‘It’s definitely eerie to be up here right now’: Minnesota Northwest Angle community hoping border reopens

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June is normally one of the busiest months of the year for the communities in Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, surrounded by Canada and the Lake of the Woods, for tourists and cabin owners.

The U.S.-Canada border will now remain closed to non-essential travel until at least the end of July due to COVID-19 concerns, according to an announcement earlier this week.

"It’s eerie … it’s definitely eerie to be up here right now," said Haley Olson, with Flag Island Resort. "I’m used to seeing and talking to hundreds of people a day."

Due to COVID-19 and the border closing, only four of their 21 cabins are rented at the resort.

"It has significantly influenced us as a business and everyone around here," Olson said. "We should be completely booked now."

The only way to get to that part of Minnesota for visitors coming to resorts or cabins is to go around 30-plus miles across the Lake of the Woods by boat with the roads being closed.

Some charter services are being run to bring Americans up to the extreme northern Minnesota community.

But, Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau said resorts are seeing only 10-15% of rooms booked by those willing to go by boat to the region.

"I’m not naive to think the little Northwest Angle is going to change the policy between the entire U.S.-Canada border, however, being that we’re kind of an anomaly," said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. "I’m certainly working on workarounds, again, it’s very politically charged."

Henry said he’s reached out to lawmakers on both sides of the border trying to get help for these northern communities so visitors can go by land to this part of Minnesota.

"It really affects the entire economy of these small communities," Henry said.

That includes the community of Warroad, which normally sees people stop into town before heading north to cabins and resorts in the Angle and over the border to cabins and resorts in Canada.

The Chamber of Commerce said, so far this summer, that’s not happening, which is affecting those that rely on visitors stopping into town.

Statewide, the Minnesota tourism industry has lost around $3.2 billion in travel spending through early June due to COVID-19, according to Explore Minnesota.

Crisis grant programs have been started, Explore Minnesota said, to help with marketing for those in the tourism industry.

If the U.S.-Canada border closure continues, it has those that rely on visitors in the Northwest Angle wondering about the future if it extends beyond July and cuts into summer travel.

"Very concerned about what’s going to happen to the businesses," Olson said.