BWCA Sharing an over capacity campsite: etiquette and ethics Boundary Waters Listening Point - General Discussion
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MDVancleave
member (6)member
 
07/18/2021 01:09AM  
I had a new experience this week that made me rethink my assumptions about BWCA campsite etiquette and ethics and I'm curious how others have navigated these situations.

My group of four was on a week-long loop paddling from Saganaga to Seagull and by our second afternoon had found an open campsite on the southern end of Hanson Lake.

Later that evening we spotted three canoes zig-zagging their way down the lake. By the time the first two boats got to us it was clear they were hunting for a site to crash. The group of four looked young and fit and with a couple hours of daylight left I was fully prepared to advise they keep moving to the nearby site on Clam Lake when one of the women exclaimed, "Hey, I know you!" It just happened she was a bartender at our neighborhood brewery (who's staff had been very kind to me after an injury I had earlier this spring).

So, with any hope of escape from real life dashed and wanting to repay some kindness we did a head count (8 people/4 boats total) and decided to invite them to share our camp for the night and relocated one of our tents so they could setup on a secluded pad.

Then the third boat arrived. It was a middle-aged husband and wife who had been towed to American Point earlier that morning along with the other group. I told them our site was full and they moved on to the nearby Clam Lake portage.

After they left, one of our new site-mates informed me that their group had assisted carrying the couple's gear through Monument Portage after the woman injured her ankle and that they appeared to be struggling with navigation. I realized their situation was more complicated than I had assessed from shore but our site would have been over capacity and the couple had seemed to take the rejection in stride.

Just before dusk the couple returned, clearly in emotional distress. Mentally and physically exhausted, they had been unable to land their canoe at the Clam Lake portage. We helped them out of their boat, shared some protein bars and set up their tent & bear hang while they sorted through the rest of the gear their outfitter had packed them. We all called it a night shortly thereafter.

Come morning my group decided to break camp early and make for Amoeber Lake in search of a little more isolation. We didn't see either party again for the rest of our trip, but the experience left me with some questions that I haven't been able to find a good answer for here:

In a situation like this, who could be fined for breaking the rules? The late-arriving couple? The person who invited them into our site? All of us?

Do tow services like those on Saganaga contribute to more congestion by bringing less experienced visitors deeper into the wilderness (bypassing otherwise accessible campsites)? What obligation do outfitters have to discuss campsite etiquette and planning with their customers?

With easier access and ever greater demand, is it still reasonable to expect visitors to find an empty site of their own, even after passing nothing but occupied sites along three or more interior lakes?

 
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Stumpy
distinguished member(1771)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/18/2021 05:08AM  
In that case, Id break the rules.
Aside from that, Tow boat services help to thin the camping pressure near entry points.
 
andym
distinguished member(5125)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
 
07/18/2021 05:18AM  
I don’t know who the rangers would fine. But I like what you did. No one is served by having an injured couple of newcomers struggling on their first night.

I had a situation where some folks on their first night asked for some navigation advice toward the end of the day and happily went on their way. But I regret not inviting them to share with our group. They clearly had some stuff to learn and maybe we could have helped make their trip a little bit better. Or maybe they had a grand time by themselves. I’ll never know.
 
07/18/2021 07:13AM  
You did the right and appropriate thing. If you wife is in labor and you're driving her to the hospital do you follow the speed limit? Rules can be bent
 
Northwoodsman
distinguished member(1654)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/18/2021 09:44AM  
I would have done the same thing. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. It's not like you were planning to break the rules, it just happened because of a safety factor. If I was to be fined for this sort of thing I would have just paid it and chalked it up as a worthwhile expense.
 
07/18/2021 09:56AM  
You did the right thing for sure. I am not sure who or if even the Ranger would fine, but still would of done what you did.

I have some questions you probably can’t answer and doesn’t change your situation/decision. Did the other groups pass campsites to get to Hanson? I assume they got a tow to American Point? There was nothing in between? If they got a tow…how the heck did it take all day to get to Hanson? I guess what I am getting at and assuming is a lot of poor decisions by the other 2 groups may have lead to you sharing a site. I have no idea though…more just making a point that people need to think of others when planning….heavily loaded, late starts—late day entry, etc…not only put your group at risk/inconvenience…you put other groups at an inconvenience.

