A 22-mile ice road that became a lifeline to residents of Minnesota's remote Northwest Angle has met its inevitable end as spring creeps closer.
The folks who built the road across frozen Big Traverse Bay from Warroad to the Angle's south shore announced Friday on Facebook that it's closed for the season. "Cheers to Spring. We hope to see you this Summer," the post said.
The ice road — unusual because of its extraordinary length over a wide expanse of water — was built out of desperation.
The Northwest Angle is the chimney-like chunk of Minnesota that juts into Canada and is separated by Lake of the Woods from the rest of the state. The main road requires travelers to first cross into Canada before veering back into Minnesota.
Except for those who live in the Angle, that route was shut down when Canada closed its border to visitors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure devastated many Angle businesses because few visitors could get across Big Traverse Bay by boat.
Winter looked like it would be just as bleak. That's when resort owners took matters into their own hands and built an ice road that would lead visitors to their doorsteps.
The road was a success even though warm weather delayed its early January opening by two weeks. "It was fantastically popular," said Paul Colson, owner of Jake's Northwest Angle, a resort started by his grandfather.
To offset the $130,000 to build and maintain the road, users paid $120 for a round-trip pass to the Angle and $145 if the trip took them to resorts on Flag and Oak islands. A $500 season pass also was available. By season's end, 966 passes had been sold.
Besides anglers in search of walleye, some visitors came for the adventure of traveling on the once-in-a-lifetime ice road and others to explore Minnesota's northernmost point, Colson said.
"It was good to have people up here and to offer them a good time," said Colson, noting he probably saved about a third of his normal winter business after the road opened Jan. 18.
But he and others knew it all would come to an end. "Spring is coming. You can't fight it," he said, noting that an 8-mile stretch on shore is getting muddy and rutted.
The ice is still thick enough that a semitrailer truck used the road to cross the lake three days ago, Colson said. But most of the snow cover on the lake is gone, temperatures are rising and the sun is higher. "We don't want to take any chances," he said.
He and the other resort owners look forward to a better summer. "It can't be worse than last year," he said. With any luck, they'll never again have to build a 22-mile road across Big Traverse Bay.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788