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Editorial: Stay safe on ice or trail

Even in the dead of winter, the great outdoors beckons to those who have an adventurous spirit.

Invariably, outdoors enthusiasts are going to want to get outside, especially considering the abundance of opportunities for activities this area offers. They’re willing to brave the weather and adverse conditions, but even while intent on having fun, shouldn’t forget about being safe.

Certain popular winter destinations are atop ice. Department of Natural Resources conservation wardens have some safety advice for the ice fishers and others anxious to get on the ice, which may not be as thick as it looks.

They remind ice is never predictable. Before grabbing gear and taking off on a walk, stop and think. This is in the interest of making sure a first outing isn’t the last. Moreover, take the time to educate children about the dangers associated with frozen ponds, lakes and rivers.

Here are some tips for staying safe this season:

—Always remember ice is never completely safe under any conditions.

—Fish or walk with a friend. It’s safer and more fun.

—Contact local sports shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river to be fished.

—Carry a cell phone, and let people know where the destination is and the estimated time of return.

—Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a life jacket or a float coat to help stay afloat and to help slow body heat loss.

—Wear creepers attached to boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.

—Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.

—Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull self or others out of the ice.

—Don’t travel in unfamiliar areas—or at night.

—Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows having currents that can thin the ice.

—Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.

—Watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice and open water.

—Take extra mittens or gloves to always have a dry pair.

—Driving on ice is always a risk. Use good judgment and consider alternatives.

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Snowmobiles and ATVs are also part of this region’s great outdoor recreational culture and, while it’s important to preserve that heritage, drivers and riders must be kept safe. One of the biggest safety factors is not to drink before heading to a favorite trail.

These seven safety tips from the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin can help drivers/riders be safe:

—Slow down. This allows for reaction time to unexpected obstacles hidden by trees or snow. Drive at moderate speeds and drive defensively, especially after sunset, as it’s easy to override headlights.

—Carry a first aid kit. In addition to bandages and other medical equipment, the kit should include a flashlight, knife, compass, map and waterproof matches.

—Dress appropriately. Always wear a helmet with goggles or a face shield to prevent injuries from twigs and flying debris. Wear layers of water-repellent clothing and make sure to have no loose ends which might tangle in equipment.

—Consider participating in a snowmobile safety course. Courses are particularly useful for younger drivers/riders or anyone new to the sport.

—Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness or water currents. Rapidly changing weather and moving water in streams and lake inlets affect the thickness and strength of ice on lakes and ponds. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevent thick, strong ice from forming.

—Stay on marked trails or, where allowed, on the right shoulder of the road. Be alert for fences, tree stumps and stretched wire that may be concealed by snow.

—Never travel alone. The most dangerous situations occur when a person is injured and alone. If travel alone is a must, tell someone the destination, planned route and estimated time of return. Be sure and carry a cell phone.

Additionally, have adequate collision and liability insurance in case of an accident.