Paddling across the US for clean water

NATIONAL Geographic Adventurers of the Year, Dave and Amy Freeman canoed 2,000 miles from Minnesota to Washington DC to bring awareness to dangerous mining projects jeopardizing the Boundary Waters on the Canadian – US border.

Interview with filmmaker Nate Ptacek.

How did you get started working on a project about the Boundary Waters?

I began working with local groups and eventually got in touch with Dave and Amy Freeman – local guides and National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. Working with the group Save the Boundary Waters, Dave and Amy wanted to bring awareness to the issue on a national scale by canoeing 2,000 miles from Minnesota to Washington DC as a floating petition – the canoe was covered in signatures asking our federal government to halt these dangerous mining projects.

Had you experienced the Boundary Waters before shooting the video?

This was a huge passion project for me – during college I spent summers working as a canoe outfitter in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, an amazing million-acre wilderness on the edge of the Minnesota-Canadian border. It’s my favorite place on earth, and although I now live in California, I still return every September to go canoeing and reconnect with friends. It was on one of these trips back to Minnesota that I first heard about the sulfide mines being proposed: one of the world’s most dangerous and polluting industries, right on the edge of the most popular wilderness area in the nation. I knew immediately that I had to get involved.

How many miles did you travel with Dave and Amy?

My employer, Patagonia, supports employee environmental activism, and allowed paid time off for me to travel and film for the first leg of the expedition – paddling 160 miles through the BWCA, and sailing on Lake Superior.

Overall it was an incredible experience – Amy and Dave are very inspiring and hard-working people, and it was so great to get to know them over the course of the trip. I was even able to join them in Washington for their arrival 100 days later, where we met with elected officials and various government organizations to share our story. The petition canoe – now completely covered in signatures – was officially accepted by Chief Tom Tidwell of the USFS, and was put on display in the Forest Service headquarters in Washington.

What’s next?

Although the Paddle to DC journey is now complete, our work is not yet finished – we are still working toward protecting the BWCA through a buffer zone banning this type of mining within the BWCA watershed. For more information, and to sign the digital petition, go to

Lead image: Blue~Canoe


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