Beware: avoid thin ice on lakes and ponds

By: Brad D. Bates | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 9, 2013

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Despite temperatures dipping and snow accumulating, officials around Shelby Township advise residents to stay off any lakes or ponds that may appear frozen.

“Stay off the ice,” Shelby Township acting Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said of the only way to ensure safety on and around lakes and ponds during winter months.

“You want several inches of good solid ice, and the biggest concern is you get above freezing on the warm days and then back under freezing, the ice cracks, and it gets unstable and you don’t know it.

“But as of yet, we have not had enough cold weather and not enough sustained cold for the lakes, so do not venture out,” Youngblood said.

Along with the effects that freezing and thawing have on ice, Swinkowski said that conditions such as snow on ice can contribute to uncertainty at best and calamity at worst.

“In spring-fed ponds, the ice can be dangerous in the center because of the fluctuation,” Swinkowski said.

“(Ice is) hard to gauge, and it all depends on where you want to go on the ice,” Swinkowski added. “Whether it’s the big lake, Lake St. Clair, or locally, it’s hard to gauge if the ice is good unless you can drill a hole and gauge thickness.”

Swinkowski said that his department receives one or two emergency calls every winter, after people fall through ice on lakes and ponds. He advises anyone who witnesses someone fall through the ice to dial 911 as soon as possible.

“There’s nothing you can do, and when you go out, you can fall through,” Swinkowski said. “Once the ice is unstable, the issue you have is it makes it worse, because instead of one victim, you end up with two.

“Use something like a rope that you can throw from shore out to them” Swinkowski said of helping while emergency responders are en route. “Most homeowners out here should have a life ring with a rope out there, and if not, you should get it.”

Local outdoor skating will be harder to come by in 2013, as Stony Creek Metropark is not offering the option, even if temperatures and weather allow.

“We’re probably not going to have any ice skating this year,” Stony Creek Operations Manager Gary Hopp said. “We need to do some maintenance work on the south dam that provides the water backed up to Stony Creek Lake.”

Hopp said that work would change the lake depth in a way that will make it unsuitable for skating but not affect the ability of ice fishermen to make use of the lake once weather permits.

“As of right now, it doesn’t look like there will be enough water in the bay where we typically have ice skating,” Hopp said. “Ice fishermen will just have to go out further in the lake. They’ll just go out to the deeper part.”

Hopp said that the lakes at Stony Creek are not currently suitable for ice fishing, and that it would still take significantly more cold weather before they were accessible.

“It’s difficult because the weather really dictates when that will really be,” Hopp said of when the lakes would open for ice fishing. “We got a little cold spell, but it’s supposed to warm up. It’s a day-by-day process.”

Because of that, Swinkowski cautioned against testing the ice and urged anyone who does venture onto the ice to not do so too far from shore.

“The only safe way is to go to the Onyx or go downtown to Campus Martius. That’s safe ice to go on. But it is winter and you know that the kids and people are going to do it, so stay safe, stay close to shore,” Swinkowski said.

“Do not ride your snowmobile or ATV out there, especially with snow cover where you can’t see open water or thin ice,” he added. “Just keep snowmobiles and ATVs off the ice of the local lakes.”

Along with keeping heavy machines and equipment off the ice, Swinkowski said no one should go out on the ice alone or at night. And if there are children at play, ensure that they take all possible safety precautions.

“Young kids that are out skating and playing on ice should wear helmets, and, just like the summer with skating and bicycling, it’s like falling and hitting concrete,” Swinkowski said. “There are a lot of injuries that could be prevented by wearing helmets and wrist guards and things of that nature.”