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BWCA bikers peddle canoe in dissent

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Anyone in Sayles on Friday April 10th could not help but notice the giant canoe in the corner, accompanied by enthusiastic bikers with a petition, a prize wheel and a lot of passion.

For the the bikers, who hailed from the town of Ely in northern Minnesota, Sayles was just one stop in a 725-mile journey around the state. Their canoe in-tow behind them, they have been traveling as part of the “Save the Boundary Waters” campaign to protect an area right next to their home: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BCWA).

According to volunteer biker Iggy Perillo, the BCWA is in danger from mining companies prospecting for a new copper sulfide mine. This is a problem, she says, because copper sulfide mines “have a high potential of leaking pollution into the Boundary Waters, because the watershed flows north of that point.”

Perillo is one of four bikers on the campaign. As they bike around Minnesota raising awareness of the issue, they are gathering signatures from supporters.

“We want to save the Boundary Waters, and save all the jobs and livelihoods of the people that work in the wilderness area up there,” she explained.

“It’s been going really well. No one is used to seeing a bike pulling a canoe. It really gets a lot of attention and people are curious, and that starts conversations and that’s our whole goal — to start conversations.”

The bikers, who all work and live in Ely, stayed in Sayles for several hours through the afternoon, handing out prizes to people, talking to and soliciting signatures from students. In the afternoon, they gave a presentation in Leighton about their work.

As to the sentiment behind their opposition of the mine, biker Erin McClearly explained, “we want to rage against it, because it is not ok, because this is somewhere that we love and is magical and special and worth preserving.”

Perillo also explained the personal and economic significance to each of the bikers. “Ely is a town based on a tourism economy and that’s been sustainable for people. As long as the air and water are clean people are going to come there and want to enjoy this amazing place and this amazing resource. We want to protect their livelihoods for generations to come.”

New mines could be seriously detrimental to the Ely community. “The EPA states that this type of mining is the most toxic and the most polluting type of mining we’re doing,”

McClearly stated. “The boundary waters is 90% water, and it’s a really good medium to transfer contamination.” The group was brought to Carleton by Students Organized for the Protection of the Environment (SOPE), but they reached out to the school first.

Brent Murcia, one of the heads of SOPE, said the bikers “ wanted to do as many stops in Minnesota as possible. They were going to be at St Olaf and Macalester and so they wanted to stop here and we were really excited to have them”. While in town, the group also apparently stopped, quite appropriately, at Tandem Bagels.

Their campaign had 60,000 signatures before the bike tour started, and by last Friday had gained almost 1,300 more (both numbers discounting online signatures). Almost 300 of the new signatures came from Carleton students.

SOPE members felt positively about the visit. “I think it went really well. Whenever I walked by the tables people were always there talking to them. They were really busy and I heard a lot of people saying, ‘Wow did you see the people with the canoe today?’” Murcia said.

Natalie Jacobson, the new president of SOPE, commented, “the important thing was to get the signatures and to spread the word, which was successful. Not a lot of people came to the actual event,” referring to the talk in Leighton.

Jacobson also talked about how SOPE members contributed to the cause. “The volunteers from SOPE were sort of canvassing, and canvassing is challenging because you don’t want to seem too pushy and you definitely get rude people that brush you off. But I think its cool because people are less likely to come up to you if you’re at a table and they are more likely to listen if you approach them directly.”

She also emphasized how local the issue is to many Carleton students. “A lot of Carleton students have a relationship to the Boundary Waters in some way. A lot of people have memories of going camping or canoeing or having experiences with the Boundary Waters and there are a lot of students from that area too,” she said.

The bikers will be back to talk more about their campaign on campus for the Earth Day festival on April 18th. Interested individuals and supporters can follow their journey, as well as learn more information, at

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