Bear Island inaccessible due to lack of ice

Bear Island residents are unable to get home

Due to the ice on Crane Lake no longer being safe, those who stay on Bear Island all winter are either trapped on the island or stuck staying in a hotel.

Bear Island is located on Crane Lake in northern Minnesota. Getting to and from homes on the island is done by boat in the summer and then by snowmobile in the winter.

Steve Bergerson is the pastor at Crane Lake Chapel and has lived on Bear Island for 49 years. He said he has never seen rain in December, and ice conditions are similar now to what they usually are in May.

“It varies from year to year, but usually we have probably 9 to 10 good inches of ice, and right now we’ve got seven,” said Bergerson. “And that hasn’t changed from yesterday to today. The thing that has changed is our rain last night made all this ice soft.”

On Christmas Eve Sunday, Bergerson and his wife crossed the lake on a snowmobile in the pouring rain to get to church services. The rain severely impacted the safety of the ice on the lake over the past few days. On Wednesday morning, the couple made the difficult decision to grab what they could and leave their home until conditions improve.  

“Normally we use a snowmobile to get back and forth and it’s just I don’t want to have to worry about it going through,” said Bergerson. “There’s some really good people down the road and they said, ‘Come stay at our place,’ and they opened up their guest cabin for us until the ice is safe. This is the greatest community in the world. We’ve had five people offer to give us a place to stay.

Others on the island have faced similar difficulties with transportation. 

“We’ve got, I think, 42 places on the island. And there’s four of us who are there all winter long,” said Bergerson. “There’s one lady who’s stranded on the island. She’s been there since November because she pulled her boat in anticipation of ice coming in, but the ice didn’t come until late, and she ran out of supplies. We brought her some supplies to get her through.”

RELATED: Ice thickness safety

The lack of winter weather has also had a negative impact on the tourism industry in Crane Lake as many travel to the area for snowmobiling or other activities. 

“Late fall, we were getting phone calls daily, people renting sleds and booking our lodge rooms,” said Voyagaire Lodge & Houseboats General Manager Scott Lennander. “And now for the last ten days, I haven’t had a single phone call of anyone even inquiring about renting a sled or renting a room for the winter.”

There have not been any cancellations, but Lennander is concerned for what would happen if this weather continues to be so much warmer than normal. 

“Our first guests are due to start on January 11th and then it pretty much gets really heavy bookings after that. But, you know, it’s something we’re going to have to address if there is no snow,” said Lennander. “We have quite a full ride here in February and beginning of March here where people are planning to come up for a snowmobile trip, and if things don’t change here, it’s going to be an issue.”

The business has eight brand-new snowmobiles that have been sitting on grass unused. 


“We had kind of gotten out of the snowmobile rental business because of this, and in the last two years, the snow had been very good and we had a lot of requests for lodging and snowmobile rentals,” explained Lennander. “Everything’s sitting idle. All the lodges and businesses, about three or four weeks ago, we all got together. We went out with ATVs and chainsaws. And, you know, we had people from our staff in a lot of the businesses. Staff went out and we cleared all the trails, set up all the woods as a volunteer thing. Normally that’s done on snowmobiles. This year, we did it on ATVs. So that was already kind of a first warning of you know, it’s not looking good for us.” 

The lack of snow means fewer weekends that customers want to stay in the area this winter. 

“Up here, we figure there’s 12 good weekends of snowmobiling here is kind of what our lodge figures, and you know we calculate the staff in our resources in the summer to have our hotel and our bar open,” said Lennander. “Well, now we’re into,after this week, we’re gonna be down to nine left. So at this point, we’re hoping to even salvage, you know, two thirds of the season.”

Other businesses have also been harmed by this warmer weather as many depend on winter tourism.

“It affects our beer suppliers. The snowmobile clubs where they have all the money they’ve invested in their grooming equipment. We have first class trails up here and I have all the people that deliver food to us, liquor suppliers,” said Lennander. “Not to mention a lot of our guests visit the local taverns in town here. They’re just not supporting our lodge, they’re supporting a lot of the taverns in town. So this lack of snow is hurting everybody.”