Tow boats in the Boundary Waters
I just read an article about tow boat use in the BWCA. The article itself was fine but some of the comments about tow boat use on Saganaga Lake made me cringe. Saganaga Lake allows motors of up to 25 horsepower on the Minnesota side of the lake and there is no motor limit size restriction on the Canadian side of the lake. The Canadian side of the lake is just as big as the US side of the lake and there are quite a few seasonal cabins located on the islands there. People can use sailboats, speedboats and land float planes on the Canadian side of Saganaga if they want to. No matter what the US Forest Service decides to do with tow boats on the Minnesota side of Saganaga there is probably always going to be motorized traffic and cabins on the Canadian side of the lake. And let’s not forget the fact there are other day use and overnight motor permits allowed in the Boundary Waters on Saganaga Lake, so even if the USFS got rid of tow boats on Sag there would still be other motor boats there.
It’s unfortunate some people can’t see the benefit of tow boats on Saganaga Lake. Voyageur Canoe Outfitters has tow boats with 25 horse power motors on them and over the years these boats and the people driving them have saved many lives. We’ve rescued so many people on Saganaga that would have perished had we not had our tow boats. These folks lived because we were able to get to them quickly and provide life saving actions. From heart attacks to hypothermia we’ve rescued a countless number of individuals because we were able to get to victims way before any search and rescue boat from the Sheriff’s Department or US Forest Service could even get to Sag Landing from Grand Marais. I’m guessing if a family member of any of the people who are against tow boats in the Boundary Waters needed a tow boat ride to save their life they wouldn’t decline the transportation and they would be forever thankful there were tow boats allowed in the BWCA.
Tow boats serve a purpose on a small number of lakes in the BWCA. There are thousands of other lakes within the BWCA that do not allow motors. If people want to avoid motorboats they can stay away from the very few lakes that allow them. I’ve spent more time on Saganaga Lake than most people have spent camping anywhere in the BWCA. I’ve encountered people in other parts of the Boundary Waters where motors aren’t allowed that have been way more disruptive than the few tow boats on Sag.
I would love it if there was a rule that could be put in place to eliminate all of the things that annoy me when I’m in the Boundary Waters. How about a rule against bringing radios, accordions, portable speakers or any dog that ever barks into the BWCA? Maybe only people who can paddle a canoe without hitting the side of their canoe with their paddle should be allowed in the Boundary Waters? Could there be a fine if people talked on a portage or made too much noise landing their canoe on shore? Splashing and laughter? Those things are loud too, maybe we can ban people who do those things in the BWCA.
Or maybe the people who want to eliminate tow boats could just be content with the thousands of acres of wilderness they can enjoy that are motor free. Maybe these people should focus on educating users to preserve the wilderness, or possibly raise funds to make new portages and campsites or make themselves really useful and volunteer to get out in the wilderness and lend a hand digging a new latrine at a campsite.