Getting to Minnesota’s Northwest Angle by road remains an exercise in futility for everyone but permanent residents or essential workers because of Canada’s border closure restrictions, but a group of Angle residents and resort owners has banded together to come up with an alternative for the upcoming winter tourism season.

A winter road is in the works from the south end of Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle mainland.

The Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road, as it’s being called, will only be accessible to those who purchase a pass and eliminates the need to drive through Manitoba to reach the Angle, which is surrounded on three sides by Canada and reachable from the U.S. only by crossing the lake.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and could remain closed well into 2021 or perhaps even 2022, according to published reports.

“These resorts are uniting and doing everything they can to bring some commerce to the Northwest Angle, which has been cut off from society other than a 40-mile boat ride all year long,” said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. “We’re looking for another way to try and preserve these Northwest Angle resorts that have already lost their spring, summer and fall. We had to do something.”

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Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

According to Brett Alsleben, who owns Points North Services on the Northwest Angle mainland with his son, Cale, the road will cross about 22 miles of ice from Springsteel Resort near Warroad, Minn., north to Stony Point. From there, the road will move onto land and follow what’s known as the “Border Cut Trail,” a snowmobile trail that runs 8 miles north and south along the Minnesota-Manitoba border.

The Border Cut Trail comes out on Lake of the Woods County Road 330, where vehicles will then turn right toward Jim’s Corner, the junction of county roads 330 and 331. From Jim’s Corner, vehicles either can turn left toward Angle Inlet or right toward Young’s Bay and the ice road that’s plowed to Oak and Flag islands.

“That’s going to be the least eventful part of the trip,” Alsleben said. “Once you get there, you’re going to be happy.”

The area highlighted in orange shows the location of the Border Cut Trail on the Minnesota-Manitoba border, which will provide vehicle access to the Northwest Angle this winter. (Map courtesy of Northwest Angle Edge Riders)
The area highlighted in orange shows the location of the Border Cut Trail on the Minnesota-Manitoba border, which will provide vehicle access to the Northwest Angle this winter. (Map courtesy of Northwest Angle Edge Riders)

Lots of plowing

Given the work in plowing the Island Road from Young's Bay, which covers about 22 miles between the main road and various offshoots plowed to resorts and private cabins, maintaining a winter road from Springsteel to the Northwest Angle will be equally daunting, Alsleben said.

Points North Services plows the Island Road from Young’s Bay to Oak and Flag islands every winter.

“I’d say on a good 4-inch snowfall, there’s probably 20 hours of plowing involved” on the Island Road, he said. “This one to Springsteel will be a little bit easier because it’s straight, and you don’t have the different legs going off to different islands and things like that, but it’s still going to be an undertaking.

“If the wind blows, you could have to plow it every day.”

Use of the road, while subject to change, is expected to cost $120 to the Northwest Angle mainland and $145 to Oak and Flag islands round-trip, Alsleben says. Springsteel Resort, as a partner in the project, will get $20 of that fee for its portion of the road, he said.

Organizers will use the online ticketing platform Eventbrite to sell the road passes. The ticketing site will go live Dec. 1, Alsleben says, and can be found at www.eventbrite.com/e/130524150247.

Visitors also will be able to purchase passes at Springsteel Resort.

All of the resorts on the Angle are involved in the project, and Points North Services, Sunset Lodge on Oak Island and Springsteel Resort will share the workload for plowing and maintaining the ice road, Alsleben said, a job that will include bridging cracks and ice heaves that form every winter.

The Northwest Angle Edge Riders, a group that grooms and maintains snowmobile trails on the Angle, also is a partner, and other resorts will chip in to help as needed, Alsleben said. As in previous winters, the Angle will be accessible by snowmobile on groomed trails from Warroad and other points along the south shore of Lake of the Woods.

Other details

The winter road to the Angle will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. contingent on weather and ice conditions. In the meantime, partners in the project will be checking ice thickness and putting up signage, and Ronnie Davidson, owner of Davidson Construction and Sunset Lodge, got the contract to work on the land trail and make it vehicle-ready, Henry, of Lake of the Woods Tourism, said.

“I’m not sure when that’s going to happen, but everything’s moving forward,” Henry said, adding the ice road should open “sometime in January.”

“We have to make sure ice conditions are conducive (to vehicle travel), and we’re not going to start this up until then,” he said.

The road won’t be accessible to wheelhouses, the deluxe ice fishing houses that cover the south end of the lake every winter, Henry said.

“This is the first ice road that’s ever gone up to the Northwest Angle that’s been a normal ice road that people can pay and access, but there are limitations and restrictions on it,” Henry said. “This is really more of a travel corridor for guests that are staying up at the Northwest Angle.

“This is a pretty important year for these guys.”

Partners in the project have set up a “Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road-2020” Facebook page that will feature updated information on conditions and other details. Check it out at https://www.facebook.com/nwaiceroad.

Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken