Good customer service and park management requires knowing
the people who use your park. Over the years Quetico
has done surveys on how many people use the park, where they
come from and whether or not they are satisfied with their trip.
To do this we examine the permits or do short surveys to find
out a little information on a lot of people.
From this we know that approximately 80% of the park's 25,000
users come from the United States, we know they come primarily
from the Midwest, that they come back often and are very supportive
of the park.
In 2000/2001 we wanted to do something different. We
wanted to know much more about people's values, attitudes and
concerns. To do this we asked for a lot of information
from a small number of people. About 1,000 people
offered to be surveyed and to provide lengthy comments about
their use of the park and their suggestions as to how it should
be managed. This qualitative survey' asked
a series of open-ended questions and encouraged people to write
in their responses. Over 500 actually sent in replies
and they provided thoughtful and helpful ideas. Of course in
such a survey you are only surveying those who come to the park.
The fact that they are in the park likely suggests that they
have a positive attitude toward it. Others not in the
park could have very different hopes, needs and expectations.
In sending out the survey I promised to prepare a summary and
make it available. It's been a lot of work and if it wasn't
for some of the respondents asking repeatedly when the results
would be released, I might not have kept wading through the
The greatest value of this research was to read and reread
every single response. That was no small feat because
most responses were 5-10 pages long. We've grouped
and sorted the responses into a range of categories according
to topic, and I reviewed these when any topic is being considered.
We've also recorded some of the clearest and strongest statements
and keep these distinct and unaltered. Surveys were grouped
by entry station and by nationality. People were asked
to draw their routes on maps and we've used a Geographic Information
System (GIS) to understand where the heaviest canoe traffic
goes. Finally, we tried to group and count similar
responses and form these into categories so that we can provide
some graphs. In this regard we have had support from Lakehead
University in conducting the analysis.
Please remember when reading these graphs that people were
not asked to simply check off boxes, rather they were writing
offering open-ended opinion and suggestion. Subsequently
we tried to group the comments into similar categories. Sometimes
people would make two somewhat conflicting comments in the same
paragraph and we would count each. As a result, percentages
don't often add up to 100. As well as the graphs I've
added in some sample comments to give a deeper sense of the
meaning behind the numbers. Finally, many questions were
not brought up or responded to at all so the proportion of people
listed as no comments' is higher than would be expected
from a check-a-box style of survey.
The strongest overall impression from reading through these
surveys is how devoted people are to Quetico and how satisfied
they are with the policies and operations. The survey
responses don't represent all users but rather only those who
choose to be surveyed and chose to respond . Perhaps this
means it is a sub-set of the most positive although often people
are more inclined to respond if they have a complaint.
Still, I can only review what was submitted and that sample
is an overwhelmingly positive one. For example:
- The finest wilderness paddling on the planet.
- Quetico is my favourite place in the world thank you
for allowing me to be a guest.
- Quetico is my favourite place on earth.
- Don't turn Quetico into an Algonquin
- Quetico's management should be a model for the BWCA.
- I have canoed for 45 years and enjoy Quetico because
it reminds me of the wilderness I used to experience that
is now gone in other places.
As a rule I'd say that US citizens are the most passionate
about the park. Perhaps Canadians feel they have more
alternative parks to go, or perhaps Canadians just expect more
from their own parks while American's feel that using them is
a privilege. These statements capture some of this sentiment:
- I wish Canadians loved Quetico as much as Americans do.
- Would love to do some volunteer work in Quetico. I love
the park and am grateful for the people of Canada for sharing
it with me.
- Have canoed Quetico 35 years in a row. I feel honored
and privileged to be able to.
- It has always been an honor to visit Quetico.
- As a foreigner, entry to your park is for me, a privilege.
I feel grateful for the privilege to use Quetico
- I moved from North Carolina to Minnesota last year, largely
to be closer to Quetico.
It was also surprising how many people said that they enjoyed
and appreciated the chance to do the survey and were keen to
help out any way they could. Many of those who responded
sent donations along with their responses.
