Boating trends in the state's north central region are changing.
The DNR is trying to keep up with those changes and is using a recent study to provide information for improving boating in the 300,000 acres of water in the area.
The Trails and Waterways Division and the Office of Management and Budget Services conducted aerial flights and boater surveys from mid-May to Labor Day in 1998. They published their findings in September and held a public meeting to present the topic Wednesday night in Brainerd.
"One use of this information is to work with government and lakeshore owners associations to address some of the needs of these trends and manage our lakes comprehensively," Tim Browning, the Region Trails and Waterways supervisor, said in an interview. "We're seeing some of these trends and we're seeing there is reason to be busy."
One contradiction the DNR found is people believe the lakes are more crowded with boats, but the survey found the number of boats on the lakes is about the same since 1985.
The DNR report said there was no significant trend in boating intensity as there is one boat per 100 acres at peak times (summer weekend afternoons). But in 1998, 16 percent of people thought the lakes were crowded or far too crowded, up from 5 percent in 1985.
"We found the number of boats on water surfaces are essentially the same since 1985 and people think we're crazy," Browning said. "We think what's changed is the equipment and activity.
"Part of that is the urbanization that we're seeing. People have a greater amount of activities on the water. They're spending part of their time fishing and part cruising."
The most common type of crafts in 1998 were runabouts and cruisers with 43 percent of the use, followed by fishing boats with 35 percent. In 1985, fishing boats led with 51 percent and runabouts had 33 percent of the share. Also, the size and horsepower of the crafts have increased dramatically.
Parallel with the boat types, the activities on the lakes have also changed. Fishing is down 12 percent, while boat rides have increased 12 percent.
"Boats are now in motion instead of just sitting there when people are fishing," Browning said. "And the perception out there is there are more boats because moving boats use more water. From a crowding factor, we're one-fifth of the metro. This area doesn't need to worry that we're too crowded or that we're turning into a metro area. The sky is not falling."
The study also provided information that public accesses are becoming more and more popular. While the dominant user of public accesses is still the traditional user (general resident), lakeshore home owners and resort guests are using them a lot more. Their usage has increased from 17 percent to 38 percent.
Browning said resorts and campgrounds have found accesses are very costly to maintain and boats for lakeshore owners are becoming too large for their existing launches.
"Ice damage and wind and waves are causing resorts to eliminate their accesses and their clientele are coming over to us," Browning said. "Lakeshore owners are converting that shoreline into beach or a cabin. It takes some area to launch a boat and it's more economical to phase out their launch."
The majority of lakes (79 percent) had at least minimal public access in 1998, up from 66 percent with access in 1985.
"We're trying to provide an access today because it's much more difficult to start an access tomorrow," Browning said. "As the area becomes more urbanized, the accesses will be harder to find. There's more turmoil and expense. It's a difficult process to put them in the right location."
By far the biggest problem cited by the survey was the use of personal watercraft, or Jet Skis. While this is currently an issue, Browning said the registered owners of these vehicles peaked in 1996 and have been declining ever since.
The north central region is one of Minnesota's premier water-recreation areas and supports a thriving water-oriented resort industry and one of Minnesota's largest concentration of seasonal lake homes. The DNR hopes this study will only continue to support one of the most important industries in the region.
A complete breakdown of the entire report can be found at the Minnesota DNR's World Wide Web home page (www.dnr.state.mn.us).
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