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Cass, Crow Wing County sheriffs warn people to remain cautious on area lake ice

Planning is key to safety on the ice.

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Danny Larsen, St. Cloud, enters a rented fish house on Pelican Lake near Breezy Point Resort on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. Contributed

While extreme cold temperatures over the New Year's weekend contributed to building ice on area lakes, two area sheriffs urge caution and planning for those heading out onto the ice.

The winter season started with warnings from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about uneven ice conditions due to December rain, snow and fluctuating temperatures. Though ice thickness has likely improved in the face of 28 below zero temperatures last weekend, the insulative qualities of recent snowfalls and the weight of that snow have created other complications.

"We've gotten some good ice," Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said Tuesday. "But with the amount of snow we've gotten, we're hearing about a lot of flooding, a lot of slush appearing on the lakes, which creates more issues for people. We have a fairly good amount of ice depth, but now we're concerned about the amount of snowfall and flooding."

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Two vehicles went through the ice on the north, Cass County end of Gull Lake on January 2, 2022. Contributed / Josh Noser

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"It's been a weird year for ice," Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said Tuesday. "The temperatures leading up to this last weekend have been challenging. The rain we got three and a half weeks ago deteriorated some lakes, and the snow on top of it affected some areas.

"We always say you should check the thickness, know where you're going and know the hazards of the area when you're heading out," Goddard said. "But this year it's even more of a challenge because the snow helps insulate, which can slow down the freezing process."

Burch added: "We had some really cold weather and we have more coming in. I don't know how much ice will be built with all that snow."

This is especially true in narrows or near natural springs, where ice remains thinner year-round. Goddard said his department has responded to snowmobiles going through the ice, while Cass County had vehicles go through the ice on the north end of Gull Lake.

"We have had a few recreational vehicles and things like that going through the ice," Burch said. "And I think we had some in the south part of the county that were just in areas they shouldn't have been. It wasn't so much the ice, it was an area that's almost open water or pretty minimal ice year-round."

Law enforcement insists that those who go out on the ice plan ahead and take precautions.

"Have a plan when you go out," Goddard said. "Every year we see more and more of the big wheel type houses going out, which are very heavy and often the vehicles that go with them are heavy."

"We encourage people to make good choices," Burch said. "Be aware where you're going and let people know where you are going to be."

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"Let people know where you're going," Goddard said. "Have a plan to get out if you end up in the water. We always say, no fish is worth your life or those of the people who are going to have to come rescue you. It's simply not worth it."

There are some sources that can be consulted on ice thickness before venturing out onto a lake.

"Just because there's a foot of ice, it doesn't mean it's going to support a lot of weight depending on the quality of the ice," Burch said. "But we encourage people to check local bait shops or places that have contact with people on the lakes every day."

"Check with your local bait shops and your local resorts," Goddard said. "We also have a number of areas like Mille Lacs where they open up roads, which can be a good resource determining how the ice conditions are."

There are also places where ice is particularly dangerous due to underwater obstacles, which is why it is important to know the lake before you venture out.

"We have narrows between Rush and Cross," Goddard said. "Any areas around dams. We have one in Cass County on Gull Lake and one over on Cross Lake. We've got a number of spring-fed lakes that are too many to list."

Even though vehicles and large shelters are becoming more common on area lakes, that doesn't mean the ice is safe.

"We need to remind people that we don't consider ice safe, ever," Burch said. "You always have to use some pretty good common sense and some extreme caution to keep yourself safe."

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The DNR has various guidelines for ice safety as well, including:

  • Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).
  • Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.
  • Check ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.
  • Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.
  • Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.
  • Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.

DNR guidelines to venture onto the ice include:

  • A minimum of 4 inches of ice to walk on the ice.
  • A minimum of 5-7 inches of ice for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.
  • A minimum of 8-12 inches of ice for a car or small pickup.
  • A minimum of 12-15 inches of ice for a medium size truck.

These measurements should be doubled if the ice is white in color or covered in snow.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

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Two vehicles went through the ice on the north, Cass County end of Gull Lake on January 2, 2022. Contributed / Josh Noser

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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