Boating hazards on Lake Hickory go beyond shallow sandbars or wakes from speeding boats.They also come in the 2-pound variety: muskrats with an appetite for rubber.Muskrats can be an expensive nuisance, say boaters who have replaced chewed wires and rubber bellows. Muskrats even burrow into Styrofoam to build dens in floating docks.Hickory resident Vernie Deal estimates he spent $500 on boat repairs over the years when he lived on Lake Hickory in Alexander County. “They’re awfully bad about chewing the electrical lines, plastic and rubber on boats – even Styrofoam. I have a friend whose boat was sunk,” Deal said. “They eat everything they can nibble on.”Deal said he learned to use metal sleeves to protect his boat’s wiring from muskrats.Cole Hull, owner of River’s Edge Marina, says he repairs 10 to 20 boats a year with muskrat damage.“They chew any type of rubber they can get to, like wires,” Hull said. The animals often are a minor but annoying hassle to boaters who expected to spend the morning fishing instead of at a repair shop.The most costly repair Hull has made was at least $4,000 to a Hickory man’s boat severely damaged by muskrats.Danny Ray, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, says he hears a few complaints each year about muskrats tunneling into the lake banks. But he questions whether muskrats are eating wire coverings; that is something a river otter might do, he said, although he acknowledges muskrats are far more common than otters in this area.Muskrats are about half the size of a beaver, ranging from 10 to 14 inches long. They burrow into the shoreline to build their homes.That burrowing can be a problem for homeowners with manicured lawns and can lead to erosion, Ray said.Muskrat burrows are undermining the low wall that protects Corwin and Josette Kippenhan’s shoreline on Lake Hickory. Broken shells are a sign the muskrats have been feeding in the area, Corwin Kippenhan said. Kippenhan grew up trapping in the Midwest and has trapped muskrats in the seven years the couple has lived in northwest Hickory. The state muskrat trapping season runs Nov. 1 to Feb. 28, but Kippenhan already has wrapped up trapping this season.He took 84 muskrats, most of them at his dock, which was built with a hatch so he can easily reach his most productive trap. The retired United Airlines pilot baits muskrats with a slice of apple and catches them with a leg trap.“I bet I don’t get one-half of 1 percent of all the muskrats on Lake Hickory,” he said.Kippenhan estimates he has sold $2, 000 worth of muskrat pelts in the last seven years. He donates the money to a Catholic charity in northern Alaska. “I’ve been there four or five times and got to know the people,” he said.Kippenhan sells his pelts to a fur dealer in northern Illinois. Most of the fur goes to China where it’s used for trim on coat collars and cuffs. The state says 4,123 muskrats were reported trapped in North Carolina in the 2011-12 season.The state keeps a list of a dozen men in Catawba County who will trap nuisance muskrats on private property, but Kippenhan is busy enough at his own dock to go out looking for more. “I think in four years, I’ve caught 150 under the dock,” he said. “They just keep coming.”
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013
Lake Hickory: Muskrats are a hazard with an appetite for rubber
Corwin Kippenhan traps muskrats from his dock on Lake Hickory. The aquatic rodents chew up wiring and rubber seals on boats, as well as burrow into the shoreline, undermining seawalls. JEFF WILLHELM - firstname.lastname@example.org
Corwin Kippenhan looks at the damage muskrats have done to his seawall on Lake Hickory. The aquatic rodents chew up wiring and rubber seals on boats, as well as burrow into the shoreline, undermining seawalls. JEFF WILLHELM - email@example.com
Corwin Kippenhan will donate the proceeds of this batch of about $700 worth of muskrat pelts, about $14 each, to charity. COURTESY OF CORWIN KIPPENHAN
Learn more: To contact a licensed trapper for muskrat removal, go to www.ncwildlife.org/Trapping/ContactaLicensedTrapper.aspx. Trapping season ends Feb. 28.
Dianne Whitacre Straley is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Dianne? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less