- Thanks for the survey. They are thoughtful questions
that I'm glad are being addressed.
- The fact that you are sending out a survey such as this
type indicates you care about the future of Quetico as much
as we long time users do.
- Thanks for this survey, I'm happy you're interested in
This then was the general tone. While its great to read
words of praise, it is also good to probe for problems and concerns.
The following section examines more specific questions in which
people we encouraged to make suggestions, recommendations, criticisms
Summary of Specific Responses to Questions.
Who are we getting responses from?
In an effort to better understand the responses we wanted to
understand something about each writer. It seemed
important to know whether they were skilled canoeists on repeated
trips, or novices on their first outing. As
we'd thought, Quetico visitors are experienced canoeists (65%),
most considering themselves skilled and the almost all the rest
at least moderately skilled (30%).
We also wanted to know whether people were traveling
in an extended loop or rather base camping from a favourite
spot. A lot of people did not address (42%) this question but
of those that did there was an even split between those making
an extended trip ( and those working from a favourite spot.
The number of people going to a favourite spot as a main camp
seems to be higher than in previous studies. It may be
consistent with a trend toward more older people and repeat
paddlers using the park and being less in a rush to see as much
as they can.
Finally, the survey also confirmed that Quetico
has a strong tradition of repeat use. The strong majority
of people had been in the park before and many had done more
than ten trips. Trips tended to be quite long, most
people traveling between 30-50 miles with almost one-quarter
going more than 50 miles.
Finally, we knew that many park users come to
Quetico through the services of an outfitter (included in this
is also scout and youth groups). We hoped to get a sense
of the proportion of outfitted trips. From this sample
it seems as though half of all people coming into Quetico are
having their trip arranged by an operator. This underscores
the importance of having good communications with outfitters
in order to reach many park users.
A key purpose of the survey was to learn what
problems people were encountering. A number of problem
areas were offered for comment. The following graph
records some of these problems. From the tone of the comments
these were typically more of an annoyance than a crisis.
There were very few strong complaints. Rather, there was
encouragement to try and reduce group size, spread use out over
a longer season and possibly reduce overall numbers. Similarly,
a significant number of people were concerned about encountering
motorized boats and airplanes. Human waste management
is something else that seemed to require some attention.
- Our campsite on Quetico Lake just east of Eden Island
seems to be on the path of float planes. Disappointed
with the amount of noise. Could they alter their routes?
- Won't enter through Prairie again because of motors on
Basswood. Nor will I paddle on the native motor use lakes.
- Large groups (boy scouts?) travel in flotillas and take
up a bunch of campsites close together, then are noisy.
- Noticing heavier use on the periphery lakes than in the
past. Promote campers to get at least an 8 km distance away
from entry areas to avoid congestion.
- When the native guides were allowed motor boats we became
very concerned with the repercussion in the lakes, but it
seems to be minimal impact.
- It seems foolish to try to enjoy the wilderness feeling
and have someone with excess money come motoring by with a
guide. I hope that motors can be eliminated soon. I own and
use an outboard motor but we do not travel 2,000 miles each
year to encounter them in a wilderness park.
- Airplane traffic is noticeable. My single most disturbing
incident occurred one very early morning on Quetico Lake.
As I stood with coffee cup in hand I listened and watched
in utter disbelief as a native outfitter and client motored
toward my camp. I had never felt so defeated. Didn't know
who to be more upset with, the guide or the client
We asked for and received lots of suggestions regarding portages.
There was strong support for our policy of not marking portage
trails. Many people also bemoaned the absence of our previous
map and asked that it be reprinted
this summer). Some thought there was merit in making a
small pile of rocks near the beginning of a portage just to
confirm the start at those locations where it is unclear.
Typical comments were:
- Marking portages with small rock piles would be OK but
no signs please.
- What would be the point of me making the long drive to
Quetico if it was 'signed'?
- If you need to find portages by signs, then stay home.
Orienteering through these lakes is part of as rewarding experience.
