ELY, Minn. — New data from the U.S. Forest Service shows a recent increase in the number of people visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But overall, visitor numbers have been on a downward trend in recent years, and the average age of those visitors has gotten much older.
Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/2cjokZD ) reports that the agency issued permits to more than 143,000 people in 2015, about 10,000 more than the previous year. But data shows that there’s been a slow and steady decline in visitors since 2010, especially among the young.
The Forest Service’s last demographic study shows the average age of visitors increased from 26 in 1969, to 36 in 1991, to 45 in 2007.
“People are looking for a quick return on their vacation,” said John Schiefelbein, who runs North Country Canoe Outfitters. “‘I want to go out and do my adventure this afternoon and tonight I want to be able to post it, so all my friends know what I’m doing.’ And you can’t do that here.”
Fewer adults seem to have had outdoor experiences growing up, he said. “As they become parents, their children aren’t going to be exposed to it. And that snowball keeps rolling downhill getting bigger and bigger.”
But fellow outfitter Ada Igoe believes the Forest Service may have undercounted young people in its surveys, which it conducts at popular entry points. Many young people, she said, leave on trips directly from outfitters because they often don’t own their own equipment.
“The thing that surprised me a lot was how many young people we do see through here,” she said. “We see a lot of college-age kids, a lot of young adults, in their 20s or early 30s taking canoe trips.”
Forest Service ranger Gus Smith says the key is to bring young visitors back for repeat visits like earlier generations did. If you do that, Smith says they’ll come back with their kids.
Forest Service officials say they are partnering with several groups to try to reach a younger audience.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org