Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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In Minnesota, new reservations system expected to make for better access to Boundary Waters

Duluth, Minn. — The five remaining entry points in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that still employed a lottery system will go to a first-come, first-served system for the 2019 season.

That means the upcoming lottery in December will be the last time the system is used for the five popular entry points on the west side of the wilderness.

“We were tracking this the last few years,” said Kris Reichenbach, public affairs officer for Superior National Forest. “We determined that the lottery system doesn’t seem like it’s serving the public benefit. We have an increase in applications but we have the same number of permits.”

The increase in reservations was not necessarily an increase in applicants, per se, because many parties applied multiple times for the same entry point, in an effort to up their odds.

For each of those entries, the U.S. Forest Service was charged a $4 fee, even though many of those permits ended up being unused, so it was costing the Forest Service, Reichenbach said.

On top of that, those unused permits cost others the chance to use them, since parties often failed to cancel the permits that they weren’t going to use, having already secured a permit. “We see a high percentage of permits that are not used,” Reichenbach said. “People put in multiple applications for the same entry point and date, and then they don’t cancel. That could have been used by somebody else.”

A limited number of permits are available for each entry point, each day, to prevent crowding inside what’s considered the country’s most popular wilderness area.

Steve Nelson, a co-owner of Spirit of the Wilderness, an outfitter in Ely, said he thought the new system would lead to fewer permits being wasted, allowing more visitors to utilize the more popular permits.

“From an outfitter’s point of view, we think it appears to be a more fair system that is being set up,” Nelson said. “I know the Forest Service wants to cover its costs. This is something that is more equitable and more fair across the board. It gives more people a chance to get a permit.”

Nelson said there are concerns that an online-based system might overload when the permitting system opens up every late January.

“Will the system be able to handle that?” he asked.

Reichenbach said this December, for the first time, lottery applicants will be assessed the $4 charge that the Forest Service has been covering from the company that is contracted to process the Forest Service’s permit system at

The permits in question only affect those for Fall Lake and Moose Lake. They include entry points D, F, G, 24, and 25.

The day-use motor permits for D (Fall Lake and beyond), F (Moose, Newfound, and Sucker only), and G (Moose and Basswood via Prairie Portage) are affected. The overnight motor and overnight paddle permits for entry points 24 (Fall Lake) and 25 (Moose Lake) also are included.

Nelson said his business will be doing its best to inform its regular customers of the changes. “The first year, there are going to be some people that are concerned and ticked off that it’s not being done as it always has been done,” he said.

He also believes the $4 charge per lottery application might also cut into the number of parties doubling up on reservations.

“This should make it a more level playing field,” Nelson said. “More people should end up with permits, so that should be a good thing.”

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