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Lake Detroiters turns 70: Association has been working to protect lakes

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Seven decades are a lot of years of work, protecting and enhancing something that both figuratively and literally is the center of Detroit Lakes.

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The Lake Detroiters Association is celebrating 70 years of service, with the annual meeting and celebration scheduled for June 14 in the Pavilion.

The event is open to association members, or anyone who wants to become a member in 2014 for $25.

“The Lake Detroiters Association plays a key role as an organization assuming responsibility to fulfill its mission to ‘promote the protection and enhancement of our city lakes,’” Association President Barb Halbakken Fischburg said. “This means a dedicated focus on the ‘life of the lake’ and all who have a stake in its ongoing health and vibrancy.”

That health and vibrancy is important to not only those who live on the lake but also those who visit the lake, and Detroit Lake is known for its heavy usage. There are the surrounding lakes to protect as well.

“For the community of Detroit Lakes, the three-lake chain of lakes – Little and Big Detroit and Deadshot Bay (officially Curfman Lake) – are considered ‘our community lakes,’” she said.

The tourists who flock to the lakes in the summer also benefit from the lake association and their work to protect the lakes. Those tourists help bring money into the city through retail stores, restaurants, lodging and other resources Detroit Lakes and surrounding towns have to offer.

“Tourism is a key component of community health and the city beach, and lake activities are a main attraction. This only happens when lake quality is enhanced,” Halbakken Fischburg said. “It is vital that everyone understands we are all in this together. Protecting these waters is paramount to our community way of life.”

History of Lake Detroiters

According to history compiled by Lake Detroiter Dick Hecock, the Lake Detroiters Association formed in 1944 to monitor water level, pollution, weed and algae control, mosquito control, lawn weeds control, speed boat control, speed limits on the roads, road congestion on North Shore Drive, taxes, utilities and zoning.

In the 1950s, the Lake Detroiters filed articles for incorporation, set markers to identify the sandbar and channel in the lake and installed lighting, began weed harvest and paid to stock the lake with fish. The organization also sponsored mosquito control and lobbied to re-route Highway 59 from West Lake Drive.

In the 1960s, the association helped establish the Pelican River watershed District, promoted the sewer and water project along North Shore Drive and supported the city’s beach stormwater and development project.

In the 1970s, the lake association worked with the Melissa-Sallie Improvement Association and Lakeview Township for a regional sewage system.

Other milestones that decade included initiating the “Friend of the Lakes Award,” treating the public beach for swimmer’s itch, paying for walleye stocking, supporting the city’s adoption of the Minnesota Shoreland Standards, and, on the down side, discovering flowering rush in Deadshot Bay.

In the 1980s, the association led the charge to upgrade the channel through the sandbar, promoted annexation into the city of Detroit Lakes and pressed for the establishment of the Pelican River Watershed District project to harvest weeds.

In the 1990s, the association successfully lobbied the city and Lakeview Township to ban phosphorus lawn fertilizers. Members of the lake association were instrumental in founding Becker County COLA.

That decade the association also advocated for statewide changes to shoreland ordinances, encouraged the restoration of shoreline vegetation to reduce erosion and nutrient movement in the lake, and supported the stocking of sturgeon.

In the 2000s, members of the association supported the development of Sucker Creek Preserve, worked with the PRWD to chemically treat flowering rush, contributed to the Highway 10 overlook project with the realignment of Highway 10 and supported the enhanced stormwater measures with the Highway 10 project.

Not even halfway into the 2010s, the association continues to work for the betterment of the lake. Members helped with the Crush the Rush effort on flowering rush at the city beach, the Beach captain network was reformed, a boat inspection program was launched, and support was provided for the Upstream Sucker Creek project.

“This year, Lake Detroiters celebrates 70 years as an organization of property owners, businesses and other deeply interested people,” said Halbakken Fischburg. “The organization’s longevity is credited to inspired past and present leaders, dedicated to protecting the lakes.”

She said that it was the early association leaders that encouraged the city of Detroit Lakes and the watershed district to help in the protection of the lakes, which the three entities still work together to do.

Beach Captain program

There are about 625 lakeshore property owners on Big and Little Detroit lakes, with 59 beach captains representing the same number of beach neighborhoods.

Beach Captain Chairman Carol Bergren said that when she took over as chair, there were about 40 households to each beach “neighborhood.” That was too many to have much personal contact with the individuals, so she created more neighborhoods and now beach captains have about a dozen households.

“We give them no more than a dozen houses in their neighborhood,” she said. “We encourage them to join the Lake Detroiters Association and give them information on invasive species, how to clean their boat, restore lakeshore…”

She said that by breaking the numbers down to smaller neighborhoods, it’s given the captains a better chance to talk one on one with their neighbors.

“It’s worked quite well to have neighbors contacting neighbors,” she said, which in return gets more lake people to join the association and take ownership in their lake.

Those neighbors have changed over the years. As a Detroit Lakes native, Bergren said many neighbors nowadays are North Dakotans who summer in Detroit Lakes. And if the lake gets an invasive species, they tend to move on from the lake, not necessarily having the same appreciation as those who have lived on the lake for many years.

She said that the association is pushing hard to get a decontamination unit for boats on Detroit Lake to help with the spread of aquatic invasive species.

She said her family has lived on Detroit Lake for 60 years and never would have thought about invasive species years ago. Now, it’s a constant concern.

“It just came out of nowhere,” she said of infestations.

“The need for a strong LDA has never been greater because the threats from aquatic invasive species, impacts of climate change, water quality problems and others are real and serious,” Halbakken Fischburg said.

Another project the association is working diligently on is getting lighted buoys through the channel to guide boaters at night.

Through the Beach Captain program, the captains meet to collect information, which they then disperse throughout their neighborhood.

“The Beach Captain program has educated everyone,” Bergren said.

And another piece of education comes from the annual meeting. She said the meetings are “so informative” and encourages everyone on the lake to attend. “Come and listen and learn.”

She said last year there were over 100 people in attendance, and they’d like to grow number that this year.

“We doubled our membership last year due to the effort from all those (beach captains),” Bergren said.

Annual meeting event

The association will celebrate 70 years at the annual meeting on June 14. The day begins with a pancake breakfast and exhibits from 25-plus organizations from 8 to 9:15 a.m. The meeting will begin at 9:30 with a welcome from Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk.

The event is open to anyone who pays the 2014 membership dues of $25.

The keynote speakers for the event include DNR representatives Col. Ken Soring, Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith and Major Phil Meier, discussing “Protecting our Natural Resources.”

Other items on the agenda include an update on flowering rush, distribution of the 2014 “The Lake Detroiter,” budget approval, nominations and elections for new board members and a time for questions and comments.

For more information on the association, log on to www.lakedetroiters.com.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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