After one of the rowdiest July 4th holidays on Lake Minnetonka last year, boaters this year partied with fewer major mishaps — and left behind less trash.
On Tuesday, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office announced that deputies had responded to fewer serious accidents and alcohol-related medical calls, but did issue more BWI (boating while intoxicated) citations, which authorities said likely was the result of bolstered patrol efforts.
“We made an impact this year,” said Jay Green, one of the leaders of the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which helps fund some of the water patrols.
The day after the Fourth, evidence of the weekend’s lake parties was plain on Gabriel Jabbour’s barge. One by one, divers popped above the water of Cruiser’s Cove near Big Island, dropping beer cans and other trash on the marina owner’s barge.
While it was the second year that volunteers have tackled the messy job, it was the first time that four divers from the Sheriff’s Office participated, scouring the waters for beer bottles and garbage rather than working at the more somber task of recovering bodies.
The extra cleanup efforts on the metro area’s largest lake came after growing complaints about litter in the aftermath of last year’s July 4th holiday. It seems that word got to the boaters who flocked this weekend to the 14,000-acre lake, because they left behind a little less litter.
Within a couple hours Tuesday, about a dozen volunteers had nearly covered a barge with 15 trash bags, filled with garbage ranging from a turkey leg to floaties, along with dozens of beer cans, bottles and red cups. Scroungers snorkeled for valuable items, such as fancy sunglasses.
“I thought it was a little bit cleaner this year than last year,” said Josh Leddy, who runs a shoreline restoration company that helped organize last year’s cleanup. “You could tell people got the message out there.”
Last year, the Fourth drew record crowds and resulted in 75 calls on serious incidents, including a spinal injury. For weeks, volunteers cleaned up trash near Big Island, where hundreds of boaters typically tie up to party in the shallow water.
This year, authorities ramped up enforcement with at least 40 officers on the lake. For the first time, a couple Orono police officers were stationed on Big Island to crack down on littering and trespassing.
Also for the first time, ambulances were stationed on shore near a new emergency access dock, which shortened response times.
Littering the cove
Over three days, authorities issued 19 BWI citations on Minnetonka, up from only one citation last year. Authorities targeted underage consumption, issuing 58 citations; another 83 were issued for boating and water safety.
But authorities said they responded to fewer serious medical incidents, and 12 alcohol or drug-related medicals compared to last year’s 17. No deaths were reported.
“It wasn’t as ruthless as it could have been,” said Leddy, who lives on the lake. “But it was definitely busy.”
It’s a misdemeanor to litter on Minnetonka — it comes with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail — but it’s a tough infraction to enforce. Deputies can’t issue citations unless they observe the littering or someone admits to it. The result is that few if any citations have been issued the past few years.
Broken bottles not only pose a safety hazard to swimmers wading in Big Island’s shallow waters, they also provide a breeding ground for zebra mussels, which otherwise wouldn’t have anything to attach to on the sandy beach.
While litter and human waste long have been problems on Minnetonka, the cleanup for years was left to residents like Bonnie Menigo, whose family has had a cabin on Big Island since 1900. She finally wrote community leaders a couple of years ago to ask for assistance.
With no group addressing the issue, the Lake Minnetonka Association, which represents homeowners and businesses, stepped up last year to start cleanup efforts. Enlisting volunteers from Tonka Bay Marina and Leddy’s Mound-based company, Life’s A Beach Shoreline Services, the group filled a barge with half a ton of garbage.
“We’re still going to work on this until there’s zero garbage,” said Melissa Waskiewicz, who leads the lake association.
They got extra help this time from the conservation district and Sheriff’s Office. But Menigo and her family still beat them to it, snorkeling early Tuesday morning for the third day in a row and collecting nearly a dozen trash bags.
“If there was garbage in your front yard, wouldn’t you pick it up?” she said. “We just like to keep it clean.”