Voyageurs National Park asks visitors to pack out their trash

A pile of trash on a campsite of Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park officials posted a series of photos on their Facebook page this week showing bags full of garbage that staff have hauled away from campsites.
Courtesy of Voyageurs National Park

Officials with Voyageurs National Park in far northern Minnesota are urging campers, who are visiting the park in droves, to not leave trash behind at campsites — and to leave the trees alone.

Park officials posted a series of photos on their Facebook page this week, showing bags stuffed with garbage that staff have hauled away from campsites: leftover food, broken equipment and other trash they found in campfire rings, bear lockers and strewn along the forest floor.

Park Superintendent Bob DeGross attributes the increase in garbage to a nearly 50 percent surge in overnight camping visitors, when compared to previous years.

“And of course, with more people, you're going to see more amplification of the problems that sometimes people bring,” he said.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

DeGross said campers have also cut down live trees at campsites, and have used hatchets or other tools to hack into trees. That’s “one impact that we can totally avoid,” he said.

Voyageurs sprawls across more than 200,000 acres of forest and lakes along Minnesota’s border with Canada. Four huge lakes — Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan and Sand Point — make up much of the park.

Other outdoor recreation areas in northern Minnesota, including the Boundary Waters, have also seen a surge in visitors, and along with them, problems with trash, cut trees and other damage to natural resources.

At Voyageurs, DeGross attributes the spike in visitors largely to the opportunity the park offers to easily socially distance, outdoors, in a beautiful part of the state. The park features 150 campsites that are accessible only by boat.

He suspects that many new visitors are unfamiliar with the “leave no trace” ethos of camping in the wilderness and other remote places — the practice of bringing out everything that a camper brings in.

Some people, he thinks, might believe they are doing fellow campers a favor by leaving unused food behind in bear lockers — metal cabinets placed at each campsite to store food so black bears can’t access it.

But the reality is that food spoils quickly in those hot lockers. And, during a pandemic, he doubts anyone would want food left behind from an unknown person.

“The biggest thing is to follow that ‘tread lightly and leave no trace’ philosophy,” DeGross said. “Leave the places better than you found it, and try to make it so that the next person comes along and doesn't even realize that there was another person camping there previously.”