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On thin ice

Lowell Anderson | Echo Press Workers removed a skid loader that broke through the ice on Noonan Park while clearing snow from the skating rink Monday.

Thinking about taking the snowmobile or fish house out?

Hold your horses!

Despite the cold temperatures and winter's early arrival, the ice isn't safe and the snowmobile trails are not open yet.

If you don't believe it, consider what happened Monday: A skid loader clearing the skating rink at Alexandria's Noonan Park fell through the ice. And that was on a very shallow pond with no current.

The ice isn't safe for snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles or even for walking in most cases, according to experts with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). At least five inches of new clear ice is needed before people should venture out on the ice, the DNR warns.

The DNR has already made several ice rescues around the state involving snowmobiles. A fatality happened on Lake Washington in Blue Earth County when a man on foot broke through thin ice.

Douglas County has been fortunate so far - no incidents of people falling through the ice had been reported to the sheriff's office as of Monday afternoon, according to Greg Windhurst, dive team leader with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

Some local residents are taking risks, however. Windhurst said a few permanent fish houses are already out on ice. One of them fell through Lake Oscar, he added, but the owners were able to get it out on their own.

Although there is a lot of snow on the ground, the Douglas Area Trails Association's (DATA) snowmobile trail in Douglas County is not ready yet.

To open the trails, four conditions must be met:

• Trails must be cleared of dead falls, signs need to be in place and gates need to be opened.

• Bridges need to be checked and if necessary, repairs made.

• The ground must be frozen enough to allow crossing of wet areas.

• Trails must have adequate snow cover for grooming. Up to 12 inches of snow can pack down to a base of only an inch or two.

Bill Anderson, manager of DATA trail, said the first two conditions have been met but steady, cold temperatures and more snow are needed before the trail can open.

"We still have a limited number of sloughs that are not safe to cross," he said Monday. "And we also need additional snow for the groomers."

This week's forecast calls for continued cold temperatures and some additional snow on Thursday but depending on how much snow accumulates, the trail will remain closed.

Snowmobilers can check the status of the trails by going to the website,

Ice guidelines

Although ice is never 100 percent safe, the Department of Natural Resources offered the following guidelines for how thick new, clear,

solid ice should be for certain activities:

2" or less - stay off

4" - ice fishing or other activities on foot

5" - snowmobile or ATV

8" to 12" - car or small pickup

12" to 15" - medium truck

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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