Goshen News, Goshen, IN

June 30, 2013

OUTDOOR COLUMN: Group delays Michigan public access plans


GOSHEN — Not surprisingly, the Eagle Lake Improvement Association has stepped up efforts to block a proposed public access site and community park for Eagle/Juno lakes.

The lakes are located north of South Bend near Edwardsburg, Mich. and are popular among northern Indiana anglers.

Attorneys for The Eagle Lake Improvement Association filed objections with the Michigan DNR prior to its presentation to the Michigan Waterways Commission, prompting Michigan Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson to postpone the land acquisition request.

While this doesn’t mean the project is dead, the association’s interference does create delays in the DNR’s option to purchase the land from First Source Bank.

Property owners have been adamantly opposed to the site development contending it will add too much boat traffic and cause environmental problems on the public lake. Members were extremely vocal in an Eagle Lake Access Open House the DNR conducted recently.

However, support has been strong among fishermen, DNR officials and non-lake residents who desire – and deserve - better access.

The project would provide badly needed launching facilities to two of southwest Michigan’s most popular fishing lakes, Eagle and the Juno Chain, not to mention offer shore fishing for children and families around a pond located on the land parcel.

The land in question previously served as parking for Eagle Lake boaters before First Source Bank obtained it in a foreclosure and shut it down.

A ragged, public launch ramp on the lake across from the property still offers limited road-side parking.

The DNR’s plan would improve the appearance and functionality of the site, but the association doesn’t want to hear about that.

It made it clear during the meeting that it wants to limit – if not prevent - public access to the lake.      In the attorney’s letter to the DNR, the association contends Ontwa Township officials did not vote before authorizing its approval for the project and that the land in question is not properly zoned to allow the new facility.

DNR Lands Program Manager Paul Yauk, who spearheaded the land acquisition, said his team had garnered support from township and county officials who saw the merit in providing a first-class site and access to the lakes.

However, the association’s opposition apparently prompted DNR executives to put the plan on hold.

Yauk plans to meet with township officials to resolve the issues raised by the attorneys and believes there is still time to meet the deadline with First Source Bank to complete the $600,000 acquisition.

“We will work with Ontwa Township on particulars of the plan and address the local issues,” he said.

The 9.62 acres, formerly known as “The Dock” property, sits along Eagle Lake Road across from the existing Eagle Lake ramp and adjacent to a Juno Chain Channel.

The DNR proposal includes several amenities that would benefit the community as well as lake visitors as noted in a conceptual illustration provided this week by the DNR.

The concept includes a boat washing station to be used prior to launching, public restrooms, a shelter building and a public fishing pond and fishing pier. Access would be handicap accessible.

The DNR also wants to add a boat launch on the channel leading to the Juno Chain and construct a safer and improved Eagle Lake launching ramp.

The new ramp would be added south of the existing, dilapidated ramp and positioned where it would offer better views of oncoming traffic. Trailer parking on the proposed development across from the ramp would accommodate 25 rigs for Eagle and 10 for Juno.

Prior to the bank obtaining the property, the lot accommodated more than 50 trailer spots.

It’s a beautiful layout and could serve the public well. The proposal meets the parameters that the DNR has used to develop more than 1,000 access sites on other public lakes it manages throughout the state.

If the association is successful in preventing the DNR from completing the purchase, it won’t set well with sportsmen and nearby businesses who have worked hard with the DNR to develop a quality site.

“I’m extremely disappointed that the Eagle Lake Association chose not to work with the DNR in a positive fashion,” said Kevin Claire, general manager of Lunker’s in Edwardsburg.

“This project has the potential to be a huge benefit to not only Lunker’s, but many other retailers in the area.”

Darrin Schaap, owner of Clear H20 Tackle near the Juno Chain, added that the project would be a tremendous asset and improvement for the community.

“It would give the public (even lakefront owners) access to a public resource as well as beautify a vacant, depreciating property,” he said.

“As a business owner and lifetime resident of Edwardsburg, this can only help. I hope that the DNR holds course and is able to make it happen.”

We’ll keep you posted.

Tourney winners

Benji Waldbeser (Syracuse) and Israel Beard (Goshen) caught five fish weighing 12.99 to win the Angler’s Choice tournament on Lake Wawasee.

The winners pocketed $1,025 for fish they caught on stickbaits on the inside edge of weed flats in 4 to 6 feet of water.

They also won the big bass prize ($190) for a 4.44-pound largemouth.

Clint Gradeless (Huntington, Ind.) and Lee Pilz (Wawaka, Ind.) were second ($585) with 11.16 pounds caught on tubes and Senkos on the inside of the weeds.

Paul Hollabaugh (Ft. Wayne) and Chip Harrison (Pierceton, Ind.) were third ($310) with 9.38 pounds caught on jigs and Erie Darters on the flats.

Fabiszak dominates

Ron Fabiszak (South Bend) won his third consecutive R&B Circuit tournament recently and this time he fished alone and beat 53 teams on Lake Wawasee.

Fabiszak weighed in 14.32 pounds and won $786. He caught his fish by tossing C Flash 44 crankbaits in the bluegill color scheme along the outside weed edge on Lake Wawasee.

Ron Crawford (Pierceton, Ind.) and Bo Judd (Columbia City, Ind.) landed an 11.81-pound limit by junk fishing. They caught fish on jigs, spinnerbaits, tubes, and Senkos. All of their fish came from 5 foot of water or less. They won $506.

Chip Harrison (Columbia City) and Brian Whitaker (Warsaw) were third ($366) with 11.72 pounds caught along weed edges on 3/8-ounce Poor Boy’s jigs equipped with a Poor Boy’s chunk and on shaky head trick worms.

The Money Mouth Baits Big Bass Award was a 4.83-pound largemouth landed by Maurice Cox (Waterloo, Ind.) and Mark Hamman (Auburn, Ind.), taken on a Rebel Pop R bait in a pocket amongst lily pads. They won $424 and baits.

The next event is July 20 at Randall Lake. More information can be found at www.randbbasscircuit.com.

Slot limit helped

A temporary DNR regulation at two Noble County lakes has restored balance to largemouth bass populations – at least for now.

The rule allowed anglers to catch and keep bass that were 10- to 14-inches long during summer 2011. At most northern Indiana lakes, all bass less than 14 inches must be released.

The special rule was in effect from June through August. The standard 14-inch minimum size was re-imposed in September 2011 and remains in effect.

The “slot limit” was designed to reduce the number of small bass in hopes of producing larger ones. Based on surveys by the DNR, anglers harvested 1,900 bass from Big Lake and reduced the number of 10- to 14-inch bass by 41 percent. They removed 611 from Crane Lake and reduced the number by 71 percent.

The DNR’s goal in thinning out small bass is to enable those that remain to have more food and grow larger.

Contact Louie at stoutoutdoors@comcast.net.