The Height Of Arrogance: The Tahkodah Lake Association
And the sign says "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight"
So I jumped the fence and I yelled at the house
Hey! What gives you the right!
To put up a fence and keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in
If God was here, he'd tell it to your face, man, you're some kind of sinner
Back in 1971 the Five Man Electrical Band put out a song called 'Signs' which talked of the craziness of people partitioning off large stretches of wild land and threatening action if it was breached by someone who simply wanted to enjoy it. The song smacked of irony as the arrogance of what people believe they are entitled to because of money can be nothing less than crazy. The rock band Tesla covered 'Signs' in the 90's, and for all practical purposes the tune should be remade every decade because as Led Zeppelin sang "the song remains the same"
Recently I took a vacation with my extended family to the northern reaches of Wisconsin. The rental property was located within the forest on a beautiful lake. Plans for the week involved lots of fun water sports including fishing, kayaking, swimming, and tubing behind my trusty jet ski that I have had for many years. Having kids, one of their favorite things to do on a lake is to be pulled behind the vessel on a large three person tube that allows them a thrill. It is almost a rite of passage if you live in the land of 20,000 lakes.
Arriving at the cabin we looked across the lake to see many boats of all shapes and sizes- large pontoon boats, fishing boats, speed boats..... The lake had a public boat launch open to any citizen, no matter their creed, income, skin color, or any other classification that people are partitioned into. The beauty of nature in the state is open to all it's citizens, as it should be.
Upon launching my jet ski we were immediately tracked down by a woman who owned property on the lake. Apparently, this woman along with other "owners" had decided that they do not want jet skis on "their" lake. Of course, the Wisconsin DNR (Department of Natural Resources) is the real authority on the matter. Their purpose is to make the combined resources of the state available to all it's residents. According to them the lake is public property and boats of all shapes and sizes, including jet skis, are allowed. Basically, it is not "her" lake, but rather "our" lake, with "our" being every resident of this great state.
The woman explained that she felt the vehicles were noisy, obnoxious and unsightly and that others who owned property on the lake felt the same. Others felt that jet skis caused shore erosion (although the bigger the boat the bigger the wake and most of them drove pontoon boats which are the worst offenders). They had actually tried to pass a law but it was either too costly for them or too litigious. Personally I think the powers that be must have laughed them off. Because an official declaration was not passed, they had decided to "strongly discourage" their use and publicly shame anyone who went against their wishes.
The conversation flowed into an interrogation in which details were demanded on who the offending landlord was, what our names were, and who they could contact to stop our highly offensive behavior. This woman was intent on getting justice against the people she deemed were violating what she believed were her rights.
What struck me the most was how this woman never realized how incredibly arrogant her demand was. She basically believed that because she owned a very small piece of private land on a very large public lake, she could dictate how the resource was used. Yes, look at the lyrics above and it even goes one step behind what Les Emmerson sang of over 40 years ago.
Her stance is against most of what America was built on. The belief that money does not buy you exclusive rights that are not accessible to others. While it is possible to purchase a private lake it is not guaranteed that you can dictate what others can and cannot do on a natural resource that is held for the people and by the people. In this day and age this woman and many others like her do not realize this. In fact I don't think it even crosses their mind.
Then again, I may be the naïve one. A scan of headlines will tell you that money does buy you special treatment. Just look at white collar criminals and the high priced attorneys that ensure their immunity. Look at corporations that violate laws against dumping by greasing corrupt politicians. In the end maybe money really does buy anything it wants?
I don't know the real answer to that moral quandary, nor do I wish to consider it any further. What I do know is that I was not about to be bullied by someone whose opinion I held in contempt. I wasn't about to let someone ruin my fun or the enjoyment of my family. I wanted to believe that I was making a stand for the average guy who just wants to live his life and not be bothered by someone else who tells him how he can or cannot live.
One thing that had puzzled me at the time was whether or not all the owners of property on the lake were happy with this policy. I felt there had to be a passive acceptance of this directive due to the fact other residents were bullied to accept it by a vocal minority. Of course, I could not know this without talking to other residents.
As fate would have it, on our fourth day at the cabin my brother-in-law Ryan took his two year old daughter out on the jet ski for a ride. One of the lake residents who obviously objected decided to aggressively run his boat near enough to the ski to cause it to be run into weeds and almost on shore. Their safety was endangered by his rash action. He proceeded to lecture Ryan about how it was his lake and they had decided that jet skis were not allowed.
Being afraid for his safety, Ryan came back into shore to park the jet ski. Irritated (actually more like irate), I immediately went back out on the jet ski to talk to the man that had accosted Ryan and my niece. We began to have a very animated discussion on the subject of jet skis being outlawed. The man repeatedly stated that he was an "owner" of the lake and he and other "owners" meet once a year to make the rules and regulations that must be followed. I let him know that this was a public lake with a public boat landing that is accessible to all citizens of the state of Wisconsin. He could not, or would not accept this fact.
About this time I heard someone yelling from the shore. Turns out it was another owner of shoreline on the lake. I could not at first hear him, but my first instinct was that here was another irrational person taking time out to lecture me to get off "his" lake. Ironically, once the words started to become clear, I came to realize that this man was actually lecturing the other property owner on exactly what I had been trying to explain to him. I had that ally that I had suspected existed- the silent majority- after the first confrontation.
This turned out to be enough for the first man and he decided this was a good time to turn tail and leave. I thanked the individual on the shore for his support and headed back to our dock.
A short while later we got a knock on the door and it turned out to be the man who had come to my defense. We had a nice long conversation and he described his disgust with other lake residents and their bully tactics over the years to satisfy the wishes of about 15 of the 50 residents on the lake. What should have been public meetings were held in private residences. Taxes were levied illegally. Other residents were put under duress because they did not follow the wishes of the few. Even tubing and water skiing were on the chopping block for what was allowed.
Do you feel lake associations overstep their boundaries?
Worst of all, the very residents who tried to force their will on others were the worst offenders of their long list of rules. Yes, cold blooded hypocrites. The ones who wanted tubing outlawed used to partake in the behavior but now that their kids were grown they had no use for it anymore. The man who stopped me to complain was known for loudly running his boat full throttle at 7am and 9pm for fishing purposes. One lake association follower had 20 something aged kids who occasionally tore the lake up with a speed boat and blasted music that echoed across the water. Apparently what was good for the goose was not good for the gander.
The man went on to say that this would be the last straw. He urged me to contact the Sheriff about the incident involving a resident trying to run a father and little girl onto shore with his motorboat. He urged me to call the DNR if any other residents tried to intimidate or threaten us. He himself told us about a possible lawsuit that he would consider to recover illegally levied taxes that were forced on him by the vocal minority.
Not sure how this will end up, but my hope is the passive followers of this "rule" will finally stand together and not allow a small group of bullies to dictate how they can and cannot use a publicly held natural resource. It is their right to enjoy what they want to on a lake in which they have purchased frontage. If they do, I will be proud to say I played a very small part in making things right again.
Lake Associations can play a role in society and I believe many people have good intentions, even some of those who live on Lake Tahkodah. As the saying goes though, power corrupts, and when you give a person too much of it they will inevitably go too far. To the members of the Lake Tahkodah Lake Association, my hope is you will use common sense going forward and not dictate what is not yours to dictate.
© 2014 Jeff