Ely Businesses Impacted by BWCA Closure

The recent closure of the boundary waters is bad news for some of the outfitters in Ely who equip campers with everything they need for the BWCA. 

ELY, Minn. — “We’re at a point right now where it’s just incendiary so we had to take this drastic action for the first time in almost 50 years,” Piragis Northwoods Company Owner, Steve Piragis says.

The recent closure of the boundary waters is bad news for some of the outfitters in Ely who equip campers with everything they need for the BWCA.

“That’s all going to come to a complete stop pretty much now. It hurts a little bit but we are also very happy the forest service is taking this so seriously,” Piragis says.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event hopefully.”

Over at Ely Outfitters, owners were shocked at being notified of the closure.

“We really didn’t see it coming. We actually had guessed standing in front of us about to go into the wilderness right as we got the email,” Ely Outfitting Company Owner, Jason Zabokrtsky says.

Now packing up what is one hundred percent of their business for the time being.

“That’s virtually all we do. So we don’t have any fallback. We went from one-hundred percent to zero percent of our business that we could do around here,” Zabokrtsky says.

As the fire rages on, Briton’s cafe in Ely has been providing a special service to the men and women fighting those fires.

350 Bagged lunches each day

“High protein and high calories we try to do for them,” Britton’s Cafe Owner, Bonnie Jacobson says.

It was all made possible through a contract with the forest service.

Staff are sacrificing their tips during a busy tourist season to work 12 hour days packing meals.

“Their demand for what they needed was pretty high. And they needed breakfast and lunches to go to. So we closed the restaurant and focus on getting them fed. They are out there working hard so we’re in here working hard,” Jacobson says.

Cafe workers will continue providing meals to the firefighters for as long as they need to.

Outfitters tell Fox 21 that many people who have booked trips are either postponing them or taking day trips outside of the BWCA.

They hope to come back even stronger next year.

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