Minnesota doesn’t have toll roads in the traditional sense. While there are short segments of roadway in metro areas that allow for certain lane usage for paying customers, Minnesota is void of long stretches of toll roads that are found elsewhere.
Until this winter, that is.
A toll road is forming to reach the Northwest Angle on Lake of the Woods, the big body of water that straddles a portion of the border between Canada and Minnesota. After months of business disruption on parts of the lake, business owners there are hoping the ice road can help regain some semblance of normalcy.
The road will run on the ice from Springsteel Resort near Warroad, Minn., about 22 miles north to Stony Point, and then along a snowmobile trail that follows a cut in the trees between the U.S.-Canada border for about eight miles. There, it will join a county road in Minnesota just east of the Manitoba border.
ON THE BORDER: BUSINESS
ON THE BORDER: LIFE ON THE LAKE
ON THE BORDER: BORDER LIFE
The winter road will allow users to travel from the south shore of Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle without going through Manitoba, the traditional way to access the Angle by road but a route off-limits because of the pandemic-related U.S.-Canada border closure.
The Angle is in the U.S. but surrounded on three sides by Canada and accessible from Minnesota only by crossing Lake of the Woods. The loss of convenient road access has left the Northwest Angle basically unreachable by tourists since March unless they crossed some 40 miles of open lake. Naturally, business suffered as a result.
The resorts needed something to help salvage their businesses, which likely will be adversely affected throughout at least a good portion of 2021.
The answer? The long stretch of road across the lake and through the wilderness of northernmost Minnesota.
It won’t be free – users will pay $120 to $145, depending on where they’re heading. The money will help pay back the partners involved in its construction, as well as upkeep. After all, anyone who knows Lake of the Woods knows it’s going to take a lot of plowing to keep that road open.
It will be slow going – the speed limit is 25 mph – and wheelhouses won’t be allowed.
“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,” Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, told the Herald last month. “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.”
So they put their heads together and devised the ice road, using one of northern Minnesota’s most abundant commodities (ice) to clear a path to free up access to one of northern Minnesota’s most important industries (fishing tourism).
This is ingenuity personified, and as the pandemic continues to ravage some of the tourism destinations along Lake of the Woods, it’s just what’s needed during a difficult time.