The Boundary Waters and Quetico


QuietJourney Discussion Forum:
A Collection of Information,
An Informational Collective

Philip J. Deloria
Section oo8
Long Paper
W.C. 3,673
S.I. Mailbox no. 45


      First Nation peoples have been using the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and Quetico Provincial Park (QPP) waterways as transportation routes for many centuries. Today, aluminum, Kevlar and Royalex canoes manned by paddle sport enthusiasts and canoe-campers represent the lion’s share of visitors to the area. This Region, located in the liminal zone between the United States and Canada and straddling the border between Minnesota and Ontario, is now a vacation destination for well over 200,000 people every year. The BWCAW alone boasts over 12,000 miles of canoe routes that span thousands of lakes with innumerable portages (land trails over which canoes are carried) linking one to the next(Wilburs. Boundary Waters Chronology). The parks draw still water paddlers as well as white water enthusiasts.

      The United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) proscribe strict regulations for use of the parks including reservation systems and daily entry point quotas that restrict the number of people who may enter the park from any given entry point on any given day. There are regulations what may and may not be brought into the parks (glass bottles are out, foods must be packaged in reusable plastic bags, etc.). Outboard motors are not permitted on many of the lakes in the BWCAW and are not permitted anywhere within QPP. The management agencies also restrict the number of people who can travel together Maximum of nine people in four watercraft) and often impose fire bans due to dry and/or windy conditions. The fire bans are especially critical management concerns because a 1999 severe windstorm blew a great number of trees down. These dead and dried out trees now pose a considerable fire hazard.

      Visitors might spend as little as 1 day in the park, but often stay for a week or more. For those who wish to enjoy an extended canoe camping experience, the proper preparation, adequate knowledge of wilderness survival skills, and navigational know-how are critical. Acquiring the skills and finding the requisite information to plan a successful trip can be daunting for a novice canoe camper. Merely navigating the websites of the park authorities and guaranteeing compliance with management regulations is a great challenge. Learning how to properly outfit a canoe, how to pack light enough to travel the distance you intend, and how to ward off hungry bears in a slow berry season can take years of research and/or many trials accompanied by countless errors.

      Last year my wife and I decided to plan a 7 day six night vacation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We had spent an earlier vacation canoe camping in the Sylvania Wilderness Area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (something of a BWCAW in miniature) and had enjoyed ourselves immensely. We had been collecting gear and honing our skills for some time and felt that we were ready to tackle a more significant challenge. In our preparatory research we came across the website www.quietjourney.com (QJ) whose Webmaster maintains a discussion forum that treats all thing related to the BWCAW and QPP. Members of the forum share information, experiences, stories, and techniques in the posts that they contribute. These posts serve as organizational memory for the members of a community that has formed online and is composed of geographically dispersed individuals who share a love for the parks. This paper will focus on the manner in which the QJ discussion forum has created a virtual community with shared values, how it acts as an organ of collective memory for that community, and challenges that the creator of the collection has faced.



      As a means of analyzing the QJ discussion forum’s collection of informational resources I examined the content provided through the forum, conducted an interview via e-mail with the creator/web-master [1] , and held phone interviews with my cousin and uncle who are also BWCAW enthusiasts and have used the resources available in the collection.

      My examination of the collection contents took place over a period that began in the spring of 2005 and continued until August (in preparation for the trip my wife and I took in late August) and for a period that lasted from October of 2005 until December of the same year (for the purposes of this paper and in preparation for a possible trip in the spring of 2006).

      The e-mail interview that I conducted with the creator/web-master of the site, Dave Bintzler (AKA db on the QJ discussion board), was completed in December. The entirety of the interview is reproduced in appendix A. I wish to acknowledge a debt of kindness to db for his careful consideration and honesty in addressing my questions.

      The interviews that I conducted with my cousin, and his father, my uncle took place over the phone and included dialogue regarding their use of the collection, their thoughts regarding the value of the information made available by the collection, and their feelings about the nature of the community that has grown up around the collection.

      The observations that emerged from my consideration of the collection will be presented in the paper in three distinct sections. In the first portion of the paper, I will discuss the fact that the QJ discussion forum has created a virtual community that represents a geographically dispersed yet socially unified population. In the second portion, I will explore the collection’s role as an organ of collective memory for the community that has grown up around it. Finally, in the third section I will treat the challenge involved in funding a collection that is offered to the world as a freely available resource.




