Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 18, 2014

Ice caves lure many visitors onto big lake


“One local said he waited an hour to get home,” Dion said. “Vehicles stretched from 2.25 miles away where I was. People were willing to walk that far. It was crazy out there.”

The flow of visitors began a little more than a week ago, after Northwestern Michigan College photography instructor Tom Auch posted photos of the caves online. Auch and videographer George Meredith hiked the 1/3-mile out to the tallest shelf of ice looking for caves.

“My partner, George Meredith, and I went out there about a week ago and it was literally un-tracked,” he said. “It kind of created mayhem out there. It got a little bit out of control.”

Visitors flocked to the beach after Auch’s photos and Meredith’s video hit first regional then national news outlets. By the weekend, the glut of people began to concern officials. The Leelanau Township Fire Department dispatched a crew to stay on scene during the weekend in case of an emergency. There were 60 vehicles parked along the roadway Monday while viewers continued to venture onto the ice, Dion said.

Auch spent the past 40 years documenting the outdoors across the region and can’t remember a year when the ice caves formed as large as they are this year. The biggest ones are more than 30 feet tall and as wide as a two-car garage, he said.

The last time he remembers ice caves forming large enough to stand in was in 2005.

“I did some research online and didn’t find anything being bigger than 20 feet,” Auch said adding that consistent warming of water in the Great Lakes continues to diminish the probability of ice caves forming again in the future. “It’s unlikely we’re going to see this again. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Auch and Dion were quick to warn visitors of the potential dangers associated with trekking onto the ice.

“There is no question there will be hazardous situations out there on the ice in the coming weeks,” Auch said. “There’s some large, large cracks in the ceiling of some of the caves. I don’t think they’re dangerous, but they will be.”



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