BWCA Post fire paddling? Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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Wes44
member (27)member
 
10/23/2021 11:59AM  
I'm wondering if anyone can share their post-fire experiences?

I live in the Western US and have found great pleasure exploring recently burned landscapes. However, I can't get up canoe country all that often, and am planning a paddling trip with two first timers, so I want to do all I can to ensure the best chances at an enjoyable trip.

In any case, I'm considering some trips in burned areas next year (spring or late summer, likely the latter). Any thoughts on things like whether the portages will be passable, if some campsites might be dangerous, or the scenery and wildlife degraded (or too sensitive) in the short term?

If you have thoughts or experience, I'd welcome it! Should we hold off on these landscapes for a year or two or five? Should we get out there the first chance we get?

Cheers & thank you!
 
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ericinely
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10/23/2021 04:46PM  
What burn area are you talking about, specifically? All are different and have affected the landscape differently.

I might recommend visiting Insula Lake via Lake One Entry point, which is about 1/2 burned from the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire. It is surreal paddling the south half, which is just now starting to fill up with those pioneer species like Spruce and Aspen, surrounding massive standing dead and charred pines and Cedar. The north side of the lake is virtually untouched, filled with old growth pine and cedar. Also, you will paddle through Lake Four and Hudson, which were also burned in 2011
tumblehome
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10/23/2021 06:23PM  
ericinely: "What burn area are you talking about, specifically? All are different and have affected the landscape differently.


I might recommend visiting Insula Lake via Lake One Entry point, which is about 1/2 burned from the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire. It is surreal paddling the south half, which is just now starting to fill up with those pioneer species like Spruce and Aspen, surrounding massive standing dead and charred pines and Cedar. The north side of the lake is virtually untouched, filled with old growth pine and cedar. Also, you will paddle through Lake Four and Hudson, which were also burned in 2011"


The boundary waters is certainly a living classroom of forest fire ecology. It is quite amazing to paddle through areas that have burned either recently or in years past. As mentioned the Pagami Creek burn is your best example of a hot forest fire that occurred somewhat recently. The new growth is astounding and the forest recovers faster than most people would think. Areas that were scorched just 10 years ago now have birch and aspen trees up to 20 feet tall with Jack Pine and white pine growing back too.

Other burns like the Ham Lake fire or Cavity lake fire are good places to explore also. There was a fire on the southside of Winchell lake that burned 25 years ago and unless I pointed it out to you you might have a hard time seeing it. A fire came through parts of Nina Moose perhaps 30 years ago and it is all but recovered to the point where it’s not noticeable except a few snags that still remain after the decades. It’s good to hear that there are people like you out there that like to observe how the forest recovers after fire, after all fire is an essential part of the forest ecosystem.

I would suggest that you purchase the book ‘The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem by Myron Heinzelman. As far as I know, his book is the best example of documenting forest fires throughout the centuries dating back to the 1500s. His detailed maps show forest fires going back that far and you can paddle through these areas and observe how the fires have changed and altered/improved the ecosystem.
Tom
10/24/2021 08:06AM  
It sounds like you're wanting to see the FRESH burn areas...as in from 2021.....which inside the park aren't much. (luckily) If you want recent burn but growing back (10 years ago) then yeah Pagami burned a huge swath....but all portages are well used since then of course. Still lots of burned trees standing and down but plenty of green growing up in places

Another entry that would show you some of this is Kawishiwi Lake. Most of square and Kawashachong were burned which you'll see an hour after putting in at the entry. But if you continue onto Polly you'll get out of the burn. Plenty of portaging to do in the burn area there too. A few campsites were burned on those lakes but there are a couple still open
Michwall2
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10/24/2021 10:41AM  
cyclones30: "It sounds like you're wanting to see the FRESH burn areas...as in from 2021.....which inside the park aren't much. (luckily) If you want recent burn but growing back (10 years ago) then yeah Pagami burned a huge swath....but all portages are well used since then of course. Still lots of burned trees standing and down but plenty of green growing up in places


Another entry that would show you some of this is Kawishiwi Lake. Most of square and Kawashachong were burned which you'll see an hour after putting in at the entry. But if you continue onto Polly you'll get out of the burn. Plenty of portaging to do in the burn area there too. A few campsites were burned on those lakes but there are a couple still open "


A three fire tour from Kawishiwi Lake.

