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View from a Canoe: Bayfield County

Bayfields Sigurn Olson became one of America’s great outdoors writers.

August 08, 2017
Sigurd Olson

Sigurd Olson 1920 preferred to see the world from just above water level.

“The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness,” he wrote, “and of a freedom almost forgotten.”

Born in Chicago, Olson grew up in Wisconsin’s north woods, spending much of his youth in Ashland and Bayfield Counties. There, he developed an appreciation for wild places and waterways — and for living life connected to the woods, lakes, and streams that characterized the upper Midwest before modern development. He fished, hiked, boated, and relived in his imagination the lives of the French voyageurs who explored the Great Lakes region before him.

Olson went to Madison to earn his bachelor of science degree, before doing graduate study in geology and animal ecology. Initially, he considered a life in academia, teaching at a Minnesota high school and then at Ely Junior College.

“The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten.”

But Olson’s love of streams pulled him away, and he became a voice for conservation. A lyrical writer, he authored nine books, including The Singing Wilderness and Listening Point.

Olson put his eloquence to work, lobbying for the preservation of waterways in his adopted Minnesota and eventually helping to convince Congress to pass the Thye-Blatnik Act of 1948, which created the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In 1950, he joined the board of directors for the National Parks Association and served as the organization’s president from 1953 to 1959. From 1948 until 1982, he was the wilderness ecologist for the Izaak Walton League of America, an organization devoted to preserving fishing streams.

“The conservation of waters, forests, soils, and wildlife are all involved with the conservation of the human spirit,” Olson wrote.

Thank you Bayfield county for Sigurd Olson, loyal guardian of northern lakes and waterways. 

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