The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has proposed regulations on motorized boats at the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Some people in Lake Havasu City are worried the agency’s proposal could hinder the region’s river-based economy.
Topock66 rests on the edge of the Refuge, overlooking hundreds of acres of reeds through the Colorado River, north of the I-40 bridge. The smell of wood smoke lingers after a brushfire took place within sight of the popular restaurant and bar two weeks ago. The dock at Topock66 stretches into the waterway, but boaters may have to make some changes as to where, and how they can travel from there.
On the other side of the river, popular resort destination Pirate Cove provides a big draw for power boaters from throughout the country during its annual Desert Storm Poker Run and Shootout this month. With its sandy beaches and tropical ambiance, Pirate Cove is a favorite destination of Arizona, California and Nevada boaters.
Restrictions on where and how high-powered watercraft can travel could put a damper on resort business, according to critics of the proposed new rules.
Lake Havasu Marine Association President Jim Salscheider is an outspoken opponent of restrictions at the wildlife refuge, and believes that further restrictions could prove disastrous for Havasu.
“It would probably put Topock66 out of business,” Salscheider said. “It could put Pirate Cove (in Needles) out of business too. The Chemehuevi reservation is building a new marina for its casino – they would be cut off.”
Salscheider said that while Lake Havasu was once one of the top-20 bass lakes in the country, it would no longer be within the top 100.
“The Chemehuevi tribe, the Coast Guard, the BLM, law enforcement agencies and the Arizona Game and Fish Department all have an interest in this,” Salscheider said. “This doesn’t affect Laughlin or Needles – this affects Havasu more than others.”
The Wildlife Refuge comprises 37,515 acres along the lower Colorado River, and protects 30 river miles. It encompasses 300 miles of shoreline from Needles, Calif. to Lake Havasu City, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The agency is conducting a study that would formalize restrictions on motorized boats that were put in place last year on the Refuge. Fish and Wildlife has invited public opinion at a meeting next month to discuss whether or not the Refuge is compatible with boating activities enjoyed by many of the lake’s visitors – not the least of which include the high-powered watercraft that frequent Havasu’s waters.
The 17-mile restricted boating area surrounding the Refuge was extended by half a mile last May, and water-skiing activities were restricted for the public’s safety as well as that of the Refuge’s resources. Now, proposed restrictions would prohibit motors of 30 horsepower or higher in Topock Marsh. All watercraft would be required to travel at no-wake speed in Topock Marsh, and no-wake speeds would be indicated by signs and buoys in other areas of the Refuge.
Personal watercraft would be prohibited in Topock Marsh and Refuge backwaters, and water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and other towed devices would be prohibited in the Refuge by buoy lines from the Interstate 40 bridge to the Southern Refuge boundary.
The Refuge’s original intended purpose was to provide a safe habitat for the region’s wildlife, while lending itself to wildlife-dependent regulation. Fish and Wildlife has said that watercrafts that don’t create a wake, such as canoes and kayaks, will not be restricted.
John Galbraith, owner of Bass Tackle Master Bait Shop in Havasu, is wary of some of the proposed restrictions, but not all.
“It doesn’t look like it’ll impact the whole river,” Galbraith said. “It seems like it’s just Topock Marsh, which is full of stumps anyway. You wouldn’t go over no-wake speeds there. But it’s been a trend to close a lot more area, and the Refuge is the main thoroughfare between the lower and upper Colorado River.”
Galbraith agrees with Fish and Wildlife, however, that excessive boat traffic throughout the region has caused damage to the landscape and habitat of the Refuge.
“A lot of the change is due to boats that go 70-80 miles per hour,” Galbraith said. “It’s had a substantial impact on the shoreline. I’ve been here for 40 years, and I’ve seen it deteriorate. The area is overtaxed with traffic, and it needs to be reevaluated. I’m totally in favor of reasonable restrictions, but making it a no-wake zone from north-to-south of the Refuge is not possible for state or local governments. I couldn’t even imagine a 17-mile no-wake zone in a Coast Guard waterway like this.”
The effects of new restrictions could be felt as far north as Oatman. While the small community’s burro population attracts many visitors, the area is also a tourist destination that draws a large number of its visitors from the Colorado River.
Mike Buck owns a jewelry shop in Oatman, but lives in a home near Topock Marsh. He expects that future restrictions will affect many of the river’s visitors.
“In summer, a lot of people come to Oatman from the river,” Buck said. “If they add too many restrictions, people may take their boats somewhere else. If they restricted boats with 30 hp or more, I wouldn’t even be able to fish with my inboard motor. That’s probably about 90-95 percent of the boats that are out there.”
Havasu fisherman Dan McCoy isn’t fond of the prospect.
“We’re all responsible for the lake,” he said. “We have authorities to keep the peace, not to shut it down. If there’s going to be a meeting, we need to be educated so that we can speak intelligently about the issues at hand.”
Fish and Wildlife will seek open comment at the Avi Casino in Fort Mohave on May 3.
Residents can also email comments to Havasu_boating_comments@fws.gov, or write to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
Attn; Draft Recreational Boating CD
317 Mesquite Ave.
Needles, CA 92363