Boundary Waters Blog
I never thought about how far I lived from a McDonald’s until I read an article today. I really don’t care how far I live from a McDonald’s because I don’t really like their food. OK, so I do LOVE their Shamrock Shakes and caramel sundaes with caramel on the bottom and on the top. And working at a McDonalds WAS my first job ever and where I learned to make perfect pancakes on a griddle but that is beside the point.
It turns out that whether I go to Duluth or Thunder Bay the distance to a McDonald’s is about equal, either 137 or 139 miles. It is the least interesting part of the entire article and it’s part of the bio of the person who wrote it, “Three days after leaving the Forest Service, he departed on a 700-mile solo canoe trip on Canada’s Churchill River, seeking a purer strain of wilderness than can be found in the lower 48—where the furthest one can get from a Micky D’s is 104 miles and the farthest from a road, a mere 30.”
PLEASE, don’t get me started on the difference between “furthest” and “farthest” and the incorrect usage in the text above! The fun part about this article was pointed out to me from Adam Maxwell’s Dad. Adam is our Voyageur Extraordinaire who has been to Hudson Bay three times now? According to him in 2012 on their way to Churchill, Adam, Ryan and Jake ran into Jon Klein. They liked him and encountered him numerous times throughout their trip and were very near to his location when this encounter happened.Hand to Hand Combat with a Bear By Mountain Gazette October 22, 2014 Blogs 14 Comments 7 833 6 It’s a game of mortal combat when a canoeist runs into one of nature’s most efficient killing machines in the wilds of the Churchill River. By Jonathan Klein
August 3, 2012: I had a new experience today. I fought for my life.
I got to Portage Chute, shortly after noon. It had been a splendid morning with plenty of current to speed me along. This stretch of the Churchill is wide, shallow, fast and studded with gardens of large, dark, looming rock. I maneuvered amidst these monoliths all morning, playing and dodging and showing off to myself, pretending I had nitroglycerin on board which would explode with the slightest jar, and seeing how close I could pass by or over an obstacle without hitting it. I was enjoying myself.
My GPS didn’t think I was quite to Portage Chute. It’s still 1.11 miles downstream, it was telling me but I knew better. This was Portage Chute, beyond all doubt. Narrow defile? Check. Increased grade and velocity? Check. Check. Flecks of foam popping up downstream? Sure ‘nuff. Deafening roar? That’s a big 10-4. I was there.
I took out on river left where the Churchill broadens into a small bight, beached the canoe and headed downriver to scout. There were boulders scattered all over, like a toddler’s toys. Portaging would be hell. Two hundred yards in, I came to a major obstacle, a scarp, only eight feet high, but sheer. Getting the canoe and gear up and over it would take some doing, the kind of doing I didn’t want to do. I scaled the wall and emerged onto a broad bench, blanketed with low shrubs and clumped with slips of cottonwood.
I recognized some of the shrubs as buffalo berry, adorned with clusters of small red fruits. Across the bench, fifty feet away, the Churchill pounded through Portage Chute and I headed over to check it out, hoping it wouldn’t look as bad as it sounded. A rim of pale red rock stood twenty feet above the river and lined it up and down, giving me a great view of the rapid.
I had already pretty much made up my mind to run it, even before scouting, because the portage was going to be a Bitch (note capital ‘B’), but there wasn’t a great line. Getting through without swimming would be iffy because of several large breaking waves strewn pell-mell across the river that could swamp or roll the boat. There was no way to miss them alI. And there were rocks aplenty too, which I’d have to miss, but I took comfort in seeing that the river below deepened and slowed, providing a reasonably good recovery area, so, in the event of a water landing, all the flotsam, including the canoe, any unsecured gear, and I could be reunited in calmer water and, after some sputtering, bailing and sponging, returned to a fully upright and undamaged state. I studied the rapid a bit more, picked a line, ran it a couple of times in my mind’s eye, and started back.
I was crossing the bench through the buffalo berry and almost to the lip of the scarp when I noticed movement in my periphery. Something big and black and blurry. I turned to look and was incredulous to see a large black bear, only forty feet away, approaching with obvious ill intent. It was moving with deliberation, mouth open, head low, black eyes unwavering—locked on mine.
