Wawasee Boat Company

Douglas Anderson of Wawasee Boat Company explains some of the effects the weather has had on the boating season and for his company. Wawasee Boat Company is located in Syracuse, IN.

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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Doug Anderson checks an ice-filled slip Friday at the Wawasee Boat Co. in Syracuse.

Icy lakes cramp preparation for region’s boating season

Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
David Haessig transports a boat across the property Friday at Wawasee Boat Co. in Syracuse.

The view outside Pat Casey’s window isn’t the sight he’s used to at this time of year.

Crooked Lake in Angola is frozen solid – with about 15 inches of ice covering the surface.

“I can’t remember the last time there was ice on the lakes the first week of April,” said Casey, the owner of Casey’s Cove Marina.

Extreme cold over the past several months has taken its toll on northeast Indiana, and though the snow is melting away, the ice-covered lakes seem to be here to stay – at least temporarily.

Steuben County officials estimate that the county’s population jumps from about 35,000 to at least 125,000 during the summer as lake enthusiasts arrive. The Syracuse-Wawasee area in Kosciusko County grows from 3,000 to about 15,000 during the summer, officials said.

Casey said he hopes the warmer weekend weather will help move things along, but in the meantime, he’s preparing to be backlogged as his customers wait for better weather to put boats and lifts in the water.

“There are four factors really backing us up – school is getting out later, there’s still ice on the lakes, Easter is the third week of April, and Memorial Day is a week early,” he said.

“Throw them all together, and we’re going to be a little backed up.”

Others in the area share his concern.

Doug Anderson, owner of Wawasee Boat Co. in Syracuse, said most years he has no problem figuring out the winter timeline.

“Usually the lakes ice over by Dec. 15, and it’s gone by March 15,” Anderson said. “I’ve been here 36 years, and that’s been pretty good within a week or so.”

But even with some warmer days, the nearly 16 inches of ice covering Lake Wawasee hasn’t budged, he said.

With slightly warmer temperatures and enough wind, the lake can open up in two or three days, he said.

“Once a hole develops in the middle of the lake, wind can cause those waves to start to lap against the edge of the ice, and that can really accelerate the thawing process,” Anderson said.

In the meantime, Anderson said the boat company is using the extra prep time before the boating season hits to make sure all the boats are ready for summer.

“There’s still a danger of frost and freezing this time of year, so most people wait until the middle of April anyway to start putting boats in the water,” he said. “But where we are stalled up is putting the piers in.”

Although the water level at Pirate’s Cove Marina in Andrews is controlled by the Salamonie Lake dam, owner Randy Yarger said he, too, is waiting to install docks and get the summer season started.

Each winter, the reservoir is drained down 25 feet to prepare for spring rain. Usually around April 1, the gates to the dam are closed and the water level returns to the summer level, Yarger said.

“We don’t have the problems that the lakes up north have as far as the ice,” Yarger said. “But we still can’t do anything until the water level is back up.”

While water levels are low, Yarger and his crew work to clean up the remnants of last summer – sunglasses, lawn chairs and the occasional cellphone.

“Basically, we’re just changing cables and stuff because the water (level) is still down. We’re finding everybody’s stuff that they lost off the boat,” he said, laughing.