Northern Minnesota’s “ice road” started its comeback tour on Tuesday.
For the second year in a row, crews started plowing a path over frozen Lake of the Woods, so that Americans don’t have to cross through the international land border to reach popular resorts on the unique Northwest Angle. Last year, the Canadian border was fully closed to non-essential travel; this year, it’s open, but still requires vaccination proof and negative PCR tests within 72 hours.
Teri Alsleben of Points North Services and plow driver Ed Freiermuth joined KARE 11 via Zoom to update progress on the ice road. They say they completed a path from Flag Island to Springsteel Resort in Warroad, Minn., on Tuesday, and they hope the road will be marked and open by Friday so that travelers can reach all the resorts on the Angle.
This year, a roundtrip will cost $250.
“We are trying to bridge a gap with the border being so restrictive,” Alsleben said. “[People] want to come up and enjoy the area. They want to go to the resorts and the restaurants. And so, it’s huge.”
Paul Colson, the third-generation family owner of Jake’s Northwest Angle resort, said the PCR testing requirement has been a burden for many travelers, particularly those from the Twin Cities – which is why he feels the ice road is necessary again.
“Just from demand to get a test scheduled, people can wind up in a pinch on that side of it. As far as getting a 72-hour test valid by the time they hit customs,” Colson said. “If you don’t get your test results back by the time you hit customs and they expire, at least people could take the ice road.”
Colson said the ice road was a rousing success last year, helping many resort owners boost their bottom lines in times of dire economic circumstances.
After his business plummeted 87 percent during the summer of 2020, Colson said tourism has rebounded some – but not nearly enough.
He’s said he’s actually stopped crunching the numbers at this point.
“If you sit there and dwell on stuff, it’s just too tough. Mentally, it was very tough on me,” Colson said. “It took us generations to get there and it’s just been destroyed.”
But he’s hopeful the ice road will drive more business in the next few months.
After that, he said he’s also looking into the possibility of scheduled air service from the Twin Cities to help customers reach Jake’s.
“Hope is no longer a plan,” Colson said. “We’re trying to make concrete steps forward.”