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Lack of ice, snow slows start of winter activities

The number of houses on Fish Hook and other area lakes are likely to increase as ice conditions improve following this week’s frigid temperatures. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)1 / 2
This fish house stands out on Long Lake near Hubbard. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)2 / 2

With a burst of frigid weather, Mother Nature is making ice on area lakes.  But there’s only a slight chance of snow this weekend, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Snowmobile racing  Poor snow and ice conditions resulted in a schedule change for the Heartland 106 Snowmobile Race, held annually on Fish Hook Lake.  The Park Rapids race was moved from Jan. 16-17 to Jan. 30-31 due to the lack of snow and/or ice, according to local organizer Craig Rossman.  The two-day race is part of the U.S. X-Country Snowmobile Racing circuit.  “I doubt we could race on the ice today but I’m guessing there will be plenty at the end of the month,” Rossman said on Monday.  “We would need six to eight inches of new snow to even be able to consider racing cross country,” he added.

Fewer fish houses  Park Rapids DNR Fisheries staff conducted an aerial fish house count on Jan. 5. The DNR has performed this annual survey for three decades.  “The number of fish houses for 2016 was lower than last year’s number, which is not a surprise,” reports Calub Shavlik, assistant area fisheries supervisor.  Of the 25 historically popular ice fishing lakes, 84 percent had counts below normal this year.  Only four lakes – Garfield, Portage, Two Inlets and Sixth Crow Wing – had numbers consistent with previous years.  “The difference in the number of fish houses on most lakes is attributed to timing of ice up. Last year at this time, we had good ice conditions for several weeks, while this year we still had some lakes with open water at Christmas,” Shavlik said.  He expects the figures to rise as lakes see good ice conditions.  In a phone interview Monday, Shavlik said the number of fish houses increased during last weekend’s blast of bitterly cold temperatures.  People are venturing onto the ice with their pickups towing fish houses, he said.  Four inches of clear, newly-formed ice supports one person on foot. Five inches is the recommended ice thickness for a snowmobile or ATV, 8 to 12 inches for a car or small pickup and 12-15 inches for a medium truck.

Skiing, snowshoeing trails  According to the Minnseota DNR, the northwestern part of the state has about 4 to 8 inches of snow. Conditions are updated every Thursday after 2 p.m. at www.dnr.mn.us/snow_depth/index.html.  Itasca State Park received a fresh coating of snow on the morning of Jan. 7. The south end received less than one-quarter of an inch, while the north end of the park got 1 inch.  There’s still not enough snow for the park’s snowmobile, skiing or skijoring trails to be groomed. Snowshoeing trails will be “really good” when the park gets 8 to 10 inches of snow. Current local snow depth is 4 inches.  In the meantime, Itasca State Park officials encourage winter photography and hiking. The Mississippi headwaters flow year ‘round. Winter bird watching is reported as “good,” with the open water. The park’s lakes are frozen, but the ice is still thin, averaging only 5 to 8 inches.  More snow is needed on the Paul Bunyan State Trail, near Walker, before groomers can go to work. Snowmobile conditions are listed as “poor” for the trail. As of Jan. 7, snow depth varied between 3 to 6 inches.  La Salle Lake remains open. Conditions are list as “not quite ideal” for snowshoeing at the state recreation area. Snow depth is reported as 4 inches.

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