      Wilderness paddlers are often of a curious sort. These are the men and women whose idea of a dream vacation has nothing to do with pińa coladas sipped at seaside resorts, but rather involves an arduous and sometimes harrowing journey through high waters and hard terrain. The dangers that face these intrepid voyageurs include forest fires, hungry bears, swamped canoes, amorous moose, biting insects, twisted ankles, and rushing rapids. These are the tribulations that paddlers are willing to face to escape the pressures of today’s fast-paced technological/industrial age. The rewards they reap for their efforts include solitude, quietude, a sense of achievement and independence. The people who gravitate to the BWCAW and QPP are more often than not seeking to escape the societal and communal pressures that they face in their day-to-day lives.

      In the field, when a wilderness paddler sees another party on the horizon they are likely to make a wide berth to avoid encountering them. This has less to do with anti-social tendencies and more to do with a desire to preserve the sense of isolation that the wilderness environment can afford. Meeting between parties most often occur on the portages when they pass one another between lakes. Sometimes brief conversations will occur, sometimes they won’t (it is hard to hold a long conversation with a canoe balanced on your head). Again I would like to stress that the reason people are drawn to wilderness canoe camping is that they wish to feel independent and isolated.

      Of course, once the experience is over and the paddler has had his or her share of solitude; once s/he has returned to a society dominated by those who envision Cancun as the ultimate vacation destination, s/he may begin to feel deprived of community. They might ask themselves “Where are the others like myself who value peace, tranquility, “lunker lake trout, and clothes that smell of pine smoke? I know that most people I tell of my experience in the BWCAW either shake their heads in disbelief or exclaim what a perfectly horrid experience they envision it to be. Paddlers can begin to feel downright lonely in the corporate, academic, or blue-collar environments to which they return after their all too brief respite in the wilds. Such a paddler’s heart cries out for community. The QJ discussion forum answers this call.

      Dave Bintzler posted the first message to his nascent QJ forum on May 2nd, 1999. He created the forum as an e-mail based BB and in a later incarnation as a YaBB-based (yet another bulletin board), more graphical interface. The YaBB incarnation dates to c. October 6th, 2002 (the date of the last post made to QJ).

There are graded levels of involvement in the forum. Anyone may visit the forum and peruse the contents of the publicly displayed messages. Such visitors are termed “lurkers”. While not often actively discouraged, lurkers are somewhat looked down upon by the other classes of patron, the members and the Inukshuks. Members are those patrons of the forum who have registered. They have the ability (and are of course, encouraged) to post messages and start topics. Becoming a member also allows a patron to instant message any user online or to leave messages in a drop box for those offline to pick up later. This privilege is a means for the members to have conversations in which they can share information that they would rather not have posted for the (unregistered, lurking) world to see. This helps to counter some of the more flagrant examples of what Kollock & Smith (1996) have termed the “free-rider problem (p. 110). Provision of these benefits gives “lurkers an incentive to register and to contribute. Among members there are distinctions made based upon the number of contributions made to the forum. Inukshuks are members who have made a donation, the origin of the name and the role of the Inukshuk is described by db:

Mistakenly called "cairns" by some, "Inukshuks" are the stone figures built to resemble humans. They are the little stacks of stones often found alongside Canada's highways.

Originally built as landmarks to aid in navigation, the Inukshuk has been adopted by QuietJourney as a symbol to remind us of our dependence on each other. It says, "I've been here before and here's a good path."

Many people have shared with QuietJourney over the years. That "sharing" has made this virtual campsite the valuable resource it has become so "Inukshuk" seemed like a fitting description for those visitors who share that little extra. (http://www.quietjourney.com/inukshuk.html)

In addition to db, there are 10 other Inukshuks who act as moderators for the nine distinct categories under which topics are posted (see Appendix B ­ The “Put-In”). The forum now boasts 636 active members (of which 102 are Inukshuks) and a post made by db on October 18, 1999 at 02:03 indicated “196 unique visitors (lurkers) in a seven day period. (db. (1999). Well Matt, here’s the deal.)

