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Apostle Island ice caves attracted about 138K total visitors

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Richard Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio

Attendance figures from Lake Superior’s ice caves near the Apostle Islands are out, and they’re hard to believe.

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Julie Van Stappen is the Chief of Resources for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which oversees the ice caves. She says tallying the number of people who visited the frozen wonders is not an exact science, but that their best estimate of the season’s attendance is 138,000 people.

“It is huge, when you think about our visitation last year was about 150,000 for the entire year throughout the entire park,” said Van Stappen.

To put it another way, there were 10 times as many people visiting the caves this year than the last time they were accessible in 2009. Van Stappen says the million dollar question is, why?

“It’s got to be social media,” said Van Stappen. “I think for the first time people saw images of the ice caves, and word can spread so quickly now compared to what it did before. It’s just a totally different world.”

Whatever the cause, the throngs of ice cave tourists meant big business for local establishments.

Cheryl O’Bryon has owned Cornucopia’s Village Inn for eight years. “This time of year – say, on a Saturday or a Sunday – we would be lucky to serve 50 people on a really good day,” said O’Bryon. “On a Saturday or a Sunday during this ice cave phenomenon, we were serving 400-500 people per day.”

She says they had to call friends, former employees and anyone else they could muster to keep up; now, with the caves closed things are calming down.

“It would have been nice to see it go a couple extra weeks, but you know, we got two months out of it,” she said. “That’s a miracle in and of itself.”

O’Bryon says the ice cave madness is even leading to more summer business: They’re already booking cabins and rooms through June and July.

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