Anyone interested in driving certain roads in Alaska’s Denali National Park better call ahead. After being overrun by some 2,000 vehicles a day, the National Park Service has instituted a lottery system that only allows 400 vehicles on some roads over the course of a day.
It seems extreme, but get used to it, as crowds grow at tourism hotspots throughout the nation. An extreme example is Horseshoe Bend in Arizona’s Grand Canyon, where visitation has grown from 4,000 visitors a year to more than 2 million — or, as a report on ABC News noted, more than 4,000 per day.
At Yellowstone National Park, lines to simply use a bathroom sometimes are 30 or more people long. Parking availability at certain locations in the park is maddening at best, nonexistent at worst.
And it’s only going to get worse as millennials boost travel nationwide and as more people spend their dollars on trips, campers or — in a more local example — on fancy ice-fishing houses.
Recent coverage in the Grand Forks Herald has outlined a growing problem on Lake of the Woods, the massive and picturesque body of water that straddles the U.S.-Canada border in northern Minnesota.
All of this — from the bathroom lines at Yellowstone to the crowds on Lake of the Woods — is a good news-bad news scenario: It’s good that more people are getting outside and enjoying nature, but it’s bad because it’s spoiling nature and causing frustration for those who simply want to peacefully enjoy the outdoors.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there were 2.1 million hours of fishing pressure last winter on Lake of the Woods. Also, there are now approximately 30 miles of ice roads plowed on the lake. Anglers kept 370,000 pounds of walleyes and 479,000 pounds of saugers last winter, exceeding DNR targets for a healthy harvest, when combined with what anglers caught last summer.
It appears it’s even busier this year, since Lake of the Woods generally has avoided some issues — deep snow and slush, for instance —that have hit other lakes. And it’s likely the crowds will continue to grow as word circulates about this year’s success, and as resorts continue to plow more roads on the ice that lead to heretofore untapped wintertime fishing areas.
The harvest will increase, too. And the garbage will pile up, and the peaceful nature of the lake will further decay.
The DNR could move to limit pressure on Lake of the Woods by choosing one of several potential options: A lottery, lower fishing limits or a shorter season.
A recent poll on the Grand Forks Herald’s website asked readers if the DNR should act. Several hundred have answered, and 78% agree that changes should come. So do we.
Limiting wintertime permits would be a logical step, and one that has precedent in Minnesota. Permits for certain pristine areas of the Boundary Waters are limited, for instance; they previously were on a lottery system but now are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The overriding point is that they are limited.
Reducing the allowed harvest is another, but that will decrease the pleasure of those who do get licenses. Same for a shorter season.
For the sake of preserving Lake of the Woods as a fishery and as a scenic destination, wintertime access limits – perhaps declared by lottery – is a reasonable solution and one that should be considered.
This editorial is the opinion of the Grand Forks Herald's editorial board.