The Boundary Waters’ pristine soundscape and lack of industrial noise intrusions propels it into a class of its own: as one of only a handful of the world’s quietest places. This level of quiet is rare even in America’s most remote wild places.
Today the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness received an official “Wilderness Quiet Park” award from Quiet Parks International in recognition of the Wilderness’ natural sound-scape largely free from man-made noise – a true rarity across the world today.
“The reality is that there are very few quiet natural places left on planet earth. The Boundary Waters is special and inspiring for many reasons, and its soundscape is certainly one of them,” said Matt Mikkelsen of Duluth who serves as Executive Director of Quiet Parks International. “The Boundary Waters is one of the only places left in the Midwest and Great Lakes region that you can go and hear only the sounds of nature for hours at a time, with no noise intrusions.”
The Boundary Waters is the second recipient of the Wilderness Quiet Parks award in the United States, after Glacier National Park in 2022. In 2019, the Zabalo River in Ecuador became the first Wilderness Quiet Park, serving as a model for preserving natural soundscapes and recognizing the value of quiet spaces globally.
Quiet Parks International conducted testing and analyzed the data throughout 2021 and 2022 to determine the BWCAW meets the criteria as a quiet place. Using high sensitivity microphones, sound-pressure level meters, and other tools, researchers found that the soundscape is significantly free from sounds other than nature for intervals of hours at a time, and does not typically experience noise from such sources as commercial air traffic, military activity, mining or other extractive activity, or other startling and disruptive sounds.
“This award recognizes what millions of visitors have experienced in the Boundary Waters – the healing, quiet solitude of nature that is so hard to find anywhere else,” said Ingrid Lyons, Executive Director of Save the Boundary Waters. “Turning the edge of the Wilderness into an industrial mining zone would mean that noises of drilling, blasting, machinery, heavy traffic and more would drown out the natural sounds of our northwoods. Our rallying cry for years has been ‘we must speak loudly for this quiet place’ and we intend to keep doing just that to protect this gem.”
Allowing copper mining companies to transform the edge of the Boundary Waters into an industrial mining zone would inevitably threaten the prized quietude of this unique wilderness and harm the wildlife that call it home. Noise from drilling, blasting, crushing, loud ventilation facilities, engines, machinery and vehicle traffic, and the hum of transmission lines would drown out the natural sounds of the northwoods.
In recent years when exploratory activity has been conducted by copper mining companies around Birch Lake and the Kawishiwi River near the Boundary Waters, there has been significant disruption to the wilderness setting – to the dismay of local homeowners, businesses, and camp programs such as Voyageurs Outward Bound School. Wilderness-edge businesses, homeowners, and travelers into the federally protected Wilderness area reported intrusive noises such as drilling, helicopters, explosions, machinery and truck traffic, low constant rumbling and more. These disruptions severely impacted the experience that most people seek in this natural area.
Quiet Parks International classifies quiet areas into five categories: urban quiet parks, wilderness quiet parks, quiet trails, quiet stays, and quiet residences and communities. The organization encourages people and governments to safeguard these areas.
Quiet Parks International, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, CA, has plans to study and recognize additional Wilderness Quiet Parks worldwide. The American Prairie Reserve in Montana, Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada, Namibrand Nature Reserve in Namibia, and Bialowieza Forest in Podlaskie Voivodeship, Poland are among the locations being considered.