For Ken Stover, the utter quiet at Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Friday — or any other day this summer — is cause for concern.
Not that Stover or anyone with the Gull Chain of Lakes Association have anything against a tranquil day on Gull. On the contrary. GCOLA’s mission is to help ensure that the Brainerd area’s most popular lake remains a safe and clean haven for residents, boaters, anglers and recreation types. So after zebra mussels were discovered in the lake nearly a year ago, the lake association stepped up its battle against invasive species.
And pumped up the volume.
GCOLA purchased a $30,000 hot water decontamination unit, which has been operational at the Hole-in-the-Day Bay access since
mid-June. The unit is designed to clean boats before launching and after leaving the lake to help eliminate the risk of bringing new invasive species in or taking zebra mussels out and introducing them to other non-contaminated lakes.
The unit consists of a diesel-heated hot water pressure system able to quickly go from 140 to 200 degrees and from 500 to 2,500 pounds per square inch of pressure, according to the GCOLA’s summer newsletter. It’s a heavy-duty piece of machinery. And, as a result, it’s quite loud.
Still, the days have remained mostly quiet at Hole-in-the-Day Bay this summer, Stover said. And that doesn’t bode well in the lake association’s fight against invasives.
“We are kind of disappointed in the few people that do use it,” said Stover, a member of the GCOLA board of directors. “We’re not getting a lot of people to do it. We’re trying to stress that this is a lake that has zebra mussels and that if they’re going to a lake that doesn’t have zebra mussels they should consider it strongly.”
According to the GCOLA newsletter, from June 17 to Aug. 1, 425 units (boats and trailers, pontoons, jet skis, etc.) were decontaminated. That’s an average of less than 10 watercraft a day at a public access that, during the heart of summer, sees probably 10 times that traffic. But participation in the “program” is completely voluntary on the part of the watercraft owners.
“Some are happy to have us do it,” Stover said. “Walleyedan (area guide Dan Eigen) is a big proponent of it. He has all his guides go through. And we’ve had a lot of good cooperation from the DNR. When they’re on the lake they make sure their conservation officers go through the boat washing area. And the Cass and Crow Wing counties sheriff’s office (boats) go through it. A lot of people are very conscientious and use it. But there are a lot who don’t, too.”
It was operational — by 10 trained college-aged volunteers — from 7 a.m. to dusk through the end of August and will operate from 11 a.m. to dusk through September. The unit includes attachments to flush trailers, ballast tanks, bait tanks, live wells and other parts of a watercraft that may contain larvae of mature invasive species. The DNR issued a special permit for the unit.
Stover said GCOLA was the first in the state to get such a unit.
“We want the machine running as little as possible because it is noisy. But it does the best job of anything on the market. It’s completely self-enclosed.”
Although lack of use of the unit has been disappointing for the GCOLA, the lake association is in the process of fundraising for two additional units next summer — at the access at Gull Narrows off County Road 77 near Zorbaz and at the access near the Army Corps of Engineers campground off Gull Dam Road.
But they won’t come cheap. According to the GCOLA newsletter, cost to have units at all three landings for the summer would be $220,000 for labor ($11,000 a week for 20 weeks), $15,000 for gas/diesel and supplies and $10,000 for miscellaneous, as well as the one-time expenditure of $60,000 for the purchase and setup of the two additional units. The lake association intends to raise funds through letters to GCOLA residents and appeal to others who may not live on the lake but frequent it, the newsletter said.
Kavanaugh’s Resort on Lake Sylvan also has taken the battle against invasives into its own hands, setting up a boat wash area with a high-pressure hose near its office and maintenance buildings. According to Mark Kavanaugh, guests with boats in tow have been good about using the hose.
“We’ve had it ever since last year when zebra mussels showed up in Gull and when everyone started talking about it,” Kavanaugh said. “We started promoting it with the guests because of zebra mussels. We don’t want them in Sylvan.
“We request that they wash the boat before putting into Sylvan, and if they go to another lake for a day, to wash it again when putting it back in. It is a high-pressure washer that really blasts everything off the boat and trailer. Our guests have been very receptive to the idea and very responsive to our requests. ... We average 15 to 16 boats a week (in the summer) and everybody uses it.
“We’ve been pushing hard on it. Being resorters, the last thing we want is to damage the lake.”