If good ice is a starting point — and it should be — clean ice would come immediately afterward, and continue until there is no ice.
But, more often than not, it doesn’t work either way.
Due to unseasonably warm weather across the Upper Midwest, good-quality ice has been slow in the making this ice-fishing season. According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources guidelines, 4 inches of solid ice is needed for ice fishing and any type of foot traffic, followed by 5 inches for snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles, 8 to 12 inches for a car or small pickup and 12 to 15 inches for a medium truck. And, of course, the DNR stresses that there’s no such thing as 100-percent safe ice.
Still, in the Northland, it’s not unusual to see anglers on the ice soon after the first freeze, when there’s probably only an inch or two of ice (the DNR says to stay off ice 2 inches or less in thickness). And snowmobiles, ATVs and even cars and trucks soon follow, regardless of if those DNR guidelines for ice are present. And, every year, there are numerous reports in the Northland of anglers, snowmobiles, ATVs and cars and trucks going through the ice.
The DNR says those guidelines are for new, clear ice only — clear as in transparent or glassy. So, in this case, clear is different from clean.
In the Upper Midwest, some lakes resemble small towns come the winter freeze-up, complete with communities of “permanent” ice-fishing houses, street signs and, in some cases, even bars and eateries on the ice.
That can make for a whole lot of anglers and a whole lot of activity.
And a ton of garbage — likely much, much more.
At famed ice-fishing destination Lake of the Woods in far northwestern Minnesota, the problem of rubbish and refuse on the ice and in the lake was getting so bad that, a few years ago, a handful of natural resources-related groups got together to form Keep it Clean. With the support of those groups — the DNR, Lake of the Woods Tourism, the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District, Lake of the Woods County and Friends of Zippel Bay State Park — in just three years, Keep it Clean has done just that.
Still, it’s not like the garbage picks up itself. A dozen or so dumpsters placed at strategic high-pressure locations on the south shore of the lake are at the center of the Keep it Clean drive. Ice anglers are encouraged to collect all garbage from their fishing sites and dispose of it in these dumpsters when coming off the ice to help keep garbage and waste out of the lake when the ice melts. In what has become a successful community drive, locals participate in an annual cleanup along the lake in the spring, when the open water returns, and the goal is to lessen what had become an almost overwhelming amount of trash.
According to Lake of the Woods Tourism, in the last year, the dumpsters were dumped 135 times, totaling 500 cubic tons. But when you consider how many people go onto the ice on the Minnesota/U.S. side of Lake of the Woods, there’s still work to be done.
On the good-ice side, too. Even at Lake of the Woods, resorts only recently started getting their houses onto the ice.
Keep it clean, but keep it safe, too.