T
 
07/18/2021 10:08AM  
I agree with the previous posts - you did the right thing. I probably would have explained the rules violation to the entire group and suggested that if the permit holder (probably you) were to receive a citation that the entire group chip in to cover it. I also would explain the situation to the ranger and hope for some understanding of the situation.
 
missmolly
distinguished member(7354)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
 
07/18/2021 11:09AM  
Yep, you did the right thing. If all of you WERE fined, I would hope that the two groups would step up and pay your share of the fine.
 
MDVancleave
member (6)member
 
07/18/2021 12:19PM  
Thanks all for the perspective. Definitely no regrets on sharing the site.

timatkn: "I have some questions you probably can’t answer and doesn’t change your situation/decision. Did the other groups pass campsites to get to Hanson? I assume they got a tow to American Point? There was nothing in between? If they got a tow…how the heck did it take all day to get to Hanson? I guess what I am getting at and assuming is a lot of poor decisions by the other 2 groups may have lead to you sharing a site. I have no idea though…more just making a point that people need to think of others when planning….heavily loaded, late starts—late day entry, etc…not only put your group at risk/inconvenience…you put other groups at an inconvenience.
T"


Both groups got a tow. I can't say how many open campsites they passed after American Point. We saw several unoccupied sites on Ester and Hanson earlier that day but certainly some filled up before these groups arrived. They both said they "hadn't seen any" but I didn't press on when they really started looking. Pretty sure they hadn't checked either Ashdick or Rabbit though. Hopefully a learning experience for all involved.
 
07/18/2021 02:51PM  
Blatz: "You did the right and appropriate thing. If you wife is in labor and you're driving her to the hospital do you follow the speed limit? Rules can be bent"

HA! That's what you'd think, right?!? When I was in labor, my husband stopped and waited at a red light because there was a "no turn on red" sign. It was the middle of the night! With NOBODY there! Between contractions I'm like, "Just GO!!" Our daughter was born 30 minutes after we got to the hospital if that tells you anything about my state then.

Anyhow, I'll agree with the rest that you did a good thing. If a ranger happened upon a situation like that, I would hope they would be understanding.

I hope you were able to find some solitude for the rest of your trip.
 
Canoearoo
distinguished member(2495)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/18/2021 03:07PM  
it's so nice to share a site. That one night can make or break a trip.
 
07/18/2021 06:36PM  
There are times when kindness and compassion just overpower the rules. I have no idea who might get the fine here, but I think you did the right thing.
 
07/18/2021 10:39PM  
What everyone else said. Safety over rules. If you had been fined, I would hope you would put up a GoFundMe page. We'd all contribute!
 
jhb8426
distinguished member(1390)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/18/2021 11:57PM  
prettypaddle: "HA! That's what you'd think, right?!? When I was in labor, my husband stopped and waited at a red light because there was a "no turn on red" sign..."

I can top that one...
I stopped at a Mr. Donut on the way for a cinnamon roll. Daughter was born 45 minutes later. (She (wife) still brings it up from time to time, as needed.)

Back on topic, MDVancleave you did the right thing.
 
07/19/2021 12:05AM  
You did right, their are exceptions to most things. At the same time with large group I surely would try to minimize impact and would not clear a area out for another tent.
Also I think like you did, early morning move on or they could of moved on if lake conditions were right.

 
K52
senior member (57)senior membersenior member
 
07/19/2021 08:20AM  
You have what is called common sense, which is sadly lacking in a whole lot of people anymore.
 
Porkeater
distinguished member (179)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/19/2021 08:32AM  
I've done the same thing in a similar situation. On a more practical note, if the last group showed up shortly before dark, and you left first thing in the morning, the chances of anyone showing up to fine you are pretty low.
 
treehorn
distinguished member(608)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/19/2021 09:16AM  
I'd be shocked if a ranger gave anyone a fine in that situation. There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and I'd hope they have the discretion to overlook this one.
 
hobbydog
distinguished member(1988)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/19/2021 09:55AM  
treehorn: "I'd be shocked if a ranger gave anyone a fine in that situation. There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and I'd hope they have the discretion to overlook this one."

I would be shocked if there was still a ranger out at this time visiting campsites. On any trip you make decisions. Some way more important than others, some much easier than others. The decision you made in this case was an easy one and the right one.

In a wilderness or even remote areas there are unwritten rules. #1 is that you help others out that are in need. I have made some really good and memorable experience on both ends of helping and being helped.
 
07/19/2021 11:30AM  
jhb8426: "prettypaddle: "HA! That's what you'd think, right?!? When I was in labor, my husband stopped and waited at a red light because there was a "no turn on red" sign..."


