Visitors to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) no longer will have to deal with a lottery to get a permit to enter the 1-million-acre preserve in northern Minnesota.

The U.S. Forest Service is dropping the long-used lottery system next year, and will offer permits on a first-come, first-served basis instead.

"Because of current technology and improvements to our reservation system, the lottery is no longer necessary,'' Jim Sanders, Superior National Forest supervisor, said in a letter to BWCA visitors.

The agency had used a lottery from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15 to help distribute permits, especially for high-demand entry points and dates. About 9,000 people applied for permits during the lottery period. When it ended, permits were distributed on a first-come basis.

"There's so very few dates where there isn't some availability, and very few entry points with that high level of demand, that it just doesn't seem to be in the best interest of anyone to keep the lottery,'' said Kris Reichenbach, a Superior National Forest spokeswoman.

About 250,000 people visit the wilderness area yearly -- about half of them Minnesotans.

Under the Forest Service proposal, the agency would begin accepting reservations online or by phone on Jan. 25. Reichenbach acknowledged that there is likely to be high traffic that day.

The Forest Service uses quotas at entry points to restrict access and to ensure a sufficient number of campsites. Permits at some popular entry points and dates often are snapped up quickly.

Reichenbach said officials hope to finalize details of the new system before year's end. • 612-673-7667