Save the Boundary Waters – By Using It!

It’s no secret that in just the last two years,  BWCA canoe trips and use are in rapid decline.  I could see it in the parking lots of the entry points.  Twenty-five  cars average in a lot designed to hold 150 for pretty much the entire summer except for a few busier times, is a pretty good indicator that things are amiss.  It also helps to talk to Forest Service field personnel who report that there are hardly any people out there anymore along with MN DNR fisheries guys noting that but for Boy Scout base paddlers, there are hardly any canoes on the Moose Lake Chain.  Add to that my own observations at the Moose Laek Canoe landing that at 8 AM on any given morning there are no boats heading up the chain.  I used to stand at that landing about 4 times a week, hauling canoes down for my rental customers and there were always 5-8 motor boats heading up to Prairie Portage to go day-fishing in Basswood.  Now, seeing a boat go by is a rarity.  Seeing a canoe paddling by is also up-to-chance with long odds.  One of our store customers came back from spending two weeks in Quetico Park on lakes Sarah and Darky and Conmee of the Canadian side.  He admitted that none of those lakes are “un-popular” lakes as they offer excellent fishing and are spectacular waters on which to paddle.  He was there in the middle of July and went 7 full days without seeing another canoe or human – and these lakes aren’t even hard to access.  Having traveled there for many years, he said it was “really weird” and while he “like it but, it indicates bad things for wilderness in general”.  Our canoe rental customers coming back from Insula or Thomas on the US side, reported the same.  There is nobody out there.  And, we STILL are unable to acquire permits.  Why is that?  The government seems unable to tell us why with nobody there and declining usage, permits remain unavailable.

In Canada, Quetico Park, use is down 35% from the travelers on the US side. With all the restrictions to enter Canada with a canoe, not to mention the restrictions on fishing, and their virtually no-maintenance policy along with expensive fees to sleep on a rock , I would venture to say that the Canadians in charge as are completely clueless as are our members of the US Forest Service regarding attracting visitors.  In 2013, supposedly 114,000 visitors went to the BWCA.  In 2013 it plummeted to 97,000.  That’s the total usage for a year for the entire Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.   Those may sound like big numbers, but compared to other pristine parks that one can drive a car through while surrounded by herds of animals and visual wonders and it still remains pristine (Yellowstone-take a look at these stats), you wonder just what kind of fools are in charge of promoting the most beautiful canoe area in the world?

I read that in order to entice todays’s school children – who are only interested in gadgets and blinky BS – the US Forest Service is sending minions in uniform to teach the children about “Leave No Trace” and “Wilderness Ethics”.  These are kids, you government buffoons!

Can you imagine sitting through an hour of watching different ways to pick up twist ties, bottle caps while working on ways to improve one’s “stewardship of the land”?  They could call it “A Private Journey” and make a nauseating movie about a do-gooder kid who saved a frog in the Boundary Waters only to grow as a human being even more.  Yeah – that would be great. Maybe have Sean Penn in it.

As a 6th grader, (which is WAY TOO LATE to introduce kids to wilderness ) can you imagine yourself learning about the real bird & bees outside and how much fun it is (again, outside – get your mind out of the gutter) to experience fishing and camping and padding and waterfalls and rugged terrain and challenges (that you CAN do) instead of learning about the government fines you’ll face if you don’t keep “towing the environmentalist-religious-experience, line?

  • As a kid, can you imagine catching a fish so big that not only did it pull your canoe around the bay, it almost pulled you in as well?   Or would you rather learn about being some “steward”?
  • How about sitting by the campfire in the dark listening to crackling embers, choking on smoke, making fun on those who choke on smoke, roasting marshmallows and laughing and wondering what that noise was behind you!?  Or would you rather hear about the fine for having too many canoes in your group?
  • How about smelling bacon frying on a cool crisp morning as you silently paddle canoe down the lake along the shoreline?  And then, there’s the fried fish on the campfire for lunch that you just caught.  Or would you rather listen to a 15 minute speech about  “actively seeking twist ties to bring home with you and dispose of properly”?
  • What about feeling so hot in that Minnesota sun on the water and paddling back to camp to float in the lake with your life jacket on (or your thermarest pad), only to warm up and dry off in the sun again?  Or, would you rather hear how illegal fires kill the soil and leave a blight upon our Mother Earth and how you should only use a campstove in the BWCA?
  • Can you imaging laying in your tent in the dark of night with a thunderstorm overhead and lightning that illuminates your tent so bright that you can see the terror in the whites of your buddy’s eyes?  Or would you rather hear about wearing moccasins or other soft-soled footwear around camp to be gentle on the Earth?
  • What about feeling so ALIVE in the bright, warm, morning sun after that storm passed and sitting on a rock looking out over that lake while while smelling that lightning-cleansed, fresh air punctuated by whiffs of wood smoke and breakfast?  Or would you rather hear from a “green suit” that if you accidentally bring an illegal can or bottle to the Church of the Boundary Waters that you’ll be fined and shunned for all eternity EVEN if you had every intention of bring it back out?

