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Possible change in regulations to be decided this month

If your dock's not out of the water by now, you're either chancing the likelihood of having it smashed by winter ice or anticipating a late warming trend to permit a few more sunrise cups of coffee at the end of the platform.

Docks have undoubtedly evolved over the years, changing from a utilitarian role of simply providing water access, to a recreational gathering place. Once associated with fishing and boating, docks have become much more than that. Manufacturers now produce specially designed docks that can accommodate guests, accessories and convert over-the-lake space into social space.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) implemented the first rules regarding docks in 1978, nearly 30 years ago. Since then recreational time spent at the lakeside has definitely changed. Boats have become progressively bigger and faster, time seems to be more constrained and at a greater value, and docks provide much more than simple "access" to water as once intended.

As land and water use increased, so did the stipulations associated with owning a dock. In 1982, a permit was not required for a dock less than 6 feet in width and extended no more than 50 feet into the water. The DNR changed the regulation in 2002, allowing docks up to 8 feet in width without a permit.

Today many docks, which were once a single, narrow boardwalk to moor watercraft, have a wide platform at the end. Initially falling under the "no wider than 8 feet" rule, these structures are now eligible for a temporary general permit authorizing platforms 10.5 by 16 feet or up to 170 square feet, which doesn't necessarily include the "dock" itself. Additional changes to the current regulation are up for review, prompting input from supporters and opposition.

Doug Kingsley, Park Rapids Area Fisheries supervisor, expresses some concern with the possible change. While understanding the transformation of lake-time, Kingsley remains dedicated to the inhabitants of the ecosystem; the fish and wildlife.

Bass anglers often pitch lures beneath docks to land behemoth largemouth and smallmouth, but although the docks attract bass, Kingsley reminds the public that the structures are less than adequate habitat.

"Deer are attracted to highways, but that doesn't mean it's good habitat," notes Kingsley. "The same could be said for docks and fish."

Kingsley recognizes that docks provide more than a place to fish or find fish, they have transformed into a social hub for swimming, sunbathing, conversing, consuming and of all other things, relaxing. Yet he finds issue with hot tubs and patios seated atop the platform. Docks and platforms could become much larger if the new regulation is liberalized, one of Kingsley's fears.

Public forums held throughout the state over the past few months have produced some interesting feedback, most of which is a near even split supporting and opposing a change in regulation.

The DNR will make a decision on the issue at the end of this month. Previously compiled public input is available for viewing on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Web site

Have a fishing related question? E-mail your angling inquisitions to with "Dock Talk" in the subject line.