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Ice caves draw worldwide attention but locals take it in stride
Along with the crush of visitors to the Apostle Islands ice caves over the past two months has come a crush of notebook wielding, camera-toting journalists. Mike Simonson reports.
Locals aren’t letting the new-found fame go to their heads.
Cheryl O’Bryon of nearby Cornucopia says she’s been interviewed by five TV stations and 11 radio stations.
“And I don’t even know how many newspaper interviews, I’m not even sure. It’s crazy. Actually, all the locals are just laughing at us because “Oh my gosh, where is all this coming from?’”
Apostle Islands Resources Manager Julie Van Stappen says the ice caves have been featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, The Daily Beast, The Weather Channel, Reuter’s, USA Today, AP, the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, NPR, and 7 Network Australia.
“Most of the people I have dealt with have been pretty excited because it’s a feel-good story and they don’t get the opportunity to do that so often. And it’s a good excuse for reporters to get out and see the beautiful caves as well.”
She says all this publicity may change year round visitor numbers from 160,000 to new levels.
“The local community certainly thinks it will. I guess we’ll see but I have a feeling that we’ve been discovered.”
As for Corny’s O’Bryon? It’s been a wild ride.
“My father-in-law saw me in Arizona, my brother saw me in North Carolina, then yesterday I had a girlfriend call me from Madison and one from Milwaukee and they both saw me on the morning news there.”
But fame won’t change the people of this village of 100.
“Most everybody’s really happy about it. Of course, you have a few locals who want their town back as they say but it’s all good.”
Yesterday was the last day for visitors, and reporters, to see the ice caves.
Attendance figures from Lake Superior’s Ice Caves near the Apostle Islands are out and as Rich Kremer reports, they’re hard to believe.
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 our best estimate is around 138,000 people.
(How many again?) 138,000.
(That’s insane.) It is huge, when you think about our visitation last year was about 150,000 for the entire year throughout the entire park.”
To put it another way there were ten 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 gotta be social media and 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.”
No matter the cause, the throngs of ice cave tourists meant big business for local establishments. Cheryl O’Bryon has owned Cornucopia’s Village Inn for 8 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 and 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. She says 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, that’s a miracle in and of itself.”
O’Bryon says the ice cave madness is even leading to more summer business. She says they’re already booking cabins and rooms through June and July.
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