Take me out to the ice caves: 6,000 visit on first day to view Superior's winter wonderland

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Thousands of tourists flocked to a remote part of northern Wisconsin on Saturday to view a marvel of nature -- the ice caves formed on the south shore of Lake Superior opened for the first time this winter.

The Northland's News Center reported that by late afternoon, some 6,000 visitors had trekked across the ice to see Mother Nature's splendor. The station quoted Park Rangers who said there were about 1,500 visitors on the opening day of the ice caves last winter.

The Facebook Page of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore said that if you want to see the caves, don't dally or delay. The Park Service said they will be open every day until ice conditions deteriorate. Last year the caves closed March 17; they aren't expected to be safely accessible that long this year.

The website promoting Bayfield, Wisconsin warns visitors the hike will take them over very uneven terrain, posing the potential for injury. Visitors are being told the glare ice is very slippery; using ice cleats and carrying a ski pole or walking stick is advised.

Visitors are advised to allow three hours to hike out to the caves, meander through them and get back to the shore.

Unlike last winter, this year there will be a permit fee of $5 per person (ages 16 and up) for visitors, with the money earmarked for covering the costs of accommodating tourists.

The caves are already getting media attention; the Chicago Tribune offered readers a story accompanied by several stunning photos of the otherworldly ice structures.

WDIO reported that businesses along the Bayfield Peninsula were eager to welcome the returning tourists. of tourists this weekend.

"It's definitely huge," Cheryl O'Bryan, owner of The Village Inn in Cornucopia, told the station. "If it's even a quarter of what we had last year, it will definitely help keep all of our employees working through the winter and everybody a lot happier."

Last winter, the spectacular caves garnered international news coverage. An estimated 138,000 visitors trekked out on the ice to get a close up view of the caves.

Snowmobiles and ATV's are not permitted within a quarter mile of the mainland from Saxine Creek to Sand Point and bicycles are not permitted off-road within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, including on the ice

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