Park Board will harvest milfoil

EAST ISLES — The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will harvest milfoil and other aquatic plants in Lake of the Isles this summer after all, reversing an earlier decision.

The Park Board will pay a contractor a maximum of $40,000 to harvest aquatic plants growing near the lake’s two canoe and kayak racks as well as along popular paddling routes through the lake, Park Board General Manager Mike Schmidt said Thursday.

“This is in addition to the original [milfoil harvesting] plan, so there are no cutbacks in harvesting on Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, Cedar Lake or Wirth Lake,” Schmidt said.

Tight budgets were blamed when the Park Board earlier this year announced it would leave Lake of the Isles out of its annual harvesting program. It was expected to save about $50,000, or one-third of the total amount spent on harvesting each summer.

“There was no specific program or activity cut or staffing cut in order to make this happen,” Schmidt said. “The [interim] Superintendent [David Fisher] and I are confident that between now and the end of our fiscal year, which is Dec. 31, we will be able to cover this.”

He said the cost of hiring a contractor for the harvesting work was “less than 1 percent” of the Park Board’s annual operating budget.

Schmidt said the Park Board applied with the Department of Natural Resources to harvest milfoil on Lake of the Isles about three weeks earlier, after conversations with Park Board Commissioner Anita Tabb, whose District 4 includes Lake of the Isles. The DNR only allows harvesting to improve recreational uses, not for aesthetic reasons.

Tabb, who was not at the July 7 Park Board meeting when the decision was announced, earlier said she’d received complaints from constituents who had difficulty paddling canoes and kayaks through the thick patches of milfoil and curly pondweed, both invasive aquatic species. Schmidt said Tabb told Park Board staff to “take another look” at the harvesting plan.

“We did that,” he said. “We like to believe we are a flexible organization.”

“There are plans and there are annual budgets and annual work plans, but there also unexpected or unanticipated conditional changes, and that all made sense,” he added. “It all came together and we decided to make the change.”

Schmidt said the harvesting contractor would enter Lake of the Isles through the channel connecting it to Lake Calhoun since Lake of the Isles has no boat landing. They may offload harvested vegetation on Lake of the Isles, however, instead of motoring full loads back through the channel to Lake Calhoun.

The need to travel from lake to lake is one reason Lake of the Isles contributed so much to the harvesting budget in the past.

However unsightly they may seem to Lake of the Isles residents and recreational users, the thick-growing weeds are considered a positive indicator of lake health. The aquatic plants, both native and invasive species, grow well in clear water, Schmidt said.

A warm spring had caused aquatic plants to come in earlier on the Chain of Lakes this year, but Schmidt couldn’t say if they were any thicker than they had been in previous years.

“It’s bad,” he said. “Is it particularly worse? I won’t say yes and I won’t say no.