air bubbles on the underside of the lilly pads!

Kate is using an Olympus waterproof shockproof camera and she likes it.

If you're interested in photography and want to improve your skills while immersed in the BWCAW, consider participating in our Boundary Waters Photo Workshop led by professional magazine and nature photographer Layne Kennedy.  More info on our BWCA Photo Workshop is at this link:  http://boundarywatersguideservice.com/PhotoWorkshop.html.  Most folks bring cameras that are not waterproof on photo workshops, and we take special care to make sure they return safely.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fly Amanita - Storybook Mushroom in the BWCAW

Fly Amanita is the quintessential toadstool we started drawing as kids in elementary school.  It's also known as the "fly mushroom" or "fly poison mushroom" because it is believed a saucer containing Fly Amanita in milk will attract and kill flies. 

The young mushroom begins covered in a universal veil and may be misidentified as a Puffball mushroom.  As the mushroom grows, the veil breaks apart and its remnants are seen as whitish "scabs" on a bulbous cap.  As it continues to mature, the bulbous cap becomes more flat and the white gills are visible on the underside of the cap.  When the mushroom reaches maturity, the outer edges of the cap may cup upward.

The Fly Amanita is indigenous to northern Minnesota.  It is usually yellow-orange here - in contrast to bright red varieties elsewhere.  The cap size ranges from 3 to 10 inches wide, and the white stem grows 3 to 7 inches tall. 

They are found growing from the ground - not from trees - from June through September. They are typically found among stands of pines and aspens.  

The toxins muscimol and ibotonic acid are contained in Fly Amanita.  Ingestion can cause serious internal injury and, in some rare instances, death.  They are generally considered poisonous and not edible.  However, some report that the toxins may be parboiled out of the fungus, and rumors surround the hallucinogenic effects caused by people eating these dangerous mushrooms.  Lore has it that the Vikings of the eleventh and twelfth centuries ingested them and found superhuman strength.  And Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was a known experimenter with drugs.  His book illustrations included a white-spotted red mushroom appearing to be Fly Amanita.  Another side effect of ingesting Fly Amanita is macropsia - a condition making things appear larger than life size.  Sounds like the book, doesn't it.

I snapped these photos recently on a portage along the Little Isabella River in the BWCAW.  During the canoe trip, deer flies buzzed around our heads.  It makes me wonder:  Might Fly Amanita in a milk concoction work for meddlesome deer flies around camp?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sulfide Mining on the Edge of the BWCAW

Border Lakes Outfitting and Jason Zabokrtsky teamed with the Friends of the Boundary Waters recently to raise awareness for the potential environmental impacts of proposed sulfide mining operations on the edge of the Boundary Waters.  Jason guided the group of environmental advocates and media representatives, including Stephanie Hemphill of Minnesota Public Radio and John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune.

See the Duluth News Tribune Article here.  Listen to the MPR story here, or see the full text below.

Ely, Minn. — Six mining companies are doing exploration work that could lead to mines near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and that's got a lot of people concerned.

The companies are drilling deep holes, probing huge deposits of valuable copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and palladium.

Steve Koschak looks at a drill site near his River Point Resort on the South Kawishiwi River just east of Ely, Minn.

"This goes 24-7," he says of the constant drone of a drilling rig.

A contractor for Ely-based Duluth Metals is drilling a six-inch hole, about 3,000 feet into the earth. A trickle of water runs to a pit a few feet away. The pit holds water and a scum of gray muck, finely ground rock from deep in the earth.

"If you were to analyze all that, there's probably copper-nickel in that. But look what it's going into, it's going into the swamp," he says. "That's all this is, is a network of spruce swamps, all interconnected, this all goes into Birch Lake, all this water."

When the drilling is done, workers will bury the muck on site, a state requirement. The trouble is, around here there are so many wetlands, it would seem impossible to keep the muck out of the water system. Duluth Metals officials say there won't be enough mineral waste here to be any cause for concern.

