BEULAH — Ed Hoogterp wants Crystal Lake’s waters to remain crystal clear.
The Beulah resident worries a legion of invasive species — quagga and zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and other noxious weeds — and a nasty fish disease called viral hemorrhagic septicemia will be spread by boats to Crystal Lake from other, already infected and infested lakes.
But there’s a simple solution: boat washing.
Depending on the boat, it takes five minutes, often less,” Hoogterp said.
The Crystal Lake & Watershed Association recently opened a boat washing station at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources access site near M-115 and Mollineaux Road. President Joel Buzzell said the Association raised $50,000 in donations to purchase modified car-washing equipment.
Zebra mussels and watermilfoil have reached the lake’s waters and are being closely monitored and controlled. The Association hopes the boat washes will stop even more aggressive biological invaders from contaminating the lake.
The procedure is simple: if a watercraft has been in another body of water in the past 10 days, paid staff and volunteers will give it a quick wash with hot water to clear off unwanted biological invaders before they can contaminate the lake.
“When not staffed, it’s self serve and always available,” Buzzell said.
The DNR agreed to give the Association a long-term lease to operate the station as part of a settlement following an acrimonious dispute over the boat launch plan. That makes Crystal Lake one of the small but growing number of Michigan lakes with boat washing sites to combat the spread of invasive species.
The Glen Lake Association in Leelanau County opened one of the first in Michigan in 1994. Association member Mike Litch credits boat washing with halting the spread of the quagga mussel — a cold and deep water-loving species that is starting to crowd out its aggressive zebra mussel cousin — into Glen Lake, as well as a various water fleas and weeds that choke other lakes.
“Early detection and rapid response is our motto,” he said.
Litch said education about the threat of invasive species is just as important. The Glen Lake Association holds regular forums on the issue, which members of the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association attended while planning their boat washing station.
Buzzell said awareness is spreading. Two townships bordering the lake — Benzonia and Crystal Lake — already passed ordinances requiring boat washes for watercraft going into the water, and Buzzell said Lake Township is considering a similar measure.
“People are getting the gist of it,” he said. “Some people pass by (the station), but we wave those people in and explain it to them.”
Hoogterp, the Crystal Lake group’s past president, said the issue is not just the environment, but also economics.
“We’re slowly, slowly, slowly building the case and understanding that this boat washing is important to preserving the quality of inland lakes,” he said. “People come up because of the clean water, easy navigation on the lakes and good fishing. Preventing (invasive species) is expensive, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than trying to fix it.”