The new national reservation system for Boundary Waters permits opened Wednesday, Jan. 30, and then promptly crashed, with the U.S. Forest Service saying they will set a new date for permits to become available.
Reservations for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permits were moved for the 2019 season to the recreation.gov site, the same site used for reservations at national parks across the country.
"Due to technical difficulties, reservations for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are closed. We are diligently working to correct the problem. Please check back for status updates," a message on the site said.
Some local businesses around the federal wilderness that depend on permits for their customers warned the Forest Service that the rush of applications for the permits, now all awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, would overwhelm the site. That appears to be what happened.
The Forest Service and private contractor in charge of the site discovered a problem with how the national system servers were distributing traffic to the site, which resulted in the inability of many visitors to make reservations. Several people were successful in making reservations for permits while others could not access the system at all. Once the Forest Service became aware of the situation, the decision was made to stop the sale of BWCAW permits.
"Superior National Forest staff worked closely with the contractor over the past year, including time during the recent government furlough, to ensure the system was ready and provided everything necessary to assure success," Superior National Forest officials said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, adding that the private contractor and Forest Service "are diagnosing the exact cause of the technical difficulties, carefully identifying how to fix the problems, and developing a detailed strategy to reopen the permit process in the near future. As soon as possible, we will identify a new date for BWCAW quota permits to become available for reservation, but only after we feel confident the malfunction experienced today has been corrected."
More than 100,000 people visit the BWCAW between May 1 and Sept. 30 each year, the period during which permits are limited. The Forest Service this year eliminated a lottery system used to award about 42,000 of those permits in past years.