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Use Caution on the Ice at Iowa Great Lakes

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa - Officials are reminding snowmobilers, ice anglers and others that ice conditions are variable on all bodies of water and that there is no such thing as safe ice after four snowmobiles went through the ice recently at the Iowa Great Lakes.

The recent cold snap put a thin layer of ice on some areas that had been previously open water which was then covered with snow making them hard to identify, said Steve Reighard, state conservation officer for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

“We have thin spots on West Okoboji Lake where ice thickness goes from 12 plus inches down to three inches. On Big Spirit Lake, we have snow cover and slush pockets with ice on some areas as thin as four inches,” Reighard said. “Ice thickness is not uniform on any body of water and we are witnessing that a lot this year.”

One factor causing concern at the Iowa Great Lakes is the water level. The lakes froze at high water and water is moving through the chain of lakes from Big Spirit Lake through the spillway to East Okoboji Lake and beyond.

This movement is impeding ice formation, particularly under bridges.  Bridges create pinch points increasing current flow. These are danger zones where snowmobiles are breaking through.

There is currently open water under the Hwy. 9 Bridge over East Okoboji Lake,  Hinshaw’s Bridge between East Okoboji Lake and Upper Gar Lake, and Saw Mill Bridge between Upper Gar Lake and Minnewashta Lake. 

The four snowmobilers broke through the ice in the area around Saw Mill Bridge. All made it out safely and uninjured.  Reminding snowmobilers and ice anglers about the risks associated with any activity on the ice is a message Reighard hopes will get out.

“My concern is, we are seeing trucks driving around on the ice and as soon as we see one go out, they all follow,” Reighard said.  “We can enjoy winter activities on the lakes, but we need to do it with safety in mind.”

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