I had been dreaming of a true wilderness experience and here it was: Mother Nature, telling me, So you want real wilderness? Here you go, sonny. For what could be more real or more wild than an animal coming to eat you? I was prey, calories, for a large omnivore that was sick and tired of grass and berries and roots. My shotgun and bear spray were in the canoe, 200 yards away. I would have to stand and fight with the only weapons I had, my bare hands.
There was no time to be afraid. The bear was closing in. Only seconds remained. Some long dormant survival instinct took over and I transformed from mild mannered Nature Boy into Conan the Barbarian in a nanosecond (ok, exaggeration). A klaxon blared in my brain. Every cell in my body scrambled to battle stations. I was not aware of wind or cold. The crash of water through the nearby rapid drew silent. Every fiber of my being was focused on the bear.
It approached with a dispassionate malevolence, as if to say, Hey. This isn’t personal, just business. Some things are killed and eaten so that other things can live to kill and eat another day. But predators don’t always get their prey. Sometimes, the prey gets away. Sometimes the predator gets hurt. We quarry are not completely helpless. We can kick, maybe break a jaw, butt, gouge and bite, put a hurtin on ya, even inflict mortal wounds, so the prudent predator will approach cautiously, especially with unfamiliar, larger prey, to assess the risks, prior to going in for the kill.
That’s exactly what my bear was doing, coming on slowly to take my measure, ponder the risks verses rewards, and then decide whether to attack or withdraw. I doubt this animal had ever seen a human before. We were in the most remote portion of the Churchill, no roads or villages anywhere close, no trails, fish camps or cabins, and inaccessible to motorboats and float planes because of all the rocks and shallows. The bear could not know, what exactly was I, and just how dangerous might I be?
My only hope lay in exploiting this uncertainty, make the bear think I was some psycho in search of a rug. I couldn’t run. He’d shag me down in a heartbeat, swat me to the ground, rake and bite me while I screamed, shake me like a rag doll while I whimpered, and then begin to tug and tear off chunks of flesh while I quietly moaned. If I played dead, I’d last only slightly longer than if I ran, and it wouldn’t be quality time. My only play was to be aggressive, fool the bear into thinking that I was biggest badass this side of Fidler Lake.
“Get away you Mother Fucker!”, I screamed, but there was no discernible reaction. Nothing. On it came, walking, watching, not making a sound. Only twenty feet away now. I charged it with arms held high, trying to look bigger, and snarling invective through barred teeth. “COCKSUCKER!” I yelled. “MOTHER FUCKER!”
No change in attitude.
The bear was right next to me now, close enough to touch. It began to circle, close in, from right to left. I began to hit it, punching it in the head and face with neoprene gloved hands. “Good God!” I thought, “I just hit a bear. Is this really happening?”
It was. I was really fighting a bear. As it turned, I turned with it to keep its head to my front, constantly throwing punches. My left jabs were weak, ineffectual, glancing blows, but I landed a couple of hard rights to the side of its enormous head which caused a momentary pause before the circling resumed. Near the end of its circumnavigation, I hauled off and kicked it in the ribs just behind the left leg. I was only wearing soft rubber boating booties, hardly more than slippers, but I kicked as hard as I could.
This seemed to surprise the bear and it stopped circling and rose up, apparently indignant over such boorish behavior. I’m 6’4” and 185 pounds. The bear was half a head taller, but on the lean side. I doubt it weighed more than 250 pounds, but skinny meant hungry and hungry meant dangerous. Its paws were held high, claws outstretched and I expected to be cuffed at any moment, but the bear just stood there, as if newly uncrated from the taxidermist.
We stood, facing each other like dancers, unsure, waiting for the music to start. Then it suddenly dawned on me. I had a knife. Holy shit! It hung inverted from a sheath affixed to my life jacket. I’d forgotten all about it. It was only a four inch blade and the only thing it had ever cut was cheese, but I drew it forth with a flourish and brandished it at the bear.
