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Cut off by Canada, locals build 30-mile ice road from isolated section of Minnesota to U.S.

An isolated section of Minnesota has built their own ice road to keep connected with the rest of the state.

30 mile ice road built to save resorts on the Northwest Angle
A pickup uses a temporary bridge over an ice crack on the Ice Road on Lake of the Woods.

ANGLE INLET, Minn. โ€” The Northwest Angle of Minnesota is cut off from the U.S.

It is surrounded mostly by Lake of the Woods and is separate from the rest of the state.

The only way to get there by land is through Canada, but the border is closed, cutting the town off from the thousands of tourists who flock there for world-class fishing every winter.

"It's been very rough. This area depends on tourism," said Thomas Kuensting, a cook at Jerry's Restaurant & Lounge, the first stop before heading out to the resorts.

With things getting desperate, a bold move was made to plow a 30-mile ice road across the lake, giving tourism and commerce a route to the resorts.

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Northwest Angle map.jpg
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The road includes more than 22 miles across the frozen lake where the ice is about 2 feet thick. While it is a relatively smooth ride, some bridges have been needed to get over large ice cracks.

"This may be the only time in our lifetime we experience an ice road this long," said Ron Lorentz, who was visiting from Duluth.

After the ice road, there's another 7-plus miles through the woods on what is typically a snowmobile trail.

It took 200 hours to build over two weeks, and it was not cheap, costing nearly $35,000. Each resort had to contribute money for construction of the road, and they volunteer to inspect the road regularly and keep it plowed. Those interested in using the road need a $120 pass.

Blake Wayson and his seven buddies, who traveled from as far away as Iowa, made their annual fishing trip to the Angle. With the addition of the ice road this year, they have made the visit even more of a priority.

30 mile ice road built to save resorts on the Northwest Angle

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"They have always taken care of us in the past; we need to give back to them," said Wayson.

There are 12 resorts on the Angle that rely on tourists. Those resorts bring in $10 million a year for the Angle. Half of that comes during ice fishing season from mid-December until the end of March.

Occupancy at some resorts is down as much as 90% this season, leaving those resorts to take a financial hit.

"I don't know if we could have gone another season without guests," said Sherry Messelt of the Flag Island Resort.

The ice road has actually become a unique advertisement. It caught the attention of some fishing buddies from Wisconsin and southern Minnesota who had always dreamed of fishing the Angle.

"The ice road and the hard-to-get-to place lured us in," said Reid Calhoun of Lakeville, Minn.

"A lot of our phone calls, I have only fished the south end of the lake, but I've always wanted to go to the Angle and this is my opportunity," said Messelt.

The road offers hope to those tucked away in the far northwest corner of Minnesota, as there is no day in sight when the border may reopen.

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"Even if we don't recoup what we put into it, to get the people up here is worth it," said Messelt.

The hope is the ice road can remain open until the end of March.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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