This time of year, local lakes can be deadly. People should heed thin-ice warnings, no matter how tempting it is to get out as the weather brightens.
With last weekend’s mild temperatures, many outdoor enthusiasts were figuring this was the perfect time for skiing, sledding, ice fishing and other favorite winter activities. After all, the opportunity won’t be around much longer.
But spring fever sometimes trumps common sense at this time of year. From St. Lawrence County comes a tragic reminder that the season’s changes bring underlying danger.
One evening last week, four snowmobilers were riding across an ice-covered portion of the Rainbow Falls Reservoir in the Town of Parishville. Two of them, older men from Canton and Norwood, became disoriented in snowy conditions and drove their machines off the ice and into open water. They both drowned, and one of the other snowmobile riders suffered hypothermia in trying to save them.
Weather conditions on local water bodies can change in a matter of moments, with blowing snow aggravating the hazard. The rise and fall of temperatures can leave ice that was solid one day in fragile condition the next.
Take a look out on Lake Champlain near Rouses Point. The lake water is open in that area, but you can still spot anglers most days at King’s Bay, just a few miles away in Champlain. That scene is repeated in many areas of the North Country.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has warned people that all ice-fishing shanties have to be off the ice by this Friday. If that doesn’t happen, owners can be fined up to $100.
The rule isn’t solely for the protection of anglers. Shanties that sink into the ice become hard to remove and create hazards for snowmobile riders. And shanties that fall completely into the water after the ice melts are a navigation hazard for boaters in the summer.
The weather is expected to get colder at the end of this week, and that might tempt people to get in a little extra ice-fishing time or to head out across frozen surfaces in their snowmobiles.
The state issued this advisory in early winter and it holds true now, as well: “DEC cautions that the presence of snowmobile tracks or footprints on the ice should not be taken as evidence of safe ice conditions. Individuals are strongly encouraged to check ice conditions for themselves and avoid situations that appear to present even a remote risk.”
Too many times, the Press-Republican has reported on tragedies that happen when people venture out on the ice at this time of year. It might seem so obvious that you wonder who would need to be advised to use caution, but history has proven that many ignore the warnings.
Get your shanties — and yourself — off the ice.