“I have a knife!” I bellowed, to myself in surprise, to the bear in warning. The tables had turned, whatever that means. Still, the thought of stabbing this creature with the little blade was cold comfort. I did not want to hurt it, or aggravate it, and feared that once the stabbing started, this fight was going to get ugly for real. So there we stood, two statues cast in enmity, knife out, claws up, a Mexican standoff if ever there was one. I ended it, taking several quick steps backwards to the lip of the ledge, then whirled and bounded down the wall with the speed of a mountain goat, but not the agility.
Halfway down I slipped and had to jump the final four feet to the basin below. I landed hard, tried to catch myself with lunging steps, but fell, sprawled out on hands and knees. My right hand, still gripping the knife, lit almost directly upon a fist sized hunk of rock, smooth, near round, granite. A gift. I transferred the knife to my left hand, snatched up rock in my right, and sprang to my feet with improbable dexterity for someone of my age and decrepitude, then I spun around to see if the bear had given chase.
There it was, just ten feet away. The motherfucking thing had followed me down the wall. It stopped when I turned, looked at me, not directly this time, but obliquely and with menace. I faced it, edgewise, like a fencer, knife extended, and the rock, locked and loaded behind. This was it. The moment of truth.
“Look bear” I implored, “I don’t want to stab you with this knife or hit you with this rock, but you have to leave right now.” The words were barely out of my mouth when the bear made up his mind, and it wasn’t to leave. The big head swung up and he came at me. I let him have it, heaving the rock with all my might.
Funny. Ever since dislocating my right shoulder in a kayaking mishap twenty years ago, I haven’t been able to put any umph into an overhand throw. Before the injury I could hurl hard, be it baseball, football or rock, but, ever since, I throw like a girl, all arm and no shoulder. Not this time. Adrenaline is a miracle drug and with a surfeit of it coursing through my veins, I unloosed the rock. It sailed, trailing flame, and smacked into the bear’s skull right between the ears. It landed with a loud crunch, rock scraping bone, an awful noise normally but sweet music under the circumstances.
The bear vanished in a blur, hunger pangs replaced by headache. I ran in the opposite direction, hotfooting it to the canoe, where I quickly hoisted the shotgun in one hand and bear spray in the other.
“Hey asshole!” I bellowed. “You want a piece of me? Well come on you chicken shit and I’ll spray you right in the kisser.” I heard nothing but the hiss of wind and water, and blood pounding in my ears. Then I started laughing like a lunatic.
Once I returned to a semblance of normal, I decided not to tempt the fates further by running Portage Chute. I figured all my lucky charms were cashed in for the day. What if I dumped and ended up on the left side of the river? The bear’s side. I had no desire for round two with the bruin so I pushed off and clawed my way upstream a couple of hundred yards, far enough up so I wouldn’t be swept down into the rapid, and ferried to the right shore. There was no channel on this side, just a jumble of huge rocks through which the river poured over, around or through. I dragged the canoe past the obstacles, abusing it in myriad ways, but I got down. Then I returned to the canoe for lunch, my favorite, peanut butter on rye crisp with turkey jerky. As I smacked down these delectables, thinking about my improbable victory and narrow escape from the literal jaws of death, I glanced across the river and saw a hairy hump moving through the vegetation opposite.
“Hey bear!” I shouted and the hump stopped, turned, and the bear emerged onto the rim where I had scouted the rapid a lifetime ago. It peered across at me with a puzzled expression, then turned and walked out of sight. “Good luck to you bear” I called after it, and meant it.
Later at camp, I poured myself a big 151 rum and sipped it thoughtfully. I was in a contemplative mood, totally drained, and numbed, but euphoric. I marveled at the days events. I fought a bear and I won. I knew it was mostly luck, that I was lucky to be alive. I have always been lucky. Lucky in my parents, my friends, health, choices. Lucky in love.
I have learned to trust in luck, but this was more luck than anyone deserved. I was lucky the bear wasn’t bigger. Lucky he wasn’t more confident. Lucky he didn’t swat or bite me. Lucky, I walked away without a scratch save for a small scrape on my knee sustained when I crash-landed below the ledge. But that was lucky too, because if I hadn’t fallen I would not have found that rock. It was the rock that saved me.