I come here to leave everyday life in overpopulated society
behind. I am here to relax and become one with nature. Quetico
is not for everyone. The experience is not to be rushed. Signage
would disrupt that peace. All parks in my home state are signed,
paved, and well marked, that's why I'm here in Quetico each
- Portage signs would spoil the experience. Make the landings
- If you have to mark the odd portage please use only
a small rock pile. No signs.
- Instead of marking portages how about a better park map?
As for the condition of the portages, many people
thought they needed more attention others had problems with
the condition but could cope with them. A small number
thought their condition presented a danger and some thought
that they had deteriorated to the point of raising an environmental
The diversity of views about what to do
about portages is evident in the following:
- Leaving eroded portages the way they are causes rerouting
and more erosion.
- Manage portages in whatever manner best preserves the
- Make sure all portage landings around waterfalls are
well cleared to spot the opening immediately.
- That's why there's a lake at each end of a portage
rinse the mud off your legs!
- A part of the experience and bragging rights
of a canoe trip comes in the form of hard portages. Watching
my wife sink into mud over her knees is still talked about!
- The idea that measures taken on portage erosion destroys
the wilderness is nonsense. The fact that there are trails
at all indicates that humans have been around.
- Quetico is a sensitive ecosystem and visitors have to
accept some preventative measures like split logs on trails
to minimize impact.
There was a similar range of suggestions as to
what we should do about portage conditions. Many people
believing that our current practice was sufficient while others
thought that more portage rehabilitation was in order to make
them safer or less destructive to the environment (and particularly
tree roots). There was a recurring observation that we
don't seem to try and use rocks or logs to divert water away
from the portages any more and as a result they are becoming
Most comments on portages suggested a declining
level of satisfaction over the last decade.
Campsites were generally found to be in good condition
perhaps better than in earlier surveys . Most people loved
their sites while those that complained of problems seemed more
concerned than annoyed.
The range of comments included:
- Campsite quality and cleanliness deteriorates the closer
you get to entry points.
- Perhaps you could use campsite mapping to rotate campsite
use on a 2 or 3 year cycle to give the sites a chance to rest?
- I'm 68, have camped in Quetico every year since I was
15. The park is in much better shape than in 1950.
We asked people about encounters with bears.
Generally, there were few encounters although there was some
repeated occurrences in the north-central areas. Regardless
of whether people had had encounters there were many suggestions
regarding our options for bear management.
Few thought we should be removing bears or negatively reinforcing
their encounters with people, unless this was a last resort.
A number of people recommended educating campers to reduce problems.
On balance many people thought that temporarily putting in some
form of bear proof food storage in problems areas was acceptable.
They reasoned that this could break a habit and although they
didn't like to see built items in the park (boxes, pulleys)
they preferred it to shooting a problem animal. That said
a significant number thought any kind of structure was a bad
idea in a wilderness park. Most recognized that
this was a difficult and complex issue and that the more they
thought about it the less they felt sure of what to do.
Common comments were:
- I'm in favour of bear boxes, just a few, instead of an
injured camper or a dead bear.
- Have had two aggressive bear encounters in the park in
ten years, but are reluctant to endorse steel containers.
Perhaps have them only at very heavily used portages, 5 at
the most throughout the park, especially if it protects the
- Taking away the bears doesn't seem right. Asking people
to use bear boxes will only make a small impact on the situation.
Is there not some basic preventative action that can be taken
by the camper? Continue to push people to be responsible for
their actions. Make them aware of the problem and provide
strategies to avoid the problem.
- Boxes may attract garbage left by lazy campers
Quetico, like all Ontario Parks uses a centralized
reservation system to book permits. We had heard
negative comments about the system from those with a problem
but didn't know whether that was a consistent or only sporadic
situation. So we asked several questions about the system.
Of the people that commented on the reservation system the majority
had no problems, a lot had no comment (which also suggests no
problem) and virtually none had major problems.
This was a more positive picture than we had anticipated.
Perhaps because we were surveying the ones who got their permits
they were more positive than those who didn't.
