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Little Crow Ski Team disinfects equipment to protect against spreading zebra mussels

Andrew Welter flushes 150-degree water through the Evinrudes on one of the Little Crow Ski Team's boats. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR -- Rather safe than sorry, members of the Little Crow Ski Team are following two exhausting days of competition with one very long day of hard work.

Piece by piece, volunteers with the local team devoted a full day on Monday to power cleaning all of the equipment they used during the Midwest Regional Show Ski Competition on July 30-31 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Ski team members learned that the Cedar River on which they competed could be infested with microscopic veligers, the larvae of zebra mussels, and they want to make absolutely certain they do not introduce the invasive species to local waters.

"We're doing everything we can to keep the lakes healthy and available for everybody else,'' said Andrew Welter, ski team board member and employee of Donnerite Inc. The company opened the wash bays of its Willmar facility along U.S. Highway 12 East to the ski team to use as its cleanup site.

Cleaning up to prevent the possible spread of zebra mussels requires power washing equipment with water of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Welter cranked it up to 150 degrees for good measure.

It is one thing to power wash a single boat. The Little Crow Ski Team is a moving armada of 11 different boats, most with three engines apiece. Hot water had to be flushed through each of the water-cooled engines.

There were also three large trailer loads full of equipment: Literally miles of tow ropes, more than 100 pairs of skis, and another 200 costumes, 25 wet suits, life jackets and more to clean and soak in the steaming water.

Team members Nikki Thein and Keri Loftness contacted the Middle Fork of the Crow River Watershed and organized the cleanup after learning how to effectively disinfect the gear. The danger is that zebra mussel veligers -- invisible to the naked eye -- can survive for days in as little as a teaspoon of water.

Thein and Loftness said the team went to Cedar Rapids unaware that the waters there could be infested. There were no signs warning them of a zebra mussel infestation at the competition. They did not see any zebra mussels, either.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports on its website that veligers of zebra mussels have been identified in portions of the Cedar River. Clear Lake is the first lake in Iowa to have a confirmed infestation of zebra mussels. Its waters feed Willow Creek, which runs to the Winnebago River and to the Shell Rock River, which reaches the Cedar River.

Mark Bortz, chairman of the tournament in Cedar Rapids, said he does not believe the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids is infested at this time.

No matter. All of the Little Crow Ski Team equipment will be thoroughly disinfected before it returns to the home waters of the Crow River at Neer Park in New London for this Friday's regular performance, according to the volunteers.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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