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EDITORIAL: Personal responsibility needs to be part of the BWCA experience

Last week we reported on three rescues, two in the BWCA, where people apparently didn’t realize winter can arrive in October.
First and foremost let’s thank the St. Louis County Rescue Squad for assisting in getting these people out of the woods. The Rescue Squad is an all-volunteer group that is trained for these situations.
With that in mind, those rescuers should have never had to be put in a situation where their lives were also endangered.
Speaking with our area first responders we heard one thing loud and clear. A lack of planning and a refusal to change those plans based on the weather is no excuse. These rescues were unnecessary and could’ve had much more dire results.
There has to be personal responsibility packed into a trip on the water in late fall. Snow is very common and lakes icing over can also happen. Leaving your fate up to an SOS distress device is not smart. And there may very well come a day when help doesn’t come. So learn to be self reliant if you’re putting yourself in harm’s way.
Area outfitters know how the conditions can change in a few hours time. They can advise and counsel, but in the end if the party going in to the woods won’t take good advice there’s not much they can do.
Again, we come back to the personal responsibility part. If you’re going to be out in the woods and you take the initiative to do so then you surely can do the same to get yourself out before situations worsen.
Here’s the other part that has come into play. People now bring technology with them that makes them less reliant on their own abilities. Cell phones are the most common but now we have handheld satellite devices that can be used anywhere.
Press a button and help is on the way, right? In some ways people would be better off without that device. They would have to be more self reliant and less dependent on someone else bailing them out.
Those who have served on the rescue squad, first responders or fire department will tell you going out in the woods this time of year is different than in July.
As one volunteer said:
“The weather can change this time of year and people need to figure out how to adapt and not put other people at risk. I don’t discourage people from going out this time of year but you need to have a plan when the weather changes and you need to be able to adapt.”
That’s some good advice to follow. We’d add that keeping warm and dry keeps you alive and well. Experience helps as well. If you haven’t been out in the woods when temperatures drop and snow starts falling, you need to get up to speed in a hurry.
And if you don’t have the right gear with you in the first place, you’re going to be in for a tough time. And it’s going to take more than a warm pair of gloves.
Mother Nature has no mercy for canoeists or anyone foolish enough to head out on a trip without the right provisions and a plan in place. And to put someone else’s life in danger because you were ill prepared only adds insult to injury.
This may sound like some tough love for our visitors but hypothermia doesn’t care how much money you spent to get there. It will rob your body of life and you will die. Instead of hauling out a cold canoeist there will be a body bag on the bottom of the boat.
We’ve been extremely fortunate to have such well-trained and dedicated rescue personnel to get people out of situations they never should have been in.
But we also believe there should be a fee attached to every BWCA permit to pay for the cost of equipment and expenses related to rescue teams.
The BWCA has some very remote areas that can be pretty tricky to get in and out of, especially at night.
We have yet to hear a good reason why funds couldn’t be raised through a per permit fee to help pay for the best equipment available for those who put their lives on the line to help others.
Those monies are desparately needed. We have become a society where the blame rarely falls on the party who lacks personal responsibility.

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