Over Forty-Five Years of Fighting Lake Weeds

If you’re like me, you love everything about your place on the water — swimming, fishing, boating, the beautiful view — relaxing with family and friends. But, for many of us, there’s a problem when we step in the water… nasty lake weeds and the yucky, mucky lake bottom. When my parents bought our lake lot in 1966, we cleared the land, put up a cottage and  it was great…except for the lake weeds, or “seaweed” as we kids called it.

We pulled weeds out by the tons — literally!

We’d try to swim, but the feel of the weeds was nasty. And you knew if you put your foot down, you’d sink up to your knee in the muck. And dad was forever getting the prop on the boat motor tangled in a mess of weeds. Now, my dad had grown up on a 400-acre farm and owned a construction company — he was tough — and wasn’t about to put up with lake weeds. He brought in a tractor and a giant hay rake with long chains — he pulled weeds by the tons — literally! We’d load the huge piles of weeds into trucks and trailers and haul them off. It was back breaking work, but the beach was clear… for awhile.

And then — the weeds grew back

And then…the weeds grew back, even thicker than before. Dad didn’t know back then that the more weeds he broke off the more new weeds he created. Each broken piece of a lake weed can create a new plant. Then he came in with a back-hoe, dug out the muck, dumped in stones and covered the area with sand, (no permit — it was the 1960s). This too, was back breaking work. But it was a great beach — for about a year. And then… the next year the sand and stones were sinking in the muck, the silt washed in on top of the remaining sand…and the weeds grew back, thicker than before.

And the weeds grew back even thicker

Not to be outdone by lake weeds, dad brought in a bunch of landscape fabric, laid it out on the lake bottom, held it in place with bricks (he was a mason, by trade) and dumped more sand over the fabric. More back breaking work. And, except for stubbing our toes on the bricks, it was a great beach — for about a year. And then…waves and water action moved the sand, the landscape fabric became a tangled mess, the silt washed in and the weeds grew back, thicker than before. After that, my dad shifted his focus and started building amazing “swimming rafts” with diving boards and slides. He’d tow the rafts out past the weeds to deep water, so we could swim.

If you can’t beat ‘em… build a nice swim raft

Off course, getting out to the swim raft, we still had to run the gauntlet of nasty weeds between the shore and deep water. Most of the time we’d row a boat to the swim raft. The swim rafts Dad built were terrific, but they didn’t change the fact that the weeds had won. Though my dad had grown up farming hundreds of acres and built huge, commercial buildings, he hadn’t conquered the lowly lake weeds. Eventually, he accepted defeat. He’d cut one path through the weeds to get the boats in and out, he stopped building swim rafts and retired at the lake. He said he liked it best in the winter when the lake was froze over. I asked him why he liked the lake frozen the most. “No weeds,” he said.

I poisoned the weeds — it didn’t work either

Years later, when both of my parents had passed away, I had three young kids of my own. They wanted to bring their friends to the cottage and swim. By this time, it was a new era in aquatic weed control for me. It was the age of “aquatic herbicides.” I found a supplier. They sold me some crazy-expensive herbicide stuff. They assured me it was safe for fish and humans — but the warning label was super scary. I treated the weeds, followed the instructions to the letter, waited patiently and… it didn’t work at all. So, I raked out as much “seaweed” as I could and told my young kids that “Aquatic plants are natural. Think of walking through lake weeds as if you’re walking through a nice farm field,” I told them.  “Yuck,” my kids responded… so I built a swim raft…

The nuclear option — professional weed treatment

The next year I went back to the lake management company and told them the chemicals didn’t kill the weeds. They said I should have the whole lake “professionally treated.” Great idea! We met with all the neighbors. They were very enthusiastic — until they found out the price. That was the end of that great idea. So, I bought more extremely expensive, aquatic herbicide and put it on double strength. And it killed about half of the weeds, so that was good… Meanwhile, one neighbor thought it might be a good idea and — for some reason —called the DNR. When he found he needed a permit and what it cost, he protested that I didn’t have a permit…

Then, the DNR called me…

Then, the DNR called me — not happy at all. “Sorry, I didn’t know I needed a permit,” I said, and promised to get one next time. Except I didn’t, because by then, the weeds had all grown back. I wasn’t about to waste any more money on weed killing chemicals. I haven’t used them since — though I have built a few more nice swim rafts. Over the years, my kids grew up.  I watched as new neighbors battled their lake weeds. They’d rake and pull, sinking in the muck while they worked. Some used chemicals.  Of course, none of it worked. But, one new neighbor put down a big tarp over the weeds and held it down with rocks. It was slippery to walk and after a few days it began bubbling up, and eventually floated to shore. It didn’t work very well, but it did kill the weeds where it had been laying. It reminded me of the landscape fabric we’d put in so many years ago.

Why don’t weeds grow under the boat?

Now, about this same time, my youngest son asked why weeds didn’t grow under the boats tied to the dock. “That’s because aquatic plants need sunlight, just like any other plant,” I said. (Lightbulb goes on in my head!) Then my son added randomly, it would be a good idea if there was a “snowshoe for lakes,” so a person could walk around without sinking in muck. (Another lightbulb goes on!) What could I put over the weeds that would stay flat on the bottom and keep sunlight from reaching the weeds? What could we walk on to keep us out of the muck?

Hey Dad, we finally found what works!

Over the next few days I could see it clearly — a large mat, made of some kind of special material. Something that kept weeds from growing and kept us out of the muck. That picture in my mind was the beginning of the LakeMat and later, MuckMat.

That’s how it started. Today, after more than 45 years of fighting lake weeds, we have it (mostly) figured it out. I’m sure Dad would love it!


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