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Ice Castles easing Oil Patch housing crunch, giving hunters luxury accommodations

A monstrous Ice Castle drove off the lot this summer at Smokey Hills Outdoor Store in Park Rapids, here shown off by sales manager Mark Harmon. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Ice Castles are easing the housing crunch in North Dakota's Oil Patch.

They're popping up as starter lake homes, luxury hunting "shacks" and vacation residences.

A special fish house for the well-heeled pheasant hunter comes equipped with a dog door and kennel for the hunting pooches. It's actually a limited edition Pheasants Forever model.

This isn't your "Grumpy Old Men" two-hole shack, says Hendri Ernst, manager of Smokey Hills Outdoor Store in Park Rapids. They are all season travelers on hydraulic lifts that can reside on ice or terra firma.

The interior décor might even have Martha Stewart's approval. Many are done in tasteful earth tones with conservation or wildlife-themed upholstery, all deluxe materials designed for durability.

You walk in and the unmistakable scent of pine greets your nose.

Pine cabinets line the carpeted flooring that can be lifted up to reveal spearing or ice holes.

These are, after all, fish houses. But they are also earning an unanticipated place among the affordable housing units available.

They're all custom manufactured in Montevideo, Ice Castle's headquarters. Want a bay window? No problem.

There's hookups for flat screen TVs, stereo equipment, satellite transmission.

The "RV" models features gas stoves with hood fans, built in microwave, fridge and freezer, cabinets, all the comforts of home.

Want to haul your toys around? Some models come equipped with "toy haulers," wide doors to accommodate your ATVs, snowmobiles, hunting and fishing gear.

At about half the price of a comparable camper or RV, the fish houses are catching on like wildfire.

"We sold all of our fifth-wheel models last week," sales manager Mark Harmon said in late August.

He said the Ice Castles are making their way west to the oil fields, where the durable trailers can be year-round accommodations. A standard 20-footer with a V-front runs around $20,000.

It's the perfect starter home, not trailer trash.

Need air conditioning? No problem. It's standard.

They're licensed to take on the road, so moving is a matter of hitch and go.

They're insulated, like a home, with rolled batting.

"It's not like living in a cardboard box like an RV," Ernst said.

The homes are manufactured in Montevideo. Depending on the custom design and size, you can take delivery in 2-4 weeks Ernst said.

An absolute corker of a custom model sits in Smokey Hill's lot on Highway 71 north of Park Rapids.

State of the art, this 38-foot long model can comfortably sleep seven. It's been a big attraction on the showroom floor, a.k.a the parking lot.

The price is $37,000. A comparable camper would run $65,000 and you couldn't fish in it, Harmon points out.

Like most of the RV models, it has a hot water heater, water tanks, sewage hookups. This living room is tastefully upholstered in a theme featuring moose. A luxury recliner lets you drop a line while watching the Vikings on a flat screen TV. You need only move a few steps to the fridge.

They've all got a single entry door, but to satisfy any fire marshal, all the windows serve as emergency exits.

The 38-footer evenly distributes the 8,000-pound weight between three axels, which puts about the same amount of stress on the frame as the smaller models do on a single axle.

Each driver gets tips on handling these babies out on the ice.

"We've never heard of one of ours going through," Harmon said. If one wheel were to punch through the ice, the weight is evenly distributed throughout the frame, so it's likely the vehicle would simply stop where it was or possibly keep moving, Harmon maintains.

All the houses have aluminum siding. You can get them equipped with "toy haulers" to you can bring an ATV, motorcycle or snowmobile along with you.

It's luxury living with an affordable price tag.

And the portability means you can tote your dream home along with you.

No "home away from home" necessary.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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