Strange, but there are almost no loose rocks along this portion of the Churchill River. I wasn’t even looking for a rock, it just materialized, found me. Now, I am not in any way suggesting divine intervention. As far as I’m concerned Jesus would have been more inclined to send the bear than provide the rock. Luck gave me the rock and luck guided the throw that nailed the bear right where I needed to bean him. A shot to the shoulder wouldn’t have done it. And it was luck that the bear didn’t think, “Ouch, my head hurts, but fuck it, I’m going to eat him anyway.”
So I drank my rum and thought about the day, August 3, 2012, the day I had to fight a bear. I kicked its ass and lived. I love living.
–This is an excerpt from Jonathan Klein’s upcoming book on wilderness. Klein worked as a wilderness ranger and manager in Montana’s Lee Metcalf Wilderness for 27 years before retiring in 2012. Three days after leaving the Forest Service, he departed on a 700-mile solo canoe trip on Canada’s Churchill River, seeking a purer strain of wilderness than can be found in the lower 48—where the furthest one can get from a Micky D’s is 104 miles and the farthest from a road, a mere 30. Klein lives in Ennis, Mont., where he spends his time pedaling, paddling, and planning his next adventure to wild places.
It might be difficult to believe but I’ve already met with one clothing rep and I’m meeting with another salesperson tomorrow. These meetings are to purchase items to sell in the store next summer! The season has barely ended yet there is work to be done for next year.
Clothing and souvenirs aren’t the only items we order this far in advance. We place orders for canoes, freeze dried food and other new equipment before the end of the year.
What else needs to be done sooner rather than later? We have been working on a new website design since before the summer season began. It would be really nice if we could get that done this calendar year. We’ve also been creating a new brochure for a mailing piece and it too would be nice to have finished before the new year.
There’s always something to do and I thought I’d give you a little taste of some of the stuff the Voyageur Crew is working on now for next year.
Hannah, Tony and Ryan went on a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip this past weekend. They had a gorgeous day on Friday for paddling and a windy one on Saturday. They entered the BWCA at Cross Bay and traveled via Ham to Snipe and Tuscarora Lake. They spent the night at a campsite on Tuscarora Lake and listened to wolves howl. Ryan slept outside beneath the stars. The next day they went through Gillis and into Green, Flying, Gotter and out Round Lake. The highlight of the trip was Ryan catching a huge northern pike and not seeing another person out in the wilderness.
This little bull moose was hanging out in our neighborhood this weekend. Unfortunately I only had my small lens otherwise I would have been able to get some really awesome photos.
The outside of the Voyageur Brewing Company is really looking nice. We’ve received so many compliments from people who love the improvement from what the building and lot used to look like. We’re thrilled with it and can’t wait to start finishing up the inside spaces.
The production area of the brewery isn’t too exciting to me although it will house everything we need to make the beer. It will contain lots of shiny stainless steel and of course beer! The taproom will be the fun room where folks can come to taste the beer, buy growlers and eat appetizers while gazing at the lake or peeking in at the brewery portion.
There is plenty to be done yet but we’re still shooting for a January open date. I hope you are following along on Facebook and the Voyageur Brewing Company Blog. Here’s a link to an interview Mike did with WTIP the other day. Cheers!
Voyageur Crew members Tony and Hannah couldn’t have picked a better day to go out camping in the Boundary Waters. The high temperature today was 70 degrees and the sun was hot. Tomorrow the sun is expected to shine as well. I sure wish I was camping in the BWCA tonight.
You never know what the temperature is going to be when you’re paddling at the end of October but this is certainly a treat for them and anyone else who is out in the wilderness.
For the rest of us we’ll have to be content with their photos and story upon their return. Have a great weekend!
Minnesotans can proudly say the 2014 Christmas Tree on the front lawn of the White House is from Minnesota. This year’s tree will be cut from the Chippewa National Forest which is close to the headwaters of the Mississippi and Itasca State Park. The tree will be trucked to DC with numerous stops along the way so people can see it. To find out where the tree will be stopping check out the website and if you’re in Duluth, Minnesota on November 5th you can see it there.
