Conditions are right for popular Lake Superior ice caves to form again

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The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's magical ice caves drew an unprecedented number of winter tourists to the remote part of Lake Superior in northwestern Wisconsin last winter.

The Pioneer Press reports visitors who were entranced by the caves -- or those who never got up to see them -- may get a second shot at the experience. The newspaper said that conditions are positive for the formation of mainland ice caves again this winter. It would be second year in a row when the winter-created caves would be accessible to the public.

Thick and stable ice along the shore is required before the caves would open to the public. Julie Van Stappen, spokeswoman for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore , said there's a "very good chance" the ice will cooperate, assuming that cold temperatures and low winds that have marked the start of this winter continue. She added that park service officials will start measuring the thickness in January.

Last winter the caves were open for two months and an estimated 138,000 visitors made the one-mile-plus trek along the shoreline to view frozen waterfalls, icy cliffs, and giant icicles. The spectacle brought in nearly 10 million dollars to the local economy. Reuters reported the number of winter visitors to the area was unprecedented.

If the caves do form and open again, it may come at a higher cost to visitors. The park service proposed a $5 fee for people 16 and older visiting the caves. Resources at the park were stressed by the large crowds. Lake Superior magazine is in favor of the fees.

"While the $5 fee will not cover all costs associated with this event, it will make great strides in providing sufficient staff and infrastructure for this event," the magazine said. "We believe the Ice Caves Special Event has now entered the national and international consciousness in such a way that visitation of this magnitude will now be the norm, rather than the exception."

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