Like many online communities, the QJ community has found expression outside the virtual realm. When asked to illustrate such occurrences db responded:

I didn't know anyone who's ever posted on QJ before QJ. My wife has had great fun explaining my occasional absence with: "He's meeting some guy(s) he met on the Internet at some hotel/bar again." Meeting members in civilized locations is nice but it's not the quite the same as a rendezvous during a trip.

I've camped a night w/ Jimbo and tripper for a short, planned rendezvous because I had good reason to shake both of their hands. As a result of that and this board I've paddled with tripper on a more difficult trip neither of us would risk solo. It turned out pretty well. DD was asked to become a moderator specifically because he disagreed with me about something we both thought was important. Mutual respect goes a long way.

Other paddlers have paddled together due to this and other forums with mixed results that seem to have to do with the same reasons they post. Read people's posts long enough and it's pretty easy to assume what a trip together might be like.

There is also Canoecopia in Madison, WI. If you don't know, it's a rather large annual canoe camping sale/show with some good seminars put on by a single store. People from this and other BW/Q forums get together there as a group that weekend. Someone even makes name tags and gets a meeting room. I watch for certain individuals if I go but I avoid the group get-togethers. (Interview, db, Q2)

One of the posting categories is called “Rendezvous in the Boundary Waters and Quetico

A place for paddlers to get together. Where are you going and when or when can you go and where do you want to go? This is a forum for people to come together and put the knowledge that they have built collectively into practice. Baym (1998), describes some of the parameters of the imaginary threshold that define an online groups transcendence to community:

The members of these groups creatively exploit the system’s features in order to play with new forms of expressive communication... to create otherwise unlikely relationships, and to create behavioral norms. (p. 51)

I would argue that this collection and the forum it provides
Much in the way a public library can bring a community together to share and explore the QJ collection is acting as a locus for community and social networking.

Collective Memory

      Before the advent of the QJ forum the only community for many BWCAW/QPP enthusiasts outside the parks were the coffee shops, outfitter’s headquarters and diners in the outlying communities that cater to the tourist populations swarming to their region every season. It was difficult for these enthusiasts to communicate and to share information about the most interesting routes to take, what sort of gear was the best, how to avoid bears etc. Paddlers were forced to rely on outfitters, guides, and the authors of wilderness adventure books for information. More often than not a novice’s first journey into the boundary waters resulted in misery and woe. Without guidance, even someone who has made more than a few voyages can run into trouble. A bad trip in the BWCAW/QPP can be truly heinous. It was just such an experience that led to the creation of the QJ discussion forum. Dave Bintzler (db) describes just such a trip into QPP and his resulting interest in creating the discussion forum:

My first clueless Quetico trip was an independent study course — Fine Art Photography. Tom Uttech was the professor. I loved it enough to do it again with a warmer bag and better gear the next year. I followed up with a few more 2-man trips until the trip we grossly overshot our presumed abilities. Timing matters. Spring can be awful fickle and unforgiving. I'll never forget paddling out at the end of that miserable trip saying never again, never again... Finding it hard to stay away, I retooled and reworked my ways of doing things. After a dozen or so more years of practice, I was quite content with my knowledge but since I had already used up most of the available info from the people I knew, I created the site hoping to find better ideas from other people's trials and errors. (Interview, db, Q1)

As I see it, and apparently, as db envisioned it, the primary purpose of the website is to act as a source of information for a community of people who loves the BWCAW/QPP and wishes to enjoy it in a more informed and responsible way. The central statement on the homepage of the QJ website states “This site is inspired by canoe trips into Quetico Provincial Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness... and paddlers who share their ideas and information (Bintzler. (1999). QuietJourney). On the site (as here if you are reading the electronic version of this document) the word information is a link to the discussion forum.

The discussion forum The Put-In (Appendix A), or QJ forum homepage lists nine distinct categories for posts. These include: “general Boundary Waters/Quetico Discussion”, “Current Conditions and Trip Reports”, “Rendezvous in the Boundary Waters and Quetico”, “Fishing Tips for the Boundary Waters and Quetico”, “Strictly Gear - Gear specific reviews and ideas”, “What's Cooking? “Other Places to Paddle”, “Back to Civilization”, and “QuietJourney Help”. The areas which I perceive to be functioning most as repositories for collective memory are the general discussion, trip reports, fishing tips, gear reviews, and recipe portions. Those threads which have been determined to most popular have been deposited within the General Discussion section under the topic “The HOT Spot: Best Threads of the Forum (DentonDoc. (2004). The HOT Spot.). This thread is essentially a link to each of the most popular threads and is the heart and soul of the resources available at the QJ forum. The resources here are akin to the ready reference shelf in a research library (see Appendix B for a list of topics).

