Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
For Wisconsin Outdoor News
Written December, 2008

River Usage, Speed Limits HOT Issues On Wolf River
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

The river may be frozen but things are heating up when it comes to river usage, no wake zones and the potential for a speed limit on the Wolf River near Fremont. A recent vote by the town of Wolf River has extended the large no wake zone in Orihula, by approximately 1/4 mile to the north. What used to end near the Party Doll property now extends past Triangle Farms. That adds about 15 - 20 minutes of time needed to travel between Lake Poygan, Winneconne and the city of Fremont on weekends and holidays. Times when there is the most traffic and obviously most potential for generating business. The action taken by the town came after numerous heated meetings and already has some local anglers and business people up in arms. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are a number of factors that are making the entire process more difficult. First, there are a number of governing bodies involved. There is the Town of Wolf River, the Town of Fremont and the Village of Fremont along with both Waupaca and Winnebago Counties. Although some feel they are blown out of proportion, all agree there are legitimate concerns regarding safety and the ability of some of the larger boats to navigate at great speeds. From 70+ MPH bass boats to multi engine “cigar” boats and cabin cruisers, the river has a large amount of summer traffic as do most recreational water ways. What comes in to play are the desires of the tournament anglers and fishermen to limit the no wake zones and the wishes of those in pontoon boats and those who want to water ski, tube or wakeboard on the river. These groups join the landowners in conflict with the large, fast and often LOUD boats that fill the docks in businesses along the river on summer afternoons. ALL of the boating groups come in to conflict with land owners who want slower speeds, less wake and noise caused by boat traffic out in front of their house. Again, this is where the large open exhaust pleasure boats are the main focal point and why people are pushing their local town or village boards to act on boating restrictions. But rules affect all boaters, especially no wake zones and speed limits.

Seasonal considerations also come in to play as the number of people involved in water skiing during the spring walleye tournaments is obviously very small as is the number of ‘cruisers”. But bass events and fishermen use the river all summer. Plus vacationers, and those with campers or weekend cottages, want to use the river too. Some for fishing, some for frolic but all concentrated on the river. Problem is, rules can’t be different in spring then they are in the summer. And, according to Jeff Knorr, except for local no wake zones, speed limits and limits on use such as water skiing and tubing must be passed by all of the governing bodies involved. There is also a appeal process that may be taken by any organized group prior to implementing a rule. This has been done in the past as the Tri-County Powerboat Alliance fought the Village of Fremont’s effort to extend it’s no wake zone south to the Kapitzke property, and won. Plans to oppose the extension of the no wake zone in the town of Wolf River are already in process.

Noise and potential for danger are the main issues. To some it makes sense to tell people they can’t pull their kids on a tube behind their boat down the middle of the Wolf River on a crowded weekend waterway. To some, people should be able to figure that out for themselves. Adding rules already in place on inland waters such as no wake within 100 feet of an anchored boat or pier are to me good rules. Why those rules don’t apply on the river to date has always made me wonder. I also think speed limits and noise control are important issues, but they can’t be such as to deter river use. The area needs all the tourism dollars we can get and making the river safe for everybody to use is something we should take seriously. But different groups use the river for different reasons and in various manners. Balancing use with safety, local opinion with visitors needs is what needs to be done.

But many people are at odds over the potential for any control over river use and the local DNR Warden Jeff Knorr has been the focal point. Much of it stems from an article where his views on enforcement and safety on the Wolf River were published by a reporter from one of the Fox Valley newspapers. In an interview with Jeff I learned that a statement he made about speed limits was taken out of context. His view that something must be done to increase safety and, that if a speed limit helped, it was good, came out as a need for a speed limit on the entire river. THAT, in part, was based on the need to have a consistent rule throughout the area as there is no way to post changes in speed limits or other rule changes in different parts of the river. It was also based on difficulties being faced by the local district attorney’s office in prosecuting boaters for unsafe practices when there is no rule as far as proximity to another boat when on plane, on the Wolf River. Those views caused some finger pointing and name calling that extended to local Internet message boards and has created the potential for some hard feelings. Public meetings and discussions have been animated, boisterous and polarized. Some are sticking to reason when discussing the situation, others are being driven by emotion and a need to protect “their rights”. I found Jeff’s concern for safety the primary issue along with an what he said was a need for an ENFORCEABLE set of laws. Restaurant owners are obviously concerned over any restrictions that create the potential for limiting boat traffic. Dinner customers often arrive by boat and over night docking is popular. Other businesses such as Fort Fremont who teach wake boarding, water skiing, have classes and exhibitions on the river, sure don’t want to see recreational use limits. Neither do the resorts, whose main concern is the fishermen and small rental boats they operate. All parties agree that safety is important, but most business owners and fishermen don’t think that a small group of land owners should control how everyone uses the river. Others think that the entire river should be slow no wake from Friday to Sunday. Some want to change the no wake rules in Fremont and downstream to Lake Poygan to be 24/7, the same as the no wake zones upstream of Fremont. Right now they only apply on weekends and holidays from Fremont, south. ALL are ignored early spring and late fall once the marker buoy's have been taken out, but that’s another story.

This is just the first salvo when it comes to proposed speed limits, recreational use limits and safety on the Wolf River. Business owners are at odds with land owners with town and village boards feeling the pressure. Some feel the local warden, Jeff Knorr, has an agenda and just wants to make his job easier. Some feel that limitations put in place here are just the beginning of more control and less freedom all over Wisconsin. Tournament anglers and promoters, bar & restaurant owners, bait shops and resort owners all have an opinion as do the land owners. As one who uses the Wolf River quite a bit, I have an opinion too, safety first.

More as the story develops.


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