The times, they are a-changin’ – and not always for the better
Actual wilderness usage is declining in Ely, Minnesota. It is down from 250,000 visitors per year in the mid 90’s, to a mere 107,000 users in 2015 as per US Forest Service Boundary Waters Canoe Area permit records. That’s over a million acres of land and water with 5 major access areas dividing up 107,000 people. It’s a substantial dropping off of people interested in Ely’s wilderness. Wilderness usage is being usurped by digital distractions, unrealistic fears of bugs and animals driven by media and ignorance, and a general lack of knowledge about our fantastic wilderness right next to Ely, MN. I feel the digital world has taken young people on a fantasy ride and many are now completely out of touch.
In 2014, a consulting group of “city-folk” professionals came to town to consult and offer guidance to improve the economic health of Ely. After considering the modern needs of today’s markets and declining economic activity in Ely, they recommended (among other things) that Ely build “pocket parks” around the downtown area to attract people to Ely. Such little parks were to be with trees, groomed vegetation, benches, and free WIFI to give a warm, inviting, “wilderness-like feel” to downtown Ely for people to enjoy.
Sounds great, right? Every pseudo-wilderness should have free WIFI. That way you can watch Youtube videos about taking a canoe trip outside of town while you sit in a pocket park enjoying a premium coffee beverage. It’s JUST like being there.
For the record, Ely has always been surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness and water only 5 minutes from town in any direction. We have a gargantuan, fabulous “pocket park” right next to town! It requires no landscape architect or construction firm. That’s the REAL thing, not some professionally designed, mini park to allow one to escape the stresses of the concrete jungle of downtown Ely. OMG- we’ve become so jaded in our digital distraction needs, that we are actually building “wilderness with WIFI” inside of a town that sits on the very edge of the most famous, canoe-only wilderness in the world; the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The rise of digitally distracted enthusiasts explains why the average age of Boundary Waters visitors is now 58 – up from 55 just a few years ago.
To me, that is really messed up… and sad.
With Into The Brush, we want to buck the trend instead of following it like the outside world is pressuring us to do. That is why we built a new experience to get people “into the brush” once again. We’re getting back to basics with a twist of sorts.
Unique Educational Experience
We are offering a unique, non-profit painting program where we take participants (who stay in housekeeping cabins in the real woods) “into the brush” via water and foot to guide them in artistic observation. Such observation opens up a whole new world with a far deeper understanding than would be acquired by just taking a canoe-camping trip due to all the other required distractions associated with wilderness travel in such a trip. There’s not enough time to effectively spend on artistic observation on a canoe camping trip, I feel. But when staying in a cabin in the woods, it becomes easier and more effective to do, and then later, apply.
After a few hours outside, figuratively deconstructing rocks and sticks and water, we then head back to the studio to get “into the brush” once again. We reconstruct what we observed layer by layer, stroke by stroke, applying paint to canvas, stone, glass and wood depending on the program parameters. Believe you can do it – painting is not like drawing or sculpting. It is more achievable for more people. You just have to take your time and give it a shot. There is no wrong way to do it.
Into The Brush is designed to re-introduce wilderness – real, actual, tangible wilderness to real people in smaller, comfortable bursts through painting. Because we will be in studio mornings and evenings, wilderness outings will be limited in duration usually to two or three hours at the most. During the day and free times, participants come back to their cabins for their own meal prep and relaxation time. They can enjoy self-guided kayaking, swimming, going into the concrete jungle of Ely, or relaxing in the Adirondack chairs at the beach. They can even spend more time in the studio with independent study. It’s far more comfortable than spending a 5 day canoe-camping trip in the woods and weather elements. It is also quite necessary to stay in cabins because we do actually want to learn how to paint. I love painting and you will, too – at least that is my hope.
At program’s end, our painters should have basic-to-intermediate painting skills exposure, and a sufficient knowledge of artist paints and accessories to allow them to go home and continuing painting with confidence. They should also have a newfound appreciation for wilderness cabin living, as well as canoeing exposure and hiking in the woods. Northwind Lodge is an unbelievably beautiful back drop for any artist and inspiration is everywhere.
As opposed to eating ice cream (which, don’t get me wrong, is always fun) in a manicured pocket park in downtown Ely, it is our hope that our artists would find their real deep-woods adventure so positive that they would share it with family and friends back home both by their works and word of mouth! The icing on this great-wilderness-experience cake is coming home knowing how to paint!
That is our purpose at Into The Brush.