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Northwest Angle business owner plans another ice road from south end of Lake of the Woods this winter

The need is there, but whether the road actually happens will depend on Mother Nature, said Brett Alsleben of Points North Services on the Northwest Angle mainland.

Brett Alsleben.jpg
Brett Alsleben of Points North Services on the Northwest Angle mainland said the business is planning to build another ice road from the south shore of Lake of the Woods to the Angle again this winter if ice conditions allow. If there's not safe ice by mid-January, the road probably won't happen, he said.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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LAKE OF THE WOODS, Minn. — Tentative plans are in the works to build another ice road from the south end of Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle this winter, even though the chunk of Minnesota bordered on three sides by Canada again is accessible through Manitoba for travelers who meet Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements.

The need is there, but whether the road actually happens will depend on Mother Nature, said Brett Alsleben of Points North Services on the Northwest Angle mainland. Points North, which plows a road from the mainland to the islands on the Northwest Angle, will foot the bill for plowing and maintaining the road, Alsleben said.

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The ice between the south end of the lake and the Angle is better than last year, but it’s still not thick enough for vehicle travel, he said.
Points North coordinated plowing of the cross-lake ice road last winter.

“We’re planning on doing it, but if we can’t get it open the first couple weeks of January, it’s probably not going to happen,” Alsleben said. “That’s why we haven’t really been advertising it.”

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The Northwest Angle drew national attention last winter when resorts and other businesses banded together to develop an ice road across the lake as a way for visitors to reach the area when the Canadian border was closed to nonessential travel.

A Minnesota exclave, the Northwest Angle is accessible by road only by driving through about 40 miles of Manitoba. Reaching the Angle through Minnesota requires crossing some 40 miles of Lake of the Woods.

Northwest Angle Angle map.JPG
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More expensive

If the ice road happens, it will be more expensive than last year, when accessing the road cost $120 to the Northwest Angle mainland and $145 to the islands, which are accessible in the winter from the plowed road originating at Young’s Bay.

This year, the fee will be in the range of $200 to $250 per vehicle, Alsleben said. Fuel prices are higher, some visitors will drive to the Angle through Canada, and Points North will absorb more of the costs for operating the road, he said. Last year, the ice road cost about $1,500 a mile to plow and maintain, according to Lake of the Woods Tourism, and partners invested 675 hours of plowing time and spent $130,000 in building and maintaining the road.

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A pickup crosses a bridge over a pressure ridge in January 2021 on the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road, which made national news last winter for providing wintertime access to the Angle when the Canadian border remained closed to nonessential travel.
Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald

That didn’t include the hundreds of hours spent by volunteers who helped out with the project.

“This is kind of on our shoulders this year,” even though several Angle resorts support the project, Alsleben said. “There’s not going to be any buy-in (from resorts), and we’re going to kind of run it and manage it and take care of it ourselves. It got to be kind of a chaos last year with too many resorts — everybody had a different idea, everybody wanted it one way or the other — and so we’re just going to run it and manage it.

“We bought a couple of different plow trucks and bigger plow trucks that we can get out there to plow better and hopefully make it more efficient.”

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Work in progress

While the exact route of the tentative ice road is a work in progress, it will originate at Springsteel Resort north of Warroad, Minnesota, as it did last year, Alsleben said. The Eventbrite ticketing platform again will handle road passes, he said.

“I just think it’s needed again to get people there and keep everybody busy and profitable,” Alsleben said. Last year, 966 passes were sold to access the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road, as it was called, which opened in mid-January and closed Friday, March 12.

“Last year, the Angle was back to what it normally was” as soon as the ice road opened, Alsleben said. “It was literally just like flipping a switch. Jerry’s (Restaurant at Young’s Bay) was busy, the road was busy, and there were people all over. That ice road closed, and (traffic) shut off – everything was done.”

Even after the Canadian border reopened to nonessential travel on Monday, Aug. 9, traffic to the Angle didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels, Alsleben said. The vaccination requirements and the proof of a negative PCR COVID test taken no more than 72 hours before entering Canada kept some people away, he said.

“The traffic levels are nowhere near what they were pre-COVID,” Alsleben said. “It’s just not as busy as it was. The resorts weren’t as busy this summer as they have been in the past.”

Less demand

Still, from an Angle-wide perspective, there’s less demand for the ice road than last year, simply because there are more options for getting to the Angle with the Canadian border open, said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism.

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Joe Henry, Lake of the Woods Tourism
Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald

Besides driving through Manitoba if they meet the Canadian vaccination and testing requirements, wintertime visitors can reach the Angle by Bombardier tracked vehicle through Lake of the Woods Passenger Service, by plane through Lake Country Air or by snowmobile on marked, groomed trails that cross the lake from the south shore, he said.

“Between all of those different ways, it kind of divides up all the people so that if an ice road was done, I don’t know how many people would take the ice road when there’s other options,” Henry said. “With that being said, there have been some that have talked about it. A lot of the resorts have said they think there’s enough other ways to get up here, they don’t have to do that.”

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That’s another reason for charging more to access the ice road, Alsleben said. At the same time, if a COVID test to enter Canada costs upwards of $100 per person, the higher road fee suddenly seems less imposing, he said, especially given the 72-hour requirement for negative test results.

“Then you don’t have to deal with anything else,” Alsleben said. “We’ve been getting nonstop calls on the ice road for the last month.”

More information on the status of the ice road will be posted on the Northwest Angle Guest Ice Road Facebook page as it becomes available, he said.

  • Info: facebook.com/nwaiceroad.
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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