DNR targets Itasca State Park for invasive species boat inspections

Zebra mussel shells covered a dock
Zebra mussel shells covered a dock on Lake Mille Lacs on May 6, 2015.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

All boats entering Itasca State Park will be inspected starting May 22 as part of a plan to prevent the spread of aquatic pests.

Officials will check to make sure boaters are following state rules that require boats be free of weeds and debris, that drain plugs are removed while traveling and that unused bait is put in the trash, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Monday.

Inspectors may deny access to the park for boats found in violation, the DNR added.

"The lakes and waters of Itasca State Park are precious resources," Chris Gronewold, Itasca State Park resource specialist, said in a statement. "Our visitors have a stake in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species in park waters, as well as all waters in the state."

Itasca, at the Mississippi River headwaters, is one of Minnesota's most popular and iconic parks.

Across Minnesota, invasive species have bedeviled the DNR in recent years, especially the zebra mussel. More than 175 Minnesota lakes and rivers are infested with zebra mussels, an invasive species that can push out native mussels.

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They can also cause more algae and weed growth — they filter the lake water, allowing sunlight to penetrate more deeply.

They attach to boats, making it easy for them to travel and contaminate other waters.

"Zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas can be easily carried from one lake to another if aquatic plants or water are left on a boat or trailer," the DNR added.

The inspections at Itasca are an effort by the DNR and Clearwater County, which funded the watercraft inspector positions.