This drilling is a precursor to what could be a deep shaft mine, more than half-mile below the surface of the earth. A mine would produce tons and tons of ground-up waste rock.

And this is sulfide rock. When it's brought to the surface, a chemical reaction occurs that produces sulfuric acid. If the rock is not carefully isolated from air and water, it can acidify nearby streams and wetlands -- possibly enough to poison the life in the water.

In many mines, discharges also contain traces of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and manganese. The problem is called acid mine drainage, and it's happened wherever copper mines have been drilled.

The advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has organized a canoe trip for reporters to show how close the mining operations are to the Boundary Waters wilderness. We put in at entry point 32 on the South Kawishiwi River.

We pass turtles sunning themselves on rocks, and a pair of mergansers keeping a close eye on their young brood.

"This is where all the mining exploration's going on, just to the east of the river," says our guide, Jason Zabokrtsky. He points out that the drilling is going on about three miles south of the edge of the Boundary Waters. But here the river turns north and then flows into the heart of the wilderness.

"Into Fall Lake, then into Newton and Basswood Lake, across to upper and lower Basswood Falls, into Crooked Lake, into Iron Lake, across Curtain Falls, and into Lac la Croix," he says. "All really well-known Boundary Waters lakes."

Some people who live near the potential mining sites are worried. Bob Tammen, who lives in Soudan, about 20 miles from Ely, and has vacation property on the South Kawishiwi River, says he doesn't trust the state to protect the environment. The state, he said, hasn't been able to completely clean up pollution from the Dunka pit, a waste site from a taconite operation that accidentally exposed sulfide rock 50 years ago, and ever since has been leaching metals into a nearby creek.

"We've been trying for 30 years to get the Dunka site cleaned up. My contention is, if the state of Minnesota, working with the mining industry, can't clean up a mining site in 30 years, why should we ever grant a permit for a copper mining operation?" Tammen says. "We know that copper is generally in sulfide ore bodies, whereas our iron mining industry is generally in oxide ore bodies, which is not as damaging as sulfide. They haven't been able to manage the iron mining industry; we should not, at this time, trust them to permit a copper mining industry."

State officials say the Dunka problem happened before rigorous rules were imposed on mining operations.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Ann Foss says it's difficult to solve an unexpected problem, but the experience at Dunka has taught the agency a lot about how sulfide rock reacts when exposed to air and water. She says that experience will help inform environmental reviews of any sulfide mining proposals.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters has backed legislation at the state level to beef up requirements on financial assurance -- similar to the escrow fund that BP has agreed to set aside for the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, the Minnesota measure died in committee.

Some of the neighbors here, around the edge of the Boundary Waters want to go further: they want the state to prohibit sulfide mining unless a company can point to one place in the world where a mine has operated without polluting water. Since a similar law passed in Wisconsin, no mines have been built in the state.

The exploration is happening on the southwest edge of the Boundary Waters. Fifteen miles to the west is the town of Ely.

There are varying opinions in Ely on the exploration and possible mine development. The area has long been dependent on jobs in mining, logging, and tourism. Some people are excited about a new source of good-paying jobs. They still remember when the underground mine in Soudan used to ship tons of rich, iron ore. It closed in 1962 and now is a state park.

Duluth Metals has an office in Ely, in a house on a quiet street. The walls are covered with colorful geologic maps, and in an attached garage there are lots of core samples from those drill sites down the road.
David Oliver, the project's manager, is very excited about the minerals that lie more than a half-mile beneath the surface, on 1,500 acres near the South Kawishiwi River.

"We have now drilled 170-some drill holes that verify a resource in excess of 900 million tons that was never on the books before," Oliver said.

He says a mine tapping into that resource could employ 400 people for decades to come.
Copper and nickel, and the associated precious metals, are used in everything from electric wires and computers, to catalytic converters and rechargeable batteries, so demand is going up all the time.

