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With about 400 lakes in Oakland County, it's not far down to paradise for Oakland County residents who love the water, but competing interests and tight budgets make balancing the needs of those waterways with the wants of the people that use them a challenging act.
Rules and regulations tend to vary for each and every lake in the county, from who may access the water to what types of activities are permitted on each waterbody. Such rules are typically determined by local municipalities and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), based on a range of concerns that may include the size of the lake, the availability of public access to a lake, as well as concerns from property owners surrounding a lake, which could include privacy and nuisance issues or the health of a waterbody.
When it comes to keeping people safe on the lakes, that responsibility lies in the hands of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, a handful of local law enforcement agencies, and three officers from Michigan's DNR who are primarily charged with looking out for fisheries violations but who are also fully-certified police officers with the power to write citations and carry out arrests.
The sheriff's marine division maintains a fleet of 23 patrol boats, two rapid response jump-boats, a hovercraft, six all-terrain vehicles and four snowmobiles. The office also employes a dozen highly-trained dive and rescue team members who are equipped with the advanced technology dive gear, including Side-Scan Sonar and underwater remote operated drones.
The marine division in 2013 devoted over 593 hours of search and rescue operations, 1,560 hours of contracted lake patrol operations and 2,713 hours of jump boat patrols.
Lakes where activities such as waterskiing, jet skiing, motor boating, sailing, fishing, paddling and swimming are all allowed are considered "all-sports lakes," meaning there is virtually no limit on what can be done on the lake with a boat. Such lakes are typically several hundred acres or more, such as Cass Lake, which is 1,280 acres; Orchard Lake, 788 acres; Pontiac Lake, 640 acres; and Lake Orion, 506 acres. Smaller lakes may also allow for some recreational boat uses, but restrict motors to electric or paddle-powered vessels.
Of the 55 lakes in Oakland County that are greater than 100 acres in size, 18 have public access sites that are owned or managed by the DNR, with 17 lakes less than 100 acres in size that have public access points. Nearly 40 of the DNR public access sites in Oakland County include access for boats, with seven of the sites limited to carry-down access for canoes, kayaks and carry-down vessels that don't require a ramp. Carry-down access is available at Pontiac Lake at Tackles Drive, which is about three miles north of Union Lake; Shoe Lake at the Bald Mountain Recreation Area in Lake Orion; Holdredge Lake at Holly Recreation Area; Alderman Lake and Moore Lake at Highland Recreation Area; and Chamberlain Lake and Hart Lake at Bald Mountain Recreation Area in Oakland Township....continued on page 2