Almost all people that used it thought it was
with most rating it good. A number of people
confessed that they don't really know about the system as their
outfitter had made the reservation. As well, we
asked about a trip planning telephone line (807-597-2735) we
use to help people who have more specific questions that cannot
be answered by the centralized call centre. Unfortunately
twice as many people said they didn't know about the service
as did know. One frequent comment was
that Quetico needs its own trip planning /information web site.
They stated that the web was their most frequent tool to plan
trips. Some had been to the Ontario Parks Web site but
found it far too general for their needs and preferred to get
Quetico information from private sites that had more detail.
It was understandable that many of those least familiar with
the reservation system or the information line were those who
purchased outfitted trips.
Typical comments about the reservation/ information
- 800 reservation system works OK.
- It's always hard to get the entry point and date I'd
like but no way should you increase the number of permits.
- Reservation staff is helpful but I wasn't aware of trip
- Can't find much info about Quetico on the web.
- The 800 service person was clueless and very difficult
to work with. They don't seem to have any idea about the wilderness
or Quetico, they might as well be selling concert tickets.
Trip planning staff were very helpful though.
- I've been to Quetico 20 times. When we tried to get our
own reservation the success rate was 50% but making it through
an outfitter which costs me more money, the success rate was
90%. What gives? Do they get first crack at the permits?
These previous questions told us about trip planning
information but we also wanted to understand how people used
and felt about the orientation they received just prior to heading
into the park. We wanted to know if people understood
park policies and regulations. Most felt that their
primary orientation (75%) was from park staff. Ten percent cites
orientation from staff and outfitters. A small number
recalled only an outfitter orientation and of some concern 6%
said they had received no orientation at all.
Consistently people were pleased with the orientations
they received from park staff.
- Talking with the rangers at the ranger stations is one
of the main reasons my trips to Quetico have been so pleasurable.
- We look forward to visiting the ranger station as much
as the actual camping trip.
- Although I've heard the orientation many times and think
'I know it all', I am surprised to always learn or be reminded
of important park etiquette and current conditions.
There was also positive response about the quality
of all services provided by outfitters. Fifty-eight
percent of customers saying they received good service, 15%
moderate and only 2 % feeling that the service was inadequate.
When asking about park fees most (51%) felt they
were just right or had no comment (28%) More felt that
they were too high than too low although the ones that argued
for them being too low seemed more certain of this. The
fee question was somewhat clouded because many had trouble differentiating
between the park fees and the outfitted package cost.
In fact many of those who were outfitted had no idea what the
park specific fees were.
Comments on Fees Included:
- I would pay slightly higher park fees if the number of
people were reduced.
- The fees should reflect the strength of the dollar. Americans
are getting an incredible rate compared to Canadians.
Our final set of questions was directed to nontraditional
park use. That is, we wanted to understand how people
felt about hiking in Quetico and cross-country skiing.
Both of these are appropriate activities under the park plan
but the overwhelming devotion to and tradition of canoeing overshadows
all other use.
People were mildly positive about hiking and skiing
in the park (66%). A common answer being, that while
they would like to do it, they probably would not do so as they
lacked the time to do more than their annual canoe trip.
Eighteen percent thought that developing some hiking and skiing
would be a good idea and 11% confirming that they would probably
do it if they knew more or if appropriate trails were in place.
Three percent of respondents thought that Quetico should be
reserved for canoes.
Very few had ever done hiking or skiing in Quetico
or even thought of it for that matter and wanted to know more.
Generally, there was much more interest in skiing than hiking
(perhaps because in hiking season they would rather canoe).
To the extent there was concern about skiing it was mostly that
it might somehow lead to snowmobile use. Likely
if these questions were being asked of hikers and skiers there
would be stronger interest than from such a devoted canoe cohort.
- We enjoy XC skiing and may consider skiing Quetico even
though it's a 3 hour drive for us.
- Would use hiking and ski trails if there was quality
- I completely disagree with winter trail development.
Winter camping is only for experienced people. Don't invite
trouble. Keep it a summer park.
