Deep freeze good news for lake activities

Warm weather at the beginning of winter delayed ice fishing, snowmobiling and other winter activities on local lakes, but freezing weather this week will thicken the ice and get the season on track, local outdoor winter enthusiasts say.

High temperatures reaching the 40s last week delayed the thickening of ice on local lakes, especially the Great Sacandaga Lake and Caroga Lake.

The situation, however, is better than it was last winter.

Bob Campbell, president of the Great Sacandaga Lake Business Association and owner of the Edinburg Marina and Powersports, said he doesn’t like to think about the 2012 winter, much of which was unseasonably warm, leaving many lakes with little ice until deep into the season.

Campbell said this winter started to worry him.

“Being in this business, we don’t even talk about last year, because it was a non-entity as far as winters go,” Campbell said. “We’re off to a slow start this year. I think we’re about there with the cold weather now. We’re going to need snow. We need a snow storm, and if we get a snow storm, it’s going to be fun up here.”

The annual Walleye Challenge ice-fishing contest is scheduled for this weekend on the Great Sacandaga Lake.

Organizer Lou Stutzke, owner of Fuel-N-Food in Mayfield, said he expects enough ice will be on the lake for hundreds of fishing enthusiasts to head out onto the lake with snowmobiles and four-wheelers.

Stutzke said there is about 5 to 7 inches of ice on the lake now. The cold front should give the lake the necessary 12 inches to have four-wheelers on the lake this weekend.

Stutzke said some people have been on the ice with their four-wheelers already.

“Guys who know their four-wheelers and know the paths have been driving out there,” he said. “[But] even those people aren’t going across the lake to visit their buddies. We’ll have a good foot of ice after the cold coming next week.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says it is safe to walk and fish on ice that is at least 4 inches thick.

On Caroga Lake, the weather has been unkind to winter-water enthusiasts. Some events on lake ice have been canceled, including a car race for the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club.

Club Vice President Ivan Hinkle said there hasn’t been enough ice for people to race their cars on the ice, but he expects that to change in the coming week.

Hinkle said the group is scheduled to race on Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks next weekend.

“They have anywhere [from] 8 to 10 inches of good ice – hard ice, not the cracked stuff,” Hinkle said. “And the lows there for next week are expected to be about minus 19 degrees, minus 20 degrees. … We started at about this time last year. The warm weather has been a little bit of a problem the past couple of years.”

The club had six or seven races last season, Hinkle said, and aside from the late start, it was a good year.

While some people prefer the snow coverage to block the ice from the mild heat, Hinkle said the cold weather is all they need. The snow gives them extra work, having to plow it to make a track, he said.

“It seems to be a duplicate of last year,” he said. “If it stays this cold, we should hopefully be able to race into February.”

The lack of ice has limited snowmobilers’ ability to ride on local lakes.

Snowmobilers account for some of the business at local restaurants and bars near the lakes during the winter.

The New York State Snowmobile Association says snowmobiling has an economic impact of $245 million in the Adirondacks. Statewide, the economic impact is $868 million annually in the state, the association says.

Tami Miller, president of the Southern Adirondack Snowmobilers Club, said it technically is not very safe to ride on the local lakes at this time because there are spots of open water.

“They are there every year, but you just have to be careful and be aware of where they are,” Miller said. “Hopefully, this week with it being consistently cold, things should freeze well and we can have a big turnout for the Walleye Challenge this weekend.”

Miller said riders should take the following precautions when traveling on the lake during the winter: travel in a group; know where you are on the lake; know where you are going; and know the spots that are usually open or thin.

Right now, winter enthusiasts are eagerly waiting to see the effects from this week’s cold front.

“By the middle of the week, it’s going to be as hard as a rock,” Campbell said of the Great Sacandaga Lake. “There’s a Canadian cold mat coming down. We’re going to be making ice day and night. And I hope we don’t get another thaw.”