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Across northern Minnesota, resort owners and outfitters are waiting for ice-out

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Sawbill Lake north of Tofte, Minn.
The ice has finally started pulling away from the shore on Sawbill Lake north of Tofte, Minn., as seen at sunset on Saturday, May 5, 2018.
Courtesy of Dan Shirley

Resort owners and outfitters who need to get ready for an influx of summer visitors are anxiously awaiting ice-out on many lakes across northern Minnesota.

While recent warm weather has helped with melting, a number of lakes remain largely ice-covered with less than a week to go until Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener.

"We check that ice every day and as of (Friday) there were 9 inches of pretty rotten ice still hanging out," said Clare Shirley, co-owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters on Sawbill Lake, along the southern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness north of Tofte.

"I grew up up here so I've seen it go out as early as early April, and as late as mid-May," she said. "It's not going to be a record late year, but certainly later than last year. I think last year the ice went out on our lake on April 21."

Shirley said the late ice and remaining snow piles have slowed preparations for the summer season, "which we sort of jokingly say is OK, because we're not quite ready yet — so it buys us a little time to get our store set up and get things ready. ... We just pulled our canoes out of storage a couple days ago and we actually had to take some shovels and some Pulaskis and dig away at the piles of snow to make space for our canoes in our canoe yard."

Vosburgh's Custom Cabin Rentals owner Betsy Vosburgh runs a 10-cabin resort on Moose Lake near Ely. She said she can't remember dealing with ice on the lake this late in the season in more than 20 years of owning her business.

She's set up a live webcam on her website to monitor ice conditions on Moose Lake.

"It is important (for ice-out to take place) so that we can get the boats in the water," she said. "We can't put boats in the water yet, which means it is more difficult to get all of our equipment on the boats and have them ready for guests to take off."

Vosburgh says she's confident the ice will be gone soon. 

Some early-season visitors have been making the best of the situation. Shirley said a group from Lake Superior College in Duluth makes an annual spring trip to Sawbill. This year they went to nearby Baker Lake, where the ice had started to pull away from the shore.

"They're very hardy ... so they come rain or shine, snow or ice," she said. "They headed over to Baker (Friday) with 16 college kids and they were going to paddle around the edges as best they could."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources tracks ice-out on lakes across the state; you can find reports on the DNR's website.