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Don't tread on thin ice this winter

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is warning winter outdoor enthusiasts to stay off any ice less than 4 inches thick - which was pretty rare in much of Minnesota as of Tuesday.

Sunday, an angler fell through about 2 inches of ice on Coon Lake, north of the Twin Cities, but was rescued shortly after he went in.

"We checked with our state DNR officers on Monday and none were reporting ice that was consistently walkable, even as far north as International Falls," said Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist. "The recent cold snap may help improve ice conditions, but people are urged to contact a local bait shop or resort on the lake to check conditions before they go on any ice."

The DNR recommends a minimum of 4 inches of new clear ice for any foot travel on frozen water bodies. "While it's true that slightly less will support an average adult, 4 inches gives you a little insurance factor since ice thickness can vary greatly on any frozen lake," Smalley said.

The DNR is also warning parents to caution their children to stay off ponds and streams around their homes that now have a thin coating of ice.

"Many years around the holidays, we receive reports of children falling through ice and drowning, which is just so incredibly tragic," said Smalley. "Kids are attracted to ice like a magnet. They just don't have the knowledge of how much ice it takes to support a person nor the understanding of what is or isn't safe."

Dog owners also are cautioned to keep their pets off the ice. If they fall in, it can be dangerous for you or anyone else to retrieve them. Exposure to cold water brings on hypothermia in animals just as it does in people.

"We advise people not to risk their own life to save a pet but instead call the professionals," said Smalley. "We've had a least one case where the owner went out to save their dog, and he fell through and drowned. The dog managed to get out on its own and survived."

DNR records show that in the last 10 years, 52 people have died falling through the ice in Minnesota and 21 percent of those accidents involved children under 9 years old. Safety officials recommend that children not go out on the ice without adult supervision, even when conditions improve.

Winter sports enthusiasts can obtain a free packet of ice safety information, including a pamphlet and a minimum ice thickness wallet card, by calling toll-free in greater Minnesota at 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Computer users may send an e-mail to and ask for the free ice safety packet.

Ice safety information is also available by visiting the DNR Web site at