Ice caves produce winter tourism boom in Bayfield County

By KBJR News 1

February 10, 2014 Updated Feb 10, 2014 at 10:02 PM CDT

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (NNCNOW.com) --- The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ice caves have produced more than wonder for visitors, they've sparked a winter tourism boom that has never been seen before in Bayfield County.

The journey to see them is still not an easy one, but the trail to the ice caves is at least packed down after so many visitors have come to see for themselves what they've been hearing about.

This is the furthest North in Wisconsin we've actually ever come. I've been talking about visiting Ashland and Bayfield for quite a while now and this was the perfect excuse. Said visitor from Madison, Ken Cameron.
The caves have been a real boom for winter tourism bringing in an extra five to seven million dollars into Bayfield County.
With 20 thousand people visiting the sea caves in just the first three weeks, they're literally patching a hole in the winter tourism season of Bayfield county.
Just ask Cheryl O'Bryon, She's been struggling to keep her resort open in Cornucopia.
"The last four years have been pretty tight. It's been a scary place to be." Said Owner of the Village Inn, Cheryl O'Bryon.
But this winter has seen business better than what is normally seen in the summer.

"Last Saturday was the biggest day that we've ever had here and it was bigger than 4th of July of Cornucopia Day Weekend. So bigger than that... that's huge, and in January and February, unbelievable. We served over 400 people last Saturday." Said O'Bryon.

Many people come to the area every year, but mostly in the summertime.

"We come up every summer and during the winter time, I don't know if we've really been in the area" Said Visitor From Rice Lake, Brenda Kretzschmar.
And they're coming from all over the world.

"We had a couple from Australia. A couple from Japan stayed upstairs last weekend." Said O'Bryon.

On weekends, cars overfill the parking lot and stretch out to the highway for more than three miles past the road leading to the trailhead. Over 6,000 people visiting the National Park last weekend has led to a shuttle that will be used to shorten the hike.

"The county is providing parking out toward the caves as well, so that should help so people don't have to walk so far." Said O'Bryon.

And at the end of a hike, the sun sets over the horizon and it gets bitterly colder, but it's those subzero temperatures that have brought the boom of winter visitors to explore one of the Northland's finest gems.

National Park Officials say that if it's possible, the best time to see the caves is during the week when there is not so much traffic.

Bryce Henry