Public ponders proposals for

by Sean Madigan

The National Parks Service allowed the public to rev its engines Wednesday night regarding motorized watercraft use in Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior.
During a public forum at the St. Paul Student Center, more than 50 people discussed their concerns about the proposal currently on the table. The new proposal allows for a few areas to be non-motorized, while some areas would be designated “motorized-sensitive” — that is, no wake would be allowed.
After the parks service receives input from the public, the plan will go to the regional office in Omaha, Neb., for final approval.
The proposed institution of non-motorized and motorized-sensitive zones drew considerable debate among participants at the forum. Currently there are no restrictions to motorized boat use along the coasts of Isle Royale.
New rules would designate several areas along coves and harbors that would be motor-free. Additional areas would be designated as motorized-sensitive, meaning boaters must move through these areas at wakeless or idle speeds.
These new zones were welcomed by members of the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. They argued that there are more than 20 million acres of open water in Lake Superior for motorized boat use. The plan calls for only 192 acres of nonmotorized space, which Sierra Club officials said isn’t much for motorized boaters to give up.
“My biggest concern is maintaining the long-term health and beauty of this precious area,” said English graduate student Rob Brault.
However, opponents of the proposed motor-restricted zones claimed there are no problems between motorized boaters, and canoers and kayakers.
Grant Merit, an environmental attorney, argued that the parks service plan allows for over-management and zoning. Merit, whose family has lived on the island for 125 years, said the park should perform a dual purpose: to provide a haven to city life as well as preserve and protect the parks environment.
The new management plan will serve as a blueprint for as long as 20 years. Many of the park’s goals will be long term and all will depend on funding. Some initiatives slated to be included are a fisheries management program, preservation of shipwrecks and handicapped accessibility for all new structures.
Elizabeth Valencia, branch chief of cultural resources, said the parks services needs public input. She noted the parks are here for the people and it is important to hear what they want to see in the National Parks. She said the National Parks Service has made a considerable effort to encourage public opinion; Wednesday’s forum was the third in a series of four.
Isle Royale superintendent Doug Barnard said a new general management plan was necessary because the current plan was instituted during the 1960s.