Another look at access rules in the B-Dub

I recently interviewed a friend for an article. He has been taking wilderness camping trips with the same friends to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico every year since 1965. My perspective on the story wound around traditions and how important they are to individuals. We swapped a lot of stories about the BWCAW since I used to visit often during all seasons, including the winter camping season when sled dogs were the mode of travel. Our conversation made me realize I don’t go there anymore, which made me wonder if I’m not the only one who has shunned the BWCAW for other wilderness excursions. It’s not like I don’t get into some remote areas, I just don’t do it in the boundaries of the BWCAW.

So, I did a little research and discovered a great piece of research at which describes what is happening to the user base of the BWCAW. There is a lot to read here, but the most striking bit of information to me was that the age of the average user in 1969 was 26, and in 2007 it was 45. First-time visitors have dropped from 30 percent of visitors to 6 percent. This means that there are fewer wilderness explorers using the BWCAW. Current users are growing older, and when they are gone, no one will fill that gap. 

I’ve had people tell me that today’s youth don’t get outdoors anymore. At events I attend I see a lot of young people who appreciate the outdoor world. I doubt I would have any problem getting a group to go camping in the BWCAW, but would I ever take them? No. The reason? Because I don’t like the restrictions BWCAW management places upon me.

Times have changed. I prefer kayaks over canoes, and my favorite kayak is the Hobie which – because of its propulsion system – faces wilderness restrictions. Hobie kayaks use a pedal-drive system. Sure, they can be paddled but the pedal drive is much more efficient. Even though these kayaks are very environmentally friendly they are outside the rules for the BWCAW and cannot be used with the pedals. 

Many people are switching from canoes to kayaks for their watercraft and sidestepping the BWCAW for other remote areas that allow for easier portaging. In the BWCAW you cannot use portage wheels, which is a much easier way to transport kayaks. Once again, the portage wheels for kayaks are very environmentally friendly, but not allowed in the BWCAW.

My kayaks can incorporate sails for propulsion, an extremely efficient and environmentally friendly way to get from one point to another. Sails also are banned in the BWCAW, which makes no sense when you consider their low environmental impact.

This policy ignores the changing world where even an environmentally and user-friendly watercraft gets over-regulated. BWCAW management should be doing whatever it can to generate more interest from younger users. There are fewer people using the BWCAW, and the numbers dwindle yearly. Fortunately there are other outstanding outdoor options for those who prefer new technology that remains a low-impact addition to wilderness camping excursions.


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