BAYFIELD, Wis. - "Closed for the season."
Apostle Island National Lakeshore officials have closed the ice caves for the season along Lake Superior east of Cornucopia because of deteriorating conditions.
Park officials, citing their Federal authority, closed the lake's surface within the National Lakeshore from Saxine Creek to Sand Point at 12:01 this morning "extending through the ice season."
The ice caves proved to be extremely popular, drawing an estimated 120,000 visitors since officials opened the 2-mile route to the caves from Meyers Beach on Jan. 15. It was the first time the ice caves had been accessible in five years, because of weather conditions.
Lakeshore officials reported being very busy on weekends, marking 11,000 visitors on one Saturday alone in mid-February. Cars were parked five to 10 miles away on Highway 13 outside the Meyers Beach access road during peak visiting hours. License plates on vehicles were from across the Midwest and beyond. Shuttles ran from local communities.
Some local school children made field trips to the ice caves.
In comparison, officials said in 2009, the last year the ice caves were accessible, about 8,400 people visited.
Officials monitored the thickness, strength and stability of the ice all along, but closed the access today because the ice could break up suddenly, without warning, and disappear in a matter of hours.
During the three seasons of open water, the caves are only accessible by small boat or kayak.