Crystal Beach Ontario Ice Caves
A view of the ice caves in Crystal Beach, Ontario, Canada. (Kim Manley Ort, Flickr)
Authorities in Fort Erie, Ontario demolished a popular ice cave formation on Lake Erie, after heavy foot-traffic spawned dangerous conditions at the site.
According to the Niagara Falls Review, the caves formed just off the shoreline in Crystal Beach, a once popular resort community within Fort Erie, after a series of extreme weather events combined to form the caves in a phenomenon known as an ice shove.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ice shoves occur when wind and currents push free-floating ice onshore, causing a traffic jam of ice that can sometimes leave towering mounds in its wake. Sometimes—and in the case of Crystal Beach—given the right weather conditions, those piles of ice can take on quirky formations like ice caves.
And that's exactly what William Kennedy, a resident of the area, said he experienced back in January after three days straight of bad weather with near zero visibility.
“Three days of wind,” Kennedy told The Buffalo News. “That’s basically it. That’s what happened. We basically sat in our house for three days. Then we came out, and this was here.”
When the ice settled there were three massive ice caves on the surface of Lake Eerie, the largest of which was 30 feet deep, 15 feet wide and six feet high, reports the Welland Tribune. The icy sprawl caught the eye of more than locals though. Thousands of tourists flocked to the quiet coastal town as news of the ice caves spread. At its peak, Fort Erie officials estimate that up to 50,000 people visited the site over a popular holiday weekend, reports the Niagara Falls Review.
But as foot-traffic increased, so too, did safety concerns. Temperatures warmed in the area, and on Monday, February 17, cracks formed under the feet of visitors. Couple that with two injured people—one with a broken hip, the other, a concussion—and authorities had had enough. So the Fort Erie Fire Department and the Niagara Regional Police teamed up to close off and evacuate the ice caves.
Still, visitors lingered for a chance to traverse the caves, even as authorities roped them off.
"We were pulling people out of the caves...up to 30 or 40 people," Fort Erie Fire Chief Larry Coplen told the Welland Tribune.
Authorities issued a stern warning to potential visitors, urging them to stay away from the site, but when word spread that officials were thinking of destroying the caves, the number of visitors only increased.
So the next day, after approval from the proper authorities, a contractor with a backhoe took to the icy surface of Lake Erie and knocked the caves down one by one.
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“We were concerned about the dangerous over hanging areas and we needed to knock them down,” Fire Chief Coplen told the St. Catherine's Standard. “There was a short window, because if we left it for the weekend, we’d have a lot of people. We want people to get the message that it’s knocked down and hopefully people will stay away.”
But even as the backhoe whirred, and the caves fell, visitors fought for a chance to see the natural wonder.
“Even as we were knocking them down, we had to push people away as they were trying to get one last look before they were destroyed,” Coplen said.
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(Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions)