Marianne Van Osch (Patrick Davies, 100 Mile Free Press photo)

Bridge Lake Ice Caves ‘scary fun’ in the old days

Marianne Van Osch column

In 1913 Ed Higgins homesteaded on what is now Highway 24. The house he built still stands in a tight curve near Bridge Lake, his wife Irene’s treasured lilacs still growing by the front door. Their daughter Noveta remembered what summer was like for the Higgins children.

“It was mostly hot and dry, and we loved it. As soon as it was warm we went barefoot. Our feet were as tough as old hides. Stubbed toes and cuts were just part of life. We ran over stubble spikes in the fields and gravel. Half the time we didn’t even notice cuts and slivers till later on.”

Near the Higgins homestead, there was an attraction that offered a cool spot on hot summer days and plenty of excitement for the children… ice caves! The caves drew the children like a magnet. They were warned to stay away from them. But the temptation to have some “Scary fun and get some ice to suck on was too much,” Noveta said.

She remembered the excuses the children used for heading off in the direction of the caves.

“One story we all used was that the darn cows had wandered off and we’d better go get them. I’d add a detail to make it sound more believable like it was that old brockle-faced cow and her calf, wandered off again. Guess we better get them. We knew other kids were heading there too.”

To get to the ice caves the children climbed a steep path over windfalls and rocks to a long rift in the face of a cliff above Bridge Lake. Moss-carpeted boulders that may have broken away from the hill above in an ancient upheaval outline crevasses that lead to the ice caves. In the back of the deepest caverns masses of ice formed and were preserved in the subterranean freezer.

At the caves, bedlam prevailed.

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“Man, that was wild!” Noveta laughed. “To begin with you had to climb down and that could be tricky. Then toughest kids had to show off how brave they were. They had to impress the rest of the gang so they would crawl as far as they could into the back of the caves. Some of those tunnels would stretch way back into that hillside and it was dark in there. Every once in a while one of them would get stuck in a narrow spot. We’d all struggle frantically to get him free. Usually, they’d wiggle in backwards so we’d pull the stuck kid out with a rope. Otherwise, we’d haul him out by his feet.

“There was one crazy thing that the older kids did to scare us younger ones,” Noveta continued. “The mouths of the caves were dark and creepy and if you fell in, you’d really get hurt for sure. Well, the big kids would find long, flexible poles or they’d bring them with them. They’d vault back and forth over the cave entrances and we’d be thrilled and scared at the same time.”

Noveta shook her head as she recalled the reckless things that had gone on at the caves. When she had children of her own, she said, they were absolutely forbidden to go anywhere near that place.

A highlight of the Green Lake Stampedes was the Higgins family’s refreshment stand where they sold their homemade ice cream, a special treat in those days. The day before the stampede began, Ed and his boys would go to the ice caves and chop enough ice to fill several covered buckets. The ice was buried in straw overnight. The next morning a metal container full of a rich cream mixture was placed in the center of the wooden ice cream maker. The chunks of ice were chipped and packed around the metal container.

“My parents took two big freezers full of the best ice cream ever to the stampedes,” Noveta said proudly.

The Bridge Lake Ice Caves are located on Highway 24, near Bridge Lake. Totem poles and a large sign stand at the entrance to the parking area.

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