Here’s more information about the Capitol Christmas Tree
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
U.S. Capitol Christmas tree to make first stop at Itasca State Park
The 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree will make its first public appearance on its journey to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Nov. 2, at Itasca State Park, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.
The 60- to 80-foot-tall white spruce is coming from the Chippewa National Forest in north-central Minnesota, in partnership with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. The 1992 Capitol Christmas tree also came from the same forest in partnership with the band.
The tree will stop at the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers Show Grounds at the north entrance to the park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To kick off the event, the tree will receive a drink of water via a horse-drawn wagon courtesy of the Go and Whoa Harness Club of Bemidji. The water will be transported from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park to the Pioneer Farmers Show Grounds where visitors can view the tree, photograph it and sign a banner. The drink from the headwaters will help send the tree on its long journey of nearly 2,000 miles, which includes nearly 30 stops before it arrives in Washington.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the show grounds, a variety of activities will be offered, including horse-drawn wagon rides, tours of the Pioneer Farmers village buildings, a free-will offering lunch, music, ornament making, face painting, two-man log sawing and a visit by “Lars the Logger” from 1:15 to 2 p.m.
The search for the Capitol Christmas Tree began earlier this year. Search criteria for the Chippewa National Forest staff included a tree 60- to 80-feet tall, a full pyramid-like shape without gaps, healthy branches, a straight trunk, and a species hardy enough to withstand the trip to Washington, D.C. The tree had to be found among millions of other trees that make up the national forest.
The tree will be cut during a public ceremony (www.tinyurl.com/m5f5jyn) on Wednesday, Oct. 29, and will be moved to Bemidji State University, where it will be prepared for the cross-country expedition that includes a caravan of caretakers.
The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964, when then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. McCormack placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage.
In 1970, the capitol architect asked the U.S. Forest Service to provide a Christmas tree. Since then, a different national forest has been selected each year to provide “The People’s Tree.” The Minnesota Tree Growers Association will provide 70 companion trees to decorate the inside of the U.S. Capitol building and other sites throughout Washington, along with 10,000 ornaments created by children and others in Minnesota as a gift from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
The Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the preservation and display of historic, rural/logging related Americana, for cultural, educational, entertainment, and heritage-related public benefits.
For more information on the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree and to track its journey, visit www.capitolchristmastree.com.
For more information on Itasca State Park, visit www.mndnr.gov/itasca.
There was 0% chance of precipitation on Monday so I decided to go for a hike. Unfortunately the weather forecasters were wrong and it misted and rained off and on throughout the day. Nonetheless I had the trail to myself and was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and peace and quiet.
I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the journey Dave and Amy Freeman are currently on. The couple started paddling in Ely, Minnesota back in August and are on their way to Washington, DC. The purpose of their trip is to prevent mining in Minnesota that could potentially destroy the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Their canoe is their petition and they’ve collected thousands of signatures during the many miles of their travel thus far. If you’d like to sign the petition there is no need to track them down but if you’d like to they are currently near Ottawa. It might be easier to just visit their website and sign the petition electronically. Here’s a video explaining the threat to the Boundary Waters.
It seems like there have been more reasons to keep your eyes on the sky this year. There have been numerous solar flares causing what seems like higher than normal northern light activity and we had the lunar eclipse a couple of weeks ago. This week there will be a partial solar eclipse and tonight is the peak of the Orionid meteor showers. It’s a great week to visit somewhere like the Gunflint Trail where the skies are dark from the absence of light pollution providing a great place to keep your eyes on the sky.This week: solar eclipse and Orionid meteor shower By Mike Lynch Posted: 10/19/2014 12:01:00 AM CDT | Updated: about 2 hours ago
This year has been a good year for eclipses. In April and again this month, we witnessed a total lunar eclipse. And this week, we’ll see a partial solar eclipse
Lunar eclipses are a lot more common than solar eclipses. Next year, we’ll have two more total lunar eclipses. The next solar eclipse visible from the continental United States will occur on Aug. 21, 2017.
Thursday’s solar eclipse will begin around 4:23 p.m. and peak at 5:35 p.m., when slightly more than half of the sun’s disk will be covered by the moon. We won’t see much of the eclipse after that because the partially eclipsed sun will set at 6:15 p.m.
