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The ice caves in Lake Superior's Apostle Islands were so popular last winter that the National Park Service is considering charging visitors a fee.

The National Park Service will hold public meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in Wisconsin to discuss a proposed $5 charge for visitors to ice caves ages 12 and older.

The fee would offset the cost of staffing and facilities, such as toilets brought in for the event, officials said. The park currently charges a $3 parking fee at Meyers Beach. The Park Services said that during the ice cave event the majority of cars parked along a highway and in temporary lots. As a result the park collected $47,000, a fraction of what it actually cost to manage this event, according to the Park Service.

In Michigan, rare ice caves along the Lake Michigan shoreline drew thousands in Leelanau County in January and February

About 138,000 visitors trekked through the Meyers Beach access to visit the cave during a 10-week period earlier this year. The caves drew international attention and nearly $10 million in revenue for nearby communities.

"We believe the Ice Caves Special Event has now entered the national and international consciousness in such a way that visitation of this magnitude will now be the norm, rather than the exception," park service officials said.

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cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311

Ice cave public hearings

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will host two open houses to discuss this fee and listen to comments from the public:

■October 22, 10:00 a.m.-noon at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, WI.

■October 23, 4:00 p.m.-6:00 pm at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Headquarters, 415 Washington Ave., Bayfield, WI.

Comments can be submitted online at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/meyersfee. Written comments can be sent to myra_foster@nps.gov or Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, 415 Washington Avenue, Bayfield, Wisconsin 54814 Attn: Myra Foster.

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