Cook County approves request to ban wake boats on Caribou Lake

Caribou Lake (Photo courtesy Greg Seitz)

Property owners on a popular lake in the Superior National Forest are asking authorities to prohibit a new form of boating that threatens the lake’s ecosystem and the peace and quiet. The Cook County board on Tuesday approved the request to ban wake boating and wake surfing on 760-acre Caribou Lake, near Lutsen. From there, the request will go to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which must provide final approval.

As wake boating has surged in popularity in recent years, its effects on water, wildlife, and other lake users has become more apparent. The activity uses specialized water craft with large ballast tanks to lower the boat in the water, creating wakes as high as three to five feet. Participants can then surf the wakes, not tethered to the boat.

“Wake boats and wake surfing pose a threat to the lake by causing shoreline erosion, turbulent disruption of lake bottom sediment, increased risk of the introduction of aquatic invasion species (AIS), and disruption of the normal usage of the lake by fishermen, pontoon boats, and non-motorized watercraft,” a letter from the Caribou Lake Property Owners Association to the county commissioners reads.

At the Oct. 11 meeting of the Cook County board of commissioners, Fred Morris, president of the Caribou Lakes Property Owners Association, said Caribou was especially ill-suited for wake boats. The body of water comprised four main bays, which are generally long and narrow. He also explained that a University of Minnesota study released in February found that the special boats must operate at least 500 feet from shore to ensure their wakes don’t do damage.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota measured wakes produced by wakesurf boats. (Photo credit: Healthy Waters Initiative, University of Minnesota)

“There is no place on Caribou Lake where a wake boat could operate 500 feet from shoreline,” Morris said. Minnesota law currently prohibits wakes within 100 to 200 feet of shore in most cases.

The lake association also submitted a petition signed by 75 people, representing a majority of the people who own property on the lake. After a public hearing, the county board passed the request unanimously. The final decision will be made by the Department of Natural Resources.

Wake surfing and the boats that go with them have become an issue on lakes around Minnesota over the past few years. In 2020, the state legislature considered a bill to prohibit wake surfing within 200 feet of shore, but it failed to pass.

This year, new rules were put in place on Lake Minnetonka in the western Twin Cities suburbs, with a five mile per hour speed limit to ensure minimal wakes within 300 feet of shore. The football field length buffer will also apply to around anchored boats, swimmers, SCUBA divers, and docks.

One group involved in the issue is the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, which represents numerous lake associations around the state. The organization has supported efforts to regulate wake surfing, and advocates for a change to require a permit to operate a boat. The proposal would be modeled on gun and hunting safety training.

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