Ice caves popularity overwhelms park staff

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm •  Published: February 19, 2014

BAYFIELD, Wis. (AP) — The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has turned to other agencies for help in handling the thousands of people visiting the area to see the majestic ice caves along the southern shore of Lake Superior.

It's been five years since the ice has been thick enough for hikers to safely reach the caves.

Last Saturday was the busiest yet this winter, with 11,000 people making the trek to the caves, chief ranger Chris Smith told Minnesota Public Radio News ( ). Even on Monday, 1,800 people visited the ice caves, park officials said.

"It's been overwhelming," Smith said. "We did not anticipate this level of turnout for this."

Smith said five other national parks have sent staff to help, and that the local sheriff's offices, U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol are also helping out.

An Incident Command Center has been set up in a small trailer at the trailhead, where they jump on snowmobiles to respond to a dozen or more emergency calls on a busy day, Smith said.

"We can bring people in here into our little trailer, get them warmed up, keep them in here until the ambulance gets here," he said.