New law aids campaign to curb winter litter on lakes

mannequins posed as ice anglers
The Keep It Clean organization has a new display at the Minnesota State Fair in 2023, urging people to stop leaving trash on frozen lakes.
Courtesy Keep It Clean

Angling on frozen Minnesota lakes is a popular winter sport, but tens of thousands of anglers spending a day or a weekend on a lake creates a perennial trash problem.

A new law passed this year by the state legislature makes it easier to fine those who dump trash and waste on the ice.

Mike Hirst with the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District has been working to educate anglers for more than a decade through the Keep It Clean initiative.  

He said many people think their trash doesn’t make a difference.

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“But you multiply that by the 10,000 people that could be on there on a busy weekend and that can really add up,” Hirst said.

An aerial photo shows the ice houses
An aerial photo shows The Northwest Angle ice road at Lake of the Woods, between Warroad and Angle Inlet, Minn., on Jan. 16, 2022.
Kerem Yùcel | MPR News 2022

The Keep It Clean organization started on Lake of the Woods and spread to Upper Red Lake and Mille Lacs Lake. The initiative has taken off in the past year with more than 50 Minnesota lakes involved in the educational campaign.

“It’s growing quickly as more and more people are hearing about it,” said Ann Brucciani with the Mille Lacs Area Community Foundation. “It’s a statewide problem. In fact, we’re talking to people in North Dakota, Canada, Wisconsin, Iowa. It’s an ice belt issue.”

Garbage and human waste dumped on the ice creates a cleanup mess for local resorts and property owners but also has environmental impacts.

“It affects the fishery, it affects the wildlife around the area,” said Brucciani Lyon. “And it affects any lakes or rivers that flow from these lakes into other areas of our state.”

Brucciani Lyon says educational efforts have helped reduce trash on Mille Lacs Lake and she hopes the new law, which could cost offenders nearly $200 in fines and court fees, will get the attention of remaining scofflaws.

The Keep It Clean group plans to be back at the Legislature next year to ask for funding to improve infrastructure for trash collection and disposal of sewage from increasingly popular wheeled fish houses.

“These wheeled fish houses are fairly new technology and the infrastructure to take the septic waste is limited,” said Hirst. We have two winter RV dump stations around Lake of the Woods. But that’s not the norm for most lakes, most lakes don’t have any.”

Hirst is hopeful lawmakers will establish a grant program so local lake organizations across the state can decide the best approach to managing trash on their lakes.