Enter Kawishiwi Lake and paddle north into the Pagami Creek Fire Area. As noted this fire occurred in 2011. Instead of leaving Square Lake to the north east toward Kawasachong Lake right away, head west to Baskatong Lake. My understanding is that the campsites here are closed. The portage should have had little traffic and the lake and campsites little visited since that time. After a visit here you could stop on Kawasachong Lake. Visit the closed campsites here or continue on your way to Lake Polly. You will pass out of the Pagami Creek Fire area just as you arrive at Lake Polly. Lake Polly can be busy so find a campsite as early as you can.

Your next destination is Elton Lake. According to Inciweb ( John Ek Fire map ) the John Ek Fire burned to the west side of Elton Lake. The John Ek fire happened this past August. Head north out of Lake Polly toward Koma and Malberg Lakes. Then head northeast out of Malberg Lake toward Kivaniva, Anit, Pan, Panhandle, Makwa and Elton. You should find burn along the western shore of Elton Lake.

Your next destination is the north end of Little Saganaga Lake. The Cavity Lake fire happened in 2006. You can find campsites on Little Sag that are in the burn zone so that you can explore behind them. Or I would recommend a day trip through Virgin, West Fern, Powell, Fern, Gillis, Crooked, Tarry, Mora, and back to Little Sag. This will take you through the heart of the fire area and along it's eastern edge.

You can go back out the way you came in. Or (if you are done exploring fire zones) return south to Sawbill Lake Entry through Mora, Whipped, Fente, Hub, Mesaba, Hug, Duck, Zenith, Lujenida, Kelso, Sawbill. If you finish here, get a shuttle from Sawbill Outfitter to Kawishiwi Lake for your start.

Another entry you could use to visit fire areas is off the Gunflint Trail. Try starting at Entry 54 - Seagull Lake.

You will start in the Ham Lake Fire (2007) area here. Head south west to Ogishkemuncie Lake. During this trip, you will pass from the Ham Lake Fire to the Cavity Lake Fire (2006). From Ogishkemuncie head south through Mueller and Agamok Lakes to Gabimichigami Lake, Rattle Lake and once again Little Saganaga Lake. Here you are still in the Cavity Lake Fire Zone. It is an easy day trip to Elton Lake from Little Sag to visit the John Ek Fire (see above). From Little Sag, head west through Virgin, West Fern, Powell, French, to Gillis Lake. You are still in the Cavity Lake Fire Zone. From Gillis you can head out to the Brandt Lake Entry through Bat, Green, Flying, Gotter, Brandt, Edith, West Round and Round Lakes. It is a short shuttle back to Seagull Lake.

The second trip won't give you quite the diversity of fire dates, but is a much easier than the loop from Kawishiwi to Sawbill. If you just do an out and back out of Kawishiwi Lake, it is about the same difficulty as the second trip.

Hope you get a chance to visit the BW.


Wes44
member (27)member
 
10/25/2021 06:34PM  
Thanks everyone! Some great info - and wonderful suggestions!

I'm not necessarily seeking out burned areas. Rather, I'm trying to narrow down options on a trip to BWCAW, Quetico, or some PP's in Ontario with some first-timers.

A number of places we're considering burned last year, and, not being as familiar with the immediate impacts of fire in the boreal environment and/or on paddling trip activities, I wondered if I should look elsewhere this year, for the next five years, or prioritize it or something else. And I figured I'd turn to this community.

Hope that makes sense...and just got the Heinzelman book. I'm loving it!

Thanks!
sedges
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10/25/2021 07:17PM  
I did a leisurely 10 day solo south of the Gunflint Trail in 2018 that included several fire-impacted areas of various ages and also older forest with some big old trees. It was a very pleasant landscape. The only thing that is missing in the burned areas are good trees to hang food and hammocks. I most places there were campsites that were unburned.

