For the first time in nearly half a century, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is closed. The decision comes after very dry conditions persist, and fires in and around the wilderness area continue to grow.
Jason Zabokrtsky owns Ely Outfitting Company in Ely, Minnesota.
He guides and supplies travelers who come from all over the United States and want to explore the Boundary Waters.
“Our business is 100% BWCA tripping,” he said.
But this weekend, all trips were stopped after the Superior National Forest closed the wilderness due to extreme drought, fires and limited resources.
“This was as much of a shock to us as anyone, we literally had people standing in front of us ready to head out on the water when we got the notice you are not allowed to issue any more permits for anybody going into the wilderness,” Zabokrtsky said.
Wilderness rangers are now sweeping for people inside the wilderness asking them to work their way out, as Zabokrtsky makes calls to travelers who had adventures planned.
“There is a lot of uncertainty. We now have a seven-day closure of the BWCA, and we just don’t know what the next message will be or when we are going to receive the next message,” he said.
The Greenwood Fire south of Ely is one of the most active fires right now. After reaching more than 9,000 acres in size, it was reduced to about 8,862 acres on Sunday. The fire’s growth forced more evacuations this weekend.
“You can see the fire was moving to the north toward these communities who were potentially at risk, so the sheriff’s department issued an evacuation order,” said a fire information officer.
To the east of Ely, the John Ek and Whelp fires continue to burn.
An incident management team will arrive Monday to help with those.
Meanwhile, a Red Cross shelter has now been set up in Finland, Minnesota.
“If your house burns down, if you are evacuated, people need a place to go,” a volunteer with the Red Cross said.
The closure of the BWCAW is in place for seven days. Zabokrtsky says travellers have been understanding and hopeful.
“We’ll keep our heads up and will keep doing our best to help people have outstanding Boundary Waters experiences as soon as we are able to,” Zabokrtsky said.
He says one of the best things people can do to support Boundary Waters businesses right now is to buy a gift card.