These resources function as the collective memory of the community and for the newbie are perhaps the best resource QJ has to offer. The fact that each and every contributing member’s posts have the potential to wind up linked from this repository makes its designation as the collective memory all the more evocative. Let us now turn to an examination of some of the more interesting challenges the creator of the forum has had to address and the implications of the decisions he has made.


      Like any collection of materials made freely available to the public, the QJ discussion forum has had to consider how to fund itself. The Inukshuk class of member has contributed a fair amount of money and time to the collection. Dave Bintzler reveals how much appreciation he has for their efforts when he states “Like I've always told forum visitors, participation has it's own rewards and it is truly the Inukshuks that have made this the valuable site it's become (Interview, Q10). In addition to the contributions made by the Inukshuks db has taken advantage of the Google adserver technology to generate some extra revenue. I support his decision to do this 100%, and I believe that he makes it clear that he has handled the transaction responsibly and given the issue some serious thought. As he explains the decision in his own words:

Google is, um errr, a welcome force to be reckoned with - much like the weather and fire. In a very real way G is an Inukshuk. Pennies add up over a year. The ads are served only on a few of the more time & bandwidth intensive areas of QJ. Members might scratch their heads about that because ads are mostly served only to guests and/or direct search engine referrals. There are visitors who I'm sure believe the ads lend credibility and value to the site. In an odd way I agree. Go figure... Currently BW/Q outfitter ads are filtered out even though some pay pretty well. I'm just not real comfy selling access to the BW/Q but it gets harder and harder for me to justify taking that position... I'd prefer no ads of any kind but then I'd have to make the forum pay to play. (Interview, db, Q3)

In my opinion, seeing Google ads on QJ is a small price to pay to have the information that is made available at the site free and open. Speaking of openness brings to mind another of db’s posts to the forum where he describes his decision not to pay to remove the YaBB Credit line from the site:

The code behind this board was time consuming for a self taught hack like myself to modify and implement but it started as "open source" (freely offered for personal use). After all that work, paying to remove the credit link to the YaBB folks did cross my mind but my wallet just laaaaughed and laaaaughed and laaaaughed. Even PBS has commercials these days and since the idea behind QuietJourney basically mirrors the idea behind open source, leaving the credit seemed like the right thing to do. (db, (2003). Member FAQ)

Dave Bintzler’s dedication to the principle of the free and open exchange of information is a credit to his name. I suspect that he has contributed a great deal of his own monetary resources to make this collection available to the world and I am sure that there are many in cyberspace who would join me in giving him praise.



      Examination of the QJ discussion forum has been a delight to undertake. My wife and I have benefited greatly from the expertise and wisdom of the member’s who have posted at this site. When we were planning our trip, we used the search feature available at the site to research the exact route we were planning. We learned all we could about bears (my wife was quite alarmed by the prospect) and we collected valuable information about the fishing and campsites on our route by posting pointed questions. The information with which we were provided helped ensure a trouble free week of wilderness pleasure (save a few encounters with boisterous teenagers). We will cherish those memories always. The QJ website is a resource I will return to again and again as I plan future trips to the parks. It is a collection of enduring value. It is a joy to visit the site when one cannot pull oneself away from the daily grind for a moonlit paddle. The posts often read like fiction and there is always the prospect of looking up ones old posts to relive the anticipation with which one makes preparations and the high one feels when fresh from the bush.

      The QJ discussion forum provides a community where there once was little chance for meaningful communication. The community which the forum has created in turn creates a vibrant source of information and the information provides a collective memory that informs current practice, values and ensures that future generations will be prepared to face the challenges and accept the rewards that these parks offer. The Webmaster’s dedication to the concept of free and open access to information and his work toward creation of a forum that fosters shared understanding are commendable.



