Lake Emma residents voice concerns over access use
BY Sarah firstname.lastname@example.org Lack of swimming beaches in Hubbard County has led to animosity between Lake Emma residents and swimmers who use the public access as a public beach. It isn't, lake residents insist. Emma residents ar...
BY Sarah smith
Lack of swimming beaches in Hubbard County has led to animosity between Lake Emma residents and swimmers who use the public access as a public beach.
It isn’t, lake residents insist.
Emma residents are tired of human congestion, human waste, garbage, loud music, all-night parties, poor behavior, dog poop and other misuses of what they claim is a boat access only, not a public beach.
The nearly five dozen public accesses throughout the county are not swimming areas, they say. (Lake George has the only swimming beach in the county.)
The state maintains some of those accesses; Hubbard County maintains 18 others, including Lake Emma.
The issue came to a head Saturday at a lake association meeting of Emma, Stocking and Bottle lakes residents, fueled in part by Fourth of July congestion, complaints from boaters that they cannot launch or retrieve their boats there due to swimmers, and a recent Enterprise photo display mentioning it as a popular spot for swimmers.
One photo showed a man who had commandeered a diving platform for his own use, the residents said. The Enterprise could not confirm that allegation. Residents seized on this photo as proof that behavior has crossed boundaries of polite conduct.
The small lake is being loved to death, residents worry, and a catastrophic accident is imminent, they maintain.
Many residents would like to post it “No swimming” to keep the traffic down on County Road 40, which runs by the access.
“There are no loons this summer,” said Emma resident Ray Rye. “Once they’re gone, that’s it.”
Fishing pressure on the lake, the lack of sanitation on the beach and other factors will kill the small lake, said resident Dick Hendricks.
“We were very disappointed with the article,” said Hendricks. “We try to police it as best as we can. We pay the taxes and we deserve some consideration.”
The word “consideration” came up several times in the conversation about the access. Residents said they’ve found discarded condoms, beer bottles, liquor containers, food wrappers and other unsanitary items on the beach after the crowds leave.
“Cleaning up is a big problem,” Hendricks said. “People are sloppy to say the least.”
Jet skis and kayaks are contributing to the congestion, residents say.
And Hendricks, a resident of 49 years, said the public access located on County Road 40 is a safety hazard “with little kids running around.”
Winter fishing has also cleaned the lake of crappies when anglers take 50-60 at each outing, Hendricks added. The DNR has reneged on its promise to keep the lake stocked, he said.
The swimmers are the biggest problem currently.
“You can’t make it harder to launch a boat,” he said of the unwillingness of some swimmers to let boats launch at the access.
Emma residents love their lake, but not when hordes of people descend on the small beach to party, they universally said.
“The lake can’t handle it,” said resident Rod Haugen. Every time the newspaper mentions an osprey or eagle, traffic clogs the lake with sightseers, he maintained.
“I worry about the congestion,” said resident Brenda Peterson. “I’m afraid somebody’s gonna get hurt.”
Residents are also worried about the liability, because a mishap is inevitable, they say. They aren’t sure who might have jurisdiction, the county or DNR, if there’s a mishap.
Confrontations with swimmers are coming more regularly, they maintain.
“I live in fear of a three-year-old Mom and Dad aren’t watching” getting hurt, said Ellen Rye.
But she’s conflicted, as are other residents, about the solution.
Young kids have been learning to swim on that beach for decades, she said, and it would be a travesty to close it off to them.
It’s not the only public access where people swim, said Matt Munson, a nearby resident.
“We spent our days at the Big Sand access when we were growing up,” he said.
Rye also worries about water quality.
“Are they testing what little kids get rid of?” she asked.
She said the atmosphere has become like “an elementary school party” with guests misbehaving. She no longer swims in the lake, she added.
“It was wall-to-wall people” on the Fourth, said resident JoAnn Hendricks.
But others, like Rye, wonder where families can swim if they don’t own lake property.
Lake Emma is a county-maintained public access, while the state maintains others.
DNR Fisheries chief Doug Kingsley said the DNR quit stocking the lake in 2004 because Big Sand was able to regenerate fish without help from the DNR and a channel runs between the two lakes. There was no agreement to stock the lakes in perpetuity, he added.
The only involvement the DNR had with the Lake Emma access was to help ease runoff concerns by allowing gardeners to plant a rain garden on the access years ago.
District 1 county representative Vern Massie said he doubts the residents could talk the county into banning swimming or any other activities at the Lake Emma access, which is in his district.
“Just because the residents don’t like it is not a reason,” he said. But if the Sheriff’s Department began getting numerous calls, which it hasn’t, that might be a reason.
He said, “That’s what a public access is for.”
The objectionable activities - swimming, picnicking and hanging out - are what the lake residents have concerns about.
County Ag inspector Greg Hensel, whose department oversees parks and recreation, did not return a phone call seeking comment about the access.
There are public swiming areas in Lake Belle Taine in Nevis, in Akeley and in Osage, which is not in Hubbard County.
It is unclear why Nevis and Akeley are not considered swimming beaches, unless it’s categorized in a separate area of municipalities. The county’s website does not list it.