Friday, March 14, 2014

America’s Most Popular Winter Hike is an Economic Beacon


With Lake Superior beginning to melt, the most popular winter hike in the United States is closing. The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that during the two months of safe ice conditions over 135,000 people walked the frozen 5 miles required to view the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

On the busiest Saturdays, over 10,000 people made the trek. Some had to park their cars 2 miles from the trailhead, which extended their hike to 9 miles plus whatever hiking they did at the caves.

National Park Service photo
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, famous for its natural beauty and lighthouses, is located at the northern end of Wisconsin. It is comprised of a 12-mile section of mainland and 21 islands in the largest expanse of freshwater in the world.

Lake Superior is the coldest, deepest, and highest in elevation of any of the Great Lakes. Part of a billion year old mid-continent rift, the bottom of Lake Superior is actually the lowest point in North America (yes, lower than California’s Death Valley). To walk on its frozen surface is a sublime pedestrian experience protected by the prohibition on snowmobiles, ATVs and fat-tire bicycles within a quarter-mile of the ice caves.

National Park Service photo

It just goes to show that lots of people will walk miles for a high quality experience, even in winter.

Bayfield Regional Conservancy photo
Hotels and restaurants within 40 miles of the ice caves are enjoying an economic boost thanks to throngs of tourists. According to NPS estimates, in just two months visitors to the ice caves pumped $10 million to $12 million into the local economy.

Whoever said hikers don't spend money?!

For more information, check out what the smart people at the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau have put together at http://bayfield.org/bayfield-activities/ice-caves/.

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