Ice on Lake Erie February 08, 2009
Winter ice is a huge topic in Ohio this weekend. CNN reports Ottawa County Sheriff, Bob Bratton said, "We lost a life out there today.... I'm sorry a man lost his life out there today. These people should have known better." He continued, "I have no problem with people ice fishing, but these idiots should realize that when you see open water, you should not build a bridge and cross it," he said. "It's a shame you can't arrest people for stupidity."
Having live in Ottawa County, and been part owner of an ice fishing service, this scenario is all too familiar. It is an exhilarating feeling to be on tundra-like sheets of ice in the middle of one of the least predictable of the Great Lakes. I have seen entire villages spring-up off shore from Catawba Island, but note from the rescue photos the relatively low numbers of ice shanties in those scenes. It makes me suspect the professionals got off the ice when the getting was good. Too often it is the folks feeding poor judgment with alcohol who remain long past the point of common sense.
Once young and fearless, I have made ice crossings on Lake Erie to carouse at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. Marblehead natives will tell you, the water currents keep the lake open between the mainland and Kelleys Island long after it is safe to cross to South Bass. The locals auger the ice for test holes, and when it is substantial enough to hold vehicles, a cast-off Christmas tree is propped up vertically in the hole. The snowmobiles and ice buggy* drivers follow the “Christmas tree trail” to the island.
Oh, and remember, always unfasten your seat belt on a Lake Erie ice crossing; you want to be able to swim free if your buggy breaks through the ice.
*an older vehicle with the doors and weight stripped off for ice travel