A boater’s drive to create a no-wake zone on the Fox River from Lake Winnebago to the Butte des Morts bridge appears dead in the water with an advisory board and the city manager both against the proposal.
About 119 people signed Oshkosh resident Daniel Henning’s petition that asks Oshkosh Parks Director Ray Maurer to designate the entire length of the Fox River from Lake Winnebago to the Butte des Morts bridge a no-wake zone.
On Monday, the Oshkosh Advisory Parks Board unanimously voted to reject Henning’s request, saying it would hurt boating-related businesses and increase travel times between Winnebago and Butte des Morts. Henning was the only person at the meeting who spoke in favor of the no-wake expansion.
“You’re taking your life into your own hands if you try to go out in the afternoon. We’ve had several close calls,” Henning said. “Something needs to get done, that’s all I know. It would still be ‘Oshkosh on the Water.’ It’s just going to be Oshkosh on the Water, Safely.”
The petition cites “terrible” shoreline erosion and the damage done to little boats as they make their way along the river. At present, there are already no wake areas from the mouth of Winnebago west to the Oregon Street bridge and another no-wake zone from west of the Wisconsin Street bridge almost to the Butte des Morts bridge.
Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff has recommended the city take no action on the petition and leave the existing no-wake zones in place.
“We don’t support it. We’re recommending the Parks Board take no action it,” Rohloff said. “We don’t think it’s necessary.”
Parks Board members agreed with him on Monday, saying it would hurt marinas, restaurants, hotels, bait shops and other businesses that cater to boaters. Board member Terry Wohler also noted it would significantly increase the amount of time it takes boaters to get from Lake Winnebago to Lake Butte des Morts.
“This is going to kill everything in Oshkosh. You can’t have a no-wake zone on the whole thing,” Wohler said. “It would take you all day to get from one way to the other.”
Beyond those who signed the petition, there appears to be little other support for the idea.
Rohloff said he’s gotten about 20 calls from businesses, residents, boaters and fishers from the region and all expressed opposition to the idea. Maurer said he’s received more input on the petition in three days than he did on the entire Menominee Park Master Plan in six months.
“Everything I’ve gotten in the last 24 hours has been unanimously against it,” Rohloff said. “It’s totally impractical. At the speeds they recommend, it would take 55 minutes to go from the Butte des Morts bridge to the Pioneer.”
Mercury Marine tests many of its boats on a stretch of the Fox River near the Wisconsin Street bridge and Director of Product Integration Engineering Daniel Clarkson said a no-wake zone would add about 3,600 hours of test time to each project when driving times to areas of Lake Winnebago are factored in.
“All of those tests we do are able to be done because of our access to the Fox River, the Winnebago System,” Clarkson said. “We know that access to the river and to the Winnebago and Butte des Morts systems are paramount to our ability to complete the work that’s part of the pride we have in the marine industry today.”
Only a portion of the signatures collected come from Oshkosh residents, though. The remainder come from boaters from Racine, Oconomowoc, Edgerton, Fort Atkinson, Elkhorn, Lake Delton and other areas of the state.
Henning said he collected the signatures in a week or two from people he runs into along the river. He said a lot of the close calls he has had in the past could be avoided if boaters used more common sense.
“There’s just an awful lot of stuff we see on the river … a lot of these guys don’t use any common sense when it comes to the river,” Henning said. “There’s a lot of stuff that could be addressed if people slowed down.”
Jeff Bollier: (920) 426-6688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.