Forest Service changes Boundary Waters permit process to increase Leave No Trace awareness

Canoe near shore in Boundary Waters. (Photo via Andy Langager/Fllickr)

The Superior National Forest is responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and “unprecedented” damage caused by visitors last year with new requirements for obtaining a Boundary Waters entry permit in 2021.

This year, trip leaders will be required to go through a 20-minute online training session shortly before their trip, scheduled every morning, or bring their entire party to a ranger station for a somewhat typical pick-up. Some ranger station hours will be limited.

Boundary Waters permits

Permits are always required to enter the Boundary Waters, from October to April, permits can be self-issued and no reservations is required. From May 1 to September 30, a quota system is in place, with limited numbers available for each entry point each day. The quota system is intended to reduce crowding and visitor impacts on sensitive resources. It also normally requires permittees to receive Leave No Trace education.

Public health measures and little air travel last year led to more people than ever visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Officials say that not only was canoe country crowded, many were first-time visitors who received little Leave No Trace training, as ranger stations were closed to the public and permits were issued virtually.

“Last season saw unprecedented natural resource damage from BWCAW visitors including cutting of live trees, human waste not being properly disposed, illegal camping, trash left in campfire rings and latrines, disruptive and oversized groups, and campfires left unattended,” the Superior National Forest reports.

Like last year, the permit holder will receive links to two videos before their trip, covering planning and preparation topics for safe and low-impact trip. But the third and final video in the series, which covers Leave No Trace, will be required viewing.

In-person training or online options

The agency will issue Boundary Waters permits and provide in-person Leave No Trace education seven days a week at the Kawishiwi (Ely) and Gunflint (Grand Marais) Ranger District offices. Visitors must maintain social distancing and wear a mask.

Wilderness parties will watch the third video, cover wilderness rules and regulations, and receive updates on forest conditions. The Tofte, LaCroix and Laurentian Ranger Districts and the Supervisor’s Office in Duluth will only operate Monday-Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.

The other option is an online training designed to replicate the in-person program. Trip leaders must attend one session, available every morning at 9 a.m. via Adobe Connect, within 48 hours of their entry date, and encourage other party members to attend. Participants will watch the third video and receive similar information they would get in person.

The Forest Service will only provide the permits by email a day or two before the entry date, and only after parties learn about Leave No Trace.

Many people discovered the joy of the Boundary Waters last year and will return in 2021, and many will still be looking for safe vacations close to home. It could be another busy season in the BWCAW, and the new rules may help reduce the impacts of visitors, and preserve its unique wilderness character for all to experience.

More information

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