Keeping boaters at bay

A proposed no-wake zone at Leesylvania State Park would force boaters and personal watercraft operators to slow down while they pass the popular Potomac Beach picnic area, but some boaters are already saying 400 feet offshore is a bit much.

Park officials have proposed an area posted with signs and buoys from the north jetty to the old pier ruins — about a half-mile long and 400 feet offshore — for a zone where watercraft must slow down to keep from creating waves.

“It’s a good idea if they don’t carry it way out into the river,” said John Lattimore of Lorton, who launches his 40-foot high-speed pleasure boat from Leesylvania. “Four hundred feet is pretty steep. That’s as big as a football field.”

A public hearing on the proposal is tentatively scheduled before the Prince William Board of County Supervisors at its June 25 meeting.

The proposal is aimed at personal watercraft, such as jet skis, which have proliferated, and can come much closer to shore than larger boats that have to worry about scraping the shallow bottom with their propellers.

“There’s nothing to control boat traffic and it’s a dangerous mix of people walking in the water and boats zooming along close to these people, so we want to create an area where boats must drive slowly and everyone can be safe together,” said Jim Klakowicz, park manager.

On weekends during the peak season from April to October the park sees close to 2,000 visitors.

Swimming is not allowed at Leesylvania but people are allowed to splash in the Potomac River while others walk, fish and wade along the shore.

People have also historically brought their smaller boats, like canoes or pontoons, up to the beach, while larger boats stay offshore where people can swim off them.

Personal watercraft like jet skis can speed along in less than a foot of water, sucking water in and then spewing it out to propel themselves.

“In one incident that was relayed to me a jet skier came 30 feet up onto the beach before it stopped, and this was observed by multiple rangers,” said Prince William County Lt. Bill Cox.

Another game rangers have described is jet skiers playing “chicken” — in which personal watercraft operators try to create enough spray to knock others off their craft.

Boaters at Leesylvania on Friday said there is a problem with safety, particularly when children are in the water.

“I think a no-wake zone is a good idea,” said Chris Glass of Manassas. “I’d like to come down here and not be bothered with them. It only takes two minutes to get past the zone.”

No accidents have occurred yet, Cox said, but the time to act is now before one does.

If the proposal passes, the county’s police marine unit will patrol the shores looking for violators. As a misdemeanor, violators would receive a $250 fine.

Specific speeds will not be required, but boaters will only be allowed to maintain the minimum speed to move forward without creating waves.

Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703) 878-4723.

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