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Dayton '64: The Compromise that Saved the Boundary Waters

Chuck Dayton

Flash back to Chuck Dayton, '64, during his high-school years: His dad was a biology teacher who decided that, during his summers off, he and his nature-loving family would open a business guiding canoe trips in the pristine Boundary Waters of Minnesota.

"I remember quite vividly my biology teacher telling us the wilderness around the Boundary Waters was being logged, and thinking how great it would be to be able to do something about it," he says.

Many years later, that's exactly what he did.

In the 1970s, Dayton left his job at a law firm and began working as the first lawyer for MPIRG, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. Later, he started a boutique firm—Dayton, Herman and Graham—that represented clients with names that started with "Save Our ..." or ended with "...Defense Fund."

His most well-known case occurred in the late 1970s when he was at his boutique firm, representing clients such as the Sierra Club. His clients wanted the Boundary Waters area to remain pure wilderness, while opponents wanted motorboats, logging, and snowmobiling allowed in the area. One of Minnesota's senators at the time, Wendy Anderson, was torn about which side to support, which threatened the likelihood of the pure-wilderness approach to pass in the Senate.

Dayton and Ron Walls, the attorney for the city that encompassed much of the Boundary Waters, decided they needed to come up with a compromise. They decided to allow motorboats on only 10 percent of the lakes, and to ban snowmobiling in all but a couple of small areas. Logging would be prohibited.

Neither Dayton's clients nor Walls's expressed support for the compromise, which the senator took as a good sign: "Nobody seems to like it, so it must be a pretty good compromise," Dayton recalls Anderson saying.

Indeed it was. The compromise led to passage of a bill in Congress, and President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Dayton was named Environmentalist of the Decade for that and other work by the Minnesota Chapter of the Sierra Club. Now retired, Dayton says it was one of his proudest achievements, and that he and his family still visit the Boundary Waters often.

"The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is unique. It is 1,000 lakes interconnected through streams and portages. It's possible to spend months there, paddling from lake to lake without ever crossing your own path," he says. "There's no place like it."

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