The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota


Paul Dailing

Celebrating National Wilderness Month in the Midwest

President Biden declared September National Wilderness Month, so here’s a few of our local favorites and new opportunities!

Sunset reflects over the boundary waters, before a dark horizon of trees

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Across the United States, Wilderness designation provides the strongest federal protections to some of our country’s most precious natural places. In 2023, President Biden declared September to be National Wilderness Month, so in celebration, we’re highlighting a few of our local favorites, plus a few important opportunities for new Wilderness areas.

When Congress passed the Wilderness Act back in 1964, it designated 54 areas. Only one was in the Midwest – the stunning Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. Additional legislation in 1978 further protected this gem.

We know the heartland is full of rich natural resources and stunning places, so the list has fortunately grown since then. Today, there are 806 Wilderness areas, with 52 in the Midwestern and Great Plains states. This includes Indiana’s only Wilderness area, the Charles C. Deam Wilderness in Hoosier National Forest, famous for its hiking trails.

Rock formations are lit up by a setting sun, amid pine trees in Southern illinois Shawnee National Forest Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area

Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area, Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Wilderness areas can encompass every kind of ecosystem, from forests and wetlands to prairies and sand dunes, and more. In South Dakota, wilderness areas can be found in the geological wonders of the Badlands and the deep forests of the Black Hills. Ohio’s West Sister Island protects the largest nesting colony of wading birds in the U.S. Great Lakes. Seven of Illinois’ eight Wilderness areas are within the Shawnee National Forest, including the breathtaking Garden of the Gods.

Wilderness drives local economies, bringing tourist dollars to nearby communities. Eight of the 9 highest-attendance years for Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore came *after* the creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness in 2014.

Wild Opportunities Ahead

The Midwest’s nature is its strength, which is why ELPC is one of 400 groups in the Keep the U.P. Wild coalition working to obtain Wilderness designation for four remarkable areas of Michigan’s Ottawa National Forest. Let’s meet the areas!

  1. Hiker at the Trap Hills in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

    Trap Hills (proposed Wilderness area), Ottawa National Forest, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

    The Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness was designated by the Michigan Wilderness Act of 1987, but roughly 2,000 acres of wild Ottawa National Forest land on the Wilderness’ southwestern border lacks the same protection.

  2. Designating 8,000 acres of Norwich Plains could facilitate the expansion of old-growth forest found in the nearby Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
  3. Purchased from the Edward Hines Lumber Company (“Ehlco”) between the 1930s and 1960s, the U.S. Forest Service recommended the Ehlco area immediately south of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park for Wilderness evaluation in 2003.
  4. The Trap Hills are comprised of large tracts of undisturbed forest, streams, waterfalls, “and a sense of remoteness that is unique in the Great Lakes area.” The highest sheer cliff in Michigan is found here, boasting visibility of up to 40 miles and views of some of the state’s most spectacular scenery.

Together, the new Ehlco, Norwich Plains, and Trap Hills areas would create a nearly contiguous National Wilderness area of more than 40,000 acres, protecting the Upper Peninsula’s beauty, economy and rugged, outdoor culture.

Map of Michigan shows four dots in the Upper Peninsula between Ironwood and Marquette, where new wilderness areas are proposed

Four new proposed Wilderness areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Do you live in Michigan?

Join the nearly 400 Michigan environmental, business, recreation, political, faith, and veterans groups working to protect these areas! Tell Senator Stabenow, Senator Gary Peters, and your local Congress person to Keep the UP Wild:


Paul Dailing,

Media Relations Specialist

Paul Dailing is a media relations specialist at ELPC, building public awareness of and improving informed media coverage for climate change and clean energy issues.

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