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Ice caves closed; attracted 138,000 visitors

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Tens of thousands of people trekked to northern Wisconsin over the past several weeks for a chance to explore the ice caves on Lake Superior near the Apostle Islands. The caves are now closed, and National Park Service spokeswoman Julie Van Stappen says 138,000 people visited the caves this winter, the Associated Press reports.

That's more than 10 times the number of people who visited in 2009, the last time Lake Superior was frozen enough to allow people to reach the caves on foot.

Word about the caves traveled fast across the Internet and social media last month, including posts published by Slate magazine, a blog on the Wall Street Journal website, National Geographic and others. All the attention contributed to the huge attendance numbers.

Stappen called the attendance figure "amazing," according to the Associated Press.

And business owners in the nearby town of Cornucopia, Wis., said pretty much the same thing, WDIO reports. Many of those visitors spent time and money in the local area and gave a lot of businesses a boost at a normally slow time of year.

Ehler's General Store in Cornucopia, for example, is usually closed during the winter. But ice caves visitors stopped there for a bite to eat and some local merchandise. The store had hundreds of customers every day, Michael Upthegrove said.

“Weekend days have been 12 to 13 hours of work here. Some nights it's hard to get people out,” he told WDIO.

Cook Janel Ryan echoed the sentiments of many locals when she said she hopes some of those people return to the area when it's warmer.

“If they have a good time up here in the winter I think they're looking around and going, 'Wow, it would be really wonderful in the summer when you actually swim in the lake instead of walking on it,'” Ryan told WDIO.

You can visit the caves during the summer, too, by guide boat or by kayak, depending on the water conditions on Lake Superior.

Here's more information about visiting the caves and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

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