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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

A wish to save the BWCA

Teen lobbies against mining in D.C. while battling cancer

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/1/15

ELY – Local outfitter and fishing guide Jason Zabokrtsky accompanied a special fan of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to Washington, D.C., last week to lobby against proposed …

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A wish to save the BWCA

Teen lobbies against mining in D.C. while battling cancer


ELY – Local outfitter and fishing guide Jason Zabokrtsky accompanied a special fan of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to Washington, D.C., last week to lobby against proposed copper-nickel mining.

Thirteen–year-old Joseph Goldstein, of Springfield, Ill., and his family have visited the BWCA with Zabokrtsky’s guiding help for the past seven years. “The Boundary Waters has become a big part of who that family is, especially Joseph,” Zabokrtsky said.

After being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last fall, Joseph and his family were contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The organization tries to help children with potentially fatal health conditions.

Joseph could have asked for just about anything - a trip to Disney World, a meeting with a famous athlete or actor, a pony - and the Make-A-Wish people would do their best to make it happen.

Joseph wanted to go to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress and the Obama administration against copper mining that is proposed to be located near the largest wilderness east of the Rockies.

“Joseph had a week off from his cancer treatments so this was the one chance to make it happen,” Zabokrtsky said in his Sheridan Street office at his Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service this week. “Joseph is a very special kid. From the first time I met him and his family, when he was 7, I have watched him grow every year. He really loves the Boundary Waters. He is one of the most perceptive and smartest kids I have ever met.”

Working with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters organization, they made plans to meet with as many decision makers as possible. “It was amazing that so many meetings happened in such a short period of time,” Zabokrstsky said. “We had just three days to make this happen.”

Joseph met with U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin from Illinois, as well as U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents Northern Minnesota and the Boundary Waters region. They also met with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Thomas Tidwell, Bureau of Land Management officials, as well as U.S. Reps. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Erik Paulsen, R-Minn. “He even met Smokey Bear,” he added.

Joseph said the Boundary Waters is his favorite place to be. “It always feels like there’s more to explore and do and see.  It’s quiet, and it’s wild and its beautiful. There’s something about it that feels important - like there are so many secrets you have to figure out.  And it’s always a challenge - what fish to catch for dinner, what wood to collect for a fire, how to pack and set camp, is a storm coming - all these things you have to think about and plan for to be safe and have fun.  The fishing is the best part, but I really love it all.  There’s nothing about being in the wilderness that isn’t fun.  Except maybe the mosquitos.”

Joseph said he has done a lot of reading and talked to a lot of people who know about the type of mining that is being proposed.  “The edge of the BWCA isn’t a safe place for mining to happen,” he said. “The environment is balanced now, and the water is pris-tine.  Everything in that area, from the plants and trees, to the fish and the birds, to the wolves and moose and other wildlife, to the paddler and the guides, relies on the quality of the water.  This type of mining generates waste that will harm the water.  I think some places are too special to spoil. This is one of them.”

Joseph’s mother, Kemia Sarraf, said the trip had to be organized quickly based on his chemo treatments, so the family paid for the trip, but Sarraf said she expects Make-A-Wish to help with expenses at some point.

“We have had a great time meeting and working with the Make-A-Wish foundation, and truly they did the most important thing already by encouraging Joseph to think about and make a wish in the first place,” she said.  “I know they are excited to work with Joseph in planning a next step, and I know a lot of time and care will go into those plans.”

Sarraf accompanied her son on the trip. She said that Joseph held up well in Washington even with the busy schedule. “I think we all were surprised and delighted with how well he did,” she said this week. “Joseph was an incredibly strong kid with a lot of endurance before his diagnosis.  Obviously the last five months have taken their toll, but children are unbelievably resilient and it was wonderful to see how well he did during what was an extremely busy trip.”

She said the aggressive chemotherapy treatments, now in their fifth of 12 months, will keep going for three years in various stages. If detected early, and with aggressive treatment, the type of cancer Joseph has can have a 70-percent survival rate, she said.

“He’s a very strong boy, both emotionally and physically, so he was in great shape to fight this going in,” she said.

“In every way, the week exceeded our expectations.  Everywhere we went we were greeted with interest, enthusiasm and overwhelming kindness and concern.  I got to watch my son learn and grow as a citizen and an advocate, and witnessed incredible warmth and generosity of spirit from the people we engaged at every level. It was a very humbling experience from start to finish.”

With any luck the family plans to be back in the BWCA this summer. “We will get him up here one or another,” he said. “He will be here, definitely.”

Sarraf and the rest of the family are counting on returning to northern Minnesota next year. “Ely and the BWCA has become a tradition for our family, and we have close friends in the area we enjoy seeing in addition to our weeklong excursions into the BWCA,” she said.


Goldstein fishUSE

Joseph Goldstein, 13, center, holds a 36-inch northern pike caught last August in Iron Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He’s pictured with Ely guide Jason Zabokrtsky, left, his mother, Kemia Sarraf, right, and his brothers Jacob, Jonah and Joshua. Joseph was diagnosed with leukemia last fall. Last week he took a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby against copper nickel mining. Photo by Jeff Goldstein.

Joseph and Smokey Bear

Joseph Goldstein met Smokey the Bear and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Thomas Tidwell while in Washington, D.C. last week to lobby against mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Submitted photo


4 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here

Both the Duluth and St. Paul papers had to run a correction after they reported this. Make-A-Wish did not pay for this trip and Ryan Blackburn from Make-A-Wish said they will NOT reimburse the family for this trip. They might grant another wish.

What is disgusting is the anti-mining crowd in general, and Zabokrtsky and Schurke specifically, will stoop to the level of using a young child and his unfortunate illness to promote their cause. They have no shame.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Young kids have dreams too,and his wish may have been to protect the wilderness area from his view point.

This young person is going thru hard times and it may be this gives him strength.

People could question the motives of people like the other comment.

Kids do have believes and desires of their own as most will well know and yes they often follow what family members also think.

Hoping the young person gets better is now what is most important.

Saturday, April 4, 2015
Shaking my head

First, good luck to the boy in his battle with cancer. Second, I think there is a 0% chance this D.C. political theater adventure was the boy's idea of a trip of a lifetime. If the parents influenced this, shame on them.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Poor child missed a great opportunity to see Disney World! Shame on the parents!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015