It’s going to look weird. There will be a definite reduction in daylight in the late afternoon, kind of like twilight occuring before the sun has set.
Plan to watch the solar eclipse the right way. Staring at the sun is never a good idea; doing so can permanently damage your eyes. Never, never look at the sun with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
In the past several columns, I’ve written about special safety glasses you can buy to view a solar eclipse. I hope you got a pair.
If not, use the projection method to safely watch the moon march across the sun. Make a pinhole in a piece of white cardboard. Find another piece of stiff white cardboard or fiberboard. Stand with you back to the sun and hold the pinhole piece toward the sun. Aim the shadow of that cardboard over the blank cardboard, and watch the eclipse.
Autumn is known for meteor showers.One of them is the fairly reliable Orionid meteor shower that will peak between midnight Monday and the start of morning twilight Tuesday. The Earth, as it orbits the sun, is heading into a trail of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet. Due to the absence of moonlight, sky-watchers in the outer suburbs or the countryside may see 20 to 30 meteors an hour.
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications (adventurepublications.net). Check out his website at lynchandthestars.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. You’ll notice more pink in October than you will on Valentine’s Day and almost as much pink as you find at our annual Mush for a Cure event on the Gunflint Trail.
A long time ago I created the Pink Paddle. It’s a graphite, bent-shaft canoe paddle made by Wenonah and it’s PINK! I decided to do this to raise funds for breast cancer and thought it was a good idea. It turns out it didn’t raise alot of money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation but Mush for a Cure has. You can find Mush for a Cure on the main sponsor page of the NBCF website as we’ve donated $226,500 over the years.
The Pink Paddles are great paddles and I love paddling with mine. It’s lightweight, durable and always gets attention. The logo on the paddle represents a blessing and means,”May your new beginning bring you strength, peace and tranquility and may your journeys over water always be safe.”
I didn’t order too many of the paddles to begin with and I have a few of the paddles left for sale. On the last order the handles came separate from the shaft so we can cut the paddles to a specific size. We then glue and epoxy the handle onto the shaft and it doesn’t always end up as beautiful as the ones that came pre-cut and glued from the manufacturer. I have retailed them over the years for $155.00 each plus shipping and handling. Depending upon where the paddle is getting shipped the cost varies from $9-$20.
For the month of October we’re willing to let these paddles go for $99 plus shipping and handling. If you’re interested in purchasing one then email or give us a call at 1-888-CANOEIT. It’s a great price for a unique paddle.
It’s the end of the paddling season at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. We may still have a few folks who come up for a late fall trip but for all practical purposes the 2014 BWCA canoe camping season is over. That means the Voyageur crew will continue to prepare for winter by cleaning and storing all of our canoes and gear.
Sometimes Mike likes to make it easier on the crew by offering used gear for sale. If you buy it then they do not have to deal with it! We still have some nice canoes, packs and paddles for sale at a great price. You may have received an email with this information already but if not, then here it is.
Also included in the email was a special for outfitting in 2015. It is a canoe and equipment package for 50% off but we’re only selling 50 of those and it has to be purchased by October 22nd. You don’t need to know your dates for your trip, you just need to know you’re planning a BWCA or Quetico canoe trip in 2015.
We hope you are planning to visit us in 2015 as we look forward to the next paddling season.
I came across an interesting article about a study done in the Boundary Waters. Thought you might find it interesting too.Popular wilderness area requires intensive management to remain natural
October 17th, 2014 by Lynn Davis in Earth / EnvironmentRecreation ecologist Jeff Marion revisited dozens of campsites in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters that he had surveyed for his doctoral research in 1982.
Recreation ecologist Jeff Marion revisited dozens of campsites in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters that he had surveyed for his doctoral research in 1982.
Some 250,000 annual visitors to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters have a significant impact on the campsites along the area’s 1,000 lakes in America’s most visited wilderness area.
But while tree loss at campsites is huge, the news is not all bad, a Virginia Tech expert on the impacts of recreation on natural resources reported at the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque being held through Oct. 19.
