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The popularity of wakesurfing has surged in recent years. A group of Lake Minnetonka residents recently formed Citizens for Sharing Lake Minnetonka, an organization that advocates for more restrictions, like designated time slots, and better enforcement of current ordinances for wakesurfing on smaller bays, all in the name of “sharing the lake.” (Laker Pioneer file photo)

A contingent of Lake Minnetonka residents is now asking as an organized group for more fair use on the lake and for measures to counteract what its members see as the “dominant presence” of wake boats, particularly on the lake’s smaller bays.

Citizens for Sharing Lake Minnetonka (CSLM) is an LLC headed by its president, John Bendt, and with the aid of board directors Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson and Barry Cohen. The group formed in September to give like minded residents a more “official” standing and from that vantage to press the urgency of the topic with the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District (LMCD), said Bendt.

“We’re not advocating a ban on wakesurfing,” he said. “What we are for is time slot regulations—not on all bays but on small bays like Maxwell and North Arm and Harrison, bays that are the size of these bays. These [wakesurf] boats have such a dominant presence with the types of waves that they’re putting out that it really diminishes the enjoyment of other lake recreational activities and, in some cases, actually prevents people engaging in them.”

Wake boats can generate waves nearly two-and-a-half feet high, which can make other activities, like kayaking, paddle boarding, water skiing and fishing difficult to do or, on smaller bays, nearly impossible, he said. “What it comes down to is sharing the lake.”

Bendt pointed to other recreation that have restrictions meant either to protect a resource, as defined fishing and hunting seasons do, or to safeguard others’ use of resources, as the restriction against snowmobiles east of Stubbs Bay Road on the Luce Line Trail does. “There’s plenty of precedent to support the idea that there should be a time slot when others can participate in their preferred form of recreation, undisturbed by large waves,” said Bendt.

Apart from designated time slots for wakesurfing, CSLM also advocates better enforcement—and, ideally, said Bendt, better self-enforcement—of current noise ordinances. The group is also concerned about the effects of wakes on shoreline erosion, waterfowl nesting and property damage resulting from docked boats “being tossed in their slips” due to waves rippling outward.

In a written response for comment, LMCD Chair Gregg Thomas noted that the LMCD board has received “a significant number” of public comments about wakes generated by large watercraft, with these comments falling on either side of the debate.

“Some people feel these large wakes are creating safety hazards, environmental concerns, nuisances, damaging property, and interfering with other uses of the lake,” he said. Others, he said, say wake boats offer “a great outdoor recreational outlet and they have the same right to use the lake as any other watercraft owner.”

“The LMCD has a long history of balancing competing lake uses with the concept of reasonable use to protect the lake and all those who enjoy it,” he continued.

SURGING POPULARITY, NEW RESEARCH

Thomas said the LMCD is positioned to revisit the topic in the coming year, pending results of new research and any potential legislative proposals at the state Capitol.

Preliminary results from a University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls Lab study, whose research on the effects of wakes and prop wash on shoreline and lake bottoms was completed this fall, are expected during the first quarter of the year.

Additionally, Minnesota state lawmakers could also come back to it after multiple proposals for shore-to-wakesurf boat “buffer zones” failed during this year’s regular legislative session. Another bill, co-authored by state Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven) and also introduced this spring, had proposed requiring a comprehensive safety course for wakesurfers that would also address best practice in sharing Minnesota’s lakes with other recreationalists. That bill, too, failed.

The LMCD’s Thomas said the board would bring in all stakeholders, including those in the boating industry as well as Lake Minnetonka residents and recreationalists, over what is likely to be a several months “listening process” before making changes, if any, to wakesurfing regulations on Lake Minnetonka.

Consensus on the LMCD board has historically favored education over enforcement, and the LMCD has long supported the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) “Own Your Wake” campaign.

But what seems a continual push for more regulation—and, in at least one of the legislative proposals this spring, what advocates say would amount to an outright ban on the sport for some lakes—has prompted industry reps to respond with ideas of their own.

Chris Bank, a Lake Minnetonka resident and member of the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA), and Jill Sims, a representative for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, outlined for LMCD board members during a Dec. 9 work session an “all-encompassing” approach to ensuring safe, fair and responsible boating.

“We don’t have a vehicle currently to communicate this information that has enough traction in my opinion,” said Bank.

The WSIA already has a campaign similar to the DNR’s, called “Wake Responsibly,” but Bank said the aim is to create something more comprehensive, more engaging and with strong backing outside of the boating industry through collaboration with the DNR, LMCD and Hennepin County Sheriffs Office.

The idea gained some ground among LMCD board members and the Sheriffs Office, although both groups said they would need to see a more detailed proposal before lending their full support.

CSLM’s Bendt, too, said he was encouraged by the boating industry’s initiative and willingness to seek outside partners. But he also said that any final program would have to go beyond the points already being touted in the “Own Your Wake” and similar campaigns and address the concerns of those who live and recreate on the smaller bays. For him, it’s a matter of “regulation to restore balance.”

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