The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office has enacted a vehicle restriction on Upper Red Lake until ice conditions improve. The restriction notice also came with photos of the lake on social media.

The order prohibiting vehicles on Upper Red Lake that was issued on December 30, 2023 will remain in place following a meeting in Waskish to assess the ice situation and identify a team to monitor conditions. On Wednesday, January 3, 2024 the Beltrami County Sheriff and Deputies met with local resort operators, Kelliher Fire and Rescue, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers and Conservations Officers from the Red Lake Nation. 

Resort operators who routinely check ice conditions reported that there are still significant ice cracks that have resulted in several ice floes continuing to move in the water. A large and significant crack runs along the south shore to the border of the Red Lake Nation. Several “football field” size openings are present. While some parts of the lake have nearly a foot of ice, it is inconsistent due to the lake not being fully frozen and the continued ice movement. 

During the meeting other safety concerns were brought up with people being irresponsible and making social media videos at the very edge of the ice, mere feet from falling in. One resort operator remarked, “Common sense is lacking when people are trying to get a TikTok video with open water at their feet.” The concern was also shared of people crossing temporary bridges to get across cracks and then the gap widens to the point of needing airboats and other vessels to evacuate people. Other concerns were the lack of snow and the lake being navigable. In previous years resorts would maintain ice roads that limited people from going too far or into dangerous areas. This year, the absence of snow is not precluding anglers from going to the far corners of the lake. 

The resort operators and guide services have been granted permission to operate motor vehicles on the ice for the wellness and well-being of their customers. This will prevent anglers from driving beyond what has been evaluated by the resorts where many of the ice rescues have occurred. Sheriff Riggs said, “For every call we receive of someone going in the ice, I’m sure there are at least five that are handled locally we don’t know about”. He finished, “Many of you [resort operators] are your customers’ first responders and you assist them. That is why I’m allowing you to serve your customers.” 

Closing the lake was not an easy decision and many consultations took place prior to making this decision. This is not an opportunity to issue tickets or generate revenue. Sheriff Riggs said, “My goal is to not write a single ticket, but rather in the interest of public safety.” A collaborative effort to ensure public safety is the goal of this group. Ice fishing and winter tourism is a staple of the local economy. 

The group determined with the forecast and winds, no checks would be conducted until Monday as the lake won’t have enough time to heal. Each time the conditions are evaluated, that will be taken into consideration of when the order is rescinded and to what extent. Private parties remain prohibited from operating their motor vehicles on the ice. Resort operators and guide services are allowed to service their customers.Additionally, airboats, hovercrafts and buoyant vessels such as a Sherp are also allowed. Sheriff Riggs said, “We don’t want to open ourselves up to having to close it down again, but rather get to a point where it is beneficial for the rest of the season.”

-Sheriff Jason Riggs
What's telling is that this restriction seems to be in place due to some people's lack of 'common sense' as one resort owner stated in the press release from the Sheriff's Office.
One resort operator remarked, “Common sense is lacking when people are trying to get a TikTok video with open water at their feet.”
Hopefully, with the colder weather that is expected, we can start to see better and safer ice, which will allow traffic back on the lake, and allow resort owners to make some money this weather-shortened season.
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Right now only resort owners and law enforcement are allowed out on the ice in vehicles, other buoyant vehicles like an airboat are allowed on the ice according to the Beltrami County Sheriff.

"Private parties remain prohibited from operating their motor vehicles on the ice. Resort operators and guide services are allowed to service their customers...Additionally, airboats, hovercrafts, and buoyant vessels such as a Sherp are also allowed."
The comment section of the social media post also saw law enforcement answering questions that the press release raised.
Good evening, not the Sheriff here, but Chris the PIO for the county.

There are a few valid questions, which while in the press release may not be clear based on some of the questions we are getting.

Resorts have been doing a good job checking ice conditions, while we will never wave a flag and say it’s safe… one thing is clear. The majority of the ice rescues we’ve conducted have been outside the areas marked by resorts to stay within by others who aren’t familiar with the lake or pushing the limits.

Attending the meeting today, it was obvious all sides have some level of frustration with what Mother Nature has dealt the region. Fishing and tourism are essential for the economy up here. So is public safety.

By limiting the access of motorized vehicles on the lake is an attempt to keep people from traversing into areas that are obviously, and in some cases, not so, obviously unsafe. Decisions have been made by consulting many reliable sources of information, data and observations. Since enacting the ban, there hasn’t been an ice rescue. We all hope this remains the case and the order can be lifted in a due time. Allowing resort owners to service their customers still affords those an opportunity to ice fish without having to walk… otherwise the lake is open for foot traffic.

With favorable ice making weather in the forecast, hopefully that wind stays calm and the lake heals. Following a record breaking warm December, lake ice will probably not achieve what we are accustomed to this year. If you venture on the ice, please follow safety recommendations and check the ice thickness frequently.

If you have further questions, please read the release that is posted. We will clarify as we are able to.

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