by Julia Ruelle, junior writing coach
I spent nearly every free moment of Thanksgiving break writing thank you letters. No, not to my family or friends. Instead, these thank you’s were intended for mailboxes in Washington D.C.. About a week before, I had been in D.C. meeting with politicians with an organization I’m incredibly proud to be a part of: Kids for the Boundary Waters. I first camped in the Boundary Waters with my family when I was around 8 years old and my love for the wilderness has only grown since that inaugural trip. For those who may not be familiar with the Boundary Waters, it comprises 1.1 million acres of wilderness interconnected by lakes and rivers and is our nation’s most visited wilderness.
I became involved with Kids for the Boundary Waters last May, after entering and winning the Ely Outfitting Company’s teen essay contest for a fully-outfitted parent-free trip to the Boundary Waters. A young man named Joseph Goldstein was one of the judges for the contest and later founded Kids for the Boundary Waters, assembling a board of directors from the best entries in the contest, to encourage youth to advocate for the protection of the Boundary Waters from an especially polluting industry: sulfide-ore copper mining.
My first trip to D.C. with Kids for the Boundary Waters was in June, right after the trip I earned from the essay contest. It was thrilling to transition straight from the place I loved to taking an active role in protecting it. Clearly I was hooked, as five months later, I caught another plane to D.C.. There, I joined 5 times more teens than the first time from around the country.
On this trip, I learned that I am far from being the only one in my generation with a passion for the Boundary Waters. The first night we arrived, we all piled into a hotel room after the more official orientation meeting and began to get to know each other a little better. Hearing story after story of ridiculous fun in the Boundary Waters, the shared joy and passion of the room was palpable. I was blown away by the depth of their love for the Boundary Waters.
Our two days of lobbying were action-packed. From 8 am to around 4 pm, we had meetings all around the Hill. As a board member, I led a group of about 6 teens to numerous meetings. Meetings often were with staffers whose specialty was natural resources or environmental issues but in some we were lucky to have the congress member’s own attention. For example, four of us were from our district, MN-03, and got to meet with newly-elected Dean Phillips for his first meeting with constituents since elected! Phillips kindly made time for a meeting with us in a makeshift office (maybe a large closet?), as he is not yet settled into an office of his own. It was thrilling to be making direct contact with decision-makers and knowing that we were making a difference.
As it is easy to fall into apathy with test after test at school, I found it extremely refreshing to step back and get some perspective on what is really important to me. I’m not saying that it is necessary to miss a week of school to take stock of your passions, but I am positive that finding something that drives you can make a huge difference in your outlook on life.