Angle Inlet, Minn. — It just got easier for those visiting the Northwest Angle – that northernmost slice of Minnesota that’s landlocked by Manitoba.
A federal pilot program launched in recent weeks eliminates some of the hassle in checking back in with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol when Angle visitors step back into Canada.
“I am very pleased to share this day with resort owners and anglers alike who will be testing U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s new technology on behalf of the nation,” said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, in a press release.
Peterson, along with Minnesota’s two U.S. senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, had asked CBP to find solutions for safe and efficient alternatives to the “outdated OARS system.” Lake of the Woods was ultimately selected by CBP to test its new border technology.
It will eliminate the need for three Outlying Area Reporting Stations, which was an outdated system, Peterson’s press release states, that made it “notoriously difficult for travelers to reach, especially during winter months when weather conditions are freezing, dark, and dangerous.”
The OARS stations were located inside unheated sheds, allowing visitors to check in remotely with a border agent. When anglers were fishing Canadian waters, they had to check in with CBP before returning to the United States.
In some cases, the new program eliminates the need for a roundtrip of up to 16 miles.
On Monday, Peterson was on hand as the new system was launched with fanfare at Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant, one of a half-dozen Lake of the Woods businesses that are part of the first of three phases of the roll-out that will now see stations inside with kiosks equipped with iPads for checking in.
Christi Pierce, an employee at Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant in Angle Inlet, said the new system is going to make it much easier for travelers.
“People have been pretty excited about it,” Pierce said. “I know a lot of the locals have already used it.”
It is also likely to help out the businesses with the stations, she said.
“I imagine we will end up with more traffic here,” she said. “People might want to have a bowl of soup, maybe a beer. It will help us out.”
Jerry’s Bar was the first scheduled location to have the technology on Aug. 12, but it took some time to get the bar’s internet connection configured correctly, Pierce said.
The other locations in the initial launch are Flag Island Resort on Flag Island, Sunset Lodge and Angle Inn Lodge both on Oak Island, and Angle Outpost and Jake’s Northwest Angle in Angle Inlet.
During this first phase, travelers just check in at one of the participating resorts, enter their personal information, answer a few questions, and request a video conference with an officer. After that brief meeting, the officer will clear or deny access.
More than a dozen resorts are expected to participate in this first phase, which has placed stations both on the mainland of Northwest Angle and at a handful of resorts located on islands well out on Lake of the Woods, the massive lake with 1,679 square miles of surface area in Minnesota, Manitoba, and Ontario.
In the second phase, travelers will be able to load the same program onto their smartphones via Google Play Store or Apple App Store.
Phase 3 would involve replacing the current OARS phones located at Jim’s Corner, Young’s Bay, and Carlson’s Landing, all at Angle Inlet on the mainland, with the iPads. Those three stations will replace the primitive sheds with climate-controlled buildings that will shelter the new technology.
Jason Givens, a CBP spokesperson, said the roll-out of the phases is depending on the success of each preceding phase.
“It’s too early to comment on a time line,” Givens responded in an email.
Givens said this is the first time this technology has been used along U.S. borders.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.