Residents divided over fishing in Wilde Lake


All Stuart Sklar wants to do after a day of teaching middle school is hop in his canoe with his fishing rod and "forget about the world" while drifting on his neighborhood lake.

But fishing in Wilde Lake -- whose southern half has been off-limits since 1992 to anglers -- almost got him arrested for trespassing when his boat drifted into forbidden waters, Mr. Sklar said. So he is waging a one-man campaign to reopen most of the lake to boat fishermen.

"I've been threatened with arrest and photographed by [Columbia Association] staff for fishing on the lake," Mr. Sklar told the Wilde Lake village board Monday night. "I don't want to be arrested for fishing on my hometown lake."

At issue is the Columbia Association's right to restrict recreational use at the 21-acre lake -- privately owned but built and maintained at residents' expense -- to protect residences and waterfowl. Lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown village, Columbia's most popular lake for fishing, has no restrictions.

Monday, the Wilde Lake board sided with Mr. Sklar, voting to recommend a compromise to the Columbia Council. That proposal still would prohibit fishing from the lake's southern banks, but it would allow fishing from craft in all areas except a small cove near residences, which would be a swan and waterfowl refuge.

The board's vote came despite objections from several residents who live near the lake and from members of the Columbia Waterfowl and Habitat Advisory Committee, who said fishermen have intruded on privacy, left debris and endangered swans and other waterfowl. One resident even proposed banning fishing at the lake altogether.

"That lake is paid for and maintained by [Columbia Association] lien payers' money. I'd have to support access to the lake for legitimate recreational purposes," said village board member David Gardner, cautioning that restrictions could be construed as "exclusionary" and "elitist."

Village board member Michael Deets opposed changing the policy, saying it has effectively balanced wildlife protection, residents' concerns and fishermen's rights.

The issue now goes to the Columbia Council, which sets policy for the CA, the nonprofit organization that imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to oversee recreational facilities and parkland. No date has been set for the decision.

Mr. Sklar, 43, a Wilde Lake resident and technology education teacher at Dunloggin Middle School, and the waterfowl committee have been unable to reach a compromise after lengthy negotiations.

That committee, along with residents who live near the lake's southern banks, helped institute the restrictive policy in 1992.

When the state stocked Wilde Lake with trout in the 1980s and early 1990s, fishermen came in droves, said Walter E. Burlingham, chairman of the waterfowl committee. Southern shore residents, separated from the lake by a narrow buffer, complained that fishermen left behind supplies, dug in gardens for bait and threw small fish into yards, Mr. Burlingham said.

Residents and committee members were instrumental in transferring the trout-stocking program to nearby Centennial Lake, reducing the angler ranks at Wilde Lake, Mr. Burlingham said. Residents also petitioned for fishing restrictions along Wilde Lake's southern shore, with support from the Wilde Lake board and Columbia Association.

The policy also restricts fishing from boats that cross an "imaginary line" into the southern half of the lake, where homes are closer to the water, Mr. Burlingham said.

The main reason for banning fishing in the southern half was the "behavior of fishermen," not to protect waterfowl, he said.

At Monday's meeting, J. William Miller, a resident of The Cove condominiums on the lake's southern shore, told the village board that fishermen whose boats stray into that area are an intrusion on privacy. "I'm surprised to see ESPN bass fishing outside my window on Sunday morning. It startles me," said Mr. Miller, adding that boaters cause more concern than pedestrians on nearby pathways because they're "more stationary and voyeuristic."

Mr. Sklar countered that fishermen shouldn't be treated as a separate class. "To me it's open space area everyone should be able to use," he said. "To you, it's somebody staring into your kitchen at 6 a.m. Sunday."

Charles Rhodehamel, CA ecologist, said two swans died at Wilde Lake from injuries caused by fishing equipment in the 1980s. The Wilde Lake board's compromise would reduce the protected area for swans, but last year's dredging of the lake has made it safer overall for wildlife, he said.

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