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Ice caves visitors already booking rooms for summer

Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

The phenomenon that is the Apostle Islands ice caves “only” drew 10,000 people last weekend. The unprecedented surge of visitors to an otherwise quiet winter area is going to carry over to the summer.

The 10,000 visitors last weekend is about half as many as have been going to the ice caves each previous weekend. Around 90,000 people have walked to the sea caves near Cornucopia since it opened six weeks ago. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore spokeswoman Julie Van Stappen says that's more than half of the 160,000 people who visit the islands in an entire year, so they've called in the reserves.

“We brought back every seasonal [worker], everyone on furlough that we could possibly grab on to, to assist with us, plus there’s people from other parks who have come to assist and other offices had people come to assist,” Van Stappen said. “So, in addition to the Park Service, it is just really great because the local community and so many different people have pulled together to help with the situation.”

Town of Bell Supervisor Mike O’Bryon hopes the thousands of shoppers and diners will mean more revenue for the town budget, which includes Cornucopia. He knows it's helping local businesses. He runs The Village Inn, and they’re already booked for July, “with reservations. We have cabins and rooms and it’s filling up quick. Usually it doesn’t happen this early. It’s definitely impacted it.”

O’Bryon calls it “crazy wonderful.”

“And they're coming back!” he said. “That’s for sure. We hear that every day, several times a day.” Van Stappen responded: “We may have been discovered.”

Van Stappen said she expects that discovery will continue this weekend, when temperatures aren’t as severe as last weekend’s double-digit below-zero wind chills. The forecast calls for highs around 30 degrees, “which will feel like summer for us,” she said.

That’ll probably mean they’ll draw their usual 20,000 next weekend, topping 100,000 ice cave visitors.