BWCA History

BWCA History

The Superior National Forest's Boundary Waters Canoe Area is located within the triangle which lies south of the Pigeon and Rainy Rivers and extends southward to Lake Superior, frequently referred to as the Minnesota Arrowhead Country. With over 1,500 miles of canoe routes, nearly 2,200 designated campsites, and more than 1,000 lakes and streams waiting, the BWCA is visited by over 200,000 people a year. It is the most heavily used wilderness area in the United States.

The vast wilderness which encompasses the BWCA has seen many different tribes of Native Americans. As early as 11,000 years ago pre-historic Indians first roamed the shores of Lake Agassiz, which at one time covered much of northern Minnesota and extended well into Canada. As the Native American cultures grew and developed, Huron, Chippewa and Cree traveled the paths and waterways. Soon those tribes were displaced by the Dakota and finally, by the Ojibway (or Ojibwe) people. Each people left behind remanents of their heritage in the BWCA for all to discover and enjoy.

Symbolic reminders of past accomplishments, pictographs, a reddish brown rock painting, depict hunting parties, Native American mythology, and wildlife. Examples of pictographs can be seen on the Basswood River, Agnes Lake, Kahshahpiwi Lake, Kewatin, Payne, Hulburt, LacLaCroix, Fishdance, Hegman and in many other areas. Most require a minimum of 1 to 2 travel days to reach the pictograph areas.

The early explorers of the 17th century found the Sioux Indians in possession of the area (with exception to the Arrowhead region), with the Chippewa Indians contesting their right to hold it. By the middle of the 18th century, the Chippewas had driven the Sioux to the south and the west and assumed occupancy of the region. The change in control, however, altered its conditions but little.

Next came the white fur traders, the voyageurs, or coureur de bois, with their scattered posts and forts throughout the Arrowhead region. During the open-water season they used the canoe and bateau (on the Great Lakes) for travel and the transportation of furs and supplies. When the snows were deep, some tended trap lines, using snowshoes to traverse over the snowcovered land. Many others traded with natives in the area, who did a majority of the trapping at that time. All in all, theirs was usually a life of vigorous activity.

The traders left their landmarks as evidence of earlier occupation. As they traveled over the numerous lakes and rivers, they found convenient waterways and connecting portages, most shown to them by their native guides, whose people had used them for several thousands of years. Little did they realize that these canoe routes would one day constitute a national issue. When the thirteen colonies became the United States of America and the Treaty of Paris established the Mississippi as the western boundary of the country, the Americans vied with the English for the fur trade in the area. The problems arising were not settled until the consummation of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

Continued growth and colonization of the New America soon brought the lumber industry to our area. Although much of the area was logged off during the late 1800's and early 1900's, pristine timber stands still exist. With the signing of the Treaty of LaPointe in 1854 with the Chippewas of Lake Superior, much of eastern Minnesota was further thrown open to white man's exploration and development. The mineral prospectors were the first to rush in, and they searched up and down the border. There were several gold rushes which proved ephemeral, such as that at Lake Vermillion in 1865-66. The discovery of rich deposits of iron soon brought the mining industry to Northeastern Minnesota. Mines were developed at Soudan and Ely in the late 1880's and early 1890's. Underground mines still exist and are located outside of the BWCA.

On June 30, 1902, the Commissioner of the General Land Office withdrew 500,000 acres of forest in Lake and Cook Counties from entry. A second withdrawal dated August 18, 1905, covered approximately 141,000 acres. The third withdrawal dated April 22, 1908, covered approximately 518,700 acres. Following the third withdrawal, steps were taken by the Secretary of Agriculture to have the area officially designated as the Superior National Forest. This was formally approved by Proclamation No. 848 by President Theodore Roosevelt on February 13, 1909, and covered an area of approximately 1,018,638 acres.

Over the next several decades, legislation including the Weeks Act of March 1, 1911, Presidential Proclamation No 1215 in 1912, Presidential Proclamation No. 1800 in 1927, the Thye-Blatnik Bill, which became Public Law 733 in 1948, Public Law 607, expanded the area, much of which was now named the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Wilderness Act of 1964 designated the BWCA as a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. This act recognized the unique history and character of the BWCA and provided for special management considerations.

On July 4, 1999, storms caused serious damage to nearly 400,000 acres (over 600 square miles) of forests in and around Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Portions of this article are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, and uses material from the Wikipedia article "Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness".

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