Snowmobiles can whiz freely over frozen Lake Minnetonka, but the lake's islands are off-limits to motorized vehicles, and violators will be met with a flurry of tickets this winter.

"We are trying to let people know that we are doing more enforcement this year,'' said Hugo McPhee, chief of police for Three Rivers Park District, which patrols the islands.

"In the past we would go out there and check on them weekly, and we would see that people had come by and ridden on the islands,'' McPhee said. "That is not OK, so we are going to step up our presence and enforcement.''

Tickets can carry fines as high as $1,000, he said.

The ban includes the Park District's Wawatasso Island, also known as Boy Scout Island, and Goose Island. It also includes the Park District's 45-acre Arthur Allen Sanctuary and the city of Orono's park, both on Big Island. All are off-limits to snowmobiles and ATVs.

Wintertime damage has become a persistent problem, the park district said.

"There are no trails on the islands so people are making their own routes, causing exposed areas and erosion,'' McPhee said. Erosion harms the islands and is bad for Lake Minnetonka's water quality.

"We are trying to keep [the islands] in the more pristine condition they are supposed to be in.''

Walking on the islands is permitted. "If you stop your ATV or snowmobile before you get on the island, you can do that,'' McPhee said.

Officers will use their judgment in deciding which tickets to issue, McPhee said. If it's a park offense, the fine would be $65 to $95. Officers also will have the option to write county and state tickets that carry fines of up to $1,000, he said.

Last year the district gave out just a handful of tickets. This winter, "We are going to spend more time out on the ice and make sure that people are aware of the rules,'' McPhee said.

"Many people enjoy snowmobiling and riding ATVs on the ice of Lake Minnetonka," he said. "We just ask them to help preserve these natural areas by keeping their vehicles off the islands."

For more information, call the Three Rivers Park District at 763-559-9000 or visit www.threeriversparks.org.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711