Ice caves popularity overwhelms park staff

BAYFIELD, - The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has turned to other agencies for help in handling the thousands of people visiting the area to see the majestic ice caves along the southern shore of Lake Superior.

It's been five years since the ice has been thick enough for hikers to safely reach the caves.

Last Saturday was the busiest yet this winter, with 11,000 people making the trek to the caves, chief ranger Chris Smith told Minnesota Public Radio News. Even on Monday, 1,800 people visited the ice caves, park officials said.

"It's been overwhelming," Smith said. "We did not anticipate this level of turnout for this."

Smith said five other national parks have sent staff to help, and that the local sheriff's offices, U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol are also helping out.

An Incident Command Center has been set up in a small trailer at the trailhead, where they jump on snowmobiles to respond to a dozen or more emergency calls on a busy day, Smith said.

"We can bring people in here into our little trailer, get them warmed up, keep them in here until the ambulance gets here," he said.

Those calls usually involve injuries from slipping on the ice and hypothermia.

Park Service officials attribute the heavy traffic to general media and social media attention. It's been a boon for area businesses.

Virgin America to expand at D.C. airport

WASHINGTON - Virgin America says it will grow at Reagan National Airport by gaining landing rights from American Airlines.

Virgin said that it won the right to buy enough so-called slots for four takeoffs and landings a day at the airport across the Potomac River from downtown Washington.

That will let Virgin America expand from its one daily flight between San Francisco and Reagan, which is so busy that takeoffs and landings are limited. Virgin also flies to San Francisco and Los Angeles from nearby Dulles International Airport.

The slots that Virgin is gaining are limited to flights of up to 1,250 miles from Washington, meaning that Virgin won't be able to use them for new nonstop flights to the West Coast unless it gets a government exemption from restrictions on Reagan flights. The airline said that it would announce plans for new flights later this month.

Washington document on view at Spy Museum

WASHINGTON - An original letter written by George Washington that initiated a spy network during the Revolutionary War is going on display for a limited time at the International Spy Museum in Washington.

The museum says Washington's letter, written on Feb. 4, 1777, launched the nation's first spy network. While then-Gen. Washington was commander in chief of the Continental Army, he wrote to confidant Nathaniel Sackett, commissioning him to spy for his country as Washington's "intelligence director."

Sackett was to be paid $50 per month to create a spy network in New York. He was given a $500 bonus up front.

The museum acquired the fragile document in 2002 from Sackett's family. It's usually kept in storage for preservation. The document will be on view from President's Day weekend through March.

Associated Press