Baym, N. (1998). The emergence of on-line community. In Cybersociety 2.0: Revisiting
computer-mediated communication and community
. ed. Jones, S. (pp. 35-68).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Bintzler, D. (1999). Well Matt, here’s the deal. Retrieved December 1st, 2005, from

Bintzler, D. (1999). QuietJourney. Retrieved December 1st, 2005, from

Bintzler, D. (2002). Boundary Waters / Quetico Park QuietJourney Discussion Forums.
Retrieved December 1st, 2005, from

Bintzler, D. (2003). Member FAQ. Retrieved December 1st, 2005, from

“DentonDoc”. (2004). The HOT Spot. Retrieved December 1st, 2005, from

Kollock, P. & Smith, M. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities. In Computer-mediated communication:
Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives
. ed. Herring, S. (pp.109-128).
Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Wilburs, S. Boundary Waters Chronology. Retrieved December 1st, 2005, from


Appendix A — The “Put-In”

The QJ Forums “homepage @ http://www.quietjourney.com/community/YABB.cgi

Appendix B — Topics list for “The HOT Spot”


The first trip/Advice for newbies.

BWCA advice/suggestions

Any advice for my first Boundary Waters adventure?

Advice for a newbie

Advice sought

Sharing new knowledge

BWCA vs. Quetico?

RABC information  

New fees for Quetico  


Trip planning
(general; not route specific).

Taking a journal!

Cutting Weight

How much weight can/does anyone carry...

Stoves: Single or double burner

Stove question

LLC tow ride

Camp chores?

Bad outfitter experiences

Flip side: Good outfitter experiences

Tarp rigging

Floor tarp:  Inside or out??


Footwear (by season).

Footwear in September


First aid, safety and survival tips.



Maps and navigational aids.

Which maps would be best?  

Maps for Quetico

GPS... a good idea or bad?


Traveling with kids/scouts.

The kid's first trip

Guiding a group of kids

Kids and Canoe camping in the BWCA/Q


A Father, A Son, and A Canoe

Bear "proofing" and food packs.

Bear proof packs

Bear proofing

Food pack storage poll

Food packs

Hanging packs

Ursack and bear keg bear resistant food containers


Border Crossing/Customs.


Canadian Customs

Customs Registration


Taking your DOG on a trip.

Solo with my dog

Tripping with dogs

K-9 in the Q


Appendix C — Dave Bintzler Interview Questions

1.) Are you the creator of the QJ website? If so, did you start out on your own and gradually draw in people like DentonDoc, Jimbo, etc.? What made you decide to create it? A bit of history should add a lot to my analysis. Perhaps you could tell me a little about your history with the BWCAW. If not, who started QJ and how did you come to be its curator?

2.) I have noticed posts in the past that mention real life encounters between folks who knew each other from the forum. Do you have any good stories about this type of encounter. How much member interaction takes place face to face? How many folks have you met/ do you know in a visceral way? Feel free to let the questions be a rough guide and provide any amount of information you might find appropriate.

3.) I noticed that you have started using Google-served ads recently. QJ used to be supported. Has there been a drop off of Inukshuk enrollment/ support? Does the Google partnership provide a significant source of revenue? (I am in no way passing judgment here, I think Google is God's gift to mankind. I just think that sources of revenue are important considerations for any collection/institution).

4.) What is your day job (hope this isn't too personal, if so just say so)? I had suspected you might be a database administrator (db) before I saw your name in the address bar of my email client.

5.) Do you have an insider with the USFS or the Canadian authorities that you turn to for information, or do you rely on the same resources as everyone else? Do you know of any authorities who monitor the forum to try to anticipate violators (I am thinking of posts where members expressed the sentiment that rules, especially concerning entry permit dates, were more flexible than the USFS might wish)?

6.) Do you think anyone posts deliberate misinformation to discourage people from crowding their favorite haunts? i.e. beware bears at the bluff campsite on Good Lake!!!

7.) I have seen a post you made that referenced "seed posts", what are these? Why might they be a concern?

8.) Please tell me about any great challenges that the QJ website has faced. Has its existence ever been threatened by lack of funding or have you ever had to put it on the back burner due to external crises... etc.?

9.) Do you have to spend much time fighting spam? I have never seen anything outrageous on the site so you must be doing a good job.

10.) Please include any other information you feel might be of use/interest.

11.) Sick of me yet?


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