Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ober's Legacy

The Shipstead Nolan-Act was the catalyst for the creation and federal approval of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which established the U.S. preservation system. This Wilderness Act is very important in the history of the Boundary Waters. It basically marked the birth of the BWCA (eventually to be named the BWCAW) and helped to keep big industry and modern civilization away from the wilderness. For example, it greatly decreased the amount of logging and mining that could occur in U.S. designated wilderness areas, including the BWCAW. Motorized vehicles were banned for the most part, except in outlying lakes (near towns) where they had already been used for quite some time. The Act did not fully protect the Boundary Waters against mining and logging, since it was not geared towards just one wilderness area; that would be left up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978.

The Wilderness Act of 1978 was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 21, 1978 and virtually sealed the deal for the Boundary Waters; it built upon the previous act of 1964 by adding stronger protection and regulations that were more specifically attuned to the Boundary Waters. It also officially named the area the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, beforehand it had just been named the BWCA. The Act added 50,000 acres to the wilderness area, leading the BWCAW to exceed a million, reaching the 1,098,057 acres that it has remained at today. In terms of protection, as Wilbers describes in his timeline, the Act "bans logging, mineral prospecting, and mining; all but bans snowmobile use; limits motorboats and motorized portages." The Act was true to its word; by 1979, after 87 years of the practice, logging in the BWCAW came to a dead halt. The Boundary Waters was finally free from harm and so far, has managed to stay that way (except, of course, for the random forest fire every now and then, experienced a few weeks ago).

When the 1964 Act was passed, Ober had just turned 80. He was getting to be pretty far along in his life but still managed to keep a guiding hand on the wilderness movement. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his guidance in the Act of 1978, since Ober was not even around when the bill was passed through congress; he had died a year earlier, in 1977, at the age of 93. I'm sure it would have made him extremely happy to see all his hard work pay off. Although he did not play a big part in the 1964 Act and certainly not the 1978 Act these two Acts never would have taken place without his initial leadership, the creation of his program, and his struggle to pass the Shipstead-Nolan Act through Congress. In fact, he created the very organization that was the main push behind the passing of the Wilderness Acts: The Wilderness Society. He was the honorary vice president from the start of the Society in 1935 until 1968. Thus, even though he didn't spearhead the fight for the creation and approval of the two Acts, he nonetheless had a strong presence in every victory there was to be had for the Boundary Waters and other wilderness areas, even after his death.

It is pretty obvious: without Ober there would be no Boundary Waters, or certainly not the BWCAW that we know and love today. Ober was way ahead of his time. He saw the potential in the early 1900s for the mass extermination of nature's precious existence in the Quetico-Superior area (by big industry) and proceeded to fight tooth and nail to make sure the wild he knew would never be silenced or conquered. Thank goodness for his efforts because he has given us one of the greatest gifts possible, the BWCAW.

The BWCAW is quite simply, a gem; a diamond in the rough. There is no place like it and the beauty it contains never ceases to amaze me. As Paul Gruchow writes in his book, The Grace of the Wild: The wilderness speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder: The water tumbling from one lake into the next, the laughter of loons, the howling of wolves. . .daily reminding us along the way of the grace abounding in the world (p.g. 7)." This, nature, is what Ober fought for. He put his whole life on hold in order to save the BWCAW, so that I and others would have a place to come back to; a place to call home.

As long as the BWCAW thrives, so will Ober's legacy. His presence remains in every nook and cranny of the Boundary Waters; from the hordes of mosquitoes that stalk campers endlessly while portaging, to the sound of the water lapping against the shore at night. He may be an unsung hero but it just takes one listen to realize that his legacy is definitely, very much alive. I recognize it every time I return home to the Boundary Waters: in the creak of the majestic pines floating over my head, the feel of the warm sun upon my back as I lay out on a rock, the sound of my canoe paddle as it swiftly breaks the water's surface, the undulating flap of my tent in the wind as I rest inside its protection, and the call of a loon as I slowly drift off into a blissful slumber, completely, utterly exhausted, but content. Ober gave me this, gave all of us this. After all, it is Ober that we have to thank for nature's Minnesotan playground; otherwise known as the BWCAW. Although he may not get the credit he deserves, his legacy is impossible to forget. Alas, for all your struggles, your insight, your determination and your love of nature, thank you Ober. I cannot speak for others, but I know for an undeniable fact, that you will always be one of my greatest heroes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

