The BWCAW online
August 25, 2005 1:40 PM   Subscribe

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are a special set-aside in the Superior National Forest in the north woods of Minnesota. Containing over 1,000 lakes and streams, 2,200 designated campsites, and 1,500 miles of canoe routes, this treasure provides a great place to escape from the world of civilization. It also, apparently, provides a great reason for cool websites. The Swanson party website is one of the most impressive feats of private naturalism I've seen. It has everything from the 68 types of ferns and fern allies you can find in the BWCAW to lake commentaries for 356 of the biggest (and smallest) lakes that travelers encounter. There's also the DC3 website, which has diaries and pictures from a group of BW adventurers from 1977 to 2003. A truly impressive effort, if apparently not ...quite... finished. And while the diaries tell a story arc about a group of friends, the distance between the stories always leaves tantalizing details for the reader to imagine. Such as this tidbit at the end of the 1986 trip, which has as its central detail the fact that one of the party's wives received major burns and had to leave early:
They traveled almost ten miles and portaged four times, (a total of 465 rods), before they reached Snowbank Lake. The wind was very strong. They had to cross the lake the long way and directly into the wind. At one point they didn't move for twenty minutes even though they paddled as hard as they could. They finally reached the landing and headed for the A&W in Ely. From there, Tur called home to check on Beeps. There was no answer. But that's another story.
Naturally, there are also messageboards set up to discuss trips to the BWCAW, advocacy organizations to make sure it stays wild, and you can even make entry point reservations online nowadays. The Bee Dub previously referenced here on MeFi
posted by norm (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My wilderness area for a More Inside.

Its good info but boy howdy there sure is a lot of it.
posted by fenriq at 1:42 PM on August 25, 2005

The thing that goes unspoken, but sometime needs to be highlighted is that, for 98% of the BWCAW, motorized vehicles are prohibited.

No boats, no cars, no ATVs, nothing.

The silence is deafening.
posted by unixrat at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, in 5 years, someone will discover oil on the land. We all knows what will happen next. Yep, you guessed it... they will be shot before they leave the Forest by all the newly enlightened fans from MeFi. Thanks for the link, pure nature is often ignored and unknown to those of us constantly online.

Still, a little too much wordage for the front page.
posted by cleverusername at 2:00 PM on August 25, 2005

I could have made it all small, would that have been ok with you?

I had a problem in generating the post as the best links are the Swanson and DC3 sites, and without context neither would have made as much sense. Sorry for the clutter, I guess people will just have to scroll an extra line or five.
posted by norm at 2:05 PM on August 25, 2005

It's a very nice place to camp. In high school, went on a trip with one of the families that donated significant portions of the land that makes up the US portion of the park (or so they claimed, I'm too lazy to check if they weren't just pulling our legs...). Loons flying, bears swimming, and of course the best part was when we went rappelling...One of the kids was halfway down the cliff, when a small plane started flying around, checking us out. The noise freaked out the kid belaying the rappeler, and he yanked on the safety line so hard, the kid on the rocks went face first into the cliff. Now, he's bleeding from a split lip, hanging upside down, yelling at the guy below to let go, while the kid below can't hear a thing above the plane...

Who said it was quiet there? =p
posted by nomisxid at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2005

I used to go on long, long canoe trips up there (and in the Quetico) with Camp Widjiwagan. (Widji's a whole set of stories unto itself of course...I stopped going before things got really hardcore)

Incredible experiences. Six people, four weeks in the wilderness - and I mean really the wilderness, we'd go a week without seeing other human beings, no motorized vehicles anywhere, not even any fixed campsites. The only manmade items we saw were what we carried with us. We had an emergency pilot's radio beacon if things got really bad, but other than that, we were on our own. If I ever have kids I'd think seriously about sending them.

Now if only the place hadn't been clearcut a hundred years before I got to it.
posted by lbergstr at 2:42 PM on August 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Quite a comprehensive resource, thanks.

Went to the BWCA a few years ago on a two week canoe-fishing trip. First time I'd ever been fishing (long-time vegetarian and not much of a sportsman) and I caught like a 25+ pound pike. On my first morning, no less. Blew me away.

It is a spectacular place.
posted by elendil71 at 2:47 PM on August 25, 2005

Much of the BWCAW was never logged. Check out this description of Lake Ge-be-on-e-quet, which notes that:
The forests which ring Ge-be-on-e-quet are of a great many age classes, all jumbled together by the historical vagaries of wildfire. The major fire years of 1601, 1681, 1739,1755-59, 1796, 1803, 1864, and 1894 are all represented. This region of the BWCA escaped damage in the 4th of July windstorms of 1999, which caused such extensive tree loss to the south and east.
A lot of it wasn't logged because it was supremely marshy, and the trees didn't look that big. For example, there are cedars on Three Mile Island in Seagull lake that may be thousands of years old, but they're gnarly and twisted, and not the huge monsters one might expect.

Other parts were just too tough to get to by logging crews, and so just lucked out.
posted by norm at 2:52 PM on August 25, 2005

If you would like to read more about the Boundry Waters area, make sure to read the works of Sigurd Olsen. One of my better college professors wrote a bio about him.
posted by drezdn at 3:57 PM on August 25, 2005

My Dad used to go up there for opening season fishing with 'the guys.' I don't think it was the wilderness or the prohibition of motorized vehicles which made him so tired and grumpy when he returned though.
posted by thehippe at 3:58 PM on August 25, 2005

Wow! I'm really surprised. I had thought the Boundary Waters used to have much taller, older growth. Thanks norm.
posted by lbergstr at 4:01 PM on August 25, 2005

I used to go on long, long canoe trips up there (and in the Quetico) with Camp Widjiwagan. (Widji's a whole set of stories unto itself of course...I stopped going before things got really hardcore)-lbergstr

I never thought there would be another Widji camper on Mefi. Cool. My first trip with them was a 14 day canoe trip in the BWCA (or bee-dub as it is fondly known). It's definitely beautiful up there, sometimes unfortuanetly it's hard to get away from people on some of the bigger lakes. There were a couple of nights where we had to keep paddling much further than expected just to find an empty camp site.
posted by supertremendus at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2005

I used to go up there when I went to camp in Northern Minnesota-- truly memorable, beautiful country. Those long trips with the long portages were a lot of work but they were really fun. It's worth the hardships because there's nowhere else in the country like it.
posted by cell divide at 5:39 PM on August 25, 2005

My brother had a canoe guide company in the BWCA many, many years ago and I helped him a couple of summers.

I encountered my first dead body there. Had been dead for a week or so. We were still days away from civilization so we towed him to shore and marked him with a yellow air mattress and then paddled and portaged for a couple days and got to Ely and told the ranger. I was only about 16 years old and saw that floater every time I closed my eyes for weeks.

Other than that, I have some fond memories of the place.
posted by leftcoastbob at 11:20 PM on August 25, 2005

I had thought the Boundary Waters used to have much taller, older growth.

Well, the very biggest and primest logs that were accessible were all logged, to be sure. But there are scattered stands of all kinds of old behemoths throughout. The link above about the cedars notes that some estimates have 400,000 acres of unlogged forest in the BWCA. But most of that isn't going to be the monster red and white pine that we think of when conceptualizing the massive northwoods prior to logging. Think of species like the black spruce, which grows in places like peat bogs that many other tree types can't grow in. Spruce just 2 inches across have been found in Northern Minnesota and dated to be 127 years old.
posted by norm at 7:40 AM on August 26, 2005

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