The combination of higher prices and improved technologies to recover the minerals is generating new excitement about a deposit that geologists have known about for a long time. Oliver discounts worries about polluted groundwater. He says the core samples are solid, nearly free of cracks, so it wouldn't be easy for any polluted groundwater to travel through this ancient rock.

And, he says, the waste rock will contain so little sulfur that the kind of pollution that has occurred at other mines is unlikely.

"This is deemed below any threshold that would generate acid drainage," Oliver says. "It just doesn't have enough sulfur to do it."

Until recently, a different company -- Polymet -- was the front-runner in the race for copper-nickel in Minnesota.

Polymet's property is just south of the land Duluth Metals is exploring. The Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Polymet project, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency did a scathing review of the work, saying it was inadequate. It will take more than a year to re-do it.

Meanwhile, Duluth Metals' new partnership with Antofagasta, a Chilean company, provides enough money to move that project ahead quickly. David Oliver says Duluth Metals should be ready for environmental review in about three years.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ely, MN - The Coolest Small Town in America

Ely, MINN - National travel magazine Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel has named Ely, Minn. as its 2010 “Coolest Small Town in America.” The magazine received 147 nominations, then selected 21 American towns that stood out from the crowd to open up to public online voting. In online voting, 439,411 votes were received, and Ely captured 118,899 of those—27 percent of all votes.

A feature on the city of Ely will be included in the magazine’s September 2010 issue.

Ely is located in the Boundary Waters region, on the US-Canada border between Ontario and Minnesota, and is a popular destination for campers, as well as canoe and fishing enthusiasts, and those looking for natural scenery and relaxation.

The magazine defined what they sought for 'Coolest Small Town' as a town with a population under 10,000. According to the original solicitation for nominations, the magazine wrote, “we're talking small towns, not big cities. It's also got to be on the upswing, a place that's beginning to draw attention—and new residents—because of the quality of life, arts and restaurant scene, or proximity to nature. And cool doesn't mean quaint. We want towns with an edge, so think avant-garde galleries, not country stores.” The runner-up cities were Cloverdale, Calif. and Brevard, N.C.

See the original competition details here: http://www.budgettravel.com/bt-srv/coolestsmalltowns/CST2010.html.

“People have long recognized that Ely’s a town full of eccentric people and interesting cultural offerings, but also a land of beautiful wilderness,” says Linda Fryer, director, Ely Chamber of Commerce. “We may be at the end of the road, but once you get here, there’s a lot to see and do.”

The magazine summarized Ely in an introductory article in January: “Also called the End of the Road, Ely sits in Minnesota's scenic extreme north, where it once served as an iron-mining hub. But Ely has come a long way since her unglamorous mining days, now playing host to a number of renowned wilderness facilities like the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. The city is a perfect base for camping, canoeing, and fishing, as the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness offers an untouched expanse of lakes and bogs straddling the U.S.-Canadian border. Ely has become notorious for the annual April Fools’ jokes that city leaders play on the eager-to-be-fooled citizens. In 2008, a press release announced that Ely was being sold to Canada to boost tourism. The mayor commented on the subject in a local newspaper, and cheeky ‘Say No to Canada’ signs were displayed along the highway. The following year, Ely began a mock-campaign to secure the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games.”

In 2010, Ely once again engaged in April Foolery with an announcement on April First that it, in conjunction with the Forest Service, had signed a multi-year deal with a nationally known corporation  for naming rights to the legendary Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine is published monthly except for combined issues in December/January and July/August by Intellitravel Media, Inc. BudgetTravel.com is the website for Budget Travel magazine, which receives approximately 1.8 million unique page views per month.

For more information on Ely, Minn., and to book a Boundary Waters canoe trip vacation that’s less than four hours from the Twin Cities, please visit www.BorderLakesOutfitting or call 218-343-7951.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Common Merganser and Ducklings on Lake One in the BWCAW


We paddled to a quiet bay away from the main travel route to look for wildlife on a guided day canoe trip today on Lake One.