One of Ober's Greatest Accomplishments: Shipstead-Nolan Act

Before I start going through the history and importance of the Shipstead-Newton bill, I wanted to discuss a quick topic. I was doing research for my blog this past weekend and I slowly came to realize that the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Act (1978) are two separate entities. All this time I thought they were the same Act! It turns out that the Wilderness Act of 1964 applied to wilderness areas throughout the whole U.S., while the Act of 1978 was solely relegated to the BWCAW. They both helped to preserve federal lands as wilderness areas, but the Act of 1978 was more geared towards the Boundary Waters: providing it with better protective measures than it was afforded in the more general Wilderness Act of 1964.

Alas, my blog has been sent a curve-ball. I was going to end my next and final blog talking about Ober's influence in the creation and eventual approval of the Wilderness Act (which led to the birth of the BWCAW), but this will not be happening because of two revelations: 1) As already mentioned, I found out that they are actually two different acts and 2) By the time the Wilderness Act was passed (1964), Ober was much older (about 80) and had less of a leadership role in the conservation movement that he had previously helped to kick-start.

While these two revelations have lead to a huge kink in my blog plan, they have also helped me by increasing my understanding of Ober and his contributions. All this time I thought the Wilderness Act of 1964 was Ober's crowning glory, but after more careful research and fact checking (using a few new sources that i will mention later), I have discovered that the Shipstead-Newton bill was indeed Ober's most important accomplishment in preserving the BWCAW. I will discuss the Wilderness Acts more in my final post but for now it is only important to know that Ober did have a hand in the creation of the Wilderness Acts; he just wasn't the leader behind the Acts, as he had been for the Shipstead-Newton bill.

So with that issue cleared up, I would like to continue on from my previous post and finish talking about the Shipstead-Newton bill. It was introduced in 1928 to the Minnesota Legislature and was quickly passed by both the states of Minnesota and South Dakota. In that same year and with two states already backing it, the Bill was put into the hands of Congress. It was here in Congress that the bill stayed waiting for approval for about two years until it was finally passed in 1930.  During this wait, the Shipstead-Newton bill had a bit of a transformation and changed to the Shipstead-Nolan bill. This was due to the fact that the bill's co-author, Walter Newton resigned as a Minnesota representative in 1929 in order to become the secretary of President Herbert Hoover. His spot in the Minnesota legislature was swiftly replaced by William Nolan. Luckily, Nolan was of the same opinion as Newton and decided to support the bill. This was very fortunate for Ober and the future of the bill because without Nolan's support, the bill would have unfortunately had to start anew.

During the two years that the bill was sitting idly in Congress, Ober and the rest of his supporters were busting their butts in Washington and all around the U.S. to get public support and also political backing for the bill. In the end, Ober was to be the most influential person in getting the bill passed. As R. Newell Searle explains in his book Saving Quetico-Superior: "Although the Izaak Walton League, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations fought hard for the measure, it was Ernest Oberholtzer who bore the burden of testimony. Through the long months of struggle for passage, Ober lobbied, wrote countless letters, sought publicity, and in general coordinated the effort amongs its various constituents." He even managed to get a meeting with the president, Herbert Hoover, in order to persuade him into supporting the bill. Ober was a definite force to be reckoned with. He put his whole life and passion into making sure that the bill was given a chance in Congress because as we now know, at the age of 44, this would be his final, most important battle for the BWCAW.

