Green Guide

Game, Fish and Parks restoring public access to 24 lakes

Posted June 13

— South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is working to restore public access to two dozen lakes after lawmakers approved a measure governing the use of lakes on private land for recreation, the agency said Tuesday.

Staff will remove cables blocking access to the lakes by the end of the day, the agency said in a statement. Full services including docks will be restored by the end of the week.

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler thanked lawmakers for acting quickly to pass the plan during a Monday special legislative session on so-called nonmeandered waters.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard that evening signed the bill into law, declaring nearly 30 specific lakes open. The law also says that lakes on private property are open for recreational use unless a landowner installs signs or buoys saying an area is closed, though property owners could still grant permission to use the water.

The measure would bar them from being paid for allowing fishing. It sunsets in June 2018, meaning lawmakers will have to revisit the issue in the upcoming legislative session.

Nonmeandered waters are bodies of water that weren't specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s. Some private property has since flooded, forming new, unofficial bodies of water and creating good fishing, but it's come at the cost of farmland and pastures lost by agriculture producers.

The issue has long vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts. State officials intervened after a South Dakota Supreme Court ruling in March that said the Legislature must decide the extent the public can use the waters on private land for recreation.

Daugaard has called the lakes an "economic engine," saying their closure has hurt small-town businesses. There are thousands of nonmeandered lakes in South Dakota, but only roughly 90 have had fishing, according to Game, Fish and Parks.

Donna Bumann's bait shop and motel in Lake Preston have suffered significantly since the state restricted access to a lake called "Dry #2." Bumann said she's glad the lakes are open and hopes business turns around for the summer.

"I'm expecting phone calls throughout the day" for reservations, Bumann said.

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