The oldest wilderness outfitter in Ely, Minn., has been forced to close its doors and most of its inventory has been confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service over an ongoing financial dispute.

The abrupt closure this week of Wilderness Outfitters came as some clients were canoeing and camping in the wild.

Clients with reservations during the height of the season in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness have been directed to other area outfitters, who have said they will honor their deposits and permits, owner Gary Gotchnik said Thursday.

Wilderness Outfitters, which has operated in Ely since 1921, was ordered closed on Tuesday, and the bulk of its inventory and equipment was confiscated by the IRS, Gotchnik acknowledged.

Gotchnik, who began working for the outfitters as a wilderness fishing guide, became the sole owner of the business in 1995.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Gotchnik said he owes the IRS money, mostly in penalties and interest, but that much of his financial problems stem from a $210,000 dispute with a bank that he hopes to resolve soon.

Electronic records show that Northern State Bank filed suit against Gotchnik, his wife and the company in May. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for August.

An attorney for the bank said Thursday that he was not authorized to discuss the case.

Gotchnik said his financial problems can be traced to a glut of outfitters in the Ely area, technical difficulties in federal permitting that results in thousands of dollars in lost revenue, and a younger generation that is less enthusiastic than its predecessors about participating in a wilderness experience.

"Business has been tough," Gotchnik said. "A lot of young people aren't into the outdoors like we were when we were younger."

According to its website, Wilderness Outfitters employs more than 15 workers and has an inventory of more than 125 canoes.