Up North Resorts Hurting

The bad ice conditions on a bunch of lakes in Minnesota is creating a “regional disaster” for resorts in the north central and northern parts of the state.

How bad have ice conditions been this winter? So bad it’s hurting businesses that make their money off ice anglers — resorts, bait shops, fish house rentals and others. Some business owners are shutting down early and asking for the state’s financial help. Thin ice, deep snow, paralyzing slush and warm temperatures have combined to produce treacherous conditions that have effectively scared away many ice anglers. Even snowmobile traffic is down in some areas because deep snow has insulated swamps, preventing them from freezing enough to cross.

“We’re off 40-50% for winter. It makes you wonder how we are even going to open in the spring,” said Rick Leonhardt, who co-owns High Banks Resort on Lake Winnibigoshish with his wife, Kim.

Help could be on the way though. State Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, attended a meeting of 40 north-central Minnesota business owners on Wednesday at High Banks to talk about potential remedies. In a letter sent to many area business, local resort owners said the economic impact of the unusual winter conditions “is equal to flooding or forest fires’’ after which the state has offered economic aid.

“We aren’t asking for a handout. But we got kicked in the teeth here and we need some help. … Maybe low-interest or no-interest loans or something,” Rick Leonhardt said.

Kim Leonhardt said some businesses have simply given up on this winter, noting the problem stretches from the Brainerd Lakes area north through Leech and Winnibigoshish and onto Upper Red Lake.

“It’s a regional disaster … One resort up on Red Lake just shut down for winter. Some on our lake are doing it, too,” Kim Leonhardt said. “They’re giving up with more than a month to go.”

Ironically fishing has been pretty good, but in talking to many area guides, getting anglers to fishing spots is the real problem.

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