When Covid-19 lockdowns closed the border between the U.S. and Canada to all nonessential traffic on March 18, 2020, they took the $10 million economy of Minnesota’s Northwest Angle (also known as Angle Township) with them. The result of an accident of history and a misunderstanding of geography, the Angle, the northernmost point in the Lower 48, is blocked off from the rest of Minnesota by the Lake of the Woods to the east and by Manitoba on its other sides. The Angle’s roughly 120 year-round residents rely mostly on revenue from tourists in search of prime ice fishing spots at the lake, so with tourism deemed nonessential, the community was desperate for a way to work around the border crossing, says Paul Colson, who owns and operates the lake-adjacent cabins at Jake’s Resort. “Tourists are by definition essential to us,” he says. “We can’t make a living without them.”
In December, Colson says, he and his fellow business owners pooled about $9,000 to begin building a 22-mile ice road through American territory—that is, straight across the frozen lake and through a forest. After the ice road opened this January, he says, the area’s eight or so winter tourist resorts were packed, and he recouped about a third of his usual peak-season business. The next hurdle will be warmer weather. Soon, boats will be the only way to reach the Angle without venturing onto Canadian soil, and the Angle residents are counting on Canada’s government to reopen the border in time for their operations to survive the summer season.