The main ice crossing between Hay River and the Hay River Reserve opened for the season on the afternoon of Nov. 21.
“That is early,” said Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), which creates and maintains the ice crossing.
Last year, it was ready for traffic on Nov. 30.
The opening date can vary by weeks each year, depending on the temperatures in November and the amount of snow which can act as a form of insulation on the ice. In 2017, the crossing was ready for use on Nov. 17, while it did not open until Nov. 28 in 2016.
Martel said residents on the Hay River Reserve are happy that the crossing is open.
She noted it benefits both the people on the reserve and those in Hay River.
“It’s really important because of quicker access to town and quicker access to the reserve because a lot of people come to the reserve for gas and tobacco and shopping,” she said. “It basically opens it up for both sides.”
The chief also noted the ice crossing even makes it easier for parents to drop off their children at school in Hay River.
Without the ice crossing, motorists have to drive about 15-20 minutes to get across the Hay River by the bridge on Highway 5.
Workers with the municipal department of KFN worked for about a week and a half to create the ice crossing, including by flooding the ice to make it thicker and ensure it is safe to use.
When the crossing opened, the ice was about 20 inches thick.
Martel praised the KFN municipal workers for their hard work and dedication to the annual project.
The Town of Hay River looks after the approach to the crossing on the town side of the river.
The ice crossing has an initial weight limit of 5,000 kg, meaning cars and pickup trucks can use it. Larger trucks will have to wait until the ice is thicker.
KFN also opens an ice crossing between Vale Island and the Old Village of the Hay River Reserve later in the season.
Work has not yet started on the Old Village crossing, Martel noted. “They don’t do that until after, when it’s really cold.”