Locals volunteer to cleanup mess
By Paige Kieffer
The annual Fourth of July party in Cruiser’s Cove on Big Island in Orono had a slight reduction in the number of serious incidents, citations and littering, according to public safety officials.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol reported that from July 1-4 on Lake Minnetonka and other west metro lakes there were 11 boating while impaired citations, 45 underage consumption citations, six medicals, one near-drowning and one drowning.
The drowning happened at a Maple Grove home when a 14-month-old boy fell into a pool July 2. The near-drowning was an alcohol-related incident on Cedar Lake where no actual emergency services were required.
Last year, from July 1-4, were 14 boating while impaired citations, 50 underage consumption citations, 15 medicals and no near-drownings or drownings.
The reduced number of citations, minor consumptions and medicals was due to increased media coverage, social media, boater education and additional patrols that have increased over the past two years, according to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
“Boaters are now more educated about safety requirements, laws and regulation on the lake and expect to see the water patrol on the lake,” Stanek said.
This year, the water patrol had six boats on Lake Minnetonka. The Excelsior Fire District, Wayzata Fire Department, Mound Fire Department and the St. Bonifacius Fire Department also assisted with patrolling Cruiser’s Cove.
In 2015, Big Island was the site of one of its largest parties in its history with hundreds of boats anchored and tied together in the shallows just off the island’s shore. The increase in boats caused major congestion in marked safety lanes, delaying the response and effectiveness of public safety agencies.
Agencies were unable to cite as many individuals from July 3-5 due to the lack of access. Only one person was cited with a boating while impaired, 18 underage consumption citations, 22 medicals and two near-drownings.
“The water patrol said that things were significantly better with a 50-percent reduction in DWI’s and hardly any injuries,” said Tonka Bay Marina owner Gabriel Jabbour.
In 2015, the marina and other local docks were used because public safety officials had no way of safety evacuating individuals.
The Lake Minnetonka Conservation District convened in 2015 and began discussing ways to improve safety during the Big island party. This has lead to a reduction in serious incidents in 2016 and 2017.
First, there has been stricter enforcement of keeping safety lanes open so public safety officials can access all areas of the cove.
Last year, the Arcola Safety Dock was built off Shoreline Drive in Orono. The dock has been helpful in evacuating persons and treating medical emergencies without using private docks.
Individuals who are transported to the dock who have been injured, sick or arrested are quickly transport to waiting emergency and police vehicles.
“Things have gotten a little better this year with the litter and the situation with the Big Island party is getting better,” Jabbour said. “People are safer since the regulations that were done a couple of years ago and things are getting better.”
One side effect of the Big Island party every year is that Cruiser’s Cove becomes littered with trash.
On July 5, volunteers from the Lake Minnetonka Association, Life’s A Beach Shoreline Services, Tonka Bay Marina and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol Dive Team volunteered set out to clean up the mess.
Big Island and other Lake Minnetonka residents also come out every year to help with the cleanup.
“From being out to Big Island, I think it’s a lot better,” said Josh Leddy, Life’s A Beach Shoreline Services owner. “There are a lot more people taking the initiative to clean trash and being a boat people can put their trash onto. I think it’s huge that people are working together as a community to keep the lake cleaner. There’s always going to be people who have no idea this is going on right now. Their usually new on the lake and they think that’s normal. It’s fine, and your never going to be able to reach 100 percent of you audience, but the fact were reaching a significant amount already is important.”
Jabbour said that the increased social media presence has helped reach many of the younger boaters out on the lake during the Fourth of July. He posted an anti-littering post the week before and received 64,000 hits.
“I’m entirely grateful to all who shared,” he said. “It’s legitimatizing our cause and spreading the message to take care of the lake.”
On July 5, five members of the water patrol dive team were out early in the morning to clean up deep areas around the cove.
A local Big Island resident also comes out every morning on July 5 to gather up trash, puts it in trash bags and then leaves it for the cleanup crews. In addition, boaters, including the Wolf family, pitched in to clean up trash after seeing the divers.
Eleven volunteers from Life’s A Beach came later in the morning to do free dives. Jabbour transported the volunteers out to Big Island.
“We come out here because we care about the lake and we care about the ecosystem,” said Christian Willner with the shoreline services company. “Things have gotten better, but with the zebra mussels getting worse the trash isn’t helping that. I hope more people be mindful of the damages that they’re doing when they’re having fun and intoxicated. Just throw your stuff away. It’s not hard.”
“There’s always going to be some boneheads and that’s inevitable especially on the Fourth of July, added Dan Scalzo with the company. “You hope that you find more people being caring of what’s there when they’re gone. People are continuing to improve because they want to see people enjoy the lake and not worry about stepping on glass. I’ve see a small improvement but we still see a lot of trash. Still people are caring more about what happens with their trash.”
The Lake Minnetonka Association helped supply the divers with supplies, trash bags and boat fuel.
“In general, most boaters are good about packing away the trash and disposing it on shore,” said Eric Evenson, association executive director. “I think what happens is people get out on the party mode and sometimes they forget. People are learning to respect the lake. We need people to remember to pickup after yourself, mind your manners and keep the noise down. If they can do that it, would be a great experience for everyone.”
Follow Paige Kieffer on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.