It appears that winter's wrath has seized most area lakes and ponds with a firm grip while fishing shanties continue to sprout like dandelions on a summer's lawn. Despite such appearances, ice travelers should remain cautiously alert, as the ice isn't all that it appears.
Two recent incidents, one involving a truck that went through the ice on the Upper Saranac Lake and another involving four vehicles taking the plunge near Pilot Knob in Fort Ann provide ample evidence that there is no safe ice when motor vehicles are involved.
In both of the recent incidents, occupants of the vehicles safely escaped; however their vehicles didn't.
"The ice is really funny this year," explained one ice fisherman,"with a lot of cracks and slush everywhere. I believe it's safe, but it's really sloppy. You really want to be wearing rubber boots out there!"
The slushy conditions are evident on most area lakes. Water quickly fills the tracks of snowmobiles crossing Lake Flower in the village of Saranac Lake, despite the impressive 14-inch ice blocks that were recently cut for construction of the massive Ice Palace.
Many people fail to recognize that the ice blocks were cut from ice that was consistently kept cleared of snow. By removing the insulating snow, the ice was allowed to develop thick and strong. However, lakes which remain covered in snow or in areas with a current, such as inlets or outlets, the ice may not be so thick.
In order to dispel a common myth, I recently spoke with Region 5, Environmental Conservation Officer Captain DiDonato. I asked the Captain about penalties for motor vehicles that go through the ice, which I've always believed were accessed at $1,000 per day.
Capt. DiDonato explained, "You can be fined depending on the instance, and you can face both civil and criminal charges. Plus, you've got to consider the cleanup costs, divers, salvage costs and repair or replacement fees."