On July 3, 1930, the hard work of Ober and his constituents finally paid off. At midnight during the last day of the congressional session the bill was passed and thus, the Shipstead-Nolan Act of 1930 was born! As Stephen Wilbers explains in his Boundary Waters Chronology, "The Act withdrew all federal land in the boundary waters region from homesteading or sale, prevented the alteration of natural water levels by dams, prohibited logging within 400 feet of shorelines, and preserved the wilderness nature of shorelines. The regulations applied to a 4,000-square-mile area extending from Lake Superior on the east to Rainy Lake on the west. Passage of the Act represented a defeat for Edward Wellington Backus's plan to build a series of dams in the Rainy Lake watershed to create storage basins for industrial waterpower." With the passage of the bill, Ober was able to take a huge step in preserving the Boundary Waters and also to defeat Backus and keep industrial big business away from the unspoiled beauty of the Minnesota Wilderness. 

The Shipstead-Nolan Act was completely earth-shattering for Ober's era. It was the first time the U.S. Congress had taken federal lands and given them legal protection in the name of wilderness preservation. It was a huge victory for Ober and all of his loyal supporters. As Ober described: "Such lands would link us with the primeval past. . . .promising sanctuary for all time to unborn multitudes." Through his efforts, Ober was able to stop the ravages of time and change; to save a piece of the past; to ensure a place of respite for those in future generations like ours, who have strayed incredibly far from their instinctual connection with nature and real beauty. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Beginning of the Boundary Waters

As I discussed in my previous post, the Quetico-Superior Council began after the acceptance of Ober's program by the U.S. Forest Service. This council would be the life-saving force for Ober during his 30 year battle to protect the Boundary Waters. It saw itself as: "An international organization. . .for the sole purpose of obtaining with the consent of the Province of Ontario, a treaty between Canada and the United States to protect and expand the rare public values in the Rainy Lake watershed, which forms part of the international boundary between Ontario and Minnesota (178, Paddock)." With the council as his motivation, Ober went out into the public and scrounged up a lot of supporters; many of whom were quite famous. For example, for his council's National Board of Advisors, he managed to nab the backing of people such as Aldo Leopold, Jane Addams, and members of Teddy Roosevelt's family (to name a few).

While Backus also had a lot of important connections, his tended to be mostly conservative, industry men (comparable to the the CEOs of the U.S. today). Ober on the other hand, due to his openness and acceptance of all people, had many liberal, democratic friends but also many wealthy, conservative backers. This fact proved fatal for Backus in the end because it meant that Ober and his council were able to attract support for the Boundary Waters from both sides of the political divide, unlike Backus. This support from both sides of the divide would actually lead to quite the opportunity; the Shipstead-Newton Bill.

This was to be a major accomplishment of Ober and the Quetico-Superior Council, but like all things great, it began with baby steps. The bill was introduced to Ober in 1928, by Henrik Shipstead, a liberal senator from Minnesota. Shipstead had starting writing the bill because he agreed with Ober's program and felt that the congress should have a say in the alteration of border-lake water levels on federal land. Soon after, a Minnesota representative named Walter Newton, who had heard of the potential bill, added his support. Newton was an important factor because once Newton decided to co-author the bill, he essentially created a liberal-conservative alliance. This alliance would prove crucial towards the acceptance of the bill later on in the Minnesota legislature and the U.S. Congress.

With the bill then being promoted by two members of the Minnesota legislature, Ober and his supporters worked diligently to gain the support of the public and other influential people. It was extremely important that the bill passed in the Minnesota legislature so that it would be seen as more legitimate once it got into the hands of Congress at the next congressional session. Ober also persuaded Shipstead to tweak the bill so that it would better echo the ideas of Ober's program and thus, give more protection to the wilderness that would become the BWCAW in the future.

In the end, the Minnesota Legislature passed the bill. As Ober described in an oral interview, "It was a very long, drawn-out procedure before we got the final vote, and it was right at the end of the session that if finally went through. When it did, it went through by a large majority. The opposition was pretty well played out. As I recall it, they were left in a very lonely position." I would assume that all this incredible support came as a shock to Ober, who had underestimated the interest that his battle would create. Soon after Minnesota passed the bill, the South Dakota Legislature did also This act of allegiance by South Dakota came as a huge surprise victory for Ober since he did not actively pursue the state's support. It seems Ober was off to a very good start. Alas, the battle was just beginning but with his new-found confidence and support, there was no stopping him in his mission to protect the Boundary Waters.

