Keeping the backcountry alive

Mark Norquist learned of the importance of wilderness areas at a young age thanks to his father, Bert, and an upbringing in the heavily wooded areas of northern Minnesota.

Mark Norquist and his wife Patti, daughter Evelyn and son Solomon are pictured on their first family trip to the Boundary Water Canoe and Wilderness Area last year. Submitted photo.
Mark Norquist and his wife Patti, daughter Evelyn and son Solomon are pictured on their first family trip to the Boundary Water Canoe and Wilderness Area last year. Submitted photo.

Mark Norquist learned of the importance of wilderness areas at a young age thanks to his father, Bert, and an upbringing in the heavily wooded areas of northern Minnesota.

He grew up hunting and fishing in the Brainerd lakes area, mostly on public land. His family had a cabin and hunting shack then, and still does today. It was summertime retreats to those secluded areas that showed him how important it was to have a wild place where he could escape.

"My father instilled in me a strong ethic of conservation and love of wilderness," Norquist said. "My mom was a teacher, so growing up we would move out to the cabin during the summer.

"We didn't have a whole lot of money, but we grew up living on the water," Norquist said.

It wasn't until he was 22 that he made his first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota.


"It was amazing, portaging for the first time," Norquist, a Minnetonka resident said. "Just being in a place where there truly is an unplugging from modern society and distractions.

"The beauty of it is up there-there is nothing to do but enjoy the company of the people you are with, the crackle of the fire in front of you and hopefully the tug on a line of a fish," Norquist said. "That's about as good as it gets."

It's of little surprise that the 1989 graduate of Brainerd High School, who is now a father of two, continues to appreciate and fight for the wilderness areas of home.

Norquist, 45, used to work for a group publisher helping with such products as North American Hunter. He was going to be moved out of his home state, but decided to make a go on his own and stay in loon country. Now he has his own small marketing businesses, GreenHead Strategies and GreenHead Productions where he creates and distributes digital campaigns that promote a deeper connection between people and the natural world. He also works with medium-sized businesses and municipalities to fulfill marketing and media needs.

Joining Backcountry

It was his connection to the wilderness and water that brought him to question a mining company's plans to develop a new mine-right next to the BWCAW.

He joined the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Minnesota Chapter a few years ago after learning of their mission. They are a boots-on-the-ground group that seeks to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.

"Some of the big issues of focus are keeping public land in public hands," Norquist said.


The organization started out 12 years ago when a group of wilderness lovers were sitting around a campfire in Oregon, according to Norquist. They came up with the idea as a way to defend preservation of public land, fair chase, and the idea of challenging yourself.

"Whether it be hiking up in the mountains and doing big game hunting out West, where you are packing out on your back a large game animal like an elk-or in the case of us here in Minnesota, you are going up to the Boundary Waters and hunting or fishing where you've got to pack out in a canoe," Norquist said.

Twin Metals

Twin Metals Minnesota is a Minnesota mining company focused on developing and operating an underground copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, gold and silver mining project in the Iron Range region of northeast Minnesota.

Currently, Twin Metals Minnesota is in the Mine Plan of Operation phase of project development. Twin Metals Minnesota is owned by Antofagasta plc of Santiago, Chile, one of the top ten copper producers in the world.

While the company's website sites the project brings the promise of significant long-term jobs and environmentally responsible economic development for generations in Minnesota, Norquist feels generations will feel adverse effects.

"It's too risky," Norquist said.

Backcountry members agree, stating in a recent news release that mining companies are unable to point to a single sulfide mine that has been developed, operated and closed without producing watershed-poisoning acid mine drainage from its operations.


Numerous other outdoor groups and businesses throughout the state were pleased when Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton sent a letter to Twin Metals expressing strong opposition to mining in close proximity to the BWCAW this spring.

The Backcountry group knew the BWCAW was a place they had to protect. Norquist wanted to get involved.

With his skill set in filmmaking, he went to work with other Backcountry board members to bring chefs to the Boundary Waters. It was a unique idea that showcased the wild foods of the wilderness.

His cameras were poised on the chefs that had never experienced fishing or spent a night in the wilderness. The film is called "Fish Out of Water." The imagery shown illustrates what the area has to offer to all those who have never had the opportunity to visit before.


His work with this film and another, "Flush in the Wild," helped him earn a major award at the Backcountry Anglers & Hunters Annual Rendezvous held in Missoula this spring. He was presented with the Sigurd F. Olson Award, which recognizes outstanding effort by a BHA member in conserving rivers, lakes or wetland habitat.

The Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers chapter board chair David Lien said Norquist's work presented the issue in a format for the masses.

"Mark has an innate passion for wildlands and wildlife and especially the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in our home state of Minnesota," Lien said. "Mark utilizes his chosen medium to drive home the need to responsibly manage and conserve these irreplaceable lands and waters. His commitment to Minnesota's backcountry resources and to sportsmen and other recreationists will have a lasting, positive impact."


Norquist was surprised by the award stating that it was likely the biggest honor he has received for his passion of the outdoors.

The work continues for the group. Norquist believes the momentum is swinging with many big hitters on the side of protecting the BWCAW and and other wilderness areas like it.

Norquist had the opportunity to go with his wife Patti, 4-year-old daughter Evelyn and 6-year-old son Solomon into the BWCAW for a family camping trip last year. It was a chance to share the love of the wild with his kids as his parents had done.

Watching his kids perform a 170-rod portage through mosquito-infested woods and mud-laden trails made him proud.

"That was quite a great experience, to get them up there," Norquist said. "Hoping we can get them up there again this year."

Get involved

The Minnesota chapter of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers will host their annual rendezvous Aug. 20-21 at Wildriver State Park on the St. Croix River about 60 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul and 115 miles south of Duluth. Check out their website and go to the Minnesota section to get full details.

To view some of Norquist's work, check out "Flush in the Wild," a short video created by Norquist, featuring Erik Packard, founder of Veterans for the Boundary Waters, in his first Boundary Waters Wilderness grouse hunt.


What To Read Next
Get Local