I grew up in Minnesota, and our family’s cabin was our summer playground. We also cherished nearby public spaces for hunting, fishing, hiking, swimming. Minnesota’s population went from 3.5 million in the 1960s to 5.45 million in 2014.
Despite having considerable state and federal land, things changed a lot. Over the years when we visited favorite state forests, national forests and parks we noticed they were being affected by the increased number of users. Off-road vehicles used in approved and non-approved areas degraded the trails. Trash was becoming a problem on nearly every trail where we hiked, hunted, fished, boated or swam. We saw less wildlife.
One place that did not suffer the obvious signs of being loved to death was the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the BWCA. A four-hour drive from Minneapolis, it was established in 1964 as a wilderness area. Only a few of its lakes allow motorized boat traffic. Today there are 250,000 visitors to this million plus acre road-less area. Ely, and Grand Marais, the closest towns, are popular vacation locations throughout the year, and enjoy sustainable, growing economies thanks to BWCA. This special area has become for me a haven in a state that has grown and changed much. Here we might see the increasingly rare animals of the north — Moose, wolves, black bears, lynx, bobcat, river otters, bald eagles. It has given me the opportunity to experience quiet, to slow down. For me, the BWCA captures the essence of northern Minnesota.
So what does this Minnesota history lesson have to do with Wilderness and the Idaho Panhandle?
Nothing and everything.
With its continued growth, Idaho will likely be grappling with many of the same challenges Minnesota faced during the years I lived and worked there. While we may not be able to control changes affecting the nation and world, we can protect resources that define quality of life in North Idaho. I believe wilderness areas, which are so different from state and national forests, state parks, and ski areas, are essential resources.
Last summer I had the opportunity to hike to the summit of Scotchman Peak with one of last summer’s goat ambassadors. Our dogs came along. With an ascent of 3,700 feet, it was for me the essence of the Idaho panhandle. It was a daylong hike — sometimes easy, sometimes difficult — passing through a series of complex ecosystems as we gained elevation.Signs of Idaho’s native wildlife were evident and we were treated to several mountain goat families when we reached the summit. I just can’t imagine the panhandle without this special place, only minimally affected by humans yet such a short drive from Clark Fork and Sandpoint.
Let’s save enough wilderness for future generations by showing support for the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness act.
In the current political climate, these areas may become the last glimpses of untouched wild places and once gone, they are gone.