Steamboat Minnehaha returns to Lake Minnetonka after delay

(Sun Sailor file photo by Jason Jenkins)
The Steamboat Minnehaha is now sailing on Lake Minnetonka, with a couple of weeks delay in the season due to issues related to the steamboat’s dock.

By Paige Kieffer
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The Steamboat Minnehaha is, as of June 3, sailing on Lake Minnetonka, after the launch was delayed a few weeks.

Since 1995, the steamboat has owned a dock near the now closed Bayside Restaurant and Bayview Event Center that’s located at 687 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior. The entrance to the dock requires that customers walk through the Bayside and Bayview property.

“In years past we’ve always worked with Bayside ownership,” said James Vair, with the Steamboat Minnehaha. “While we still own the dock, we share a lot of facilities with them and it was a little bit more complicated this year in making sure everything was in order to use that location.”

Bayview Event Center owners had sought to sell, and it was reported by their representation at the May 24 Lake Minnetonka Conservation District meeting that the property went under contract to be sold the day prior. Before this contract a seperate deal had fallen through.

Developments in Excelsior have been halted in the East Town area, when a nine-month interim moratorium was approved Nov. 28 by the City Council. The area includes all properties from Excelsior Boulevard and Second Street to the edge of Oak Hill Cemetery.

There were reports that Bayside was restricting access to the dock, which Vair denies.

“It was never an issue about us never being able to park at Bayside, it just took a little bit longer this year to make sure that everything was ready for us to use that location,” he said.

Previously, the Minnehaha was required to apply for a license with Bayview under a multiple dock license. With the transition in ownership, Bayview applied for a multiple dock license that did not include the Minnehaha’s dock, requiring the steamboat officials to apply for their own license.

Gabriel Jabbour, local marina owner, former Lake Minnetonka Conservation District member and former Orono mayor, represented the Steamboat Minnehaha at the May 17 meeting. He claimed that Bayview did this for financial benefits and land issues with the City of Excelsior.

“The United States government assisted the (Museum of Lake) Minnetonka to acquire (the Minnehaha) and Bayview definitely has a financial benefit if the museum was to disappear,” he said.

The steamboat, which is owned by the nonprofit Museum of Lake Minnetonka, now has its own commercial dock and special density license that was approved May 17 by the conservation district.

The Minnehaha requested the license be approved on May 17 so the boat could be running for Memorial Day weekend, but this did not happen.

According to the conservation district, Bayview officials said on May 19 that they would work with Museum of Lake Minnetonka to provide access and secure storage for the steamboat.

“We always want to formally ask them permission because in years past because we have a lot of events and our staff is always going in and out of Bayside,” Vair said. “We’re making sure we’re good neighbors since we’re right next door.”

The Steamboat Minnehaha debuted on Lake Minnetonka in 1906 and provided fast and reliable transportation for tourists and residents for nearly 20 years.

The steamboat was decommissioned in 1926 and was sunk to the bottom of the lake. However, in 1980, a salvage team discovered the boat and raised her back to the surface.

“We’re looking forward to another season back on the lake,” Museum of Lake Minnetonka President Jeff Lambert said. “During the early stages of her restoration it was thought that the boat would be just a static display. But thanks to the support and generosity of the greater lake community and countless volunteers the Minnehaha has now been sailing longer in her second life than in her first.”

This winter, in preparation for the Minnehaha’s return to Lake Minnetonka, volunteers spent the season working on annual maintenance and special projects to make sure the steamboat remains in pristine condition.

Key projects from this year’s winter layup included completing the restoration of the Minnehaha’s cane seats, replacing decking, and repainting her iconic triple-expansion steam engine.

The Minnehaha runs during the week and weekend with cruises in between Excelsior Bay and Wayzata Bay.

Cruise tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 4-12. Passengers three-years-old and under are free.

Tickets can be purchased at Tommy’s Tonka Trolley or at steamboatminnehaha.org.