The Pow Wow Trail

When most people think of summer recreation in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, images of canoes, blue lakes and fishing come to mind. To a cadre of backpacking enthusiasts the BWCAW is also home to the wildest backpacking trails in the midwest. These trails enable citizens to safely penetrate a wilderness, detached from canoe routes, and to experience ecosystems in a more terrestrial manner.

Hikers accustomed to trails in the mountainous and arid west can find these lightly traveled BWCAW trails difficult to follow. Even experienced hikers, sometimes in a cold sweat, will turn on their gps units just to make sure they have not wandered from the hiking trail on to a game trail or a long abandoned logging road. The 45-year old, 29-mile, Pow Wow trail is located in the south central BWCAW beginning at the west end of Lake Isabella. It was made infamous by Cary J Griffith’s book, Lost in the Wild. It is a good read and a cautionary tale.

While normally a loop, the Pagami Creek Fire in 2011 impacted the entire trail and obliterated the section between Pose Lake and Lake Three. The Forest Service currently recommends that this portion of the route be avoided. Even the sections at either end of the loop that the USFS and volunteers have cleared are subject to blowdown of fire-affected trees. All the fire grids and biffs have also been removed from the trailside campsites but low impact camping is permitted 150 feet from the trail and lakes. There is concern about rapid bramble growth obscuring the trail including the invasive, Canadian Thistle. These ever-changing conditions could make travel and route finding difficult. In August of 2012, Pioneer Press writer Dave Orrick writes about the dilemma of how and whether the Pow Wow trail should be restored.

Boundary Waters Advisory Commission president, Matin Kubik is passionate about bringing the Pow Wow Trail back, “Even if it takes a generation.” At a meeting in Duluth on Wednesday, January 9, the USFS and the commission put their heads together to help make it happen.

If readers would like to put their arms and legs into this effort, Kubik is coordinating volunteers through a meetup website

Pagami Burn photo by Zoe Kesselring June 2012


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