Posted at: 03/16/2014 7:00 PM
Updated at: 03/16/2014 10:21 PM
By: Travis Dill
The Apostle Islands Ice Caves have drawn thousands of visitors a day this winter, but park officials closed the caves Sunday night. The melting ice formations may wash away an economic boom for the South Shore, but local businesses were happy while it lasted.
“Well, for the store itself it's hundreds of people a day,” Michael Upthegrove said. “Weekend days have been 12 to 13 hours of work here. Some nights it's hard to get people out.”
That is a good problem to have for the employees of Ehler's General Store in Cornucopia. The businesses is usually closed for the winter, but the ice caves crowds need lunch and maybe a few treats according to cook Janel Ryan.
“There's been a lot of fabulous people coming in through the door more than I could have anticipated,” Ryan said.
That has been good for business and workers like her.
“Yeah, it's been great because, I mean, that's very unusual for us so it's very nice to go home with a little money,” Ryan said.
Visitors drove for hours to get to the caves, but said the unique experience of walking on Lake Superior is worth it.
“Very worth it. Yeah, it's been really cool to lay under some of the ice and see it forming above you. It's really cool,” Megan McEnna said.
The caves may have been free, but guests were spending while they visited the area.
“It looks like a great small town, and I think that a lot of people will hunker down and eat and fill up their tank to get back to the Cities or where ever they are coming from,” Laura Eusterman said.
Considering 130,000 people turned out this winter it is easy to see how the boom hit the entire South Shore.
“The store owners, and the restaurant owners and the lodging owners they're just in shock and gleeful at the same time. So it's been a wonderful boost for the area,” Ryan said.
The businesses and employees hoped the unexpected tourism will roll over into summer.
“If they have a good time up here in the winter I think they're looking around and going, 'Wow, it would be really wonderful in the summer when you actually swim in the lake instead of walking on it,'” Ryan said.
The money was great, but hosting the guests was more than just business to residents of the South Shore. They were happy to share their home.
“Thank you to all the people that came here to visit us, and thank you for their kindness, and their genuine sweetness, and for coming to see what nature can be at it's best,” Ryan said.