Inside JCPRD: New boat cleaning station will help keep invasive species out of Shawnee Mission Park Lake

Park Police Sergeant Vanessa Burkholder uses the vacuum on the new boat cleaning station in Shawnee Mission Park to clean off her department’s patrol boat.

By David Markham

The first line of defense to protect JCPRD lakes against zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species (AIS) involves empowering and educating boat and kayak users. An initial effort in this area takes the form of a new boat cleaning station recently installed near the boat ramp at Shawnee Mission Park lake.

“Zebra mussels at Shawnee Mission Park lake would be devastating to ecology, recreation, and even irrigation of Tomahawk Hills Golf Course,” said JCPRD Field Biologist Matt Garrett. “Almost every large water body near Johnson County has zebra mussels that cause a catastrophic situation for lake ecology and public recreation. Lack of equipment is the number one barrier to getting boats cleaned, drained, and dried.”

Towards that end, the new cleaning unit, with a dedicated lane, was installed earlier this year and is now open just north of the boat ramp. The six-feet tall, eight-feet wide waterless cleaning station is solar powered and also features a Wi-Fi hub.

The new solar-powered cleaning station includes various tools to clean, drain, and dry watercraft. It also has a w Wi-Fi hub so users can access demonstration videos to show them how to use the station.

“The system has a wet/dry vacuum, air blower, grabber, brush, and a tool to pull your boat plug,” Garrett said. “Each tool provides a different way to clean, drain, and dry watercraft. All runoff from the unit is captured in a bioswale to keep it from entering the lake. The Wi-Fi system does two things. First, The Wi-Fi provides automatic reports and warns staff it requires being emptied of waste or a tool is broken. Second, it provides users access to custom videos on cleaning your boat, and in the future, we can provide lake maps of fishing structures.”

Using the boat cleaning station will take the average user 10 minutes or less, Garrett said.

“Making it easy for the public to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species is the reason we’ve installed this station now,” he said.

At this time, cleaning of watercraft before they enter Shawnee Mission Park lake and after they leave is strongly encouraged, but not required. But Garrett warned that if the lake becomes infested with an AIS species, much more specific check in/check out policies could become a reality. He noted that current Kansas law requires that boaters drain livewells, bilges, and remove drain plugs from all vessels transported on public highways, and forbids the release of exotic wildlife into waters in the state.

While similar cleaning units are common in areas threatened by multiple aquatic invasive species such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York, the new unit in Shawnee Mission Park is the only one of its kind within five hours of the Kansas City area.

The biologist said he came across the cleaning station technology while researching cost-effective solutions for preventing aquatic invasive species in JCPRD lakes. The cleaning station project was entirely funded through JCPRD’s lakes and fisheries fund supported by district fishing permit sales.

The Shawnee Mission Park cleaning station will serve as a pilot project for determining if similar stations are needed at other JCPRD lakes.

“We’ll monitor the reliability of the system under heavy use at Shawnee Mission Park and then make a decision on installing stations at Kill Creek and Lexington lakes,” Garrett said.

Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk that is native to fresh waters in Eurasia. Their name comes from the dark, zig-zagged stripes on their shells. Zebra mussels negatively impact ecosystems in many ways, including filtering out algae that native species need for food, and they attach to-and incapacitate-native mussels. Power plants also spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes.

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