A turn for the worse in ice conditions has delayed the opening of a winter road from the south end of Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle. Organizers had hoped the road, which begins at Springsteel Resort north of Warroad, Minn., would open Thursday afternoon, Jan. 14, but that is no longer a possibility, an organizer of the ice road project said Wednesday night.

"Road broke up today, and it won't open tomorrow," Brett Alsleben of Points North Services on the Northwest Angle mainland said Wednesday night in a text message. "It's pretty ugly."

The problem area is just north of Stony Point, Alsleben said. Points North Services is one of the partners in the ice road project and also plows and maintains an ice road from Young's Bay on the Northwest Angle mainland to Flag and Oak islands.

Unseasonably warm January weather has been an ongoing problem in getting the ice road open, he said. Beginning this weekend, nighttime lows for the area are predicted to dip down to the single digits with daytime highs in the upper teens to low 20s, according to the National Weather Service forecast for Flag Island.

"We are actively monitoring the condition of the road and hopeful that we can open soon," according to a post made Wednesday night on the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road Facebook page. "The incoming cold weather will help a lot. At this time the road is closed for all."

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Anyone planning to use the road should check the Facebook page for the latest updates.

When the road does open, the plan for the first few days is to have a pilot car lead vehicles heading north to the Angle, with departure times from Springsteel Resort staggered throughout the day, Alsleben said. Besides directing travelers on the new winter road, the pilot car will help keep speeds down, he said.

Driving too fast can cause waves under the ice, in turn making cracks and damaging the road.

"There's enough ice for cars and trucks, but we don't want people speeding around and cracking up the ice," Alsleben said.

Visitors planning a trip to the Northwest Angle can contact Points North Services or the resort where they're staying for updates on pilot car times when the road opens, Alsleben said.

When conditions allow, the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road, as it's called will provide much-needed road access to this remote part of Minnesota surrounded on three sides by Canada and accessible by road only by traveling about 40 miles through Manitoba.

The Northwest Angle has been cut off by road to everyone but permanent residents and workers deemed essential since March, when the U.S.-Canada border closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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From Springsteel, the road follows frozen Lake of the Woods some 22 miles northeast and north to the “Border Cut Trail,” a cut in the trees along the Minnesota-Manitoba border. The 8-mile land trail connects with county roads that take visitors either to Angle Inlet or Young's Bay, where the ice road to Oak and Flag islands begins.

This satellite imagery shows the approximate route the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road follows from Springsteel Resort north of Warroad, Minn., to the Northwest Angle.
This satellite imagery shows the approximate route the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road follows from Springsteel Resort north of Warroad, Minn., to the Northwest Angle.

Organizers have said they want a consistent 15 inches of ice at minimum before opening the road to the public.

As many as five plow trucks have been working on the ice road in an effort to have it ready when conditions allow, Alsleben said. The road will be as wide as the ice road from Young's Bay to Flag and Oak islands, which is several lanes wide and had “an easy 20 inches” of ice a week and a half ago, he said.

A few days of colder weather also will help the land portion of the winter road, he said. Traditionally a snowmobile route, the Border Cut Trail has been widened and cleared of any brush that would interfere with vehicle travel, Alsleben said.

“The mainland road needs some cold and that will straighten out,” he said last week. “That’s all done; it’s a little rough, but some snow and a little cold will help that.”

The land portion of the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road follows the Border Cut Trail, a snowmobile route that follows the cut in the trees along the U.S.-Canada border for about 8 miles from the Stony Point area of Lake of the Woods to Lake of the Woods County Road 330. (Photo courtesy of Teri Alsleben, Points North Services)
The land portion of the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road follows the Border Cut Trail, a snowmobile route that follows the cut in the trees along the U.S.-Canada border for about 8 miles from the Stony Point area of Lake of the Woods to Lake of the Woods County Road 330. (Photo courtesy of Teri Alsleben, Points North Services)

The winter road isn’t meant for wheelhouses, the deluxe ice fishing houses on wheels that are prevalent on the south shore of Lake of the Woods.

“Anything lower to the ground is going to be an issue – a low car (or) a low trailer,” Alsleben said.

Despite the recent lack of cold weather, the ice road project has been a real community effort, both among Northwest Angle businesses, staff at Springsteel Resort and other partners, Alsleben said.

“We joke up in the Angle because everybody in the Angle is there for a reason, and everybody’s a little bit more stubborn and a little bit more bullheaded, and they all have their way of doing things, usually,” Alsleben said. “It’s actually been pretty good. You’ve got all these different people with all these different businesses and right now, everybody’s got the same problem, and everybody wants that one problem gone – that’s the border issue.

“It was a decision to go ahead, and we’ve had 100% backing, and that’s where we’re at. It’s good to see that – it’s fun to see that.”

The Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road Facebook page includes regular updates on the status of the road and a link for purchasing winter road passes, which cost $145 per vehicle.

Visitors also can reach the Angle via snowmobile trails from the south shore of Lake of the Woods, by a tracked vehicle passenger service operating out of Sportsman’s Lodge or Lake Country Air, a Duluth-based flying service.

Based on recent fishing reports, getting to the Angle would definitely be worth the trip.

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“Hopefully, we get the road open so people can enjoy that,” Alsleben said. “I’ve only been out once, but I had some people tell me they had probably their personal best-ever day fishing (recently).”