Waskish, MN – The order prohibiting vehicles on Upper Red Lake that was issued on December 30, 2023 will remain in place following a meeting in Waskish to assess the ice situation and identify a team to monitor conditions. On Wednesday, January 3, 2024 the Beltrami County Sheriff and Deputies met with local resort operators, Kelliher Fire and Rescue, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers and Conservations Officers from the Red Lake Nation.
Resort operators who routinely check ice conditions reported that there are still significant ice cracks that have resulted in several ice floes to continue to move in the water. A large and significant crack runs along the south shore all the way to the border of the Red Lake Nation. Several "football field" size openings are present. While some parts of the lake have nearly a foot of ice, it is inconsistent due to the lake not being fully frozen and the continued ice movement.
During the meeting other safety concerns were brought up with people being irresponsible and making social media videos at the very edge of the ice, mere feet from falling in. One resort operator remarked, "Common sense is lacking when people are trying to get a TikTok video with open water at their feet." The concern was also shared of people crossing temporary bridges to get across cracks and then the gap widens to the point of needing airboats and other vessels to evacuate people. Other concerns were the lack of snow and the lake being navigable. In previous years resorts would maintain ice roads that limited people from going too far or into dangerous areas. This year, the absence of snow is not precluding anglers from going to the far corners of the lake.
The resort operators and guide services have been granted permission to operate motor vehicles on the ice for the wellness and well-being of their customers. This will prevent anglers from driving beyond what has been evaluated by the resorts where many of the ice rescues have occurred. Sheriff Riggs said, "For every call we receive of someone going in the ice, I'm sure there are at least five that are handled locally we don't know about". He finished, "Many of you [resort operators] are your customers' first responders and you assist them. That is why I'm allowing you to serve your customers."
Closing the lake was not an easy decision and many consultations took place prior to making this decision. This is not an opportunity to issue tickets or generate revenue. Sheriff Riggs said, "My goal is to not write a single ticket, but rather in the interest of public safety." A collaborative effort to ensure public safety is the goal of this group. Ice fishing and winter tourism is a staple of the local economy.
The group determined with the forecast and winds, no checks would be conducted until Monday as the lake won't have enough time to heal. Each time the conditions are evaluated, that will be taken into consideration of when the order is rescinded and to what extent. Private parties remain prohibited from operating their motor vehicles on the ice. Resort operators and guide services are allowed to service their customers. Additionally, airboats, hovercrafts and buoyant vessels such as a Sherp are also allowed. Sheriff Riggs said, "We don't want to open ourselves up to having to close it down again, but rather get to a point where it is beneficial for the rest of the season."
-Sheriff Jason Riggs