Ely couple completes 2,000-mile canoe trip protest

Adventurer Amy Freeman paddles in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and she and husband Dave made their way to Washington, D.C. (PHOTO: Dave Freeman, Wilderness Classroom)

Adventurer Amy Freeman paddles in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and she and husband Dave made their way to Washington, D.C. (PHOTO: Dave Freeman, Wilderness Classroom)

Dave and Amy Freeman, two professional adventurers based in Ely and Grand Marais, just completed a 2,000-mile canoe trip through the Boundary Waters, out to the Atlantic Ocean and down to Washington, D.C. The reason for the trip was to highlight the natural beauty of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and deliver petitions opposing the opening of land near the BWCA for new forms of what some call sulfide mining.

From a Star Tribune story by Jennifer Brooks:

The Freemans plan to plead their case, and present their canoe/petition, to federal officials they hope can intervene to block the mining operation. The alternative, they fear, will be scenes like the Hudson River Superfund site they paddled through — a place “where you don’t even want to touch the water,” Freeman said.

“Everyone we met, all along the route, in these non-wild areas, they were all trying to clean up the rivers, they were all trying to gain access to the water,” he said. “We have such a special thing in northern Minnesota. You can just go onto the lake and dip your cup in and drink.”

John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune also penned an article today:

And what was their favorite part of the trip?

“The Boundary Waters,” Amy said without hesitation. “The first week was great. The more urban the trip got, it got more difficult for me; for both of us. It really made us appreciate what we have at home.”

The term “sulfide mining” refers to the mining of precious minerals in rock laden with sulfides which require great mitigation to avoid polluting ground water. Mining supporters reject that term, however, saying the ores can be accessed safely, without affecting the BWCA. The resulting controversy has been one of the biggest environmental issues in the state for at least a decade and counting.

Right now, a non-ferrous mineral mining project called PolyMet located near Hoyt Lakes is awaiting the final determination on whether it will receive permits to mine copper, nickel and other minerals. This project is located in the Lake Superior watershed, not the BWCA. Twin Metals, of Ely, proposes the mining project near the BWCA that has perhaps drawn the most concern. Nevertheless, both projects represent the introduction of a new, more exhaustive and expensive form of mining to the Northern Minnesota economy and eco-system.

I wrote about the couple’s unique educational expedition around all of North America a couple years ago, and Amy was a guest on our July 2014 Great Northern Radio Show in Ely while Dave was canoeing Rio Roosevelt in Brazil.


  1. How does one become a professional adventurer ? I hope to become one once I end working, I can see the finish line now. I’m sure the DC types that have never seen a forest will embrace the professional adventurers with open arms.

    • Ken. You sound like a really nice guy. Maybe a touch cynical, but nice. The Freemans have made their careers by undertaking adventures and allowing schools to follow their adventure via their website, and through classroom visits. They are reimbursed for these activities, so, you know, professional. I don’t think this trip was part of their Wilderness Classroom venture. Their thousands and thousands of miles traveled and educating certainly prepared them for this adventure however. Life is about choices. You, based on your seeming disapproval of Amy and Dave’s line of work, have decided that you will work a more typical career path. Good for you. I am most happy that despite the naysayers and unimaginative types that surely have stood in their way, they took the turn toward something wonderful, meaningful, and memorable. May you one day find your calling, and when you do, I wish you all the support and courage to move forward with your dream.

  2. That Ottawa River route is spectacular, even as seen from a car (Route 17). Sure would like to paddle it some day.

  3. I’ve been fortunate to guide dog team trips with both Amy and Dave since before they were married and have watched their Wilderness Classroom evolve into a true science education tool in classrooms around the country. I have never worked with any more hard working people and their integrity on and off – trail is beyond reproach. They are always tuned into their client’s comfort while guiding in the field , and their adventure curriculum gives their students the chance to learn about the areas and cultures they travel in and to practice individual decision making about day to day decisions that have to be made on any exploration of a wilderness area. Dave and Amy were named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year for 2014.

  4. So how does science determine whether the Boundary Waters is more important than the Lake Superior watershed?

  5. “We have such a special thing in northern Minnesota. You can just go onto the lake and dip your cup in and drink.”

    I live in northern Minnesota, and I often visit the Boundary Waters. I would never do this, unless I was dying of dehydration. And neither would they.

    But as this couple evidently believes, having a “cause” exonerates one from telling white lies in service to that greater “cause.”

    • Yes, Benjamin, many people still do drink unfiltered water out of Boundary Waters Lakes as well as Lake Superior. The giardia cyst is heavy enough that it sinks to the bottom of lakes while in streams it will travel along with the water. So you can “…just go onto the lake and dip your cup in and drink”. Make sure you are out in the middle, not close to shore beaver or human activity.
      Of course with the low cost and effectiveness of filters nowadays, any outfitter who doesn’t provide guides with filters is tempting client lawsuits.
      As far as your accusation of the Freeman’s “telling white lies in service to that greater cause”. I don’t think their cause is in need of lying about – it is an irrefutable fact that any sulfide mine in a water filled environment has continued to leach sulfuric acid and heavy metals into the water. I wouldn’t advise you as to the effectiveness of any current camper filters yet developed at removing sulfuric acid or heavy metals from the water of the Boundary Waters.

    • I don’t think it’s a lie at all. Lots of folks drink straight from the lake and have been doing so for years. I did it myself in October with no ill effect. Outfitters in the BWCA will tell you that — especially in summer — they see far more people get in trouble via dehydration than from giardiasis or any other water-borne illness. But, suit yourself.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.