As the Boundary Waters Gets Older, So Do Its Visitors

Portaging at Curtain Falls
Portaging at Curtain Falls (Photo by Blue Canoe via Flickr)

The number of people who visited the Boundary Waters fell about 11 percent during the past five years, based on data from the Superior National Forest. At the same time, more people are staying closer to the edge of the wilderness, and going in the fall more often.

The trend is the result of several factors, according to the Duluth News Tribune. The average age of visitors has jumped from 26-years-old in 1969 to 45-years-old in 2007. The chance of that changing in the future is limited, as the number of visitors under age 17 declined by 14 percent in the past five years.

“We hooked a lot of people in their teens and early 20s back then. There was more free time for youth then. We didn’t have computers yet. People were outside more. … It may never be like it was at the peak,” Bill Hansen, owner of Sawbill Outfitters, told the newspaper.

The Forest Service says visitor use varies for many reasons. Late ice-out, wildfires, the economy, and even bad bug years can keep people away.

In good news, wilderness managers report that litter is far less of a problem than it was in previous decades. But, damage to trees is severely impacting the natural character of many campsites.

Unfortunately, some groups are cutting green vegetation, which also enlarges the campsite, as well as hacking on trees with woods tools, eventually killing the larger trees that hold the soils together,” said Ann Schwaller, wilderness specialist for the Superior National Forest.

The Forest Service says it sees declining outdoor recreation among young people as one of its top priorities.


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