Dozens of state boat launches to get major upgrades. Where are they?

The Department of Natural Resources is moving with new urgency on a backlog to rebuild the neediest of dozens of public water accesses used by boat-happy Minnesotans.

Bolstered by $35 million from a bigger infusion of outdoors-related funding last legislative session, the DNR has focused on more than 40 sites across Minnesota in need of what it says are "large-scale" upgrades. In addition, about 20 more are singled out for major rehab and funded by federal and state money.

The menu of significant improvements at the sites includes features that improve accessibility for disabled visitors; design features that improve stormwater runoff; and designated boat-cleaning spaces to help slow the spread of invasive species. Longer launch ramps, wider drive lanes, and wider and longer parking stalls also are considerations.

"[The large-scale projects] all made the list because they were voted most in need," said Nancy Stewart, DNR water recreation consultant. "Some are a little more complicated and might take a little longer in design or in the review process."

For example, the Pike Point boat launch in Garrison, Minn., on Lake Mille Lacs, the state's second-largest lake and one of the busiest. Stewart said developers are discussing a protected harbor, which would take more permitting, and collaborative work with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The site also could end with a double boat ramp.

A few access sites could be done this fall, with as many as 10 more in 2025. Upgrading, in some cases, will mean redoing a site entirely. "It's going to be a little bit of a slow train at the start," Steward said.

"They are basically being torn up and redone. They are going to be modern, the best we can do. [Regarding stormwater] a lot of our sites are 30 to 40 years old. Who knows where the water is running off to?" Stewart said. "Hopefully not into the lake, but we didn't build them with a formal stormwater control system, so that's just been a huge initiative."

The sites will be closed while they are under construction. Whether a lake has more than one access could also dictate timing, she said. Some jobs might be bunched by proximity.

"The amount the DNR is spending is a big number, and it needs to be done," said Kathy Jonsrud, treasurer of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations.

Jonsrud added that improving the infrastructure for boaters to remove aquatic invasive species is vital.

"There is always that crucial tension between using a lake and using the lake properly," she added. "A lot of the accesses are, frankly, quite old and not meant for the sizes of boats coming in and out, and a more appropriate way to access the lake will make the boating experience better."

Large lake level fluctuations are degrading accesses, too, she added.

Stewart sounded enthused after years of selective, limited upkeep of Minnesota's boat launches.

"Once we make this investment, it should lower our reinvestment costs," Stewart said. "It just makes sense."