History of the BWCA and Quetico Park Wildernesses
North of Lake Superior along a 210-mile stretch of the Minnesota — Ontario border is a land that nature appears to have dumped in the blender and totally mixed up. In an area half the size of New Jersey, maps show at least 5,000 lakes and connecting rivers. These were carved out of the ancient bedrock by the glaciation of the last ice age. The waterways don't lay out in any meaningful pattern and they and their flowages take on a random appearance. It is tough to make sense of, that's for sure.
This tiny portion of North America is known as the Quetico-Superior. It consists of the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario and, of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a part of Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. Altogether it contains some three million acres managed and dedicated to the protection and propagation of the Northwood's wilderness.
Creation of the BWCA and Quetico Provincial Park
The history of the region is a rich one and we will devote some time to a discussion of that for those of you that have more than a passing interest in the subject. First, let's take a moment to look a little closer at these two wonderful wilderness areas that compose the Quetico-Superior. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was born out of a brew of deep controversy in October 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed the BWCA Wilderness Act into law. The area had long been protected as a part of Superior National Forest designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. It now was given full wilderness status under the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
In Canada, Ontario citizens supported the idea of a forest reserve. They established the Quetico Provincial Reserve on April 1, 1909 just two months after the Superior National Forest was established. Later in 1913, as a measure to better protect its wildlife, Ontario designated the Quetico, a provincial park. The area of the park was approximately 1,120,000 acres. This was slightly larger than the approximate 1,000,000 acres of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Large and Unique
Both parks today provide a combined area of over 2 million acres of protected and managed wilderness. This makes the Quetico-Superior one of the largest such areas in North America. Additionally, it is unique in the world because the only way to effectively travel in the area is by canoe. There are over 2,000 lakes in the area. Most are interconnected by portage trail or stream. This incredible maze of land and lakes establishes the unique signature and beauty of the area.
The area has been set aside as a place where the forces of nature are allowed to stir unfettered. The visitor has the rare opportunity to steal glimpses of nature at her best and worst. The rare chance to visit just as the ancient inhabitants did so many years ago, is available for modern voyageurs. The Boundary Waters and Quetico are best accessed from Ely, Minnesota.