Vehicles restricted from Upper Red Lake after 4th ice rescue this month

Beltrami County is restricting access to parts of Upper Red Lake beginning at sunset Saturday.

Motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles and ATVS, are prohibited from going on the ice. Violating the restriction is a misdemeanor and could result in a fine, Beltrami County Sheriff Jason Riggs said in a Saturday press release.

On Friday, 122 people had to be rescued from an ice floe on the lake. It was the fourth rescue on Upper Red Lake this month.

“Due to continued incidents of fishermen becoming stranded on and breaking through the ice… Upper Red Lake in the area under the jurisdiction of Beltrami County will have restricted access,” Riggs said.

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County officials will monitor ice conditions and lift the restriction when it is safe.

Kevin Waldo, co-owner at West Wind Resort on the east side of Upper Red Lake, has been keeping a close eye on ice conditions for his customers.

“Where we’re at, we have a consistent 10-11 inches of ice. There’s a crack further out, about 4 miles form where we are at, that we are asking everyone to stay on this side of,” he said. “The lake isn’t totally locked up, so when the wind switches and shifts, it ends up moving things around and pushing things around.”

The resort will be affected by the vehicle restrictions, but Waldo said anglers will still be able to walk on the ice, usually pulling a portable house and walking nearly 1 mile to get to fishable water.

“We want everyone to be safe and we understand why [the sheriff] is doing it,” Waldo said.

“We go out there two or three times a day to check for cracks, we watch the weather, we know where the open water is or where it has been, we have it staked out to certain areas that we know are safe and we tell people to stay within that area,” Waldo said. “We just try to keep an eye on everything as much as we can.”

On lakes across the state, DNR conservation officers have responded to all-terrain vehicles and ice fishing shelters falling through the weakened ice, according to DNR Ice Safety Coordinator Nicole Biagi.

Conditions can change rapidly, and “if it was safe yesterday, that doesn’t mean that it's safe today,” Biagi told MPR News earlier this week. “And even when you’re out there, if you had enough ice to walk out there in the morning, it might not be enough ice for your walk back at the end of the day.”

Anyone venturing out on the ice should wear a personal flotation device to prevent drowning if the ice gives way. Biagi said many people worry about hypothermia if they fall through the ice, but you are more likely to drown before hypothermia can set in. Contact with the cold water causes involuntary gasping and hyperventilating that can lead to inhaling enough water to drown.