As a birder I really enjoyed the diversity of forest ages. If burned areas still have snags they are great places to watch for northern hawk owl which is at the south edge of its breeding range in the BWCA. Warblers were abundant in the burn areas. I've never seen so many chestnut-sided warblers as I did on that trip.
10/27/2021 08:16AM  
If you're looking to see a 2021 burn, Fourtown could fit the bill. Photo from last month.
Michwall2
distinguished member(1160)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/27/2021 11:23AM  
Wes44: "Thanks everyone! Some great info - and wonderful suggestions!


I'm not necessarily seeking out burned areas. Rather, I'm trying to narrow down options on a trip to BWCAW, Quetico, or some PP's in Ontario with some first-timers.


A number of places we're considering burned last year, and, not being as familiar with the immediate impacts of fire in the boreal environment and/or on paddling trip activities, I wondered if I should look elsewhere this year, for the next five years, or prioritize it or something else. And I figured I'd turn to this community.


Hope that makes sense...and just got the Heinzelman book. I'm loving it!


Thanks!"


People's reactions to fire zones are unpredictable. Some people are fascinated by the burn areas and the forest regeneration happening there. Others are totally spooked by it. And some just find it hard to camp in fire zones: no bear hang, no hammock hang, little shade, little firewood, etc.

I like to see the regeneration, but the newly burnt stuff does kind of spook me. (Not as much anymore, but we were on Little Saganaga a year or two after the Cavity Lake fire and both my son and I were totally spooked by it.). The forest service tries to save the bigger trees right around a campsite, but is not always successful. It is also fascinating to get a "look into" the landscape and see all the erratics, the stone faces, and the other landscape features you don't get to see with old growth or brushy forest areas. There were some areas up along Knife Lake with big hills that were a totally different view from the usual for a few years after it burned.

Since I started carrying blue barrel (and now the canisters), I don't worry about the bear hang in the burn areas. It makes it a lot easier to choose entry points when you don't have to worry about hanging/securing a barrel or bag. We still prefer camping in non-burned areas, but don't worry about camping in a fire zone if we must.

I wouldn't avoid the burn zones. Be prepared for some in your party having a strong emotional reaction to them (either way). Be prepared for alternate camping techniques. Enjoy the "new view". The wilderness is just unpredictable that way.

Hope you have fun planning your trip.
Wes44
member (27)member
 
10/27/2021 11:24AM  
Thanks!

It looks like a lot of trees stayed green. We definitely see that out here. Within these huge burn acreages, it's not scorched earth, there are large swaths that are untouched and lots of stuff in between. And, indeed, Sedges, it's super neat to see what species thrive in those landscapes.

Sounds like the scenery won't be a deterrent, but - and maybe this is more for Quetico, I still wonder if the portages will be extra challenging and/or the campgrounds dangerous.

I'm already excited for the trip - wherever it ends up being!
10/28/2021 12:20PM  
Portages in the BWCA will be clear by next year...if that's when you're tripping. Portages in Quetico....yikes? Their fires were far larger and very intense in places
Wes44
member (27)member
 
10/28/2021 02:43PM  
Indeed, it seems like BWCAW fires will add little hardship and some interest. Things on the other side of the border are where I'm more concerned/interested in safety, passability, and enjoyment.

I did see photos in another forum of late season trips in Canadian burn zones. It actually made things much more interesting in a good way, IMHO. Pretty neat to see the intricacies of the broader landscape...and I presume flowers and bird diversity will be through the roof.

So I think it's probably mostly about safety and passability. If I lived closer, I'd wing it, but we've got to plan a long ways out. Not bad when the Boundary Waters is the backup safety plan!

If others have more feedback and suggestions, please keep it coming! I really appreciate this community!
TuscaroraBorealis
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10/28/2021 08:39PM  
Here's a link to a trip report
where we were kind of intentional about visiting this area that had been burned. And, I speak of the reasons why. Still one of my all-time favorite trips.
Wes44
member (27)member
 
10/29/2021 02:43PM  
Great report - and looks like a great trip! Thank you!
 
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