Washington County beat: Lake Elmo wrestles with boat noise near Catholic retreat

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2013 - 7:36 PM

Mornings at Lake Demontreville, dozens of men at Jesuit Retreat House filter into the trees near the lake to contemplate their spirituality in complete silence. It’s been that way since 1948.

Just how the retreat’s mission of prayer and reflection will fare this summer depends on the boating public’s response to an amended Lake Elmo ordinance that now allows water skiing on the lake beginning at sunrise. The City Council loosened the city’s no-wake restriction, said City Administrator Dean Zuleger, because some homeowners wanted to float their boats in advance of crowds that show up when ramps open at noon.

“It gets a little disorderly,” Zuleger said of boaters who aren’t local. “It gets a little edgy with young people out there not understanding what’s going on.”

The Jesuit retreat grounds, and nearby Carmelite campuses for cloistered nuns and hermits, cover fully a third of the Lake Demontreville shoreline. “I think there is a great deal of respect and reverence for what happens there with the Jesuits and Carmelites among lake owners,” Zuleger said.

Boaters unfamiliar with the situation confuse the retreat grounds with a park, trespassing for picnics and parties and leaving litter behind, Zuleger said.

The Rev. Patrick McCorkell, who’s managed the retreat for about nine years, said he’s tried to tell boaters to quiet it down. “We’ve had a few instances where people park their boats and they’re yelling and sometimes using some sweet language,” he said.

Mornings at the retreat are reserved for prayer and contemplation, which now could compete with loud boat motors. On each of 47 weekends a year, as many as 70 men come to the retreat.

“It’s primarily guys who want to make their spiritual life stronger,” McCorkell said. “Silence is just absolutely essential to the ministry we’re doing. It’s a chance for some solitude that’s just really rare these days.”

Mayor Mike Pearson has said he wants “one more look” at the restrictions before ice out, said Zuleger, who said the City Council considered all points of view.

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