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Rural DL body of water restored

An old Becker County lake that was drained for farming back in the early 1900s will soon be making a comeback, thanks to cooperation from adjacent landowners, state and federal agencies, along with funding from Reinvest in Minnesota and the NRCS’s Wetlands Reserve Program.

Brink Lake, located six miles southeast of Detroit Lakes in Burlington Township, will encompass 200 acres of open  water, with an average depth of five feet. Though it will be too shallow for most recreational uses, the new/old lake will serve as an ideal habitat for waterfowl and other local wildlife species, according to Phil Doll, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association wetland restoration specialist who spearheaded the project for NRCS.

Doll said that he and Becker Soil and Water Conservation District technician Ed Clem worked together on the joint NRCS/SWCD project, which took about three years to complete from start to finish.

Doll first became aware of the need for such a project back in 2008, when he spotted a deep, open county ditch located in too-close proximity to a gravel road in Burlington Township.

The ditch had been dug by horse and plow back in 1915, and was severely eroded.

“We applied (for RIM/WRP funding) in 2009-10,” Doll said, adding that it took a couple of years to obtain the permanent easements to reconstruct the lake on private property.   

“There were five landowners involved,” Doll said.

Ed Clem contacted the landowner with the largest tract of land along the ditch, New Life Farms, and asked if they were interested in doing a wetland restoration project there.

“They were definitely interested, so I started contacting the other landowners,” Doll said.  “We also did some site investigation to see of the restoration project was feasible, and wouldn’t flood any nearby (water control) structures.”

Once the project’s feasibility was determined, they started the application process to obtain funding through RIM WRP, “a voluntary permanent easement program that pays landowners to set aside land so that it can be restored to wetlands and prairie, and provide habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife,” according to an information sheet provided by NRCS, which administers the WRP program, and the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR), which administers the RIM program.

“It’s a very unique partnership,” said Doll of the joint RIM/WRP program.

That funding was obtained earlier this fall, and work on the project commenced in mid-November, with all but a small amount of seeding work completed by mid-December (the rest will be finished in the spring, Doll said).

It was only after they closed on the permanent easements with the five landowners involved that NRCS and SWCD were able to begin work on the joint project.

“We had to work with the county board and the landowners to legally abandon the ditch,” he said. “The county has been very supportive.”

The initial application included a formal petition process, with a review and comment period, as required  by law.

The project involved installing a new outlet pipe, then filling in the old county ditch with soil.

“We got all of the earthwork done before the heavy snow and cold hit, which helped,” Doll said.

Though the place where the lake will be located is still open prairie, the new water body should be fully in place by spring, after the winter snows and a few spring rains have fallen.

“It will stay as private land — it’s still the their property,” Doll said, adding, “They’re all really excited to see the lake come back in the spring.”

“The key to success with Brink Lake was the landowners,” said NRCS District Conservationist Ed Musielewicz. “Without their enthusiasm and interest, nothing would have been done out there.”

Musielewicz further noted some of the “hurdles we had to overcome” to make the project happen:

“Five neighboring landowners had to agree to one plan; all of our agency partners and permitting authorities (NRCS, BWSR, Becker SWCD, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Army Corps of Engineers) needed to agree to the landowners plan; and County Ditch 17 had to be abandoned.

“These were no small feats, and we guided everyone through the process to a successful conclusion,” he added.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454