Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
The name comes from the Sioux Indians, meaning "big water." With a 100-mile shoreline, that's big water alright. In fact, in a state whose motto is "land of 10,000 lakes," Minnetonka ranks as one of the largest and busiest of them all.
One hundred years ago, with streetcars running between the lake and nearby Minneapolis (just 23 miles to the east), Lake Minnetonka became a weekend resort for the city dwellers. When the streetcars pulled into the lakeside community of Excelsior, commuters could board one of 6 "street car boats" and travel to 20 hotels around the lake. But when highways became a more popular way to get around, the streetcars, and the boats, stopped operations. Most were sunk just before the Depression and forgotten. A few years ago, one of the boats was found on the Minnetonka bottom and brought to the surface after more than half a century underwater. It's been completely refurbished and, today, the Minnehaha street car boat takes passengers from Excelsior across the lake to Wayzata and back. This year, it celebrates a century, though more than half of its life was spent below the surface.
"Lake Minnetonka is unique," observes Dick Osgood of the Lake Minnetonka Association (representing interests of home and business owners around the lake). "Technically, it could be referred to as 'Lakes Minnetonka' because it's really a series of naturally and artificially connected lake basins. If you bring your boat here, you're in for a diverse boating experience. Touring the entire lake can easily consume an entire day."
The lake is divided between "upper" and "lower" with 18 communities situated along the shore. On the western side of Minnetonka is the village of Mound, taking its name because of nearby Indian burial grounds. On the southeastern side is the historic town of Excelsior and to the north is Wayzata (the name is Sioux for "north shore"). There are more than 23 bays throughout Lake Minnetonka, many of which are interconnected by channels; the most-traveled being "the Narrows" which connects Lafayette and Old Channel Bay and marks the diving line between "upper" and "lower" parts of the lake.
The Narrows and the other Minnetonka channels are regulated with a strictly enforced no wake zone. "The Narrows is about 600 feet long," notes Dick Osgood, "and is lined with concrete abutments, which are very popular with anglers to sit upon." Repairs are underway right now to the concrete but will be completed before the summer season begins. "On busy weekends, "says Osgood," there are lines of boats waiting to pass through this and other channels. It's a common area to 'be seen.'"
The Hennepin County Water Patrol usually has a boat near, if not in, the channels to monitor boat wakes and speeds. The rule they follow is "no white water" when underway in a channel. There are a few other rules to be know as well: daytime speed limit on Minnetonka is 40 mph and nighttime limit is 20 mph. In addition, boats cannot produce a wake within 150 feet of any shoreline.
ANS in Big Water
In the fall of 1987, water milfoil was found in Lake Minnetonka. Since that time, mechanical harvesting machines have been used to remove the thick vegetation from the lake's surface and inspections of boats have increased at area boat ramps to ensure milfoil and other varieties of Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) aren't being inadvertently carried into the water. Last year, the state's Department of Natural Resources provided 2200 hours of boat inspections at ramps.
But while milfoil is a given, zebra mussels (another ANS) is a worry. It's been found in Lake Mille Lacs as well as a number of other lakes and rivers and there is concern it's only a matter of when, not if, the zebra mussel is inadvertently transported to Lake Minnetonka by a boat and trailer. Last February, the Lake Minnetonka Association proposed a number of aggressive ways to keep zebra mussels out of the water, including charging fees for inspections of any boat entering or leaving the lake and limiting the number of available boat ramps that can be used.
"The practice of unfettered access made sense and was workable at a time when exotic plants and animals were not carries from lake to lake, mainly though the accidental hitchhiking on boats and trailers," says Association Executive Director Dick Osgood. "Our proposed remedies provide a needed level of protection while balancing access to the lake."
While that's the position being taken, charging fees to fund boat inspections at launch ramps isn't going to happen. And limiting the number of boat ramps around the lake isn't going to occur either. Osgood's group says they will continue to work with state and local officials on the issue while, at the same time, encouraging Minnetonka trailer boaters to inspect their equipment when launching.
Big Water Sites
June 3rd is the 27th annual Minnetonka Classic Bass Tournament with $35,000 worth of prizes. With participation from 125 fishing teams, the "Minnetonka Tournament" as its called brings in huge bass (the biggest last year was more than 4 1/2 pounds). There's usually a fishing tournament every weekend as well as every Wednesday night.
In recent years, something new has appeared along the shores of Minnetonka: homes-not the cabin kind (they can be seen in every bay) but the "I've Got Money" kind. "The scenery today includes huge houses along the shoreline," observes fishing guide Jason Dudek. "One stands out for me because it has a helipad on the roof."
"There's such a diversity of businesses operating in Minneapolis," says Jerry Rockvam, "and many Fortune 500 Companies are there, so a lot of people have built 'McMansions' along the shoreline."
A common phrase used around Minnetonka is "ice out" meaning; the ice has melted (earliest "ice out" date is March 11, the latest is May 15 and the average date is April 15). During winter, Lake Minnetonka is a prime ice fishing venue (BoatU.S. Cooperating Marina Jerry Rockvam has an annual contest to guess the "ice out" date-this year it was April 9).
Not only does Rockvam Boatyard offer a .10/gallon discount to BoatU.S. Members at the fuel dock, there's a boat ramp too. But there aren't any launches during the summer weekends. There's a reason: The marina offers "in/out service" where a boater calls to say when they'll arrive and the marina carries the boat from a storage rack on a forklift to the water-using the boat ramp to do it. Weekdays the ramp is available for use.
Both the waterfront towns of Excelsior and Wayzata have public docks with access to restaurants and shopping. The communities have shopping that is within walking distance of where you can tie up for a few hours (check if there is a charge to do so-it will vary from location to location).
Midway between these towns on the lake's eastern shore is Gray's Bay Dam (built 1973) which regulates water flow into Minnehaha Creek (and this creek flows about 20 miles to the Mississippi River. Along the way is Minnehaha Falls and the creek is popular with canoes and kayaks). Gray's Bay is a park with a boat ramp for launching into Lake Minnetonka.
In this "land of 10,000 lakes," there's a lot of water to be found. But the "big water" continues to provide unexplored bays for a family with a boat. It may be a while before they get to the other 9,999.
*The lake was the summer home of President Taft in 1911.
*It is featured in the movie "Purple Rain" by Prince (who had a home along its shoreline).
*Tonka Toys, using the lake's name, were designed and built in Mound (1947),
*The Andrews Sisters spent their summers in Mound and made a return visit every summer during the 1940's.
*Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" mentions nearby Minnehaha Falls (20 miles east of the lake) though he never visited either.
from Detroit 712 miles
from San Diego 1999 miles
from Miami 1815 miles
from Dallas 999 miles
from New York City 1219 miles
Rockvam Boatyard (BoatU.S. Cooperating Marina 952-471-9515 www.rbyi.com
Minnetonka Fishing Guide Jason Dudek 612-702-7052
Minnetonka Information www.lakeminnetonka.com