In Canada, when you go to pick up your permit, they now request that you take your used toilet paper and burn it instead of burying it properly.  I can think of nothing more enjoyable to talk about than burning a pile of TP.  “Can you remember that morning we had that big toilet paper bonfire in the Quetico Park.  Highlight of my trip!”

If you believe that “Saving the BWCA” is more important than “Using the BWCA”,  you have become a de facto member of the Church of the Boundary Waters.  You are also highly misguided.  If we, as a country miss one generation of kids who visits the Boundary Waters wilderness by canoe at a young age to imprint the fabulousness of self-sufficiency and a true appreciation for the great outdoors, then we will lose the BWCA all together and completely.  The 65 year-old hippies & fools are presently focused on “saving” that which is now experiencing a rapid decline in use – AKA the Boundary Waters.  They vehemently do this while they themselves are showing the signs of age, are heading to the nursing homes, or choosing easier road trips through Yellowstone.  This is clearly evidenced by the the 3.5 MILLION Yellowstone visitors last season and Yellowstone STILL remains relatively pristine.   How is THAT possible, I ask?  Supposedly, the 97,000 and less visitors of 1,000,000 acres of undeveloped land & water of the Boundary Waters are destroying it, according to aging, declining hippies.   Meanwhile, the true defenders of the Boundary Waters fade into oblivion within the halls of Congress by attrition.  The new kids coming up in Washington DC only understand government programs, free hand-outs, and smartphone silliness.   Nonetheless, these are the legislators – the ones who will shape and change the laws of the future.  None of them knows what canoe-camping even is, let alone where it is done.   Thirty  years from now and when the old hippies of the “Save the BW” crowd and the rest of us are either dead or on the way out, because we missed an entire generation of canoe campers in Congress, the freshwater of the BWCA will be removed for California’s wasting-at-will and the minerals of the hallowed Boundary Waters will be mined by and for the artificial intelligence robots for whom wilderness will provide no meaning.  Think that’s crazy talk?  Did you ever think you’d have a computer in your pocket upon which you can watch videos about the Boundary Waters in 2015?  Case in point.

Don’t view this post as a downer.  You can save the Boundary Waters by taking a kid paddling into the Boundary Waters and showing said kid a pleasant time.  Don’t kill him out there and you have to start young.  Once they hit 12, that’s all she wrote.   Also, start calling your legislator to make Boundary Waters use and travel more accessible to people who want to go by motor and canoe – Public Law 95-495.   If we lose public interest by conservationists, not environmental zealots, it’s going to go for good, and it’s never coming back.  Don’t send money to a some wackadoo cause and then forget about it because you’d “done” something.   Make a phone call or send and email to your legislator and save your money.  It’ll have more effect and the enviro-executive director won’t get as fat a paycheck after whipping up some stupid, unwarranted, panic in the completely wrong direction.

And screw Canada – they’ll never get it because they have eco-religious zealots like we do in the U.S. sitting on their boards.

When you see “SAVE the Boundary Waters” consider it to be insanity.   There are few people going.  How does less use and less interest wear something out?  It’ll allow them to forget about it and then, that will be the end of it.  That’s the real threat!

Wilderness Ethics for the Boundary Waters.

  1. Get a BWCA permit. 
  2. Know the rules.
  3. Follow the rules.
  4. Set up camp early in the day.
  5. Don’t be a pig – in camp – in water – in canoe- at car parking lot.
  6. If you feel compelled to clean up some idiot’s mess – fine, do so.
  7. Don’t be obnoxious or a yahoo.
  8. Keep your gear together and off the portage so others can get by with no difficulty caused by you.
  9. Don’t eat your lunch on the portage – ever!
  10. It’s simple – Pack it in, pack it out.
  11. Don’t peel the birch trees.
  12. Don’t pretend you are Jeremiah Johnson trying to build a log cabin in the wild.
  13. Unless you are an actual expert, leave your ax at home.  It’s nothing but trouble.
  14. Look both directions before cutting a wiener stick. (guilty law-breaking pleasure).

That about sums up the “training” for wilderness ethics.  All the rest is baloney.

Don’t forget – We’ll rent you a canoe for your next BWCA trip, too!  Call us to reserve your Quetico 17 or 18.5 today!