Minnesota’s 2.3 million boaters will see something new at boat landings around the state this summer: “clean-and-drain” areas where they can clean their boats of aquatic invasive species.
The idea is to give boaters a specific, well-marked place to park and clean their boats, while also getting out of the way of other ramp users. And for the first time, boaters will have a place to toss their weeds, zebra mussels and discarded minnows and leeches — a recycling bin.
“We want them to pull off the ramp and up to these areas so we can get rid of congestion at the ramps, and simplify what boaters need to to do and where they can do it,” said Nancy Stewart, public water access program coordinator at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) .
Another goal is to eliminate the piles of discarded weeds and bait that sometimes build up at ramps and parking areas.
Officials said the move is part of the state’s continuing effort to slow the spread of invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, a battle that DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr acknowledged the state is losing. Just Monday, the DNR reported the popular Whitefish Chain near Brainerd is likely infested with zebra mussels.
About 200 of the clean-and-drain areas are expected to be added by fall to the state’s existing 1,500 boat landings — mostly to high-use sites and on infested waters. Many will include stenciled lanes, signs and compost bins. The clean-and-drain sites are different from decontamination sites, where boats are power-washed and disinfected after coming from infested waters.
On Tuesday, Landwehr showed off a new clean-and-drain area at a recently renovated public landing on the Mississippi River in Hastings, which he said is an example of a “new generation” of boat accesses. He acknowledged it will take a long time to provide such sites at the 1,500 state accesses. And not all will have room for the special areas.
But he said he hopes the clean-and-drain areas will ease the chore at Minnesota’s often-congested boat ramps.
“One of the worst offenses in Minnesota is to be blocking someone else at a boat access,” he said.
Landwehr said the only hope of eliminating invasive species is if scientists come up with a silver bullet to kill them. Meanwhile, boaters must take responsibility to clean and drain their boats — and the vast majority are.
“We had 5 million boat launches last year, at thousands of accesses,” he said, yet had single-digit increases in the number of infested waters.
Last year, DNR enforcement documented a 20 percent violation rate. “This year the violation rate is about 10 percent,” Landwehr said.
Stewart said the cost to create the clean-and-drain areas ranges from around $2,000 to $12,000. Stewart noted that officials don’t want boaters to throw trash in the recycle bins, and also said anglers should dispose of unwanted worms or night crawlers in the garbage, because they are considered invasive species.