MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Big Island on Lake Minnetonka is known for being a place to tie up a boat and party during the Fourth of July.

More than a hundred people became sick after spending time there last year. Now with COVID-19, groups are trying to drive home the message to social distance and use common sense.

Boats were tied together at the island over the weekend, with people seen hanging out in the water. That’s causing some concern this summer says Lake Minnetonka Conservation District Executive Director Vickie Schleuning.

Big Island on the Fourth of July, 2019 (credit: CBS)

“We’re still not recommending people tie up because it’s like a domino effect. People don’t know who’s all … doing it correctly, who isn’t,” Schleuning said.

LMCD regulates the lake and brings together more than a dozen cities and two counties. Schleuning says they encourage people to follow social distancing guidelines.

“We want people to be safe, we want them to be courteous of others,” Schleuning said.

She says that’s especially true after the wave of illness that struck last summer, with dozens suffering from gastrointestinal issues. They were already working on health recommendations when COVID-19 added another layer.

Big Island in June of 2020 (credit: CBS)

“Some of the information includes, you know, using the facilities, you know, using toilet facilities when you need them, and not the water. Some of it is making sure that you don’t swallow the water,” Schleuning said.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol says they’ll be on the lake with stepped up enforcement. Deputy Shawn Everly said they will continue to enforce normal violations like boating while intoxicated, and will be vigilant when it comes to COVID-19 — but they likely won’t be issuing tickets.

“We’re focusing on education and advising people to follow state guidelines,” Everly said.

They say they make break up a group if they see more than 25 people on a boat.

The Minnesota Department of Health told WCCO it’s more important than ever that people that aren’t feeling well stay home, and whether on land, a boat or water, people should maintain social distancing.

Jennifer Mayerle