“Safely face the breathtaking wilderness” – Hometown Focus

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Former Boundary Waters Teen Essay Contest winner Julia Ruelle (left) and her canoeing mate Anna Wander paddle back to shore at the end of their journey. Photo by Scott Stowell.

ELY — For Ely Outfitting Company founder Jason Zabokrtsky, the proof is in the paddle. “The pandemic has rekindled interest in the incredible outdoor opportunities and we particularly encourage young people,” he said.

As a result, Ely Outfitting Company is sponsoring its third Boundary Waters Teen Essay Contest. The winner receives a fully equipped, self-guided five-day canoe-camping adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Up to three friends, ages 15-18, can participate, but no parents or adult guides are allowed.

Zabokrtsky said BWCAW is the very definition of social distancing. It’s a place to travel without a mask, breathe in a world few know and cultivate self-confidence. The contest celebrates unstructured time outdoors.

“We want to provide teens with the opportunity to safely explore wild places, challenge themselves and develop wilderness skills,” Zabokrtsky said.

The competition is open nationwide to current sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Essays should be between 1,000 and 1,500 words and answer the question, “Why do you want to go on a BWCAW canoe-camping adventure without parents with your friends?” A panel of judges will select the winner based on mechanics, originality, individual voice and tone/thought. BWCA experience and paddling experience are not required and are not judging criteria.

The contest’s first winner, Julia Ruelle, of Minnetonka, Minnesota, spoke about the value of learning skills in the wilderness, escaping technology and relying on group independence.

“Sharing a parentless BWCA trip with my friends was a transformative and immersive experience. Ely Outfitting Company prepared us perfectly to support ourselves with only what we could carry in our canoes and to safely face the wilderness at breathtaking,” she said. “Taking responsibility for guiding us has developed in us a respect for the land and planted confidence in our own strength and tenacity. I cherish our days on the lake, our after midday hanging in hammocks and our nights lying under the stars.

Safety is the top priority to ensure the winner has a successful trip. Ely Outfitting Company addresses considerations and concerns on its website for parents who may have reservations about taking their child on a self-guided trip.

The winning outfitting package includes premium gear like ultralight Kevlar canoes, backcountry tents, specialty trail meals, maps and an emergency communication device. Each participant receives a $50 coupon valid on outfitting packages and equipment rental.

For full contest details, visit www.elyoutfittingcompany.com/essaycontest. The deadline for registration is February 13, 2022.

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