Ice caves to open if ice is stable
BAYFIELD, Wis. -- The ice caves of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could open this weekend if windy conditions don't spoil the fun. About 90 percent of Lake Superior is covered in ice, including the area that forms the path to ice caves near B...
BAYFIELD, Wis. - The ice caves of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could open this weekend if windy conditions don’t spoil the fun.
About 90 percent of Lake Superior is covered in ice, including the area that forms the path to ice caves near Bayfield, Wis. But what’s not clear yet is whether that ice is stable enough for the thousands of visitors likely to come out to see the caves.
“The current plan is to check the ice on Wednesday and then we’ll make the call,” said Julie Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management for the lakeshore. “If conditions continue, they’ll be open, and we’re looking at Saturday.”
Ice forms the mile-plus trail out to the mainland ice caves, and it must be locked in and thick enough before the park service will open the caves to the public. When the agency checked last week, some of it appeared stable, while other areas looked “pretty dicey,” Van Stappen said.
“With all these cold temps the last couple of days, we’re hoping that firmed up,” she said.
High winds are in the forecast for the area this week, but it is hoped that the extensive ice cover on the lake will protect the ice along the caves from breaking up, Van Stappen said.
“It’s hard to know,” she said. “We’ve been surprised before.”
One of those surprises came in February 2013. The park service was ready to open the caves to the public when wind broke up the ice. Within a matter of hours, waves had washed it away.
Last winter was the first time the caves were open to the public since 2009. News of the spectacular sights of the frozen waterfalls and icicle-filled caves gained traction on social media, and visitors flocked to the lakeshore.
In the two months the caves were open, an estimated 138,000 visitors came - far more than the park service had seen there in past years.
This year, the park service is much more prepared for crowds, Van Stappen said.
To help pay for the additional work and staffing, the park service has instituted a $5 fee for visitors 16 years and older. An annual pass, which must be purchased at park headquarters in Bayfield, also is available for $10.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.