Concern growing following BWCA reservation site crash

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ELY, MN —  There is growing concern out of Ely over this year’s tourism season in the Boundary Waters.

On January 30th, the U.S. Forest Service’s new on-line reservation system for BWCA permits crashed the same day it went active.

A new re-launch date has been picked.

But those who depend on the Boundary Waters economy, are worried their bottom line is in danger.

The city of Ely thrives on tourism, and the fact that the system to obtain permits to go into the Boundary Waters has been down for weeks now, has caused local businesses in the area to grow worrisome.

The online system to reserve BWCA permits was recently implemented by the U.S. Forest Service.

Outfitters in Ely say the prior system worked well, and rarely had any issues, which is a big reason they’re frustrated about this new system failure.

Outfitters pointed out that, as of right now, businesses are not directly affected.

The Boundary Waters permit season begins in May, and ends in September, but this is a key time for tourists to book those permits, and plan their trips.

Outfitters worry they’ll lose visitors if the system isn’t online soon, causing the entire community to feel the impact.

“Our biggest worry is that this gets pushed back too much longer because all the resorts and outfitters and guides are booking trips right now. This is when we try to get people’s vacations set up for them, and our worry is that people may decide to go other places. And, in fact, we’ve had people tell us that maybe this year they’re not coming, and so it’s going to have an impact on the whole town if that does happen,” said Spirit of the Wilderness OUtfitters owner Ginny Nelson.

Congressman Pete Stauber held a forum in Ely on the matter this past Saturday.

Just before that, U.S. Forest Service representatives announced they had a tentative plan of putting the system back online on February 27th.

“Community members remain hopeful that they won’t lose any customers, and that the economy won’t be affected,” said Nelson.

According to a 2017 study released by Friends of the Boundary Waters, tourism in the BWCA contributes to a $77 million economic impact each year for Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties.

Gamiel Hall

Gamiel Hall

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