After a 20-minute public hearing that drew seven speakers — some in favor of the no wake zone, and some opposed — Republican commissioners Charles Elders, Mickey Luker and Ron Mau provided the majority vote to petition the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to approve the designation. Democratic commissioners Brian McMahan and Boyce Deitz voted against it.
Commissioners have been discussing the issue since August 2017, when a group of Glenville residents approached them about a possible safety hazard stemming from increased recreation on the north end of the lake. That part of the lake includes two small islands, owned by Duke Energy but open for public use, that people enjoy swimming and paddling to. The group of residents told commissioners they were concerned by the speed at which boats often traveled through the passageway between the islands and the shore — they felt that it was only a matter of time before an accident happened and proposed that a no wake zone be established to avoid that eventuality.
A no wake designation would require boats to travel at a slow enough speed to create no appreciable wake when progressing through the area.
Commissioners agreed it was worth looking into and asked that the Wildlife Commission evaluate the request. However, a report completed by a local Wildlife Commission officer yielded a recommendation that the Wildlife Commissioners deny the request — Officer Chris Wilkins said the boat traffic was “very light” and currently posed no safety concern.
Asking the Wildlife Commission to override that recommendation required Jackson County to hold a public hearing on the issue and its commissioners to pass a resolution asking for the no wake zone.
Joyce Waterbury, lead organizer of the no wake zone effort, told commissioners during the public hearing that traveling the passageway at no wake speed would take only 22 seconds more than traveling above it.
“This risky situation is relatively new. It is arising in the last three or four years as a direct result to the improvements to the boat ramps at the north end of the lake and the creation of the Pines Recreation Area,” she said. “History in this case is not a predictor of future events. The neighborhood collectively is supportive of the improved access to the lake. We’re trying to ensure it’s safe access.”
“We just want to prevent the chance of a terrible accident or possible death,” agreed Ray Ferri, who has lived on the lake for 25 years.
“I want everybody to enjoy the lake, but safety is my biggest concern,” concurred resident Margaret McRae.
However, not everybody was supportive of the no wake zone.
“You can look forward to more requests for no wake zones if this gets approved,” said Tom Drake. “At some point people just have to be responsible for how they operate their boats.”
There isn’t much relationship between speed and wake, he added, with large boats creating substantial wakes even at low speed and many of the fastest boats — which are smaller — able to zip along with little to no wake.
“We don’t need more rules,” added David Allen, owner of A-1 Marine in Glenville. “We just need people to abide by the rules.”
Resident Ray Jimison agreed with that assessment, saying that he lives within view of the launch ramp at Pine Creek, which already has no wake buoys on it.
“Ten times a day people speed past the buoys, actually ski around the buoys at 25, 30 miles per hour, totally ignoring it,” he said.
Without enforcement, instituting a new no wake zone won’t make much difference, he said.
“I’ve been there 12 years, and I can tell you that the traffic on the lake has more than doubled. It might have even tripled in the past 10 years. The enforcement has been halved,” he said.
Discussing the resolution, McMahan and Deitz both said they’d do better to trust the judgment of the officer’s recommendation than to attempt to override it, with McMahan questioning the efficacy of a no wake zone.
“I think at the end of the day, some of the comments made by the general public said it’s almost a non-enforceable issue, and it creates a bigger issue than what exists now,” McMahan said. “We did our best to look at it and I’m not in favor of moving forward for that reason.”
In a follow-up interview, Luker said that he’d been invited out several times during peak season to see the issue firsthand, and it’s definitely a safety hazard. The Wildlife Commission report, meanwhile, was completed during the fall — not during peak season.
“It may be that eight months out of the year it’s not an issue, but the other four months it is,” Luker said. “In my opinion you have to look at the worst-case scenario, and that is peak tourist season when I was there and got to observe it.”
The resolution ultimately passed, meaning that its next stop will be before the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission during its Feb. 28 meeting in Raleigh. If the Wildlife Commission approves the request, Jackson County will be required to fund the buoys. The buoys will cost an estimated $3,000, with Jackson County paying $1,500 and Glenville residents in favor of the no wake zone offering to pay the remaining $1,500.
Contact information for wildlife commissioners is online at www.ncwildlife.org/About/Commissioners.