Authorities, volunteers and resort work to clear debris off Gull Lake
An activity as seemingly mundane and easy as picking up litter takes on whole new dimensions when that litter is smack dab in the middle of a frozen lake blasted by imposing winds and subarctic temperatures.
After learning of debris on Gull Lake, area photographer Mike Kurilla of Lake Shore used a drone to document the deposits. While the Dispatch wasn't able to reach Kurilla, in a Facebook post directed at the Dispatch and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources representatives, he decried the potential for environmental damage.
"The lake is 90% cleaned up," Kurilla wrote in a post dated 5:08 p.m., April 5. "2 of us went out and filled 3 garbage bags and 3 loads with the snowmobile pulling my fence with stuff piled on top. 2 others showed up from the Jaycees and picked up the box full in the parking lot and also took all the wood and pallets that I drug to shore. The Frozen Fore section of the lake was pathetic!"
"After seeing a post on FB earlier this week, I had to go look for myself," the post continues. "It's pretty sad that our Local Businesses & Non-Profits leave our most popular lake in the Brainerd Lakes Area in this shape after the activities that they use it for year after year."
Kurilla went on to note the debris was comprised of about 15 hay bales, three full pallets, one sheet of plywood, three wooden anchors and rope, as well as twine, orange cones, chunks of Styrofoam, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, miscellaneous boards and wood shards.
The refuse was left by people setting up a tent and camping out in Hole-in-the-Day Bay during the Brainerd Jaycees 29th Annual Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Jan. 26, said Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer Tim Collette.
Though, he noted, this encampment was outside the Jaycees' area of responsibility.
"It was part of the extravaganza event, but it wasn't even Jaycees that caused it. They cleaned up their area very well. The extravaganza event itself has been pretty well run," Collette said. "Those hay bales were placed out there actually by Grand View Lodge. I've been in contact with Grand View numerous times over the last month and they've been working on cleaning those up."
However, while it may seem like a simple matter of time and elbow grease to remove hay bales and wood pallets, Collette said brutal cold stretches of last winter, coupled with fluctuating temperatures more recently, means some litter was well-embedded in the ice, then impossible to reach as the ice melted away.
Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge, said it was the result of a mishap—namely, a supervisor on site panicked when a crack in the ice developed, water flowed in and ultimately froze the debris into place. After some thought, this supervisor simply abandoned the debris on the ice, he said.
Though, as general manager, Ronnei said, he takes full responsibility—whether that's blame, law enforcement citations or any work related to cleaning up the ice. Grand View Lodge has participated in four outings to remove debris on the ice, he added, and there are plans in place to possibly employ a diver this summer to retrieve any submerged materials.
"This is not what Grand View is. Ultimately, somebody made a mistake and I'm the managing director here, it's my fault," said Ronnei, who described the incident as a wake-up call that shed light on environmental practices during the wintertime and how they differ from proactive measures taken during open water season. "The fact of the matter is that we've got to own this and leave it better than we found it for the future."
Collette said there were some smaller pockets of debris left after the Gull Lake Frozen Fore during the last week of February—though, because of the nature of these permits, Collette said those were under the authority of the Crow Wing County's Sheriff's Office. Deputies involved with debris removal did not immediately return calls by the Dispatch.
"Unfortunately, there's still some debris out there with hay bales," Collette said. "I think all the pallets got pulled out, it's just parts left of hay bales and some blocks of wood. Maybe after the ice melts, we'll take it out, but it will go out."
Colette said residents and people using local water bodies for recreation should remember anything non-native or imported into the natural environment is considered litter and therefore illegal if undisposed properly, subject to purview under authorities like the DNR or Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.