Businesses and residents of Minnesota's Northwest Angle and border communities in the U.S. and Canada are cautiously optimistic about Canada's announcement Monday that it will relax pandemic restrictions starting next month.
Starting Aug. 9, U.S. travelers who are fully vaccinated with a Canadian-approved vaccine can travel to Canada. Vaccinated travelers from the rest of the world can do the same starting Sept. 7.
"This is very, very welcome news," said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. "We can still get in part of our August, and certainly our September and October, for fishing and hunting and everything else."
Since March 2020, the Angle's 14 resorts have been cut off from their main customer base of American tourists, Henry said.
To get to the Northwest Angle, travelers have to drive about 40 miles through Canada before crossing back into Minnesota.
Some of them have lost 70-90% of their usual revenue due to the border closure. American cabin owners have also been separated from their properties for more than a year due to the pandemic restrictions at the border.
Some business owners are skeptical of what the relaxed restrictions will really mean for their business.
Paul Colson of Jake's Northwest Angle Resort said he wants to see more information before he gets too excited about the border opening.
His two big concerns are whether people will need a COVID-19 test before they can re-enter the U.S. from Canada, and whether his guests be able to fish in Canadian waters.
"If anything, this has taught me that I'm super jaded about the U.S.-Canada relationship," Colson said. "Everybody likes to say it's such a wonderful, lovey dovey, close relationship."
Vaccinated people can enter the country without quarantining, but they will still need to provide a negative, non-rapid COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of flight departure or arrival at a land crossing. Travelers must also upload proof of full vaccination to a Canadian government app at least 14 days before departure.
Erik Lohn, who co-owns KaBeeLo Lodge near Ear Falls, Ontario with his wife Allysson, said he's weighing the costs of starting up his business again for a shortened season. KaBeeLo is a summertime-only fly-out fishing outfitter, and some of its locations are only accessible via floatplane. If they don't have enough reservations on the books, they won't be able to cover the cost of plane maintenance, fuel, insurance and staff salaries, which means they won't open in 2021. The Lohns already took a 100% loss in 2020, since KaBeeLo never opened.
"What we need is to really have a core group of people willing to come, that are on my books right now," Erik Lohn said.
The good news for Lohn is right now it looks like he has enough reservations booked to make it worth opening this year. His staff is willing to come back for a shortened season, and he's already had some fully vaccinated guests call and ask to book a reservation for the end of August, saying they'll go through whatever hoops they have to in order to get their fishing trip with KaBeeLo.
The bad news is some of his guests who already booked reservations might have to cancel due to their vaccination status, or that of someone in their group. Lohn worries that parents or others traveling with children might hesitate to get their children vaccinated, which would prevent their group from being able to cross the border. Over the next day or two, Lohn will call every group leader on the books to make sure everyone in their group has been fully vaccinated or has a plan to be fully vaccinated in time to make their reservation.
Laura Walsh, who runs Walsh's Bay Store Camp in the Northwest Angle with her husband Frank, said she'll call all their reservations in the next day or so to make sure they have a plan to be fully vaccinated in time for their trip. Walsh said the required COVID-19 test for vaccinated people will probably confuse some of their customers. Since the camp opened on May 1 this year, they've only had 10 guests. In 2020, they had 46. In a typical year, they host between 350 and 400 people. Still though, Walsh predicts the rest of the summer season will be busy.
"I think we're going to book every week, I really truthfully think we'll book all of it," Walsh said. "And if it doesn't work for one person, somebody else will fill it."
Although the rest of the 2021 season is still up in the air, Erik Lohn is very hopeful for what this border opening means for next year's season.
"I have an opportunity at 100% business and 2022, so for me, that's just an absolutely huge positive," he said. "That's a big step."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Maya Miller • 612-673-7086