Luckily, we spied this Common Merganser and her ducklings. The young were probably born in a hollow tree - where Mergansers typically nest. The mother must have just recently nudged the furball ducklings out of the nest because they are still tiny creatures. Part of me expected to see a giant pike splash out of the water after one of them.

We saw no sign of the male merganser, which is not uncommon. Motherhood is a lonely job for these females. The males typically play no part in raising the ducklings.

We watched this Common Merganser dive down looking for minnows to catch in its orange serrated bill - often called a sawbill. It didn't appear to succeed in hunting minnows, but it did successfully pluck a dragonfly nymph from a rock wall as it swam by.
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Young Fern Fronds Unfurling in the BWCAW

Summer is on its way! The leaves are exploding out everywhere, and closer to the ground, the ferns are coming out in their own way. The tightly-curled immature fern fronds are called fiddleheads. As a fiddle player myself, I can verify that they do indeed resemble the top of my instrument. It only takes a few days for the young ferns to unfurl, so it is a fun discovery to spy these young plants before they have their big flat leaves of the summer. We found these on a day trip this week into the BWCAW, on the Isabella River.

Bracken ferns are an abundant plant in the BWCAW. Some people say that bracken ferns are good mosquito repellent. Just take one full-sized leaf and set atop your head or stick in your hat, and see what you think.

Entry and photos by Wilderness Guide Kate Ford

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Canoe Trailer That Will Last

We picked up a new canoe trailer today at Remackel Welding in Forest Lake, MN.

Around Ely, canoe trailers bounce down some pretty rugged roads. Names like “Echo Trail” and “Tomahawk Trail” reflect the rustic nature of the routes here. These roads and harsh northern elements put canoe trailers to the test.

Meet one of the most durable canoe trailers available. This photo shows our six-place canoe trailer with box by Remackel Welding. As we talked with other outfitters about canoe trailers that last the longest under heavy use, we repeatedly heard about the custom trailers by Dennis Remackel. He’s been making them by hand for several decades.

Dennis gives people several options to customize their trailers. Rust is the nemesis of a trailer, so we chose to have the trailer hot-dip galvanized. Once welded together, the trailer is dipped in molten zinc resulting in a trailer that won’t rust and never needs painted. The cool-factor is pretty high, and the practical durability factor is even higher.

We chose a few other options also. We ordered an extended tongue to allow room for a couple canoes on the roof of the towing vehicle. That allows us to transport eight canoes - two complete BWCA canoe trips. Also, the canoe racks are removable so the "canoe trailer" converts to a simple utility trailer. We also like the added steps on the back of the trailer, wheel wells strong enough to stand on, and a plywood step on the tongue. The plywood is all marine grade.

If you take lots of canoe trips and want to tow your own canoes, then you may want to consider one of Remackel's four-place canoe trailers with a large box and optional box cover. See photos on the Remackel website.

Shown in front of the new trailer are Dennis Remackel and Kate Ford.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sap Remover

Five-year-old Lucas trotted out of the woods with his hands above his head shouting: "I need the sap remover! I need the sap remover!"

Sure enough, the spring sap is running and he found it. But, no problem. He just needed the liquid hand sanitizer out of the toilet paper kit.

It's a good tip to carry liquid hand sanitizer on your Boundary Waters trip for the obvious purposes, and also to remove pesky sap that doesn't come off with plain soap. That's one of the reasons we include hand sanitizer in our complete Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitting packages.

Monday, April 5, 2010

March BWCAW Canoe Trip

It's almost never possible to do a Boundary Waters canoe trip in March. But, with our early spring, and summer-like temps, I eagerly watched the forecast in hopes of just such a March trip. Sure enough, the rivers freed up from ice quickly and even some of the lakes were going out by the end of the month.

One of the joys of life in the Northwoods is that we can take advantage of the lovely weather that arrives at unexpected times. It would seem pretty unreasonable to actually plan a March canoe trip here. But, with good weather and warm temps forecast, I charged out on March 31 for an overnight BWCAW canoe trip up the Little Indian Sioux River. The planned route took me south on the Little Indian Sioux, past Sioux Falls (shown in the photo), up the Little Pony River, through Bootleg Lake, then out the south end of Bootleg and back north on the Little Indian Sioux.

