Hey, public lands defenders: Remember to use them

The application period for paddle-only canoe entry points wilderness-wide opened last week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. (Rob Drieslein photos)

With Republicans in Congress drafting legislation that potentially could weaken America’s public land legacy, I know one sure-fire tactic to demonstrate the importance of these assets: Use them.

UPDATE: Good news. Per notice on his Instagram account Wednesday evening, Rep. Jason Chaffetz has withdrawn HR621. The author thanks the Utah representative for his foresight. The inspiration behind this post, however, remains the same: Every American citizen should cherish, protect, and – above all – enjoy public lands like our BWCAW.

Start close to home with a camping trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this summer. The application period for paddle-only canoe entry points wilderness-wide opened last week. Though BWCAW permits have become slightly less challenging to reserve than a decade ago, you should still grab your summer 2017 permit ASAP. They’re required to enter the wilderness at any time, and from May 1 through Sept. 30, you must reserve a first-come, first-serve quota permit if you’re planning to camp overnight.

Today I snagged a fairly easy-to-obtain access tag for a mid-May excursion I’m planning with my oldest son. Logan will graduate high school this spring, and a rite-of-passage, father-son camping and fishing trip strikes me as appropriate. Heading for his freshman year at St. Olaf College in late August, Logan probably will move onto bigger and better things than fishing with dear old dad, so I’d better enjoy his company now. We’ve taken a half-dozen BWCAW trips over the years, but I want to build more memories before he leaves home.

With nearly 100 entry points and more than 2,000 designated campsites, the BWCAW permit-selection process can intimidate newbies. Don’t let it. Visit recreation.gov, where you can search for campsites at any national park, wilderness, or other federal facility. This link will take you directly to the BWCAW reservation page  In the B-dub, you select entry points, then locate empty campsites once you arrive. Before selecting an entry point, spend some time reading books about the BWCAW or researching entry points online.

I’ve enjoyed great trips with my kids from Lake One off the Fernberg Trail east of Ely and more rugged adventures off Mudro heading north and west from Ely on the Echo Trail. My Gunflint experience is limited to one epic trip from Ham Lake, but it’s all gorgeous country with lots of opportunities for walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass fishing.

You can pick up your permit the day before or the day of entry. Since I generally like to hit the water early, my modus operandi usually involves heading up the afternoon before, grabbing my permit, then crashing at a campground or bunkhouse for the night. Then we hit the water at first light.

As travel reservations go, permits are cheap but not free. The trip my son and I will take in May will cost $16 each for the permit plus a $6 reservation fee, or $38. If a conflict arises, I can cancel it up to 48 hours prior and only pay the $6 reservation fee.

The equipment aspect seem overwhelming? You can rent anything from local outfitters for your trip, or go fully outfitted, including food. I own all the necessary equipment but usually rent canoes. I’ve had good luck over the years with the guys at Canoe Country Outfitters, but there many great operations out of Ely and off the Gunflint Trail.

There’s loads of information available about the BWCAW online, starting with the U.S. Forest Service website, which has a great BWCAW Trip Planning Guide.

I can make my favorite BWCAW entry point in less than five hours from my southeast metro Twin Cities home. Minnesotans are extremely lucky to have an incredible wilderness area so close, and groups like Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters are helping to protect this public resource for future generations. Take advantage of this birthright and plan your trip today.

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