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Officials caution boaters about debris, invasive species

Published: Saturday, May 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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A turtle sunned itself on a tire Friday morning as Thor Forsberg of Barrington pulled his 1973 Trojan F25 away from the dock.

The tire was one of the few remaining remnants of flood debris that littered the Fox River. A few broken piers, uplifted trees and demolished duck blinds dotted the river’s edge.

Most of the large debris has been cleared out of the water, Fox Waterway Agency Executive Director Ron Barker said. The agency and volunteers have been cleaning up since the April flood.

“There were pieces of dock and even some boats that had drifted loose that were floating around out there,” he said.

The debris restriction has been lifted, which means conditions are safe for the average boater.

“So long as they keep their eyes peeled and watch where they’re going, they should be fine,” Barker said. “If we didn’t feel that way, we wouldn’t have it open.”

But despite the reopening – and the start of a holiday weekend – only a few boaters were out Friday morning on the southern branch of the Fox, a lot fewer than in previous years, Forsberg said.

Thor and his wife, Lisa, have two young boys, Luke and Lars, 4 and 7, so they typically avoid the water over the crowded holiday weekend.

He thinks others might not head out because of the cool weather and overcast skies forecast for the weekend, as well as lingering concerns over high gas prices and the economy.

Some waterfront businesses are still feeling the effects of the flooding, including the marina Forsberg uses.

Port Barrington Motorsports Marina was “pretty much an island” with 18 inches of water behind the building, said Dave Wescott Jr., the marina’s parts manager who co-owns the marina with his father, David Wescott Sr.

The building wasn’t damaged thanks to sandbags around the shop, but a lack of access put them three weeks behind schedule in service work, Wescott said.

“[Our customers] are very understanding that we are trying to do our best to do what we can to get to them as soon as possible,” he said.

Boaters have non-flood-related changes to watch out for, too.

Barker cautioned boaters to be careful near the Charles J. Miller Road bridge, which is under construction and has a no-wake zone for 300 feet north and south of the bridge.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is recommending boat owners check the expiration date of their boats’ registration, as the agency did not send out watercraft renewal notices this year, spokesman Chris McCloud said.

“As a whole, over a movement of the last several years, we are trying to be as paperless as possible,” he said.

And invasive species are the target of a law that took effect Jan. 1 that makes it illegal for boat owners to take their boats out of or put them into water when they have aquatic plants and animals attached.

Boats are the main way invasive species spread, and owners can prevent them from hitching a ride by cleaning, draining and drying their boats before moving them, said Chris Evans, a biologist with Illinois DNR and its invasive species campaign coordinator.

Some of the common plants, including Eurasian watermilfoil and curly pondweed, cause problems by forming dense mats around the water’s edges, areas fish need for spawning, he said.

It’s not just plants, though.

Animals such as zebra mussels can be carried from one body of water to another in the mud stuck to boats, Evans said. The mussels form huge colonies that can impede recreation and crowd out other animals.

“People think they’re aquatic animals and if you pull it out of the water, it will die, but they can live for days and look crispy,” Evans said. “But once they’re back in the water, they can come back.”

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