Freemans Finish Year in the Boundary Waters, Travel to Washington, D.C.

Amy and Dave Freeman paddle on the South Kawishiwi River as they leave the Boundary Waters for the first time in 366 days. (Photo via Save the Boundary Waters)
Amy and Dave Freeman paddle on the South Kawishiwi River as they leave the Boundary Waters on Friday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Photo via Save the Boundary Waters)

Dave and Amy Freeman exited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Friday, 366 days after entering, completing a marathon expedition to spotlight the risks of nearby mining proposals. During the past year, the Freemans camped at 120 different sites, visited 500 lakes, rivers and streams, and traveled more than 2,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team.

The pair were greeted by about 100 canoes in a flotilla on the South Kawishiwi River, and welcomed at River Point Resort on Birch Lake. The location is at the middle of the area proposed for a massive mine by Antofagasta PLC, the Chilean mining conglomerate which controls Twin Metals.

They didn’t stop long to enjoy the comforts of civilization. Monday morning, they flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with politicians and other officials about the mining issue. Today they met with Rep. Betty McCollum, who has introduced legislation to prohibit mining in the wilderness watershed.

The transition from roadless lakes and forests to the nation’s urban capital was expectedly jarring. Dave wrote in a Facebook post yesterday from D.C. that they long for the peace and simplicity of the wilderness.

“We woke to the sound of garbage trucks and horns rather than the wind rustling leaves in the trees. North, south, east, west, I have no clue which way we’re facing because the wall of another building is all that’s visible out our window,” he wrote. “It’s harder to hear over the din of traffic and the buzz of our phones, but the land still speaks to us when we listen hard enough. Remember, we always need to speak loudly for quiet places like the Boundary Waters no matter where we are. ”

The Freemans did not set foot outside the Boundary Waters since Sept. 23, 2015, but they had frequent contact with the public. Supporters brought them food and supplies on regular intervals, and the pair published articles in magazines and other outlets, as well as posting frequent photos and stories on social media. They used satellite connections and solar energy to power their technology.

The constant communication was intended to spread the word and motivate action to prevent mines in the area. People around the world took notice. Almost 14,000 people follow the couple on Instagram and 8,000 on Facebook. In almost everything they posted, the pair urged their audience to speak up to protect the wilderness.

A documentary about the Freemans’ year in the wilderness, titled “Bear Witness,” will premiere at the Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette, Michigan on October 15. Screenings will follow on Oct. 23 and 24 in Duluth. There will be a “sneak peak” of the film at a fundraiser featuring the Freemans on Oct. 4 in Minneapolis.

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