DULUTH — The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will close until May 4, the Superior National Forest announced Wednesday, in a move to "lessen impacts to local communities while the state's Stay at Home order is in place, and to help slow the spread of COVID-19."

All day and overnight use will be off-limits until then. Reservations made through May 4 will get a full refund.

Outfitters say they won't be too hurt by the closure itself, but by how long the pandemic disrupts public life.

"In the last month there have been little to no visitors in the Boundary Waters because we're in between ice and no-ice season," said Nick Bailles, shop and gear manager for Ely Outfitting Company.

"Up until Minnesota was put on a stay at home order, we were doing great, having a record season," he said. "It's all wait and see."

At Sawbill Canoe Outfitters north of Tofte, owner Clare Shirley agreed it is the uncertainty that makes the impact hard to predict.

"We're left preparing for the possibility that everything is shut down everywhere, is one extreme, and the other is we are really busy since everything else is shutdown and the wilderness isn't," she said.

For now, reservations have slowed from the typical three or four per day to one every three or four days, Shirley said.

When the million-acre wilderness area along the northeastern border of the state reopens May 5, visitors will be encouraged to print their reservation confirmation e-mail or visit an authorized business to pick up their permits using social distancing protocols.

Visitors can call a BWCAW hotline at 218-626-4395 or e-mail SM.FS.R9_SNF_BWCAW@usda.gov for questions on the permit system.

Tribal members can still "fulfill their federal treaty rights within boundaries of their treaty ceded territory and are exempt from the restrictions, but they may be subject to restrictions by applicable tribal authorities," the Forest Service said.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496