Finally, it is important to remember that this bill was NOT the Boundary Waters Wilderness Act that I will discuss later on in my blog. This was solely a bill to prohibit the lakes from being dammed; it did not create the BWCAW nor did it put the land under federal protection. Nonetheless it was an extremely important step towards the creation of the BWCAW and a huge victory for Ober and the Council.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ober's Vision

"Because this region is largely in a state of nature, Mr. Backus assumes that it is valueless; but that is exactly what constitutes its value for the public..This is one of the rarest regions on the continent, if not the world. Nowhere else is there to be found so precious and picturesque a combination of water, rock and forest, all linked together in a single maze of bewildering beauty." 

Ober had a vision. He knew that the Boundary Waters was a highly unique and beautiful wilderness that needed to be preserved for future generations. As he said in an article for American Forests and Forest Life: "It is a museum of original America. It contains the larger half of wisdom-the part that cannot be taught within-doors." The BWCAW is a living fossil of the past; an anchor to what was. Ober believed this down to his core and thus, he worked his whole life to make sure that the northern wilderness of Minnesota would be protected. 

In 1927, with Backus's dam proposal then introduced into the public, the battle was set to begin. This would be a battle consisting of Ober and the people who shared his vision of conservation versus Backus and those who were more interested in making money than appreciating what nature had to offer.  At the beginning of the battle, Backus had very little organized opposition. The U.S. government and the Canadian government were not very cohesive in their management of the wilderness that they shared. This allowed Backus more wiggle room in his attempt to dam the Rainy Lake Watershed, which would raise the water levels of what is now the Boundary waters by untold amounts. Fortunately though, there was the International Joint Commission (IJC).

The IJC was a commission set up by the two governments in 1909; its purpose was to "evaluate, arbitrate, and settle disputes arising along the shared boundary waters of the United States and Canada", as Paddock describes in his book, Keeper of the Wild. Unfortunately, this commission was not very helpful to Ober in the battle for the Boundary Waters since it leaned heavily in favor of Backus (he had connections in ALL aspects of the government). Thus, it was up to Ober and his fellow conservationists to negotiate and persuade the two governments to leave the Boundary Waters the hell alone. The battle essentially sprouted from there; with what came to be called "the program".

Ober and his many supporters believed  that the best way to fight Backus's plan was to construct a program for the Rainy Lake Watershed that would provide another option besides the Backus Plan; to show what the Quetico-Superior wilderness had to offer, besides industrial outputs. This program was written by Ober, influenced by the advice of his close friends and based on the knowledge he gained in college (studying landscape architecture), as well as throughout his life long explorations in the Northern Wilderness. It also helped that Ober understood the way of life in Northern Minnesota and the subsequent conflicting interests of the people who lived there and drew a livelihood from nature's resources. Thus, despite protests from his supporters, he was adamant that the program not over-reach; leading to his creation of the multi-use system. 

The multi-use system was a groundbreaking concept which reexamined the relationship between industry and nature. Ober's program described a scenario in which the area's natural beauty would remain undisturbed, while still allowing logging and other industries to be carried out, on a "modern-sustained yield basis".  The U.S. Forest Service had been slowly moving towards this approach, but Ober was the first person to really claim it as his own and force it into the spotlight. In order for the multi-use system to work, Ober introduced the concept of "zoning" which would allow the inner part of the Boundary Waters to be wild and untarnished, while the outskirts would contain things such as roads and cabins. This concept of zoning was a monumental concept that has kept the Boundary Waters looking exactly as it did 40-50 years ago; without it, there would have been homes all over the area and many more roads than there are now. 

As Paddock describes in his book, "Though large concessions in terms of the area to be protected would in time have to be made, the program Ober developed was to become the Magna Charta for the Quetico-Superior conservationists through most of their long struggle. It broke new ground and its concepts continue to be useful in forest planning today (p.g. 175)." Once Ober's program gained the approval of his fellow conservationists, he worked to get the support of the U.S. Forest Service. During an international forestry conference in Duluth, on November 29, 1927, the program would finally be recognized by the U.S. Forest Service. This acceptance of the program by the U.S. Forest Service, by no means killed the proposed Backus plan but alas, it did acknowledge the U.S.'s need to work with the Canadian government in preserving the Quetico-Superior wilderness.  

