Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn.

Jan. 6, 2002

Some adults are required to complete snowmobile training

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials are reminding adult snowmobilers to take the Adult Snowmobile Safety courses now, to keep them safe and legal this winter and to reduce the number of people killed or injured on Minnesota trails.

Any resident born after Dec. 31, 1976, must have a snowmobile safety certificate to operate a snowmobile anywhere in Minnesota.

This requirement was passed by the legislature in 1997, following the winter of 1996-97 in which 32 snowmobile fatalities were recorded.

The Adult Snowmobile Safety Course is available to persons 16 years of age and older. The course is four hours in length and is usually taught in one evening.

This course takes a close look at the causes of accidents, speed, and reaction times, stopping distances, group riding, and the effects of long term injuries and death on family and friends.

In addition to the materials received in the youth and young adult course, the student receives the adult snowmobile safety manual. A fee will be charged to cover the costs of material and certification.

The snowmobile safety course requirement is intended to help cut down on snowmobiling fatal accidents. In 2001-02, when just fewer than 300,000 snowmobiles were registered in Minnesota, 17 people died in snowmobiling accidents. Of the 17 fatalities, the average age was 32 years old.

By taking an adult snowmobile safety course, snowmobilers learn about all aspects of their sport and their recreational machines. Students learn about the machine, the laws, safe operation, the ethics of the sport, and they learn how to avoid the most common causes of snowmobile accidents.

More than 1,800 volunteer instructors teach DNR snowmobile safety courses across the state, many of them snowmobile club members.

For more information on the dates and locations of these courses, visit the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us or call 800-366-8917.

For more information, contact Richard Sprouse, DNR enforcement public information officer, at Camp Ripley, (320) 616-2511.

DNR officer on rescue survives plunge in lake

From the DNR

Editor's note: Ice conditions throughout much of Minnesota remain extremely dangerous. As of Dec. 27, six people have died after going through the ice. The following account should help drive home the point that ice is always dangerous.

The blackness.

Randy Evans remembers first the blackness. And then, the sudden, frightening plunge into the icy waters of Lake Washington in Le Sueur County.

Evans is a regional enforcement supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in New Ulm.

During his 25 years with the DNR, Evans has delivered countless ice safety messages to the public. He has witnessed first-hand the tragedy of drownings.

And now, on an early December night, Evans found himself struggling to remain calm as he groped in the water for the ledge of ice encircling him. Evans knew he was in serious trouble. And he knew no one was nearby to help him.

The evening of Dec. 11, 2002, began ordinarily enough for Evans, who lives on Lake Washington. He and a friend decide to go to a nearby marina on the lake at about 5:30 p.m. to celebrate the friend's birthday.

They are there just 10 minutes when a young man bursts in, hollering for help. Two elderly men have gone through the ice.

Evans immediately announces that he is a "state game warden" and asks the owner of the marina if he has any rope and flotation devices. The owner finds two ropes, a life jacket, and a flotation cushion. Evans grabs the equipment and jumps on the back of the young man's ATV.

"As we got closer to where the accident happened, I noticed there were a few people standing around with flashlights," Evans said. "At that point I told the driver of the ATV to stay back from the area, as I was concerned that the ATV might go through the ice."

As the driver stops, the people already at the scene begin shouting for the ATV to come closer as they have managed to get the victims out of the water. Evans jumps off and walks to the site as the ATV operator cautiously drives ahead.

When Evans reaches the accident location, he again announces that he is a state game warden and tells the others to get the two victims to shore immediately. Hypothermia is now the danger, especially for two elderly men.

The men are helped onto the ATV and taken to shore. The other men quickly head off in a different direction.

"All of a sudden, I realize I'm standing there alone in the dark," Evans said. Dressed only in light street clothes, Evans has no choice but to begin walking back toward the marina, trying to re-trace the same course the ATV had taken on the way out.

"As I began walking, I kept thinking about how absolutely pitch black it was and not being able to tell what was ahead of me," Evans recalled.

Holding the cushion to his chest with one hand and clutching the ropes and life jacket in the other, Evans proceeds only about 50 yards when the unthinkable happens.

"I was stunned. I couldn't believe what was happening," Evans stated. Like a blindfolded man walking off a gangplank, Evans steps off the ice and into an open area of frigid water.

"I went completely under the water. When I came back up, it again struck me as to how pitch black everything was and that I was completely alone."

Instinctively, Evans has somehow managed to hold on to the boat cushion. "I kept telling myself not to panic, to stay calm and go slow," Evans said.

The hole, Evans figured, was about 10 by six feet. Evans quickly makes his way to an edge of the hole and tries to hold on to the slick ice.

With no snow on the ice, Evans found it almost impossible to secure a grip so that he could pull himself out of the water.

Twice Evans tried to pull himself up onto the ice and twice he fell back into the water. Although he tried to brush aside any thoughts of death as he struggled in the black, icy waters of Lake Washington, he couldn't completely erase the thoughts.

"In a situation like that, I've learned that the mind can conjure up some pretty frightening scenarios," Evans admitted.

Eventually, Evans managed to position the cushion near his mid-section "and by kicking as hard as I could," he manages to slide a few inches of the cushion onto the ice.

"That gave me just enough of a grip to be able pull myself out. I was probably only in the water for about five minutes, but it seemed like forever," Evans recalled.

Once back on his feet, Evans' plight was hardly over. "I didn't know which way to go or if there might be other open water areas," he said.

Knowing he could not remain out in the cold in the condition he was now in, Evans once again began to inch his way towards the lights from shore. "Amazingly, I didn't feel cold at all, at least not right then."

