Slow – No Wake (much) more than a law
By Scott Eshelman
Special to the Star Journal
Even during these tumultuous times, we have ample reason to be grateful. We live in an area blanketed by beauty, peace and quiet. Unfortunately, during the 4th of July weekend, some view it as an opportunity to ‘cut loose’ and endanger that beauty, peace and quiet.
Our area’s greatest natural resource, the Wisconsin River/Rhinelander Flowage, supplies us with its abundance – jobs (the marine industry, the paper mill), food (terrific fishery, ample waterfowl, wild rice, restaurants) and above all, natural beauty.
Those familiar with the waterway know that the river, from Rhinelander to the Newbold bridge and beyond is governed by slow/no wake provisions. Some are state laws. Some ordinances come from Oneida County and some are municipal. They are enforced by DNR Wardens, and the county Sheriff.
But what exactly is Slow/No Wake (SNW)? What is “slow” to my motorcycle-riding son is vastly different from my definition. Many boaters believe “slow” is what they deem it to be and “no wake” is too often not under consideration.
What is a boater to do?
The Wisconsin law provides an answer to that question.
“Slow/No Wake Speed means a speed at which a vessel moves as slowly as possible (emphasis added) while still maintaining steerage control.”
On a calm day with little current, “as slowly as possible” would usually mean idle speed. If the wind or the current make steerage control more difficult, slightly increased speed would become necessary.
Where does this apply? Again the law answers that. For boats, SNW applies within 100 feet of a shoreline, a raft, a swimmer or an emergency vehicle. For personal watercraft (jet skis) the SNW zone increases to 200 feet. This would make most of the flowage north of town a SNW zone. In some areas, SNW buoys designate additional zones, for instance Munninghoff Marsh, east of Rt. 47.
But additional benefits result from honoring SNW.
We experience few guarantees in life. Here’s one. By significantly reducing speed you will enjoy a greater appreciation for what we have. What would it mean to a guest or a grandchild to see an osprey fish, a river otter play, sandhill cranes nesting, eaglets fledging (there are at least four active nests on the river; see if you can spot them). Throughout the summer, these and much more are available for viewing, and yes, for free.
One other valuable asset is wild rice. Hundreds of years ago Wisconsin was blessed with plentiful beds of wild rice. It even thrived in Milwaukee and Madison. But not so much any more.
In the Rhinelander area we are very fortunate to have maintained and protected this rich tradition.
The rice provides food for all sorts of aquatic critters as well as waterfowl migrating during the fall. No rice; no ducks. Additionally, wild rice is harvested annually for the benefit of the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry.
It is at this time of the year when the rice plants are most vulnerable. The plants are in the floating leaf stage. They can be ripped up or chewed up by inconsiderate boat traffic. What looks like weeds lying flat on the water surface is in fact, an important part of the food chain as well as part of an ecosystem that ‘cleans’ toxins from upriver.
Also vulnerable are the many things we cannot see, particularly along the shallow waters. These shallow waters provide critical, unique and attractive habitat for all manner of aquatic species as well as other animals that depend on this terrain. Heavy and/or inconsiderate boat traffic endangers this environment.
By honoring the Slow/No Wake rules you are doing more, much more than honoring the law. You are protecting Rhinelander’s most beautiful natural asset.
So please slow down as far as possible. It’s the law. But it’s much more.
Take in all that this beautiful river has to offer.