New this year, the national reservation system for permits to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness crashed Wednesday morning shortly after it opened.
Some users were able to secure permits when the system went live at 9 a.m., according to the U.S. Forest Service. But a technical problem with servers quickly followed, shutting out a mass of other users. On Wednesday afternoon, it remained uncertain when the system would reopen for business, the Forest Service said.
It could be days — a message on the website, recreation.gov, said there would be “advance notification of at least 48 hours or more” to allow paddlers and others to return to the site to make their reservations.
“We are very disappointed,” said Superior National Forest spokeswoman Kristina Reichenbach on Wednesday afternoon, “and we know a lot of people are affected.”
Reichenbach encouraged people to watch for updates on the reservation website and on social media.
Outfitters had complained loudly about changes to the system this year and warned supervisors at the Forest Service that the crush of first-come, first-served online reservations would overwhelm the capacity of the site — the same website used for booking reservations to national parks.
“We don’t know why this happened,” Ann Schwaller of the Forest Service wrote in a message Wednesday morning to outfitters, resort owners and other permitting cooperators around the BWCA. “We are sick over it as well.”
She said in her memo that the Forest Service will reverse all transactions that went through before the system failed.
At 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, all the website said was “Registrations Closed,” and referred to technical difficulties.
Kerry Davis, owner of White Iron Beach Resort in Ely, said many Forest Service cooperators tried to warn the agency that the elimination of a lottery registration system for highly coveted permits to motorized portions of the BWCA would be problematic. Under the lottery system, BWCA users, outfitters, resort owners and other cooperators submitted permit applications over a four-week period and waited for the results in February.
Davis said that service brought in important business to many permitting cooperators. They believed slower internet service in canoe country would put them at a disadvantage in the first-come, first-service online registration for 2019.
He said lots of individuals and business owners who live around the BWCA blocked out time to go online for the opening the bell of new system, which included a reservation-by-telephone option.
“A big waste of time,” Davis said. “We all tried to tell them this would happen.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber of northeastern Minnesota said his office called “multiple’’ officials at the Forest Service Wednesday to request a speedy and lasting fix of the system. He said business owners and constituents from his district drove to the Twin Cities for reliable high-speed internet to make bookings, only to be met by failure.
“This website crash is detrimental to our state’s tourism,’’ he said in a news release.
Reservations and permits are required for more than 100,000 camping, fishing and hunting enthusiasts who visit the million-acre wilderness from May 1 through Sept. 30. The Forest Service in recent years phased out the lottery system for BWCA canoe visitors. Those 42,000 permits each year were being issued online and by phone on a first-come, first-served basis.