Also of note is that as a consequence of this conference, a new, very important organization was born. As Ober stated in an article published in American Forests and Forest Life: "A complete and carefully prepared program was then adopted, for the sole purpose of fostering a treaty and of mustering the support of all friends in both countries. The result was the Quetico-Superior Council." This council would grow to become very near and dear to Ober, especially since he was to be the elected president; even getting paid a yearly salary of $5,000. From then on, he was the head of the movement to protect the BWCAW. As usual, Ober says it best: "It happens that I was called upon in 1927 to take charge of this movement. This I agreed to do for only 6 months, but that was nearly 30 years ago. It was a night and day affair with no rest for the weary." Thank goodness Ober did not weary, for without him, who knows what would be left of the Quetico-Superior wilderness today. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Backus: The Enemy of the North

It should be hopefully obvious by now that the BWCAW is mainly here today due to the great struggles by Ober and others who cared about conserving nature's most precious treasures. What might NOT be so obvious is the fact that this struggle would never have occurred if it weren't for Mr. Edward Backus.

Edward Backus was a well known Minnesotan lumber baron and industrialist in the early 1900s. He grew up in Red Wing, MN as a farmer's son, went off to college at the U of M, worked his way up to the top through various part-time jobs and eventually managed to secure his own paper mill company. As Joe Paddock describes in his book Keeper of the Wild: "By the mid-1920s, mills operating day and night, Backus paper manufacturing operations had become second largest in total production in the entire world." Backus's paper production business was huge and its base was coincidentally located at the Rainy River dam, with the other smaller mills dispersed in a 200 mile radius around Rainy Lake. Knowing this, it's no wonder that his ambitions would have had a severe impact on what is now the Boundary Water's area since the Rainy Lake Watershed feeds into the BWCAW's many lakes and streams.

 The way I think of it, if Ober was a super hero, Backus would be the villain. Backus had the wilderness of Northern Minnesota wrapped tightly around his greedy hands and before Ober came along, whatever Backus wanted from nature; he got. Unfortunately what Backus wanted most, he couldn't have, at least not without a fight. Backus wanted to dam up the whole Rainy Lake Watershed, which fanned out into northeastern Minnesota and Ontario (where the BWCAW, Voyageurs National Park and the Quetico Provincial Park are all now located). His reason for doing this was simple: more dams equals more power for his paper mills and thus, more money in his pocket. 

Locals of Rainy Lake were already suffering from the flooding that was occurring with the few dams that Backus had already built, Ober could barely imagine what would happen if the whole watershed was dammed! As Ober explained in a series of articles that he wrote for American Forests and Forest Life: Backus's dam proposals would "strike a death blow to the distinctive appeal of the region. To say nothing of...inevitable fluctuations, the [proposed] new maximum levels would spell the ruin of all visible features of the lakes and streams controlled by dams....All these lakes are dotted with islands and have shorelines as intricate as any jig-saw puzzle. The tragedy is that on all these shores, in the margin between the old water level and the new, the vegetation will be killed; and all the natural features will be obliterated." Hence, if the dams were put in place, the Boundary Waters that we know today would have ceased to exist; a massive mosaic of earth's wilderness, silently wasting away under the lapping waves.

Backus scoffed at the initial protests made by Ober but as the years wore on, he would come to fear the Quetico-Superior Council (formed to fight against Backus's proposal; led by Ober) and the power it held over him. He was just one man; although he had many powerful connections, he did not have public support behind him as did Ober and his Council. This lack of foresight would eventually be his downfall, as well as the Great Depression and a few other personal traits, such as his extreme arrogance. 