I can top that one...
I stopped at a Mr. Donut on the way for a cinnamon roll. Daughter was born 45 minutes later. (She (wife) still brings it up from time to time, as needed.)


Lol! You're doing great, hon, just hang on a sec I need to get a snack... Love it!
 
Speckled
distinguished member (352)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/19/2021 04:38PM  
I would have done the same thing and if i got fined oh well. They were in distress and needed help.

Perhaps thier choices put them in that position...who cares, you help them. Once settled you can hear their story and perhaps offer some advice from for them going forward.
 
tumblehome
distinguished member(2167)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
07/19/2021 09:55PM  
As mentioned, you did good.

However, the couple that returned to your site were ill-prepared for camping most likely due to ignorance on their part. While they were indeed in distress and needed some assistance, in the end, they should be fined. Not for the sake of punishment but for a lesson learned. They put themselves in their situation. Think of all the times you made bad decisions and the lessens you learned from them.

Their bad decisions were laid at your feet now affecting your trip and loss of solitude.
You can feel good about helping them but I hope they returned home with more knowledge than they went in with.

I have made so many dumb mistakes over the years and my wisdom is now one of my most cherished possessions.
Tom
 
NordSteve
member (37)member
 
08/01/2021 09:44AM  
We had an experience this week on Ogish. A party of 8 young people (20ish) in three canoes was checking out sites. They had gone past us to look at the SE island site, and came back searching the shoreline with the apparent intent of finding a non-campsite location to pitch tents. We were pretty visible from the water and after a while they came over to ask about sharing a site with us. At this point it was about 6:30 PM. Our site wasn't big and we weren't enthused about sharing with a party of 8, so I talked to them about options.

They told me they had passed on the open Muller sites, and didn't explore the eastern part of Ogish before coming west. They weren't willing to go back to check those sites out, or checking out the site on Spice. I ended up convincing them to continue on their line of travel to the west, and check for openings in Jenny/Eddy/Barter. With a couple hours of decent light left and short portages to Jenny, I was OK with sending them on.

Would you have taken in this party?
 
MDVancleave
member (6)member
 
08/01/2021 10:18AM  
NordSteve: “Would you have taken in this party?"

No. That such a large group had passed on open sites so late in the day and wasn’t willing to backtrack or go slightly out of their way is troubling. I can’t imagine they would have made for good company at the campsite.
 
mschi772
distinguished member(691)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
08/01/2021 10:33AM  
NordSteve: "Would you have taken in this party?"

Nope. They had plenty of light left and hadn't exhausted all of their options. They were just lazily looking for a way out of the consequences of their own decisions and in no danger.
 
tumblehome
distinguished member(2167)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
08/01/2021 10:42AM  
Nope. Unless there was a weather or health issue associated with their duress.
Life lessons are sometimes painful.
Tom
 
08/01/2021 12:10PM  
NordSteve: "Would you have taken in this party?"

Another no. With no health or weather issues, and a good 3 or so hours of daylight left they should paddle to the other end of Ogish or keep portaging. If this was about 6:30 then they would have been on Mueller about 5:30-6:00 - and with a party of 8 decided to pass up two sites? Paddle on.
 
08/01/2021 01:26PM  
Nope
 
straighthairedcurly
distinguished member(1123)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
08/01/2021 10:55PM  
NordSteve: " Would you have taken in this party?"

Not in their situation. I have taken in another party twice. One was in a severe weather situation where we knew there were no campsites open within a safe distance. The other was a pair who had already checked all the sites on the lakes in either direction, it was late, and to get beyond the known full lakes would have required numerous long portages.

On our latest trip, we traveled through a combination of very busy areas and isolated areas. In the busy areas, I try to pay attention to empty sites near me (but maybe tucked in a bay, or over a portage to a dead end lake so I can help advise late arrivals as to a safe harbor for the night.
 
08/01/2021 11:14PM  
straighthairedcurly: "NordSteve: " Would you have taken in this party?"


Not in their situation. I have taken in another party twice. One was in a severe weather situation where we knew there were no campsites open within a safe distance. The other was a pair who had already checked all the sites on the lakes in either direction, it was late, and to get beyond the known full lakes would have required numerous long portages.


On our latest trip, we traveled through a combination of very busy areas and isolated areas. In the busy areas, I try to pay attention to empty sites near me (but maybe tucked in a bay, or over a portage to a dead end lake so I can help advise late arrivals as to a safe harbor for the night."