As I paddled toward Bootleg, my curiosity about whether it would be open or locked in ice yet grew. Fortunately, the typically low (and sometimes virtually impassable) Little Pony River had adequate water, and I portaged into Bootleg at about 6 PM. A stroke of luck meant the lake had opened up and was virtually ice-free except for some candle ice that collected near the portage. Lexee-dog seemed intrigued by the sound of the ice chinkling against my paddle and the canoe.

What a remarkable trip. With two days of t-shirt weather I observed a bonanza of wildlife celebrating the advent of spring. I saw all sorts of firsts for the 2010 ice-out season: beavers slapping their tails, muskrats, minnows, a leech, mosquitoes (two!), a fish jumping, mallards, a herring gull, Canada geese flying north, maybe an osprey in the distance, and some other ducks.

But the wildlife highlight of the trip occurred within about a mile of the takeout. As I rounded a bend, I spied two trumpeter swans leisurely preening themselves on the river. They let me relax and watch them swim gracefully for about twenty minutes. I used up the last of my camera battery life before they decided to fly off.

The swans' final act delighted me. I've never seen other birds do this, but I've seen it with trumpeter swans here before. They took flight going away from me, flew for a distance, then u-turned and flew back toward my canoe. They then did a fly-by directly overhead, not far above, with the sound of rushing air crossing their six feet wingspan. As I watched, they seemed to tilt their wings in a "welcome to our woods, happy to share" sort of message. The experience felt like the true launch of the paddling season.

I basked in the good feelings of watching such remarkable birds - creatures so pure and clean and white and ornate it seems they belong in my grandmother's china hutch. The experience will be a highlight of my year.

So pleased with the encounter, I decided against replacing my camera battery for the rest of the short paddle to the take-out. Then I rounded another bend and spied a moose grazing along the shore. That image will just remain in my head.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

World Event Missed While On Trail - Boundary Waters Renamed

On the paddle to the takeout after a camping trip, the question often arises: "What major news did we miss while in the wilderness?" I returned from a two-day BWCAW trip late tonight and hardly considered what might have happened during such a brief jaunt out. However, I was shocked when I found this major international news in a press release in my email.


Ely, Minn. Signs Deal with Private Funding Source

ELY, MINNESOTA — April 1, 2010 — Ely, Minn announces today it has, signed a multi-year deal for naming rights to the legendary Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The new corporate sponsor will be Minnesota-based International Dairy Queen, Inc. (IDQ).

The Boundary Waters region, on the US-Canada border between Ontario and Minnesota, is a popular destination for campers, as well as canoe and fishing enthusiasts, and those looking for natural scenery and relaxation.

As of today, the region will be officially known as the International Dairy Queen Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or IDQBWCAW.

“We have been fielding offers for years, turning down everyone from AARP to the ASPCA. But this year, we had to make a difficult decision,” says Roger Skraba, Ely Mayor. “Beautiful unspoiled wilderness doesn’t pay for itself. And who doesn’t have fond memories of a Dilly Bar? It’s a win-win. This will usher in an era of great corporate, tourism and environmental partnerships.”

“We were looking for a way to promote the 25h birthday of our signature Blizzard Treat, as well as a unique tribute to International Dairy Queen in this, our 70th year,” says Michael Keller, Chief Brand Officer for IDQ. “When we thought about it, this made perfect sense. Ely has blizzards, we have Blizzards. They’re international, we’re international. They have a guy named Buster who hangs out at one of the local bars. We have a treat called the Buster Bar. It’s sort of serendipitous, actually.”

I know this is shocking news. Can you complain or stop this? Well, first check the date of the press release, and then you can go to the Ely Chamber of Commerce website (ely.org) for more info. We're happy to outfit your Boundary Waters canoe trip no matter what it's called.