February 13, 2014 | Vol. 95, No. 37

Iced-up Lake Superior draws thousands of winter tourists

Pile it up and they will come.

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe
A PHOTOGRAPHER captures ice formations on Lake Superior at Little Girl\'s Point on Saturday.

In a brutally cold winter, Lake Superior's ice formations continue to attract thousands of tourists and local residents, from Bayfield to Little Girl's Point.

An estimated 4,000 people have been walking along the Lake Superior ice to the sea caves near Bayfield every weekend. Likewise, hundreds of people have been carefully edging out on the blue ice at Little Girl's Point on a typical weekend day.

Hurley Area Chamber of Commerce director Dorrene O'Donnell told the Hurley City Council Tuesday her office has been receiving inquiries from the Bayfield area because visitors to the sea caves are creating lodging shortages there.

"We're feeling the overflow from the ice caves here," she said.

Monday is Presidents' Day, a traditionally busy weekend for the Gogebic Range's ski hills and snowmobile industry, and sea caves visitors will add to the mix.

Council members said people are parking two to seven miles away from the sea caves, so it's no wonder they'd seek lodging an hour away. Visitors are coming from as far away as Japan, China and Australia.

The usually sleepy winter village of Cornucopia, on Lake Superior, has even been affected by the influx. Ehler's General Store in Cornucopia closes for the winter, but it has been re-opening on Saturdays because those tourists need food and drinks.

A 27-passenger shuttle bus has been running continuously from Ehler's Store and Wisconsin 13 to Meyer's Beach Road to provide access to the lake.

O'Donnell noted social media has played a big part in the ice caves phenomenon.

At Little Girl's Point, north of Ironwood, there's a small parking lot at the Oman's Creek boat landing that has filled on weekends. Blue ice and unusual formations on the lake are attracting tourists. There are areas of clear ice where rocks at the bottom of the lake can be viewed through about two feet of the hard surface.

Saxon Harbor offers a different attraction - fishing. On Saturday, the plowed parking area there was filled with trucks and snowmobile trails, causing people to park along County A. Scores of anglers are jigging and setting out tip-ups for trout, salmon and herring.

The boost in winter tourism comes at a good time for the struggling economy of the north, where there have been few signs of a recovery and the bitter cold has caused ski hills to close on some days.

On another tourism issue, O'Donnell told the city council all-terrain vehicle visitor numbers were "stagnant" in Iron County last year.

She said she hopes Hurley will get a boost for its 29th annual Memorial Day ATV rally this year with the appearance of Wisconsin Department of Tourism secretary Stephanie Klett as parade marshal.

O'Donnell said new Iron County ATV maps have been published, with some minor improvements to Mercer area offerings added.

She also said there's a drive on to have Wisconsin 122 in the Saxon-Upson area declared a rustic route by the state.

O'Donnell is headed to the Milwaukee Sports Show on Feb. 19 to promote Iron County tourism.