DULUTH (AP) -- Despite the devastated, windblown forest and an unpopular campfire ban, visitors are still flocking to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and into areas of Quetico and the Superior National Forest.
About 350,000 acres were damaged during the July 4, 1999, in the nation's most-used wilderness, leaving the area vulnerable to wildfires. Because of the increased fire danger, officials imposed campfire restrictions and began implementing prescribed burns to clear away downed trees and other fuels.
But the area isn't seeing any sharp declines visitor numbers.
"We were down overall last year about 5 percent. But we don't know if that was fire danger or blowdown or wet weather or bugs or the campfire restrictions," said Barb Soderberg, BWCAW program director for the Superior National Forest.
Trails, portages and campsites have been cleared of downed trees and access and use of the area has returned mostly to normal. Each year, about 200,000 people visit the BWCAW.
"Some people want to avoid the blowdown, but more for aesthetic reasons and not because of the fire danger. They just don't want to see it. Others want to plan their trip to see some of it," said Bill Hansen, owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters north of Tofte.
Spots that saw the most drop-off in visitors were areas with the campfire restrictions. The number of visitors in those areas was down about 8 percent, Soderberg said.
Away from the restricted areas, the number of visitors was slightly up.
"What we hear from most people are complaints about the campfire ban. Some people really want to have that campfire in the morning and now they can't," Hansen said.
Although the bans are unpopular, the visitors are cooperating and adhering to the restrictions.
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