... Prior to being ordained the BWCA”W”, the Superior National Forrest contained nearly forty resorts, motorized boat and fly-in fishing camps, a railroad and other roads for vehicular travel... the portage itself was a railroad bed

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:
In recent weeks I’ve read numerous articles claiming the BWCA as being an “untouched” wilderness. Betty McCollum was one of these individuals; she’s a little light on the area’s history. Her Wikipedia site indicates she has accomplished much in her half-life and that she has a stellar education.
So why does she miss the mark so often when discussing mining issues. When reading her talking points you realize quickly that she’s being coached. She clones everyone else’s talking points. So I have to wonder, who is it that has her ear, whose voice does she hear and who is it that will eventually become her Rasputin.
According to Webster, a true wilderness is a location that has been unscathed by human interaction. The BWCA is not a true wilderness; it’s a wilderness by decree.
Prior to being ordained the BWCA”W”, the Superior National Forrest contained nearly forty resorts, motorized boat and fly-in fishing camps, a railroad and other roads for vehicular travel. At the Basswood end of the four-mile portage, a steam locomotive is partially submerged in the bay and the portage itself was a railroad bed.
And most notable; a high percentage of this decreed wilderness was logged. Years ago, you could find post foundations scattered along the major waterways where logging camps resided. Scouring garbage dumps at these camps for old bottles and interesting artifacts used to be an enjoyable hobby.
Today, finding meaningful stands of virgin or old growth timber would be a real chore and a high percentage of today’s tall timber is second and third growth timber; hardly a virgin wilderness.
Contrary to what you hear from the anti-mining folks, that this WINO (wilderness in name only) belongs to all of us, the B’dub is not for everyone. Unless you are an extremely adventurous individual with friends that will do anything to “get you there”, handicap and disabled individuals, like so many of our disabled vets can stay home. According to them, this isn’t for you.
The most recent user figures from the USFS indicate a total of 104,882 entries in 2015. This included all entry points and that figure was indicative of the declining interest over the last few years. What’s even more disheartening is the number of youth entries; only 18,588 and shrinking as well.
Two questions: How can this be the most visited wilderness in the US and what magic elixir do you have to reenergize our kids to get back into the bush and paddle? Unless you find a way to get youth back into the B’dub, you can stop promoting your land grab efforts under the guise that it’s “for the kids”, because evidently the kids just don’t care.
To locate the birthplace of this seventy-year-old battle, you have to look no further than the residents of Ely itself.
If there was an overwhelming buildup of environmental pressure from outside forces, we Rangers didn’t know or didn’t realize it at the time, but by the late fifties the first shots were fired regarding how we would travel and enjoy the Superior National Forest.
Three-quarters of a century later and we’re still being bled-out; death by a thousand cuts. The air ban, the motor ban, the resort ban, the ban on cabins, the ban on homes, the ban on roads, the ban on snowmobiles, the regulations regarding group size, the number of consecutive nights at any one camp site, nothing with a battery, and if anybody thinks it’s over, you’re naive.
Every single court battle that would suppress our freedom in the Superior National Forest was won by the environmentalists. Every time.
For the locals it became disheartening, the environmentalists, however, became emboldened and now they’re coming after more than our recreational freedoms, now they want our jobs and our culture.
What’s at stake now is the demise of the Minnesota Arrowhead including Duluth.
Respectfully, our newest residents seem to be siding with the anti-mining forces while the original immigrants of the Arrowhead want nothing more than to live our lives the way we did when Minnesota became a state.
I’ll say it again; walk through the Ely cemetery and look at the names and dates on the headstones. Finns, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Italians, Yugoslavians and a smattering of everyone else. These folks didn’t come here to retire, they came here to work. They built this country and they still are.
And we, their progeny, now have to look at what might very well be the demise of that culture.
So which side owns the moral high ground? When you step back and look at what makes us different, you quickly realize that, really, we have much in common.
Foremost; we both want to save something. They want to save jobs and a “wilderness.” We want to save jobs and a culture. Their job structure favors a few wealthy folks while the working masses will earn sub-poverty annual incomes. Our job structure will favor stock holders (of which anyone can participate) and provide the work force with annual incomes approaching six figures and a bucket full of remarkable benefits.
No one knows where this will end, who will be dancing in the streets or who will be planning for the future elsewhere. But our new residents need to know that they are welcome and very much needed for the community to survive.
If you don’t understand anything about modern mining’s best practices, then source it and absorb all that you can since your future depends on total knowledge of the industry that can secure Ely’s stability for the rest of the new century.
The day is quickly approaching that a decision will be made. Whatever it is, it should be a cause for celebration and not a trigger-mechanism for demonization.
I’m a mining guy, seventy-one years young and still at it. I don’t have to tell you how I feel about the issues.
But I will say this; Rasputin destroyed the legacy of Russia’s political elites and he did it by whispering in their ear.
Bob Colombo
Former Ely resident and city councilman