Spirit Lake, Iowa – Iowa DNR 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, according to Steve Reighard, state conservation officer for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Reighard says there are thin spots on West Okoboji Lake where ice thickness goes from 12 plus inches down to three inches. On Big Spirit Lake, the snow cover and slush pockets with ice on some areas are as thin as four inches. He says ice thickness is not uniform on any body of water and they 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 who broke through the ice did so in the area around Saw Mill Bridge. All made it out safely and uninjured, according to the DNR. Reminding snowmobilers and ice anglers about the risks associated with any activity on the ice is a message Reighard hopes will get out.
He says his concern is, they are seeing trucks driving around on the ice and as soon as one goes out, they all follow. Reighard says you can enjoy winter activities on the lakes, but you need to do it with safety in mind.