- I assume snowmobiles will never be allowed as part of
your winter activity development.
- I have long considered winter camping in Quetico but
believe it to be too difficult to access.
- I hope winter use doesn't have a negative ecological
effect on the park or stress the winter wildlife.
- Please do not develop ski trails. Leave some areas untouched,
if people don't want to go to that area, so be it. Leave it
- Excellent idea to develop cross-country ski trails.
There were of course many other comments offered
and concerns raised but none so frequent as to be worth trying
to graph. Perhaps the most common sentiment that
came up without any link to those questions asked in the survey
concerned fishing. It was evident that a great many
people loved to be in Quetico to fish. Typically though
these people cherished the fishing experience they found as
opposed to the volume of fish they caught. Many urge us
to have fishing policies to strongly favour conservation.
This didn't seem to have much to do with concern about over-fishing.
Rather it seemed simply that the simple non-motorized experience
that Quetico embodies should be extended to the water to keep
Quetico a different' and special' place to simply
revel in the joy of fishing. Sample comments include:
- Fishing is an important part of my Quetico experience. Every
effort to promote good conservation is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for being such good stewards for such a special place.
- Initiate barbless hooks and mandatory conservation fish
- Every effort should be made to support good fishing conservation.
So what now. This survey provides some insight
into the values of the people who use Quetico. In an important
way these people are as much a part of Quetico as are the trees
and birds. They are part of its consciousness. As
a Park Superintendent my job is to make management decisions
in the long-term interest of the park and the public.
Determining just what that interest is comes from plans, policies
and surveys such as this one. Together they set short
term and long term directions for park management..
In preparing the survey questions and in asking
people to complete them I committed to provide a response.
Part of that response is to circulate this summary. I
suspect however that park users are hoping for more than that.
They will want to know where the survey leads
how is it used. There is of course no exact
correlation between one survey and one course of action.
Nevertheless, I feel bound to be clear about where this survey
nudges me and nudges the park.
We need to always remember how dedicated
people are to Quetico and we should realize that much can be
achieved by simply asking for help. I believe
the most park users will gladly adhere to policies and plans
that they believe are in the interest of the park. As
an organization it is perhaps more important to simply be clear
about those initiatives and their basis rather than needing
to develop regulations.
It seems we need to make an effort to improve
the quality of many portages especially with a view to any environmental
impact and safety concerns. That said, the overall primitive
character of Quetico's portages needs to be maintained.
This includes not marketing portage entrances. Linked
to this we need to improve our maps, including reverting back
to an earlier and much missed style of map.
We need to continue to try and reduce the
use of motors in the park, through working with the Lac La Croix
First Nation on a gradual phase out of motorized guiding.
As well we have to try and discourage aircraft traffic in and
over the park.
We need to make a stronger effort to inform
some park users about the proper management of human waste and
the disposal of garbage.
We need to keep park quotas at present levels
but try to find ways to distribute people from crowded areas.
Possibly some tinkering with the allocation of quota can help
as well as some encouragement of spring and fall use.
Group travel size and group camping size seem to be a concern
and we and outfitters should encourage groups to not travel
in groups greater than nine.
We should maintain and even enhance the
orientation provided by entry station staff and recognize their
value as the human face of Quetico. And we need to work
together with outfitters to make sure that everyone receives
an orientation to appropriate activity in a wilderness park,
We should support a limited cross-country
ski program in the north part of the park, away from well-used
canoe areas. The character of that skiing should
be mostly primitive and linked to winter camping. Exploration
of any ski initiatives should be careful not to create any opportunity
for increased public snowmobiling in the park.
We need to more strongly promote the trip
planning telephone number so that people needing more detail
than can be provided through the central reservation service
have a place to go. Linked to this we need to enhance
the opportunity to get WEB-based information about the park.
We need to explore how to best keep Quetico
as an area of fishing within a strong conservation context which
stresses the wilderness value of the fishing experience.
Thanks again to all who participated.
~ Robin Reilly, Quetico Park Superintendent