Ice safety a concern this winter
Unusually warm temperatures this winter have made ice safety more of a concern throughout the land of 10,000 lakes.
Here in southeastern Minnesota, whether the ice on Foster Arend pond would be safe for Winterfest fishing activities today was a concern of the Lions Club in Rochester. However, by midweek, colder temperatures guaranteed that the Youth Fishing Contest would go on.
There are no ice restrictions for lakes and ponds in Olmsted County, said Sgt. Steve Kazeck of the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office. However, he said starting next week, he plans to begin checking ice conditions in the area more frequently.
"Certainly, as the sun gets higher and all of that, things change. So in the next couple of weeks, we'll certainly be watching that and decide if we do need to put some ice restrictions out," he said.
In general, though, people who like to ice fish and do other activities on Minnesota lakes should be particularly careful this winter, especially regarding driving vehicles on the ice, said Kim Elverum, boat and water safety coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Four Minnesota counties have issued motor vehicle restrictions for lakes in their areas.
For example, cars and trucks are not allowed on Lake Pepin, according to a restriction issued by the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office, which also has prohibited cars and trucks from Frontenac Watershed in Florence Township. In addition, all vehicles, including ATVs and snowmobiles, are prohibited from the Upper Boat Harbor on the Mississippi River in Red Wing.
Hennepin County has closed all of its lakes and rivers to motor vehicles, and Dakota and Ramsey counties have issued closures for certain lakes.
Earlier in the winter, there were even some ice safety issues on Lake of the Woods, which is highly unusual for the big lake on the Canadian border, Elverum said.
There have been four fatalities on frozen Minnesota lakes this winter — two snowmobilers in Wright County, an ATV rider in Stearns County and a man on foot in Traverse County.
"And we've had issues with events where they've had to modify their activities with some restrictions, like no vehicles on the lakes," Elverum said, mentioning the Brainerd Jaycees' Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Gull Lake. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office checked the ice on Gull Lake and found it to be at least 16 inches thick — safe enough for the competition, according to a recent report.