Stillwater navigates towards no-wake zone on its riverfront

City seeks to improve safety and make downtown more welcoming to boaters.




3 minute read

Stillwater’s riverfront.

Public hearing
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.
Stillwater City Council Chambers
216 North 4th Street

The city of Stillwater seems to be steering towards supporting a no-wake zone on the stretch of the St. Croix in front of its levee. The city council heard a citizen proposal in February, and is planning a public hearing on April 17.

The city is the only one on the lower St. Croix that does not have a no-wake zone.

Proponents said wakes make boating, docking, and anchoring difficult and dangerous. While boaters are eager to visit Stillwater, many are deterred by the unrestricted traffic.

Bill Buth of Mulberry Point Harbor and John Koch of Portside Restaurant brought the proposal to the council in February. They believe it would not only be good for boaters, but also downtown businesses. (Note: Watch video of the presentation and discussion below.)

Koch shared an overview of the other cities on the river and their no-wake zone status. Hudson, Afton, and Prescott all have no-wake zones. With their calm waters and anchoring and docking locations, he said the cities all draw many boaters during the summer.

Seeking safe harbor

Councilmembers all seemed to support the proposal, sharing personal experiences on the water and on the riverfront that led them to believe high speeds and big wakes from boats are a problem.

Mayor Ted Kozlowski said he had seen a family standing on the levee get swamped by a huge wake from a speeding boat.

“For me it’s a big public safety thing, not to mention the benefit of being able to tie up on our levy when the river level allows,” Kozlowski said. “If we could make that more boater friendly, it’d be a really cool feature for Stillwater. I’ve traveled by boat from Stillwater to the Bahamas and back and I can’t think of a river town that doesn’t have a no-wake zone in front of it.”

After discussions with the Washington County Sheriff, the city was told the office supported the proposal if it had a clear public safety goal.

Size and location

Their discussion primarily focused on the appropriate length and location of the zone.

Councilmember Mike Pohlena said he fishes on the river a few times a week, and anglers can get frustrated by no-wake zones that are too long — singling out Hudson as an example.

“Some of those no-wake zones south of us are exaggerated and it’s really frustrating to the fishermen to get up and down the river, because if you want to catch fish, you gotta go a long ways to go to your fishing spots,” Pohlena said. “That Hudson one, it takes forever to get through there. I would agree in front of the levee wall, we should slow people down there.”

Buth pointed out that the new Aiple property park which is expected to open on the river on the north end of Stillwater in a couple years might benefit from a no-wake zone, too. The park is being developed to promote quiet recreation.

Ultimately, the council decided to consider a proposal that would cover the city’s seawall, starting by the Dock Café on the south to Mulberry Point (the location of P.D. Pappy’s and the gas docks) on the north end.

Map of proposed no-wake zone
[scribblemaps mapid=”StillwaterNoWake” width=”1000″ height=”400″ marker=”1″ drag=”1″ zoom=”1″ legend=”1″]

Speak up

To enact a no-wake zone, the city must hold a public hearing and pass an ordinance in support, then work with the Washington County sheriff, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and other government agencies to put it in place.

According to Minnesota state rules, “‘slow no-wake’ means operation of a watercraft at the slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage and in no case greater than five mph.” The proposed no-wake zone would be about 1,500 feet long.

After discussing the idea again at its April 3 meeting, the council scheduled the hearing for its next meeting on April 17.

Comments can also be submitted by email or mail to Diane Ward, City Clerk, 216 4th Street N., Stillwater, MN 55082 or

City Council videos

Feb. 20, 2018

April 3, 2018:


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Stillwater navigates towards no-wake zone on its riverfront