Improvements to boat lift could reload marina activity | Local company

Boaters traveling the eastern portion of Lake of the Woods may finally get the lift they’ve been looking for this summer, just in time for a boating season that could be closer to normal.

Marina operators and outfitters around the big lake say the prospect of an improved boat lift could help get the wind back in their sails economically, after two summers ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve basically lost two summers (between 2020 and 2021),” Morson Marina operator Terry Gill, who is among the supporters of the improved boat lift project.

Known as the Turtle Portage Marine Railway, the lift allows small craft operators to cross Whitefish and Sabaskong bays by placing boats approximately 20 feet in length in a trolley that runs on rails.

The cost of the upgrade, which will be paid by the province, has been set at $800,000.

The trolley is cranked through a concrete barrier for a distance of approximately 100 meters. The less desirable alternative to reaching either bay is sailing around the large Aulneau Peninsula, a two-hour trip of nearly 150 kilometers that can feature high waves.

In the 1980s, a channel between the two bays was sealed with a concrete barrier to prevent the murky water of the Sabaskong from flowing into the clear whitefish.

An interlocking system proved impractical because the designers did not allow strong current to exist between the two bays. Wooden rollers have also been tried but found to be unsafe.

When the hand-cranked forklift was installed in the 1990s, users found the truck too heavy and the crank mechanism cumbersome and prone to injury.

“It seemed to work best when the water was high,” Gill said.

In 2018, long before anyone predicted the pandemic, Gill and others lobbied the province not just to keep the forklift going, but to make improvements.

These efforts seem to have paid off.

“The Turtle Portage Marine Railway will be upgraded to improve functionality, safety and reliability, allowing for more recreational boating opportunities on the lake,” a provincial news release said this week.

“Offsite assembly activities are already underway and onsite construction will begin as soon as conditions improve in the spring,” the statement added.

Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls Mayor Norbert Dufresne called the boat lift “an essential piece of transportation infrastructure for the eastern portion of Lake of the Woods.”

Gill, meanwhile, said he has his fingers crossed for the upcoming summer season. Gill’s boathouse rentals, which normally number about 100 per season, have fallen about 75% during the pandemic due to a lack of American tourists.

By the time Americans were allowed to cross the Canada-US border last August, the season was already over, Gill said.

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