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Ely’s April Fools joke contains more than a hint of legitimacy

The annual April Fools joke from the Ely Chamber of Commerce is an electric canoe paddle. Designed to generate free publicity for Ely, the Chamber hires an ad agency to come up with an idea each year that could be true but of course is not.
Past April Fools pranks from the Chamber included Canada attempted to annex Ely, a fictitious bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics and that Dairy Queen had acquired naming rights to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“By mounting a small, but powerful and nearly silent battery-powered trolling motor to the blade of a canoe paddle, this group claims to have taken all the work out of canoeing, suddenly opening the popular outdoor activity to millions of people who felt that a trip to the beautiful Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was beyond their skill level or outside their comfort zone. Now canoeing enthusiasts can let the paddles do all the work while they sit back and read a favorite book, grab a nap or gaze around at the beautiful scenery found in the BWCAW.”
We’re hoping there were no heart attacks at the Friends of the Boundary Waters office in the Twin Cities. All that was heard around Ely were a few guffaws and “they should actually do that!”
Back in 1978 when motors were banned from much of the BWCA, most people used a smaller gas-powered motor to troll with. The most recognizable company that makes trolling motors, Minn Kota, actually got its start in 1934. But battery powered electric trolling motors didn’t take off until thrust levels of the motors improved along with deep cycle batteries.
Today a good battery and electric trolling motor can nearly run all day. Silent and efficient (along with environmentally friendly), the idea of allowing electric trolling motors in the BWCA is not a joke, it makes sense. If the past holds true, changing the law to allow electric trolling motors because it makes sense will never happen unfortunately.
We like exploring any idea that would breath new life into the dying visitor rate of the BWCA. Once the current batch of 50-70 year olds is in the ground instead of paddling the water, the tourism economy is going to take a major hit. The Forest Service knows this, any outfitter who has done their homework knows this and if you weren’t aware, you are now.
Last year we pointed out from 2009 to 2014 there was a 14 percent drop in visitors based on permits issued. In 2009, 114,022 visitors were permitted and other than a small increase in 2011, fell to 97,696 in 2014.
We need to work together to find a way to save the BWCA user base. And here’s something that is as environmentally friendly as a Prius - electric trolling motors. Along with solar charging panels (light and easy to fit in a pack), BWCA visitors could take a break on a sunny day to recharge their batteries both literally and figuratively.
Sending people into the BWCA with basically the same mode of transportation that’s been in place since dugout and birch bark canoes is not going to cut it in today’s vacation-going crowd.
Imagine how we could reinvigorate the BWCA by removing the number one barrier to going: having to paddle. We’d add in one more caveat, allowing wheels on portages to haul batteries across, but that’s a minor concession in order to be able to share the beauty and the magic of the BWCA with future generations.
No fooling, we fully support the idea of putting legislation forth to allow electric trolling motors in the BWCA. It’s the best idea for reversing the downward trend of visitors coming here and it’s environmentally friendly to boot!

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