Time to play hooky: Sunday is last day to visit Apostle Island ice caves

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If you've been putting off a visit to the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, time's a-burning.

MinnPost reports that the spectacular caves, a unique midwinter collaboration between Old Man Winter and Mother Nature, will be off limits after Sunday. Don't let any grass grow under your feet; park officials said Wednesday afternoon that the end could come sooner if ice conditions deteriorate more quickly than anticipated. Warming weather has caused the ice to thin. Softening ice at the shoreline has begun to create patches of open water between ice and shore.

The National Park Service website for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore urges visitors to check in before planning a visit.

"Before heading to the caves, please call the Ice Line at (715) 779-3397 - extension 3, for the most current ice condition information," the site warns, and to prove They Mean Business, that's written in bold red type.

The area got something close to a year's worth of visitors in a 10-week period. An estimated 120,000 people trekked in to view the rare natural wonder during the months considered the off season.

Wisconsin Public Radio reported the surge of visitors to the remote corner of northern Wisconsin is going to carry over to the summer. The story said that operators of restaurants, hotels and motels in the area have experienced a jump in the number of bookings for the warmer months.

Mike O'Bryon, supervisor for the town of Bell, runs The Village Inn, and said the lodge is already booked for July, “with reservations. We have cabins and rooms and it's filling up quick. Usually it doesn't happen this early. It's definitely impacted it.” O'Bryon calls it “crazy wonderful.”

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore spokeswoman Julie Van Stappen said, "“We may have been discovered.”

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