Very Thoughtful
 
nofish
distinguished member(2845)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
08/04/2021 10:48PM  
You for sure did the right thing. There was no intent on any of your parts to break the rules and I'm sure any ranger would understand the situation.
 
riverat
 
08/11/2021 12:14PM  
A question about campsites. I've never had
This happen but many people have. No open
campsites at or near dark. The question is. What actually
constitutes camping.
I can stop anywhere
along any shoreline during the day and have
lunch or take a hike or take a nap or collect
firewood but I can't do any of those things
after dark unless I'm at a designated campsite?
I understand about not intentionally setting up "camp"
at an undesignated campsite at 2:00 in the
afternoon. but I would think late in the day maybe with
rain moving in it would be acceptable and
then skedaddle first thing in the morning
 
straighthairedcurly
distinguished member(1123)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
08/11/2021 06:44PM  
riverat: "A question about campsites. I've never had
This happen but many people have. No open
campsites at or near dark. The question is. What actually
constitutes camping.
I can stop anywhere
along any shoreline during the day and have
lunch or take a hike or take a nap or collect
firewood but I can't do any of those things
after dark unless I'm at a designated campsite?
I understand about not intentionally setting up "camp"
at an undesignated campsite at 2:00 in the
afternoon. but I would think late in the day maybe with
rain moving in it would be acceptable and
then skedaddle first thing in the morning"


I would say the biggest concerns with spending a night somewhere versus stopping to eat lunch are the impacts of these three: cooking food, proper disposal of human waste, and vegetation impact/stress of setting up a tent or hammock in a different area. Therefore, they have simple, straightforward rules that say you must use a designated site for overnight camping. We know in reality, people end up stealth camping at portages when desperate and we hope they work to minimize any negative impact. However, technically you can be fined if discovered.
 
08/11/2021 07:14PM  
Back to the op...the first group is a definite yes. Someone you know and a chance to share a campfire and returning a kindness is just right. I would hope any of us paddling by a site with BWCA.com decals would get a hello and I would invite a join to other members I recognize.
To the couple it another obvious yes. You exceeded numbers but only due to extenuating circumstances. But that they pushed on after injury on the first portage confirms any concerns will they be safe in the wilderness. I might even be willing to help them get across that portage and back toward safety the next morning.
In the end it is these unexpecteds that make great stories. Thanks for sharing.
 
08/14/2021 01:10PM  
Another way to look at this issue is to consider when you would ask to share.

On a trip a couple years ago I planned to get to LLC from Moose River and stay on LLC for a couple days. There was wind forecast for later in the day. We payed very close attention to the wind direction, tree tops, and shoreline wind shelter.

When we got to Agnes it was still calm. We decided that the best choice was to bust tail through the middle as the shortest route since the so-far moderate wind had been swirling and no shoreline could therefore be counted on for a wind break if it changed.

About 1/3 of the way north everything changed in a flash and we were in a battle to even hold ground against a wind suddenly howling from the NW. We made a point on the east side and I was very thankful that I had not broken a paddle or capsized. In a short rest we confirmed our location, hydrated and refueled, and refigured our plan. There was a campsite in that bay but it was full. There was a campsite about 1.5 miles north on the shoreline. We landed about 1/2 mile north of the full campsite in the bay and bushwacked to within sight of the other campsite further north. It too was full. No one was on the water.

When the wind seemed to decrease, we made a quickly aborted attempt to continue north. We had to duck back in behind the same point. I did not want to ask to share a site with the family that was there. We hopped out on a spot on the shore that wasn't really safe with the whitecaps but which was the best we had available. There was an open spot in the woods off the shore that allowed us to camp without damaging things until daybreak. There was a lot of daylight left, but we stayed quiet and stayed out of sight of the other campsite.

The rest of the trip went very well.

In summary, I decided to camp in a non-site rather that to ask to share. The spot was good, so we didn't have to alter really anything, which might not always be the case. What would you have done?
 
08/14/2021 05:17PM  
Absolutely, it was a common sense decision and the forest service knows that and I assume you didn't make no big campfire.

I camped on the portage between Gull and Bald eagle once. Actually about 10 feet off. Set my 1 man tent up at dark and took it down just as dawn was coming. If I would of paddled out I would be dead. Actually tried paddling out and went backwards. That was enough.
 
08/14/2021 05:51PM  
Pinetree: "Absolutely, it was a common sense decision and the forest service knows that and I assume you didn't make no big campfire.

no campfire at all, no daily ration of whiskey, just cribbage inside the tent mostly. We didn't even cook anything for supper.
 
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