Ice safety concerns cause some events to be canceled, others waiting to see if ice will be safe

Unusually warm winter creates uncertain ice conditions across Minnesota

Unusually warm winter creates uncertain ice conditions across Minnesota

You could call Greg Thomes the Ice Whisperer.

“We’re worried about safety there,” he declares.

Thomes, the Chairman of the Maple Lake Ice Fishing Derby, says even with Minnesota’s recent cold snap, the ice isn’t thick enough.  

“There were between seven inches where there’s no snow, and then when there is some snow- and it’s a real small amount of crusty snow- we were down to four-and-a-half inches,” he explains.

Thomas shared with us photos of the lake from January 1st and January 7th.

The New Year’s Day image shows no trace of ice- but a week later, there is a thin ribbon of water.

Given the potential risks, organizers decided to cancel this year’s event.

RELATED: Maple Lake Ice Fishing Derby canceled for second year in a row

“Next week’s weather forecast is saying we’re going to be in the mid-30s,” Thomes says. “So even if we make an inch a day here for a while, I don’t think we’re going to get to that 12-14″ that we need.”

Meanwhile, staffers with the Art Shanty Projects, on Lake Harriet, are using an auger to test the ice thickness.

“We measure the ice at different points,” explains Pamela Vazquez. “So, closer to the shore and right by where we want to install the village.”

That village is made of 19 decorative shanties, which attracts thousands of visitors.

“We need 10″ for the village,” Erin Lavelle notes.

Right now, the Lake Harriet ice is about nine inches thick.

Art Shanty Projects will decide Thursday or Friday whether the ice is thick enough to begin construction for the event. If not, they’ll move the shanty village closer to shore in a shallow area or relocate it on the beach.  

RELATED: Art Shanty Projects will still be on display, but weather will determine if the event will be on the ice

The shanties, featuring displays and performances by local artists, is expected to draw up to 10,000 spectators in January and February.

The event is scheduled to open the weekend of January 27th.

The DNR has ice thickness guidelines for new clear ice:

  • 4″ inches” for ice fishing or other activities on foot
  • 5-7″ for a snowmobile or a small ATV
  • 9-10″ for a small car or an SUV
  • 11-12″ for a medium SUV or a small truck
  • 13″ for a medium truck
  • 16-17″ for a heavy-duty truck
  • 20+” for a heavy-duty truck with a wheelhouse shelter

“It’s always extremely challenging, but this year, it’s just been an added level of stress,” declares Claire Wilson, the Executive Director of the Loppet. “We were not 100% sure that we’d be able to pull it off even 48 hours ago.”

Wilson recalls how last year’s luminary, held on Lakes of the Isles, had to be postponed for two weeks until President’s Day.

“That was because there was too much snow on the ice, and the ice didn’t form appropriately,” she notes.

Eventually, the event had to be held on shore.  

Wilson says this year, organizers would like an ice thickness of between 12-16″.

She says she’s confident that will happen.

“It’s getting there, we certainly have enough to do what we need to do to prepare and feel very confident we’ll be there by February,” Wilson says.

The luminary has never been cancelled in its 20 years but has been postponed twice.

The lighting on the lake’s icy surface attracts about 15,000 visitors.

The big challenge this year for the February 3rd event is ice thickness.

“Maybe moving forward, can we hold these big ice events? I don’t know, that’s the honest answer,” Wilson says. “If we’re not going to get ice until last January, I don’t know what we can depend on anymore, honestly.”

Meanwhile, Thomes says the Ice Fishing Derby is a one-day economic windfall for the Maple Lake community.

He says the event alone raises over $100,000 and has attracted crowds as large as 12,000 people.

The money is used for treating the lake, to eliminate invasive species.

Thomes says the economic impact is big boon for the community.

“People need gas, they need baiting, the need to eat,” he explains. “There’s a lot of other businesses that benefit from this. There are lines of 50 people deep just to get bait to the fishing contest. It’s a big deal.”

It’s the third cancellation of the event in five years, Thomes says.

COVID-19 caused issues in 2020, heavy snowfall caused problems in others.    

But concerns about thin ice was the big deciding factor this time around.  

“It’s an up and down roller-coaster, where we don’t know from year to year if we’re going to have it,” Thomes says.