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Lulu Lake: Party place or exceptional water resource?

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By Don Behm/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 4, 2014

TOWN OF TROY—Lulu Lake in northern Walworth County is isolated, surrounded by wetlands with no access roads. It is designated an exceptional water resource, and some call it wild.

Others call it a party place.

Increasing numbers of summer partygoers on big boats — as many as 90 gas-powered watercraft a day — are entering the lake through a Mukwonago River channel from Eagle Spring Lake in Waukesha County. The pontoons and other boats pack the shore, propellers churn up the lake bottom and bring in invasive species, and crowds trample natural areas, say members of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.

To slow the pace of boating and partying, and prevent further degradation of vulnerable resources, the conservancy is asking the Town of Troy to enact an “electric-motor only” ordinance for boats on Lulu Lake. The conservancy and the state Department of Natural Resources are the two largest property owners around the lake.

The Nature Conservancy is not asking the town to keep all boats off the 95-acre lake, said Patricia Morton, director of the group's Mukwonago River Watershed Project. Fishing boats and hunting skiffs, and possibly pontoons, could reach the lake with an electric motor, according to Morton.

The DNR already authorizes only battery-powered electric motors on boats using numerous lakes in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, as well as the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Town of Troy Chairman John Kendall has scheduled a public hearing Thursday on boating's impact on the lake and the conservancy's electric-motor-only proposal. The hearing begins at 7 p.m. inside Troy Town Hall, N8870 Briggs St.

Paul Francis said he would support such an ordinance.

Francis, one of only two private property owners on Lulu Lake, no longer visits his residence there on summer weekends because of loud music late into the evenings, he said.

Francis described the congestion as “an attack.”

He wants town officials to intervene. Property owners and recreational users are temporary stewards of this special place, Francis said.

“We have to take a longer view” of caring for the lake and its resources for future generations, he said.

Tom Day, chairman of the Eagle Spring Lake Management District, would prefer Town of Troy officials take a full year to review the conservancy's concerns and determine how significant the problems are.

The majority of Eagle Spring Lake residents oppose an electric-motor-only ordinance, and many already have signed a petition against the restriction, Day said. One concern is that it would be difficult to retrofit wide pontoon boats with a battery-powered electric motor as a secondary engine, he said.

HOME TO RARE FISH

Among its many attributes, Lulu Lake is the home of rare long-ear sunfish, pugnose shiner and a few dozen other fish species, according to the DNR. The Department of Natural Resources proposed designating the entire lake a “sensitive area” in 2007.

Its shore is undeveloped and ringed by a mix of wetlands. Ferns, bogs, shrub carr and sedge meadows support more than 150 species of plants, including lesser fringed gentian and beaked spike-rush.

One small bog surrounded by a tamarack forest harbors uncommon dragon's mouth orchid and other northern species. Wild rice grows in a deep-water marsh.

The lake's upland hosts oaks and prairies, with displays of wildflowers such as shooting stars and northern kittentail. Last summer, DNR researchers confirmed another: yellow evening primrose.

The DNR's 2007 report warned that increased big boat traffic — two to three dozen pontoon boats mooring on the shoreline on hot summer weekends — was taking a toll. Their large propellers stirred bottom sediment and decreased water quality and brought in the exotic invasive plant Eurasian watermilfoil from Eagle Spring Lake, the report said.

The proposal was never acted on. But six years later, big boat traffic on Lulu Lake more than doubled as the lake became a magnet for boaters drawn to its seclusion for their shoreline drinking parties, said Jerry Ziegler, southeastern Wisconsin land steward for The Nature Conservancy.

It's not unusual for 70 to 90 or more gas-powered motor boats a day in July and August to cruise up the Mukwonago River channel from Eagle Spring Lake in Waukesha County and into Lulu, according to photo-documented surveys done by the conservancy.

The lake's resources continue to be damaged by big propellers and big wakes, and trampled under foot, Ziegler said.

Partygoers don't have bathrooms on the boats, so they hop onto shoreline wetlands and walk on rare wildflowers, Morton said.

Public safety has become a concern as big boats have collided in the channel, and emergency responders have been called to the lake for unconscious underage drinkers. And so many large watercraft cruise into Lulu Lake on weekends that kayakers and canoeists are crowded out due to fears of being swamped by large wakes, she said.

Several years' worth of attempts to educate party-boat enthusiasts and other large boat owners about the fragility of natural riches in and around Lulu Lake have failed, according to Morton.



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