In 1982, Jeff Marion, now an adjunct professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and a recreation ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, surveyed 96 of the 2,200 campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for his doctoral research.
With funding from his agency and the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the wilderness area, he returned in July 2014 to document the impact of continued use on those sites and to measure recovery on 10 sites that had been closed.
He was assisted by Holly Eagleston of Wenatchee, Washington, and Jeff Feldhaus of Omaha, Nebraska, doctoral students in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, and field assistant Claire Underwood.
“In addition to documenting over three decades of camping impacts, this study is focused on helping managers make recreational visitation more sustainable,” said Marion.
An important finding of the 1982 survey is that the impact of site use levels off. The impact on campsites receiving less than a dozen nights of use each year is two-thirds of that on sites receiving 60 or more visits. “Thus it’s better to have a small number of well-used campsites than to disperse use and impact across a large number of sites,” said Marion.
In 1982, researchers found tree damage at almost every site, root exposure at 84 percent of the sites, virtually no seedlings or saplings, and the replacement of native broad-leafed herbs by grasses and some nonnative plants.
In 2014, the researchers made the same 94 measurements at each site. They measured soil loss, root exposure, tree damage, canopy cover, and vegetation cover for each plant species, comparing the campsites to adjacent undisturbed control sites.
“It took 45 minutes per site and we did five or six per day, canoeing in between,” Marion said. “When a site was occupied, we asked permission. It was pretty cool to hear people tell stories about their experiences and about the importance of the Boundary Waters wilderness.”
The researchers documented 34 percent fewer trees on campsites than in 1982 and damage to 44 percent of the remaining trees “despite three decades of Leave No Trace instruction,” said Marion, who was a founding board member of the Leave No Trace education program.
In some cases, the Forest Service had removed potentially hazardous trees, a few sites had been reached by forest fires, and some suffered wind damage, “so we can’t say that trees are missing just because of recreational use,” Marion said. “But visitors continue to cut trees and strip birch bark to start fires, which essentially girdles the trees and can kill them.”
“We found 384 stumps on campsites, and 1,054 stumps were visible from campsite boundaries,” he continued. “That’s an avoidable impact because you can get firewood from fallen trees.”
Site use compacts and erodes the soil, which is one of the impacts that does not level off. The 81 sites measured this year have lost an estimated 194 dump truck loads of soil, or 1,935 cubic yards, Marion reported. “It’s a small amount each year, but cumulative.”
But there was also good news. Nonnative plants, such as dandelions and chickweed, were confined to campsites. The researchers did not find the invasive plant goutweed, which can out-compete native plants and was seen in 1982. The grasses that have spread across the sunnier campsites, a result of tree loss, are effectively reducing erosion.
And the closed sites can recover fully. While noting that impact is rapid and recovery slow, Marion reported that in three cases they were not able to pick the closed sites out of the wilderness. “That is wonderful news,” he said.
He estimated that 15 years is enough time for a site to largely recover. “Bark will even grow over ax scars on trees.”
Designated a protected wilderness area in 1964, the 109.5-million-acre Boundary Waters is among the country’s best-managed wilderness areas, Marion said. “They are leaders in wilderness management. In 1983 I assisted Forest Service staff with a new effort to have their trail maintenance crew work on campsites. We developed site management actions that would prevent or reduce camping impacts.”
Federal budget cuts over the past decade, however, have limited management efforts, according to Marion.
“If you have high visitation you have to pair it with intense management, but you have to do it in a natural way,” he added. The philosophy of wilderness management is for impacts and management to remain “substantially unnoticeable,” according to the Wilderness Act.
As Marion reported at the National Wilderness Conference, which observed the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, suggestions for preserving wilderness areas include closing less sustainable campsites and selecting, constructing, and maintaining more resistant sites. Best management practices include selecting sites that have bedrock in the sloping areas and limited amounts of flat terrain.
“And there must be visitor education, including improved Leave No Trace guidance and better communication,” he said.
Provided by Virginia Tech
“Popular wilderness area requires intensive management to remain natural.” October 17th, 2014. http://phys.org/news/2014-10-popular-wilderness-area-requires-intensive.html