Bike Tour To ‘Save The Boundary Waters’

“No sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed.”

That objective drives the Minnesota-based advocacy group Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, a nonprofit working to protect its namesake wilderness area.

A part of the group stopped by GearJunkie headquarters last week. Three women are on a bike tour — towing a canoe the whole way — and collecting signatures for a petition.

Bikers Lisa Pugh, Erin McCleary, and Iggy Perillo

In all, the women will pedal 725 miles across Minnesota this spring. A special trailer and a lightweight canoe help make the feat possible, still “no one gets to ride in the canoe,” said Erin McCleary, one of the bikers. They are associated with a couple who paddled 2,000 miles for the same cause last summer.

We caught up with McCleary, Lisa Pugh, and Iggy Perillo for an interview on sulfide-ore copper mining, Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and towing a boat hundreds of miles across a state.

Tell us about the ride so far.

We started in Winona, Minn., at the Wenonah Canoe factory. That’s what we’re towing. It’s been awesome so far, riding many miles each day and stopping at college campuses and in cities.

Why a bike tour?

We’re riding to get signatures and raise awareness around sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters. Specifically, our group is dealing with a proposed mine to be financed by a Chilean company, Antofagasta, which owns Twin Metals, a Minnesota mining company. They are in the initial stages of creating a sulfide-ore copper mine near Ely, Minn.

17 feet long... the campaign's canoe stopped by GearJunkie hq on Minneapolis' Midtown Greenway Trail
17 feet long… the campaign’s canoe stopped by GearJunkie hq on Minneapolis’ Midtown Greenway Trail

You’re collecting signatures on a boat?

Yes, and we have about 1,500 signatures on this tour already. It’s a petition against harmful mining near the Boundary Waters. But the canoe is mainly symbolic — the real petition is online, and we have over the campaign collected more than 60,000 signatures.

There is a mining industry in the region already. 

While currently and historically taconite/iron ore mining is prevalent in the region, Save the Boundary Waters sees sulfide-ore copper mining as different. The mining process is different and potentially worse for the environment because the process creates a bigger chance of pollution from run-off that can get into area rivers and lakes.

1,500 signatures on the boat so far
1,500 signatures on the boat so far

The potential mine is still years from opening. It has proponents who cite job creation for the region.

Yes, but our campaign argues that the region already employs thousands of guides, outfitters, and suppliers who support tourism and outdoor recreation, and that those industries could be threatened in the long term if polluting mines are allowed to open near wilderness area boundaries.

A bill has been proposed to congress related to your cause. How does Rep. Betty McCollum’s National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act affect your campaign?

It takes a huge step toward what the Campaign is asking for: It permanently protects the basin from mining by removing the Federal leases. Federal mineral leases are up for renewal. The bill would ensure operations like sulfide-ore copper mining are not permitted near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Voyageurs National Park.


Back to your tour… how does it feel to tow a canoe by bike?

It feels like you’re always going uphill! We trade off pulling. You need to take wide turns and be aware of your space. The whole rig with canoe and bike is about 25 feet long, and it weighs about 70 pounds.

Do you get funny looks?

All day long. It’s a great talking piece. “Where’s the lake, where are the paddles?” people shout. We definitely slow down traffic and turn heads.

Tell us about the gear it takes to do this tour.

The canoe is a 17-foot Wenonah, the Spirit 2 model. We ride Surly Troll and Ogre bikes, and the boat is pulled on a setup from Tony’s Trailers, a Canadian company. The trailer connects to our bike seat posts, and it’s very slick. Bike Mitts keep our hands warm. We have panniers and bike bags from a few companies, including Porcelain Rocket and Frost River, which provided nice canvas-waxed bags. Duckworth wool clothing. Clean Bottle is our water bottle sponsor, and GoMacro energy bars are our fuel. Outdoor Research, QBP, Granite Gear, Piragis Northwoods Company, and a few more companies supported the effort. We have so much great gear.

Where are you off to next?

This week we’re in and around the Twin Cities. We’ll be at the Midwest Adventure Expo this weekend, and then we’re heading north! Our plan is to be in Ely, Minn., and at the edge of the Boundary Waters in early May.

Heading out, pedaling west on the Greenway, off on tour again
Heading out, pedaling west on the Greenway, off on tour again