First come the parties on Lake Minnetonka, then the trash.

As the Twin Cities’ most popular lake, it accumulates garbage on its shoreline and underwater, especially after busy summer weekends when hundreds of boats tie up for parties on Cruiser’s Cove next to Big Island.

“It’s disgusting out there,” said Melissa Waskiewicz, who heads the Lake Minnetonka Association, a group of lake homeowners and businesses.

As a result, the association is ramping up cleanup efforts this year, relying on volunteer divers with donated trash bags to clean up beer cans, broken liquor bottles, beer bottle caps sprinkled across the lake bottom, even underwear and shoes that boaters toss overboard. Despite bolstering the efforts, they say they need help.

“There was a lot of finger-pointing but no one wanted to take responsibility, so we did,” Waskiewicz said. “… It’s a huge problem, especially after the 4th of July.”

On Wednesday, the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which regulates use of the lake, will discuss the issue after a Plymouth resident wrote and urged the agency to better control littering.

Litter and human waste along Cruiser’s Cove have long been problems on Lake Minnetonka, the Twin Cities’ largest lake and one of the most popular in the state for boating. The conservation district’s code says it’s a misdemeanor to litter, but for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol to issue a citation, a deputy has to observe the littering or the person has to admit to it.

“It’s just really hard to enforce,” said Greg Nybeck, executive director of the conservation district.

In the past few years, the Water Patrol has given out few, if any, citations, he added. On Wednesday night, the conservation district’s board will discuss whether to tighten its rules and whether there are ways to step up enforcement.

Increasing trash issues

For years, trash cleanup along Big Island has been left to residents like Bonnie Menigo. Her family has had a cabin on the island since 1900 and they spend several days a week snorkeling the cove to collect garbage.

While she said she prefers that parties stay concentrated there instead of where their house is or elsewhere on the lake, the constant need for cleanups prompted her to write to city leaders in Orono, which owns a 56-acre nature park on Big Island, asking for help last year.

“I think it’s gotten worse the last 10 years,” she said. “It would be nice to have someone helping.”

While the city owns part of the island, Three Rivers Park District owns a 62-acre wildlife sanctuary on the island and the conservation district regulates lake use. Because no group was dealing with trash in the water, Waskiewicz said the Lake Minnetonka Association stepped up for the first time last year, doing a cleanup.

“We all thought the [conservation district] was taking care of it, or Orono, or the park district,” she said. “When we looked into it, nobody was doing it. Nobody goes beyond the shore and into the water.”

‘It affects everybody’

This year, the group has done three cleanups with volunteers from Tonka Bay Marina and Life’s A Beach Shoreline Services Inc., which does work on Minnetonka. They filled a barge with half a ton of garbage after the July 4th weekend.

“You have no idea what we’ll find there,” said Gabriel Jabbour, who owns Tonka Bay Marina and has urged the conservation district to address the “mammoth” trash issue for years, and is now on its board. “It’s like after Woodstock. [Boaters] have no right to do what they’re doing.”

The broken bottles underwater pose a safety hazard to swimmers wading along the island and also become a breeding ground for zebra mussels, which otherwise wouldn’t have anything to attach to on the sandy beach.

“It affects everybody,” Waskiewicz said, adding that trash cans on the shore might help discourage littering.

But Josh Leddy, owner of the shoreline business, lives on the lake and said it’s up to boaters to step up and fix the problem.

“It’s a weekly issue,” he said. “If you go out on a Saturday, there will be cans floating around and their [boaters’] waste. It’s all about boater awareness.”