Luckily, Evans had gone only a short distance when he noticed an ATV approach. "I managed to get his attention and stop him before he got too close to the hole. I was then able to use the beams from the headlights of his machine to walk over to him," Evans explained.

Later, back at home, the reality of what had happened began to sink in. "That's when the shaking started," Evans said, "and when I began to notice the pain in my back and ribs."

Since his ordeal, Evans has been paying even closer attention to those he sees out on the ice. "I see some people out there and I just have to shake my head. Even though I've always been extremely cautious about going out on ice, I still found myself in a potentially deadly situation. I can't imagine why anyone would intentionally take a chance, no matter how small, when it comes to ice. One word can define ice ­ unpredictable."

Evans said the experience has only re-enforced the lessons he already knew about ice safety:

"I should have put the life jacket on in addition to holding the cushion next to my chest," Evans said. "I don't know why I didn't, but I can promise that that was a mistake I'll never make again."

Ice picks ­ Although in this situation Evans did not have time to search for ice picks or something similar, the experience gave him a first-hand lesson in their value.

Ice picks (small blocks of wood with nails protruding) would have "helped me get out of the water a lot faster than I did. I don't know how an elderly person or someone without much strength would ever be able to get out on their own."

The mantra of ice never being completely safe cannot be overstated. "I suspect the ice opened up where I fell in because of a spring in that location," Evans said.

Every lake is going to have areas where the ice is more dangerous. "If you don't know the lake, don't go wandering around, especially at night."

Check with local resorts, bait shops, and others who are familiar with the lake and ice conditions before venturing out.

In an ironic footnote to the near-tragedy, Evans later discovered that he knew both of the elderly men whom he was attempting to rescue.

"I didn't realize it that night but both of those guys are from my hometown and I know one of them very well."

What do the thin ice signs mean?

Submitted by Petie Littfin Winsted Lake Watershed Assoc. President

Most people are aware that Winsted Lake, adjacent to the City of Winsted, has an aeration system to prevent winterkill of fish.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued this permit to the City of Winsted to operate and maintain a system.

A condition of the permit is that the City of Winsted maintains large warning signs at public access sites around the lake. Thin ice signs must also be placed around any open water created by the aerators.

The city public works crews have done a good job of maintaining the required signs this winter according to Gene Jeseritz, assistant fisheries supervisor in Hutchinson.

"The problem," said Jeseritz, "is that just because the open water area caused by aerators is marked, does not mean that the rest of the lake is safe. Unusually warm weather conditions have created serious ice safety issues on many area lakes.

"Our best advice," said Jeseritz, "is that the ice should never be considered safe. Due to recent ice conditions it would not be a good idea to be driving onto the lakes.

"If you walk out, you should not go alone; you should wear a flotation device, wear ice picks, and carry a rope. Also, never allow small children to venture out alone onto the ice."

Jeseritz also provided general guidelines for ice carrying capacity. These include: four inches of ice for walking, five inches for snowmobiling, and 12 inches of solid ice for vehicles.

Again, he stressed that these are only guidelines and that ice thickness can vary greatly from one location on a lake to another.

Outdoor notes

­ With no snow and balmy temperatures, winter seems to be passing us by, at least the type of winter many of us are accustomed to.

Some people are loving it, but many of us are hating it. Ice conditions are OK, but not what they should be.

Snowmobiling, skiing, sledding, and, of course, snowman-building all require snow. Resort business is slow, sport equipment dealers are advertising ATVs and not snowmobiles, and my daughters are driving me crazy because they want to play in the snow.

Right now, I'm asking for snow and good thick ice, but I just don't want it to stick around until April.

­ The Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club will meet tonight, at 7 p.m., at the club house located one-and-a-half miles southwest of Lester Prairie on McLeod County Road 1.

­ The Howard Lake Sportsmen's Club 57th annual fishing derby will be Saturday, Feb. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Howard Lake.

The grand prize in this year's raffle drawing is a deluxe King Crow fish house on wheels. Tickets can be purchased at Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake, or from club members.

­ Ice fishing reports form the area have been mixed. Mary, Waconia, and Howard are producing fish while the action on Ida and Dog has slowed.

Big Waverly and Winsted are still producing good winter action, with Winsted giving up decent numbers of northern pike.

On Howard, anglers are nabbing a few crappies in 20-plus feet of water at dusk and dawn, with an occasional walleye mixed in.

The best bet is to be mobile on the ice and make sure your line and rig are clean and lightweight.

­ Please remember that no ice is ever completely safe.

­ Take some time to teach a kid how to ice fish and let them know that there is more to winter than TV, video games, and sitting around the house.

Keep the trip short, bring some snacks with and combine the effort with some other type of winter fun like ice skating.

­ The Iowa pheasant hunting season closes Friday, Jan. 10.

­ Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty, has not chosen a new commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources yet. Please give him your opinion on the matter and urge him to select an individual that is connected, truly cares, and has a personal relationship with Minnesota's vast and great outdoor environments.

­ Start planning your 2003 outdoor adventures, hunting trips, and fishing endeavors now.

On that note, consider inviting a person that has not enjoyed the same outdoor adventures you have.

­ The Wright County Chapter of Pheasants Forever will have a corn giveaway for pheasants and wildlife Saturday, Jan. 18, from 8 to 11 p.m. at Lampi's Auction, located at Highway 55 and Wright County Road 6.

Bring your own containers. Quantities may be limited due to demand. For additional informatino, call (320) 274-CORN (2676).

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