Local warden offers a few tips to help assure a safe winter recreation season
From Curt Butler
Southern Lincoln County DNR Conservation Warden
“A rollercoaster of seasonal temperatures and changing snow levels have made winter recreation very opportunistic. Before you take advantage of a winter outdoor recreation opportunity, make sure you are familiar with the rules/regulations and have a good understanding of safe recreation. As the new Warden in Merrill (Southern Lincoln County), it seems that alot of people are either hitting the snowmobile trails, or catching fish through the ice.”
“Snowmobilers really need to be carefully because conditions are constantly changing with the crazy winter weather we have been experiencing. Keep in mind that from day to day trail conditions can change. Corners become icy, rough terrain and rocks may be exposed, road routes may be bare, and ice conditions can be inconsistent. Many northern counties have opened some or all of their snowmobile trails and snowmobile enthusiasts have been able to take advantage of some good season riding. However, many trails are in need of new snow to freshen conditions. Here are some tips for a safe and fun ride:
-Review the Wisconsin Snowmobile Regulation pamphlet at dnr.wi.gov, keyword snowmobile — and make sure you have a valid trail pass and registration.
-Use of hand signals is voluntary, not mandatory. If you are inexperienced or uncomfortable giving a hand signal…don’t! Focus on staying in control and to the right.
-Check trail conditions on Travel Wisconsin’s Snow Report webpage or with local snowmobile clubs; ice conditions with local bait shops, or fishing clubs. (For up to date Lincoln County trail conditions, call the Trail Hotline at (715)-539-1033).
-Use a safe and responsible speed based on the conditions; experience, visibility, trail conditions and volume of riders.
-Snowmobiling on frozen waters demands extreme caution for unique hazards – including open water areas and weak ice. Lack of adequate snow on the ice affects steering, braking and overall control. Carry or wear a life vest, always ride with a companion and refrain from riding at night. Ask local fishing clubs and bait shops about waterways ice covers.
-All operators at least age 12 and those also born on or after January 1, 1985 are required to possess a valid, snowmobile safety education certificate to legally operate solo. Certificates issued by other states/provinces are honored. Learn more by visiting the dnr.wi.gov and searching keyword snowmobile safety.
-Stay on marked trails and routes. Snowmobile clubs work hard to secure permission for trails on private property. Cutting corners or going off trail, upsets landowners and closes trails. Don’t ruin the experience for others.
-Practice “Zero Alcohol” which is a personal choice to not consume any alcohol while snowmobiling. Riders wait until they are done riding before consuming any alcohol. More than half of snowmobile accidents have alcohol as a contributing factor.
-Stay to the right hand side of the trail, especially on hills and corners. Taking the middle of the trail on hills or corners is highly unsafe, irresponsible, and illegal.
ICE AND ICE FISHING
I”f you head out to one of Wisconsin’s many lakes or rivers to ice fish, or just to enjoy a winter day, make sure you are doing it safely and taking precautions. Remember there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. You cannot judge the strength of ice by one factor like its appearance, age, thickness, temperature or whether the ice is covered with snow. Ice strength is based on a combination of several factors, and they can vary from water body to water body. Ice strength can also vary in different areas of the same body of water.
“Because ice conditions vary, it is important to know before you go. The DNR does not monitor local ice conditions or the thickness of the ice. Local bait shops, fishing clubs and resorts serve winter anglers every day and often have the most up-to-date information on how thick the ice is on local lakes and rivers, as well as areas that are especially dangerous. Here are some tips for ice fishing and ice safety:
-Dress warmly in layers.
-Don’t go alone. Head out with friends or family. Take a cell phone if available, and make sure someone knows where you are and when you are expected to return.
-Know before you go. Don’t travel in areas you are not familiar and don’t travel at night or during reduced visibility.
-Avoid inlets, outlets or narrow that may have current that can thin the ice.
-Carry some basic safety gear: ice claws or picks, a cellphone in a waterproof bag or case, a life jacket and length of rope.
IF YOU FALL THROUGH THE ICE, remain calm and act quickly.
- Do not remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes can trap air, which can help provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true in a snowmobile suit.
- Go back toward the direction you came. That is probably where you will find the strongest ice – and what lies ahead is unknown.
- Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. This is where a pair of ice picks are handy in providing the extra traction you need to pull yourself up onto the ice.
- Kick your feet and dig in your ice picks to work your way back onto the solid ice. If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water on your elbows to let the water drain before starting forward.
- Once back on the ice, don’t try to stand up. Lie flat until you are completely out of the water, then roll away from the hole to keep your weight spread out. This may help prevent you from breaking through again.
- Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area and warm yourself up immediately. In moderate to severe cases of cold-water hypothermia, you must seek medical attention. Cold blood trapped in your extremities can come rushing back to your heart after you begin to warm up. The shock of the chilled blood may cause ventricular fibrillation leading to a heart attack and death!