2018-04-26 / Front Page

Winter’s hold on lakes, wildlife, roads

Story by Amy Hubbell Jen Murphy Alan Campbell


A BEWILDERED woodcock arrived up north too early this spring. A BEWILDERED woodcock arrived up north too early this spring. With snow continuing to blanket forest floors and piled high in parking lots, the calendar seems a poor reflection of the season.

Leelanau hearkens of winter, with May Day approaching on Tuesday.

Statistics maintained by the National Weather Service for Maple City show that the first 24 days of April have been the coldest since records started being kept in the late 1950s. The average daily temperature — midway between the high and low temps — has been 31.4 degrees.

And, of course, 20 inches of snow fell in the mid-April snowstorm, enough of which remains to tell residents that if winter’s in the rearview mirror it’s touch the bumper.

Winter’s long grasp continues to hold onto the Leelanau Peninsula in many ways. Following are three of them:

Fish and wildlife

Lake Leelanau fishing guide and rental cabin owner Greg Alsip says he can’t recall having to cancel walleye trips due to ice on Lake Leelanau. But he did for the weekend.

“We usually have the same people come up, but we can’t open until we’re completely thawed out,” Alsip said yesterday morning. “We had to tell some people that we need to reschedule. Hopefully we can open up next weekend; it’s been tough.”

Fishing the walleye opener on Lake Leelanau has become a rite of spring passage for many county anglers, who would normally gather at launching sites late Friday night and be ready to cast a line at midnight.

Late ice continues to clog big Glen Lake, too, according to riparian Barb Siepker. She and her husband, Frank, had just returned from Tuscon, Ariz., on Tuesday night to find winter had not left.

“It’s not solid to the shore but it’s out there,” Siepker said. “This is quite a winter.”

DNR fisheries biologist Heather Hettinger did not expect much in fish kill, at least on the county’s larger lakes. However, smaller lakes such as Shell Lake in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore could be susceptible. Extended periods of ice covering depletes the amount of oxygen in water, sometimes killing fish populations.

Deer and most other mammals appear fine, although hungry and roving for food.

There was concern, however, for bird species that rely on open ground to prod for grubs and worms.

Robins, for instance, seemed in danger, although those that survived the snow covering are doing fine now. Kay Charter, founder of Saving Birds Thru Habitat, said there was little residents could do to help.

“For robins you can put out grapes. We’re at the end of the season, which is the hardest time of the season for any (snow) event,” she said.

Migrating woodcock, a favored game bird, were also in danger and their local populations likely suffered strain if not casualties. However, it’s likely that some flew back south a couple hundred miles to bare ground.

Eric Ellis, a biologist with Great Lakes Commission who formerly worked for the Ruffed Grouse Society, said woodcock whose paths were tracked through satellite transmitters, did just that a few years back.

“We saw some of them come up north to the Grayling and Gaylord area, and the weather went bad. Then they went south. They’re certainly in the breeding season, and that can be impacted, but they are pretty hardy,” Ellis said.

Frost laws continue

Winter’s hangs on in the ground, resulting in one of the longest seasons on record for seasonal weight restrictions .

Effective at 8 a.m. yesterday, the Leelanau County Road Commission did lift seasonal weight and speed restrictions on most roads.

However, restrictions remain in place for a more than 15 others, making spring 2018 one of the longest in history when it comes to frost law.

The restrictions have a negative impact on the county building industry, limiting when heavy equipment and loads can be moved to build sites.

“This is without a doubt the longest since I’ve been here,” Road Commission engineer Jim Johnson said.

Weight restrictions are imposed each spring when the frozen earth begins to thaw. They limit damage to roads caused by heavy truck traffic as frost lifts out of the ground, causing road beds to heave and retreat.

Weight restrictions began Feb. 19 and have yet to be lifted on all roads — a stretch of 67 days as of yesterday.

“If the forecast can be believed, the rest of the road should be thawed by next week,” Johnson said. “That’s what we thought a month ago.”

Since 1999, the average “lift” date for restrictions is April 1. The earliest date was March 13, 2000.

But this year, breaks the latest lift date record of April 22, set in 2014.

Late snowfall disrupts contest

One Leland Township resident appeared well on her way to winning the Leelanau Enterprise snowfall contest as the county snow gauge rarely moves much after mid-April. But then 20 inches of white stuff covered the county once again, bringing the season’s current snowfall total to 171.1 inches.

One entry would have been spot on without the late-season snowfall. And she is familiar with the Leelanau Enterprise.

Former Enterprise staff member Wendy VerSnyder of Lake Leelanau guessed 151 inches of snowfall for the season.

“That’s a bummer,” she said when she learned that last week’s precipitation event snowed on her contest victory parade. “And we just returned from six weeks in Florida. We raced back to beat the storm. We weren’t happy.”

VerSnyder said it was hard to adjust from 80 degrees back to just 12 degrees on their return. “It wasn’t fun,” she said.

Now retired, the first year VerSnyder’s has been able to enter the contest. Enterprise co-publisher Alan Campbell has said employees can enter, “they just can’t win.”

Readers who predicted a higher snowfall may still be in the running. According to the National Weather Service in Gaylord, snowflakes may return tonight and tomorrow night. “There’s an outside chance to get some wet snowflakes overnight late Thursday and early Friday morning,” said meteorologist Andy Sullivan. “And another little system Friday night and Saturday morning.”

No accumulation is expected, but a handful of entrants might have their fingers crossed for just another inch or two.

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