Boundary Waters Permit Reduction

Now there is a pressing reason to plan ahead and reserve your BWCA canoe camping permit this season. The USFS has reduced the number of Boundary Waters overnight paddling permits by about 13% from about 285 per day to 248. This permit reduction does include entry points on the Gunflint Trail and specifically from our dock at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters.

The reduction of Boundary Waters permits is in response to complaints about crowding in the BWCA and damage to the natural area by visitors. Both 2020 and 2021 saw a surge in visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic and boom in outdoor recreation.

Will the reduction in permits impact folks who want to paddle and camp in the BWCA? For those folks who like to wait until the last minute to plan their trips and reserve their entry point permits it definitely will. The days of waiting until the day of the trip to reserve a permit are probably over for awhile. It was a luxury when we could choose from a variety of available permits the night before a trip or when we could depend upon a Seagull or Saganaga permit to always be open.

Is reducing the number of permits into the Boundary Waters necessary to reduce crowding or abuse of the wilderness? In my humble opinion, absolutely not. During the Coronavirus Pandemic most USFS ranger stations who normally issued permits did not open their doors to the public or offer the same educational services as they had in previous years. Instead of groups of visitors watching the BWCA video in person at the ranger station visitors were told to watch a video online prior to their trip. There was no way to ensure the visitor or anyone in their group had ever watched the videos. This lack of education definitely hurt the Boundary Waters as many of the visitors to the area were beginners and weren’t familiar with Leave No Trace ethics. Stripping bark from trees, disposing of fish guts in latrines, crowding at a portage and other wilderness no no’s were because people were not properly informed and did not know what to do or what not to do.

Crowding in the BWCA could be reduced by other means than by reducing the number of overall permits. Creative thinking of the past included limiting the number of nights on specific lakes. The current crowding is primarily on entry point lakes because the previous trend of traveling to multiple lakes on multiple nights is no longer the norm. Shorter trips make venturing farther into the wilderness less attractive. However, there are still people who like to travel into the interior lakes of the BWCA. Why not establish permits similar to the Quetico Provincial Park where guests reserve the area of their destination and are limited to camping along the route to the first 24 hours of their trip?

Unfortunately outfitters, many who have been around longer than the USFS officials making the decisions, weren’t consulted. The year’s of experience of previous generations ignored.

Who will suffer because of the BWCA permit reductions? The very people who are looking to take their first Boundary Waters canoe trip. The families with young children who can’t plan their vacations 5 or 6 months in advance. Just when it seemed new life was getting breathed into the Boundary Waters and younger generations were finding their way to the wilderness their access has been denied.

Am I being a bit dramatic? Of course. But the longer I live the more cliches ring true, one step forward and two steps back.

BWCAW canoe trip

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