Alas, it is thanks to Edward Backus that we now have the BWCAW. His plan for the Rainy Lake watershed (which was the most ambitious project for hydroelectric development ever launched in America) was the catalyst for the movement of preserving the natural wilderness of Northern Minnesota and Ontario, that now contains the Boundary Waters.

                                                                       picture source

Who knows what Ober would have become without the help of Backus's greed and lust for power. He very well may have ended up a hermit on an island on Rainy Lake, but instead he was flung into leading a battle of epic proportions against a giant of a man. A picture of David and Goliath would be an appropriate mental image to create in your mind at this time; Ober with his pen and his paddle and Backus with his dollar bills and croonies. We all know too well who ends up winning the battle, the underdog; Ober. After all, you can easily knock someone out with a paddle, meanwhile a dollar bill won't do much except provide a nice towel for the victor to use to wipe the sweat off his brow at the end of the battle. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Ober of Early Years

So before I really start to delve into the details of how Ober helped to save the BWCAW, I think it is important to discuss his childhood and early adulthood. This new information will hopefully allow me to better understand what in Ober's past, helped to shape his ideals and life choices later on in his life. In the end, it would be these very ideals and life decisions that eventually propelled and inspired him to spend the majority of his life passionately fighting for a cause near and dear to his heart; protecting the great, wild wilderness of Northern Minnesota.

Ober was born in 1884 on February 6th, in the town of Davenport, IA. About 5 years after his birth, Ober was dealt a huge blow; his brother Frank died and his father abandoned his mother (Rosa), which meant Rosa was forced to take full care of Ober, with no means of financial support. Luckily, Ober's maternal grandparents were able to take Ober and his mom under their wing. Thus, Ober had the privilege of growing up in a middle-class, cultured household. For the most part, his childhood consisted of reading, attending church (he probably didn't have much say in the matter), biking, and exploring the water ways and backwoods of Davenport, IA. Growing up near the Mississippi River, Ober's love for the outdoors was able to bloom and grow. As Ober put it: 'what probably impressed me more than anything (living in Davenport) were the long rafts of logs...out of that vast unknown North". It seems, even as a child, the Northern Wilderness was already calling Ober's name, preparing him for battle.

At the age of 17, Ober came down with a ghastly case of rheumatic fever which left him with a heart condition. He was told he would be lucky to even make it a year, which of course proved to be false; he lived to the ripe age of 93. Despite a long life, his heart condition still caused him quite a few problems: such as bouts of chest pain, fatigue, and heart palpitations. Every adventure into the wilderness, every paddle and portage could have been his last. I believe he knew this; that any day could be his last. Thus, he lived every day to its fullest and was so determined to keep on living, that his heart had no other choice but to obey.
He got accepted into Harvard at the age of 19. Upon completing his B.A., he went onto Harvard graduate school, to study landscape architecture for a year. This year of landscape architecture, his traveling and lecturing around Europe after graduation and his many dabblings in writing young adult adventure stories and scholarly articles for journals, would prove very important come time for his battle to preserve the Boundary Waters.

The discussion of Ober's life and the events that moved him to fight for the protection of the Northern Minnesota wilderness wouldn't be complete unless I mentioned his journey "towards magnetic north" as Joe Paddock describes it, in his book Keeper of the Wild. This was a canoe journey that he began at the age of 32 in 1912, with his close friend, Billy Magee (an Ojibwe Indian and guide). Starting from La Pas, Manitoba, Ober and Billy set out on a 4 month, 2,000 mile loop to the Hudson Bay and back (to Grimli, Manitoba). This would prove to be the most significant of Ober's outdoor adventures and as Ober described it, "the single most powerful experience of my life". Ober and Billy were basically on their own in the backwoods of Canada; they were exploring a section of unmapped lakes and rivers, virtually untouched by a white man since 1770. He made it out alive, but just barely. The two friends logged many days of hard travel, including days where they were forced to paddle 14 hours or more. There is no question that they became fast and harshly acquainted with mother nature and her dangers while traveling, but nonetheless, despite the hardships, Ober's appreciation for untouched, unspoiled nature grew immensely.

