I spend a fair amount of time motoring around the lake in my trusty tritoon boat as time and gas money permit. Sometimes it's a quiet weekday evening, sometimes a not-so-quiet Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
Boating is a form of therapy, especially on a weekday evening when only a handful of boats compete for space. It's the best time to improve the skills of a novice. Not so much on a weekend, though, when it takes vigilance, skill and constant attention to detail to manage the huge waves, the rule breakers and the not-so-respectful boaters who can really mess up an otherwise pleasant outing.
Anyone who boats here knows the scenario: You're cruising along at maybe 15-20 miles per hour when a go-fast boat flies by, or a sea-faring cruiser plows a huge furrow that rocks you side to side, or some idiot cuts directly in front of you rather than taking the safe and courteous route to your stern.
Tsk, tsk. As Oliver Hardy would often say to Stan Laurel, "…here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."
With everybody to blame, and nobody to blame, our lake lost its innocence many years ago. There's no going back short of destroying an economy whose lifeblood is the tourist and all of his toys.
It is what it is.
Thankfully, there are laws, rules and courtesies in place to help manage the worst of us. It's enforcing those rules that becomes a challenge for the Water Patrol, also known from a bureaucrat's perspective as the Water Patrol Division of the Missouri
State Highway Patrol.
To us regulars, it's still the Water Patrol.
And there isn't enough of them for this lake. I'm unsure how many are assigned to the Lake of the Ozarks. I do know that all patrol officers are cross-trained to handle either land-based duties or water-based duties. Regardless, we need more of 'em on this lake. I have total respect for Water Patrol officers. They are tossed and bounced and cajoled on the lake throughout their lengthy shifts. When the Missouri State Patrol was reorganized a couple of years ago, the Powers that Be in Jefferson City assigned Water Patrol officers dark blue uniforms.
What? Ever been on this lake when it's 95 degrees? We learned in junior high science (or should have) that light colors reflect heat and dark colors absorb heat.
Sanity prevailed, however, and officers now wear more appropriate clothing.
And then there are the drunks they coral at all times of the day and night. Alcohol can turn a normally sane person into a maniac. There are boating and PWC accidents and, sadly, there are drownings. Sometimes the officers can double up in a boat, but most often they are alone as they work their shifts. Backup officers are usually miles away.
Page 2 of 2 - Again, this lake needs more officers to not only handle the dark side of their responsibilities but also to manage the flow of traffic around this huge body of water.
Several years ago, waterfront property and business owners on both sides of the Grand Glaize Bridge lobbied the Water Patrol to create a large no-wake zone. Boats of all sizes, shapes and speeds were funneled under the bridge and were destroying docks, causing considerable erosion and were impeding the free flow of money at several locations because it was unsafe to dock a boat in perfect-storm-like waves.
The no-wake zone is in place from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and only on weekends between certain hours. A fair trade off. I get that. But the success of the no-wake zone is directly proportionate to the number of Water Patrol officers available to monitor the thousands upon thousands of boats that travel the area.
As the state's budget has gotten tighter and tighter, and as priorities have shifted, the number of Water Patrol officers available in this 90-plus mile long lake has been impacted.
We went out Saturday afternoon and immediately headed for the safety of the no-wake zone near the Grand Glaize Bridge. But to our dismay, there were several PWCs and a handful of larger boats ignoring the no-wake rules. That wasn't the first time this year the no-wake zone was unpatrolled.
The no-wake zone was implemented for several reasons. Sadly, not everybody follows the rules. If the area continues to be poorly monitored, then what's the point? If a priority is to catch intoxicated boaters on the lake, then the Water Patrol should station officers at both ends on any weekend. If a priority is to merely manage the lake and its rules, then officers should patrol the no-wake zone. I would pay another penny per dollar in sales tax if some of the money is guaranteed to fund better salaries and more officers for the Water Patrol Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.