Local View: Drone intrusion raises questions
After a year's absence from Hayward, I looked forward to reconnecting with my different types of friends, including people, woods, waters, and wildlife. Everything was perfect until the last day.
We arrived on Saturday evening, and the very next morning I found that one need not attend Sunday services to feel spiritual in Hayward. I took the bicycle trail around the city and the quietude, past two deer tiptoeing through a yard off Nyman Avenue; and the sweet chill in the early air all rekindled the love I have for this part of the country.
Later, we visited the houses we owned, first on Bluegill Lake and then on Moose Lake. We go mostly for the memories, like recalling the laughter of Mike, Jackie, and Janet as they leapt off the swim raft on little Bluegill Lake. Or fishing at dusk on Moose and motoring home in semi-darkness, friendly bats swooping across the bow. That the house on Bluegill still stands should not surprise me but always does, since I struggled to build it alone back in 1986. And the owner of "our" house on Moose has landscaped it beautifully and renovated the deck.
In the evening, we went to the Hayward Steak House, where Marianne chose prime rib and I had broiled Canadian walleye. It was late and uncrowded, enabling us to enjoy an intimate dinner in the elegant, cathedral-like dining room.
On Monday, I rented a kayak and paddled to the Lost Land Lake boat launch. Some of our earliest experiences in the north country were at Birchwood Resort and Lost Land Lake Lodge in the 1970s. I will always remember, for example, getting caught in a lightning storm while fishing in the channel leading to Teal Lake and seeking shelter at Empire Lodge, where the owners gave us dry towels, warm drinks, and encouraging words for our trip home when the coast was finally clear.
Monday on Lost Land was sunny and clear, and I caught two nice-sized largemouth bass on a yellow, four-inch, walk-a-dog-type surface lure in shady areas under the trees. Drifting further near the shore in the kayak, I startled a muskie sunning in the shallows next to a dock; it made a noisy surge back to deep water.
But when I paddled to a favorite weed bed in front of Birchwood, I heard a sound I initially took for a chainsaw and then, possibly, a swarm of bees. And that's when I saw the lime-green Quadrocopter drone flying overhead.
Two men in a pontoon boat seemed to be controlling the drone as it flew low over the water, then straight up to perhaps 200 feet. It wasn't much larger than an egg beater in a bowl. I was not certain if they were using it to photograph themselves from above or maybe as some sort of aid for fishing, to maybe zoom in on what other anglers were using for bait. Possibly, they were just playing with it while drifting about on Lost Land Lake.
I decided I would ask. But as I began to paddle in their direction to get close enough to talk, they started the engine and headed out of the bay, the hydrocopter accompanying them, climbing, spiraling, and diving.
The buzzing, robotic remote control miniature helicopter was a curious sight, and quite jarring to the serene, pastoral, and nostalgic experience I had been having.
Lost Land and Teal are supposedly "quiet lakes" with 10 mph speed limits to preclude noisy and wake-making water sports. While the drone was likely exceeding the limit, the flying techno toy was just as likely not specified or covered by any local laws.
A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that drones can cause stress to bears and to waterfowl. And although the study did not examine fish, anglers who cast artificials are well aware that both predator and prey frequently react to flies and lures before they hit the water.
Wisconsin does have a single statute that prohibits drones from interfering with hunting or fishing. And Minnesota specifies the minimum distances that drones must stay away from individuals and private property. But neither has guidelines, as far as I know, restricting a drone's proximity to wildlife or its habitat. There are apparently no regulations to prevent interference with others' enjoyment of nature.
After paddling in and driving back to town, I told Marianne about my day on the water. We both agreed that as drones become more popular, more affordable, and more commonplace in the Northland, the states, the counties, and the various lake associations might want to consider all the implications.
David McGrath is a former Hayward resident, emeritus English professor, the author of "The Territory," and a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.