Cree living to the north of the ELA probably had some trading contact with Europeans following establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in 1670. However, the early HBC traders did not venture inland. The first direct European contact in the region can be traced to 1688, when Jacques de Noyon, a young French explorer, visited lake of the Woods while searching for new fur trading opportunities. In 1731-2, the great French Canadian explorer-trader, Pierre Gautherier de la Verendrye, led a party by canoe from Montreal via the Great Lakes to the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods, establishing several trading posts. In his wake came the fur traders, both from Montreal and from Hudson Bay, who continued to use the waterways for transportation. Lake of the Woods, to the west of the ELA, was a major transportation corridor, and Rat Portage (modern day Kenora) eventually (1836) became a major trading post. Trading outposts later existed in the immediate vicinity of the ELA ("Eagles Nest" on Eagle Lake, and "Clear Water Lake" on Teggau Lake) according to HBC records of 1872.
The beginnings of major European settlement date from the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880's. Constructed just to the north of the present ELA, this railway brought settlers from the east and resulted in the founding and growth of towns like Kenora, Dryden and Vermilion Bay. Timber was needed to supply the railroad ties and sawmills were established in the area. Mineral deposits in the region were now more accessible and various goldmines were started in a greenstone belt circling the present ELA (Lake of the Woods, Populus Lake, Eagle Lake). The Dryden area, to the northeast of the ELA, also became a local centre for agriculture because of its clay soils.
With the improved transportation, logging for pulp and paper export became viable and pulp mills were started in both Kenora and Dryden. Logging in the immediate vicinity of the ELA probably did not begin until midway through this century, with the logs being moved to the mill by water until 1970. During the past 25 years, logging road construction from the west and the north has made the ELA much more accessible to vehicular traffic, including snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
Tourism on the Lake of the Woods began in the early part of this century and grew during the 1930's when the first gravel roads were built into the region. Further expansion occurred after World War II, particularly as road access to the region was improved during the 1950's. Only limited tourism, in the form of remote fishing and hunting cabins, and fly-in fishing and hunting, has been evident in the immediate ELA vicinity. Road access resulting from logging activities has increased the pressures on the ELA watersheds from hunters and fishers, particularly during the fall and winter periods.
To date, however, the ELA has withstood most of the development pressures from outside. As a pristine headwater area, the lakes are largely immune to direct water contamination from development activities, other than some clearcut logging, and there are few local sources of air contamination which might effect the airsheds of the ELA ecosystems. Few places in southern Canada are less affected by human disturbances.