Lake Minnetonka is back to business as usual.
On Friday, an unprecedented no-wake restriction for the entire lake will be lifted almost two months after it was put in place, slowing boating nearly to a standstill on the most popular Twin Cities lake.
After the wettest June in Minnesota history, the lake reached record high levels and forced the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District to restrict boats from going fast enough to create a wake — usually about 5 miles per hour — to the entire lake for the first time ever.
That will be lifted Friday, something one marina owner likened to lifting a race flag that would send boaters scrambling to resume using water scooters, wakeboarding, water skiing and boating as usual.
“There’s so much pent-up up demand and emotions,” said Tom Jacob, owner of Bay to Bay Boat Club in Excelsior. “Everybody’s been chomping at the bit to go.”
However, wake restrictions will still be in place for boaters in smaller bays and within 600 feet of the shoreline — a rule that will remain in place until the lake levels continue to recede to 930 feet above sea level for three days. Thursday’s lake level was measured at 930.22 feet.
For boaters and lake businesses, the lifting of the entire lake rule, put in place June 5, was much anticipated.
“It’s like starting the summer over again,” said Ken Pittel, who owns Bay Rentals in Mound. “Hopefully business will come in now.”
From shoreline restaurants and bars, to rental businesses, gas stations and boat repair companies, a long chain of businesses have suffered.
In Minnetonka, the city-operated Grays Bay Marina has sold gas to boaters at an all-time low, 33 percent below average. By this time, the marina usually has sold more than 1,500 gallons per week at least five times during the season, but that hasn’t happened yet this year.
At restaurants like Lord Fletcher’s in Spring Park, special no-wake specials have tried to draw in crowds despite the quiet lake. And at Pittel’s jet ski shop in Mound, he was forced to close up early and cut staff after losing 99 percent of his business.
At Greenwood Marina, owner Aaron Bean has been closely watching the water levels drop from a nail in his dock. Gas sales are down 60 percent, and business has dropped not just from the restrictions, but the rainy weather and late ice-out that preceded it.
“2013-2014 is a really forgettable year so far,” Bean said. “All we’ve gotten is rain and restrictions.”
Too late in the season?
While water levels are receding, some worry it’s coming too late for people to bother bringing out boats this late in the season.
The lakewide restriction couldn’t be lifted until the lake level reached 930.30 feet above sea level for three days, too low to damage shoreline and docks. On Wednesday, the lake finally slipped under that level.
Both the conservation district and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office announced the news Thursday that the speed restriction will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. Friday, but asked boaters to remain cautious with a big increase in boat traffic expected this weekend.
On Saturday, boaters will have to look out for swimmers and paddlers from 6 a.m. to noon, when the Minnetonka Challenge has an annual 5-mile and 10-mile swim from Wayzata to Excelsior.
Kayakers and paddleboarders have also gotten used to paddling in the middle of the quiet lake — something that will be too dangerous with more boats whizzing by.
Wait to paddle creek
And paddling Minnehaha Creek, which flows from the lake to the Mississippi River, is also still not recommended.
As of Wednesday, the creek was still flowing at 270 cubic feet per second at McGinty Road; anything over 150 cubic feet per second is deemed too dangerous due to high, fast-moving water, downed trees and other debris. Once the lake reaches the 930 foot level, the Grays Bay Dam will be able to control the discharging of water.
But with summer quickly slipping away, Pittel hopes people will still soak up as much of the last six weekends before Labor Day as possible.
“The lure of Lake Minnetonka is still there,” he said. “We can only salvage what we can.”