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Continued: Up North, resorts see revenues going south

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 6, 2013 - 6:30 PM

Until recently, John Schiefelbein, owner of Pine Point Lodge on White Iron Lake near Ely, couldn’t even get to all of his cabins to prep them for the coming season. “The snow was too deep,’’ he said. Like other northern Minnesota resort owners, he’ll have a compressed spring to prepare for customers.

“We’ve just started to scramble,’’ he said.

Schiefelbein also is a canoe outfitter, and he has a couple coming from Wyoming on May 11 to begin a four-day canoe trip. Last week, that looked doubtful. “White Iron is maybe 98 percent ice,’’ he said. “I don’t know if it or any of the lakes up here will make it for opening day.’’

But he hasn’t canceled the couple’s reservation. “They really want to do this,’’ he said. And he thinks he may be able to route them on a local river — perhaps the Kawishiwi or Isabella, which normally are early ice-free waters.

But he’s already shifted reservations for a half-dozen other customers, and canceled several others. He’ll either roll over deposits to future dates or issue refunds, depending on what his customers want.

“You hate to lose that income because we’ve been sitting since last September waiting to hear the next ring of the cash register,” he said. “But you have to do what’s right for the customer.’’

On a normal spring, most of his six cabins would be rented and he’d outfit early visitors to the nearby BWCA. “People want to be the first on portages; they find [white-tailed buck antler] sheds. But it’s not happening this year,’’ he said.

“You have to take what Mother Nature dishes out. If I didn’t want to work with nature, I should be in a different business.’’

Northwest Angle: no dice

Flag Island Resort is nestled on a rocky island in the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods — one of the northernmost points in Minnesota and the continental U.S. While fellow resort operators to the south hold out hope that ice will disappear by the fishing opener, there’s no such optimism at the Northwest Angle.

“We still have 3 feet of ice out there,’’ said Flag Island Resort manager Dan Schmidt. “It’s not going to be out for the opener, that’s for sure.’’

It probably won’t even be gone by the following weekend, he said. “Everyone’s guessing it will be out right around May 20,’’ Schmidt said. “I’ve never seen it this late, not in the last 25 years anyway.’’

Because of the distance to virtually anywhere, opening weekend doesn’t draw large crowds, Schmidt said. Most anglers wait until Memorial Day weekend, when they have more time. But he’ll lose even more revenue if the lake still is frozen May 18, which also is the Ontario walleye opener.

“About 75 percent of our people fish the Canadian side,’’ he said. “It’s hard to make a living in the resort business in Minnesota.’’

Schmidt said some guests have rescheduled their trips, others have canceled. The resort will refund deposits for those who can’t reschedule trips.

Meanwhile, six seasonal employees are waiting for the ice to melt so they can begin their jobs. Because the ice has deteriorated along shore and in some worn spots, Schmidt pulled his snowmachines from the lake last week. That means he and his staff are marooned on the island until the ice disappears.

“That’s life in the Angle,’’ Schmidt said.

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