This past weekend a few of us made our annual mid-winter ice fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. The big lake takes a few hours to get to, across long stretches of open farm land in the northwestern part of the state. The drive up gives you plenty of appreciation about Minnesota geography. Because our destination is on Oak Island, seven miles off the west shore of the big lake, our trip gets more interesting the further north we go.
At the far north end of the journey we cross the Canadian border north of Roseau into Manitoba at a simple white clapboard wood frame Canadian customs office. (Its U.S. counterpart is a new, large compound built of gray stone and looks a bit like someplace in East Germany during the Cold War.)
We keep driving north, through Sprague Manitoba, eventually on gravel, and then finally east back into that small detached part of Minnesota known as the Northwest Angle. When we drive east back into Minnesota, we cross the international border without a stop. There is no office and only a small concrete post in the ditch. It has lettering that says United States on one side and Canada on the other. The border is marked by a 10 foot wide clear cut path that runs through the forest. No fence, no office, no problem.
A few miles up the road, at a remote gravel intersection near the tiny town of Angle Inlet is a parking lot with a small unheated building and a video phone with two push buttons, one for calling into Canadian customs and one for calling into U.S. customs. They need your name, birth date and the license plate number on your vehicle. It is simple, as it should be. I’ve never believed that we need to have passports to travel between the U.S. and Canada but we do. That law seems like an overreaction to a problem that doesn’t exist, at least in the north woods.
We leave terra firma at Young’s Bay and drive out onto the two foot thick ice, on a wide, plowed road winding past the Flag Island weather station. Finally we swing around a point and into the east bay on Oak Island to the Angle Inn Lodge, a small and friendly place run by Tony Wandersee and his wife Deb Kellerman. They’ve been there for 17 years. We’ve been coming there since their second. The long trip to Oak Island is always worth it. The fishing was good, the weather turned cold and we didn’t care. It was cloudy and warm the first day but it cleared off and got windy on Sunday. A change of weather usually tells fish something about not eating our bait. Only a master fish psychologist really understands why.
Page 2 of 3 - We did manage to catch plenty of fish, however, snagging our limit of walleye and falling just six short of our limit of sauger. It was well worth the effort and well worth the cold.
Cold? Yes, that change of weather dropped the mercury to minus 26 at Oak Island on Monday morning before we headed for home.
Back in Sprague, the clerk at the little store told us the temperature had dipped to 40 below that morning but was already “up to 32 below”. I wondered if that was Fahrenheit or Celsius, which they use in Canada, but it didn’t matter. 40 below is the same for both scales and either way it was too cold. 32 below zero is cold, too. If that was Celsius, it would be 26 below Fahrenheit, which is just as cold.
Why the difference in temperature from Oak Island to Sprague? It’s hard to believe but Lake of the Woods, even when covered with a thick sheet of ice and a foot of snow, is large enough to have a moderating effect on the air temperature.
Cold? Suffice it to say that it was cold enough for Canadians to call off school.
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Xcel Energy invited the local city council and county commissioners to see the Minnesota Falls dam demolition last Wednesday. I took the photo that’s at the top of the front page. That same day, the paper came out with another photo of the site that Scott Tedrick had taken a just week earlier during the media tour of the site. The photos looked incredibly different. The larger photo on this week’s front page was taken on Monday after the dam was all but gone. It went very fast.
According to Xcel’s project manager, Jim Bodensteiner, there will still be some finish grading work to be done, some seeding and some tree planting in the spring but for now there is only some silt to haul away and some concrete to remove along a wall.
The rock and mortar spillway that took nearly two years to build without using any machinery and a lot of hard manual labor was demolished in about a month and a half.
Jim asked me if I saw any rocks that we’d like to have. I had told him earlier that the city would like to save a boulder from the dam that those early Granite Falls water-power advocates E. H. Sorlein and Olaus Lende had built.
He told me he would have the contractor set some big stones aside for us to pick from.
Page 3 of 3 - The next day just before lunch City Manager Bill Lavin and I met Public Works Director Paul Krogstad at the dam site and picked out a boulder for the city crew to haul into town.
We’ll set it aside for the time being. Maybe it can be used as a historic marker recalling those early water-power pioneers, perhaps in Sorlien Park or maybe across the river after the old water treatment plant is torn down later this year.
It’s all that is left from that interesting chapter of local history.