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850-mile bike tour to save Boundary Waters ends in Ely

Erin McCleary pulls the Betty Jo canoe on the first leg of the tour through Winona, Minn., on April 3. Photo by Steve Piragis.1 / 5
The canoe sits outside of a gazebo in Winona, Minn., on April 2, the day before it starts out on an 850-mile journey through Minnesota. Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters photo.2 / 5
From left, Erin McCleary, Iggy Perillo and Lisa Pugh ride into Ely on Sunday finishing the Bike Tour to Save the the Boundary Waters. Photo by Ellie M. Bayrd.3 / 5
Riders and supporters arrive in Ely to join the cyclists for the last 15 miles of the 850-mile Bike Tour to Save the Boundary Waters on Sunday. Photo by Ellie M. Bayrd.4 / 5
From left, Erin McCleary, Iggy Perillo and Lisa Pugn take a picture together to celebrate finishing the bike tour at the Sustainable Ely headquarters. Photo by Ellie M. Bayrd.5 / 5

Over 6,000 signatures and 850 miles after they began, instructors from the Voyageur Outward Bound School finished their journey in Ely on Sunday.

The bike tour started on April 2 in Winona, Minn., when three of the four bicycle riders, Voyageur instructors, began their Bike Tour to Save the Boundary Waters, riding across Minnesota.

Erin McCleary, Iggy Perillo, Lisa Pugh completed the entire ride, with Megan Bauer-Erickson joining them in Duluth. During stops along the route, more than 6,000 people signed the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters petition asking for permanent protection for the Boundary Waters and its wilderness edge. Perillo, of Ely, said the most effective way to get people's attention and spread the word about the petition was the canoe, named "Betty Jo," that they pulled behind them the entire way. Many of the petition signatures were on the canoe.

"It helped get people's attention and was definitely a conversation starter," Perillo said. "People would see us pulling the canoe behind a bike and would yell to us from across the street or ask us about it when we were stopped."

Perillo said when they were in the heart of Minnesota with no water in sight that one person even yelled across the street to them asking if they were lost. If someone asked about the canoe, why it had signatures or why they were pulling it around with a bike, Perillo said they would stop and tell them what they were doing and their mood went from curious to excited.

"Over 6,000 people signed the canoe and petition and over 4,000 of them we met face to face," she said. "I just think that's great."

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters was founded by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, which is a regional environmental organization that works on issues impacting wilderness. Sustainable Ely is a project of NMW that has been developed by local year-round residents, business owners and seasonal residents who are concerned about so called "sulfide" copper mining in the area. It is alsonthe headquarters of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Perillo said she takes the threat of sulfide mining near Ely and the Boundary Waters seriously because it's her home.

"I wanted to participate in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Water to save the Rainy River Drainage basin from potential sulfide or copper mines," she said. "(The mine) would literally be less than a mile and a half from where I work and live here."

According to Perillo, she's been in the area while there has been test drilling and test sampling for the mine, and living and working in a place where there is 24-hour grinding and heavy truck traffic is not ideal.

"I worry that it will also make a lot of other people not want to spend time in Ely and destabilize the economy up here, and really the main picture is to protect the wilderness," Perillo said. "People come here and I work here in the wilderness to introduce people to this amazing, beautiful million acres of pristine forests, waterways, river and lakes, and I want it to be protected and not be potentially be contaminated from sulfide mine run off."

The bike tour ended in Ely with a celebration put on by Sustainable Ely. Supporters of the campaign were invited to join the cyclists in pedaling the final 15 miles over to the celebration at the Sustainable Ely headquarters and education center, located at 206 E. Sheridan St. The celebration included a barbecue and fundraiser, in which guests had the opportunity to donate to the cause.

For more information about the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters or to sign the petition visit www.savetheboundarywaters.org.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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