The season for the Chetek Lakes Protection Association’s new barge was short this year due to weather and wear.
Issues with the barge’s donated outboard motor shortly after it was launched prevented it from getting more than a day-and-a-half of use this summer. Fortunately, weeds have been less of a problem and compared to past years, it has been a short season, said Bill Wells, one of the organizers and volunteers with the skimmer and new barge.
Since 2016, the CLPA has been operating an algae and weed skimmer. It picks up weeds and thick algae matter floating on the surface. It doesn’t make the lake less green, but helps keep bays and inlets stay less clogged with weeds. It has been working well, but it is very slow. A lot of time was wasted shuttling the skimmer back to the boat landing to unload weeds into a waiting dump trailer.
“Two years ago, Bill Wells contacted me on a way to speed up the skimmer process,” said Bill Lawrence, with Lake Country Tool and Design, in Chetek. “They thought about buying another skimmer, but the skimmer itself is too slow.”
Building a “barge” in which the skimmer could off load onto became the solution. The idea was the barge would shuttle the weeds back to shore, allowing the skimmer to continue working.
“We came up with designing this barge from scratch,” Lawrence said.
It is one of a kind and as far as they know, nothing else like it exists. Without existing examples to go off of, it was a bit daunting, Lawrence said, but his experience with building docks and other projects helped. It ended up working perfectly, he said.
The machine is built on top of a pontoon that was donated to the CLPA. A 24-foot long conveyor belt on top collects and hauls the weeds from the skimmer. The conveyor’s front end can be lowered or raised up to help with loading or unloading. A pair of “landing gear” anchor poles on the front help stabilize it near shore. The equipment is run hydraulically, and is powered with a 25-horsepower Honda engine. To keep the amount of spare parts down, the barge uses the same or similar parts as the skimmer does.
To shuttle the weeds the barge approaches the end of the skimmer, and the skimmer’s conveyor belts unload the weeds onto the barge’s conveyor, Lawrence explained. Depending on the weight of the weeds, it can handle one-and-a-half to two loads from the skimmer.
From there, the barge drives back to the boat landing where it unloads the weeds into a dump trailer, which then hauls the weeds to a compost site.
Lawrence noted an industrial float was added to supplement the pontoons. The pontoons may be upgraded next year. The CLPA paid for all the materials and most of the labor used by Lake Country Tool, but his company did donate some labor to help keep costs down, Lawrence said.
The barge made its maiden voyage on Aug. 5. It was launched with help from a crane from Jerry’s Tree Service.
“It speeds it up quite considerably,” Lawrence said.
“What days we did run, it ran great,” Wells said.
Unfortunately the 40-horsepower outboard motor had problems shortly after they started. It took a week to get a new motor, but by then, weed reports tapered off. Wells said the skimmer was pulled out of the lake last week. The season for the skimmer and barge is done for this year.
Gary Luepke, a former mechanical engineer for Trane, has been volunteering with the skimmer and has been keeping data on it. Luepke has had a cabin on the lake for 23 years and now in retirement, is moving from the La Crosse area to Chetek.
In the past three years, the skimmer has removed an estimated 400,000 pounds of weeds and algae from the lakes, Luepke said. In 2017, they removed around 160 loads and in 2018, 130 loads were removed. This year they only hauled 91 loads.
Luepke said the weeds were not as bad this year and skimmer operations started a month later and ended nearly a month earlier than in the past. Whether it was due to favorable weather conditions or the work of the skimmer, it was hard to say definitively.
“We’re going to take credit for it anyway,” Luepke joked, but noted they have been removing a lot of seed pods, meaning weeds are not reseeding.
Next year the skimmer and barge will be ready to go, and so will the dozens of volunteers who donate their time to run it. This past year, 41 people volunteered their time, with 10 to 12 volunteering each week to run the skimmer for three or four full days, Luepke said.
The skimmer and barge are all supported by donations. No tax dollars are used, Luepke said. And while the CLPA takes donations, that doesn’t dictate where they remove weeds or how fast they get there. It is all based on the need and what the skimmer’s and volunteers’ schedule can handle.
Recently, they have been using SignUpGenius.com to help with volunteer scheduling, just like the Chetek Chamber of Commerce does. It has been working great, Luepke said.
Whenever there are problem areas of weeds, report it by messaging the Chetek Lakes Protection Association on Facebook, Well said.