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You can’t force trail, ice conditions

The recent deaths of two snowmobilers who went through the ice on Lake Nokomis in Oneida County around 3 a.m. Sunday is a tragic reminder of the importance of staying on marked trails and not taken conditions for granted.

According to media reports a group of three snowmobilers visiting from Southeastern Wisconsin hit a patch of thin ice on the lake and went in, only one managed to make it out and survive. The portion of the lake the riders were on was not part of a designated trail system.

For snowmobilers this winter has been a frustrating one. Early cold snaps in November seemed promising as did the dumping of heavy, thick snow, the type that is ideal for packing down trail beds.

Unfortunately, with the snow came warmer weather and rainfall causing water levels to rise and creeks to start running. Despite the best efforts of groomers, most area trails remain closed with only the Pine Line Rail Trail open to provide access to Price County and other trails to the north.

The same weather patterns that have caused headaches for snowmobilers have also been disastrous for ice fishermen. Normally, this time of year area lakes would be dotted with ice shacks and pick-up trucks as anglers worked their tip ups and jig lines hoping. However, with layers of snow, slush and thin ice, experts have warned against going on the lakes. Conditions were so poor last weekend that Rib Lake Fish and Game made the decision to cancel the ice fishing portion of their decadesold event. Even the questionably sane folks who jump in the frigid lake water as part in the ice dip every January had second thoughts due to safety concerns.

For northwoods communities, delays in opening snowmobile trails and unsafe lake ice have a real and negative impact on the region’s economic health. Winter tourism is an important source of revenue for much of the region and a bad season presents a serious setback that will have far-reaching impacts.

While it would be easy, in the shortterm, to bow to economic pressures and prematurely open trails or turn a blind eye to those riding where they should not be, in the long-term the better option is to play the waiting game and hope conditions improve. With at least three more months of winter weather ahead, there is plenty of time to salvage the season without risking lives.

Snowmobile associations, local offi cials and event organizers are right in being cautious when it comes to safety concerns.