After returning back from the journey, alive, Ober decided to permanently locate to Rainy Lake, MN. He began his residence there as a developer on Deer Island (on Rainy Lake). His job was to prepare and oversee the island for agricultural and tourism purposes. This experience would prove very helpful later on when he worked to create the Quetico-Superior program, which was a plan heavily dependent on a sort of balance between using the Boundary Waters as a source for natural resources while also leaving it to be enjoyed and protected. Eventually he acquired Mallard Island in 1924, as a source of payment for working on Deer Island. This would remain his home until his death in 1977 and a place of special importance for his friends and family, eventually leading to the creation of the Ernest Oberholtzer Foundation, but alas, that is another story, for another day.

Soon after settling on Mallard Island, in the year 1925, the battle for the BWCAW began. From this point on, Ober would dedicate his whole essence to the BWCAW's cause and thus, his life would never be the same.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Through Ober's Eyes

                                                                         picture source

Before I start talking about Ober's contributions towards the creation of the BWCAW, I want to use this blog entry to show his own appreciation of the BWCAW. I feel it is hard to really understand or care about what Ober did unless you can see and understand his passion, through his own eyes. I was going to write this blog through my point of view, about how I really look forward to and enjoy my yearly Boundary Waters visits, but decided Ober could do the job better. This blog entry is an attempt to give insight into Ober's passion for the Boundary Waters, in order to create some sort of understanding in the reader. Hopefully this will lead them to better appreciate what Ober fought and struggled for, over a period of almost 60 years. I thought the best way to sum up his passion for the wilderness of Northern Minnesota, would be through his own words:

       "It was still a place of rare delight- a region apart from the modern world, where man could enjoy the profusion of nature as completely as in the days of Colombus. There was nothing wilder in the jungles of Brazil or the heart of Africa. It wasn't a somber forest, but a forest threaded with sparkling waterways, flooded with sunshine and people with all its ancient creatures." 

This quote was taken from  one of my principle web sources:  This site has a TON of information on Ober and is set up by The Ernest Oberholtzer Foundation on Mallard Island (the Northern Minnesota home of Ernest- on Rainy Lake). This foundation has access to a lot of Ober's letters, which is where this quote sprang from. 

The quote I chose, gives a small but telling glimpse of Ober's passion for the Boundary Waters. It is this very passion that gave him the strength and motivation to dedicate most of his adult life to protecting the place he called home. I agree with Ober completely in his statement. The BWCAW is a rare gem, there is no other place like it. The park has everything a man like Ober would ever need; crystal clear water, majestic, rugged land, clear blue sky, a strong, cleansing breeze, and the sounds of animals in their natural environment. I can also relate to his description of the Boundary Waters as nothing akin to "a somber forest". It is anything but somber. The area is alive in every sense of the word and we should consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to walk through its forests, canoe its lakes, look up at its sky, and hear the chatter of its creatures. It remains a unique fossil of the past; a look back in time; before humans ransacked and conquered nature. Alas, the BWCAW continues to be the wildest part of Minnesota and as Ober stated, perhaps the whole world.

The Boundary Waters does not only matter to me, but to MANY other people. In fact, about 200,000 people visit the BWCAW each year, with a permit of course. This is the largest possible number of people that can enter the Boundary Waters in any given year. This limit on visitation (the permit system) was created in order to keep the area as undisturbed as possible by human traffic and use. So far, the BWCAW has managed to stay relatively pristine, due to regulations such as the permit system, created and drawn up by conservationists such as Ober. In fact, it's because of Ober that in the 21st century, people like me are able to follow in his footsteps and find enjoyment and peace in the wilds of Northern Minnesota. Through his efforts, he was able to protect and provide people with a place to connect with nature, family and friends. A place to self-reflect and regress back to a simpler time, when it was just you, your body, and nature. Without the Boundary Waters many of us would be lost; lost in the hustle and bustle of life or lost in the materialistic world we are surrounded by on a daily basis.

As Ober said, "Man was made for broad scenes and tall shadows. He craves a noble background. Cramp him, and he reverses in an ever narrowing circle, until finally he doubts his own destiny. The song goes out of his soul."