WDNR’s local aquatic invasive species partners are heroes in protecting Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and wetlands, but sometimes, a day on the water can lead to much more. What follows is the account of Fond du Lac County AIS Coordinator Andrew Karleigh when, last week on the job, he met a family in need.
Anything can happen.
The day was May 11, 2012 and I was with some other coordinators having lunch while we talked about Lake Winnebego and watched pelicans fly over its choppy water. When it was time to go, Anna Moyer, a new AIS specialist for the Lake Michigan Basin, asked if I would show her some landings on the north end of the lake. So we took a ride over to High Cliff State Park, but there was only one trailer in the parking lot. After looking at the landing, marina, harbor and the Japanese Knotweed stand near the limestone kiln, I suggested going over to the Ninth Street Boat Launch.
Upon arriving, a first time boat owner was just pulling his boat out of the water. We talked with him about aquatic invasive species and the ways that he can help slow the spread. A family soon drove up to the dock towing a little 12 foot boat with a small motor, and as the father unstrapped his boat and got it ready for the water, we discussed invasive species and the steps you must take when moving from lake to lake. He informed us that he was aware of the laws and that he always took precautions because he did not want to move zebra mussels. He didn’t plan on doing any fishing and had no bait with him since he used the boat mainly to take his daughter on the water.
Anna and I continued to stand at the boat landing, watching the waves as they splashed over the end of the dock and rocked the little boat. The daughter, who was about 4 years old, walked up and threw her life jacket in the boat, but her mother told her she had to wear it. The father left his life jacket lying beside him as he started the motor and pulled away with his daughter and their two dogs. As the boat moved away from the dock, Anna and I commented how it did not look all that good. The man busied himself with the area near the plug, and I went over to talk with the mother, who was still standing on shore looking very nervous.
In the middle of our conversation, she suddenly screamed “It’s sinking!” jumped in the water and began to swim slowly towards the boat. Uncertain that she could make it to the boat, now 50 yards from shore, I pulled off my shirt, threw all of my things on the beach and dove into the water.
I reached the daughter and husband first. The child was floating on a seat cushion and wailing as I began to pull her towards shore, with the father swimming behind and the dogs trying to swim over the top of us. Upon reaching shore with the screaming child and the husband we all climbed out onto a dock with Anna’s help, the mother following close behind us. The dock owner had called 911, and as fire rescue arrived, Anna and I assured the firemen that everyone was out of the water and the situation was not life threatening.
The emergency response team arrived next, put their boat in the water and proceeded to retrieve the boat that had sunk. As Anna and I were about to leave another woman walked down the landing and asked if she could put her boat in. Dripping wet and with the emergency crews still at work behind us, I said it would probably be better to wait for a calmer day or use another landing.
This is a reminder that on any given day, anything can happen.
Fond du Lac County Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator