Richard Skarie said it’s been bothering his family for years: Boe Lake, about 5 miles northwest of Audubon in Hamden Township, keeps showing up on plat books as Seabold Lake.
“The people around there, it would always get us upset when we saw the wrong name for Boe Lake,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s something we always talked about for years in my family,” he said.
But the name wasn’t always wrong: A 1964 plat map calls it Seabold Lake. A 1971 plat map calls it Boe Lake, and a plat map in 1975 calls it Seabold Lake again.
It’s enough to make old Ole Boe turn over in his grave: The earliest plat maps, like one from 1911, show the lake surrounded by Boe property (including land owned by Ole Bowe, from Norway).
That 1911 plat map shows a smaller, 50-acre lake just to the west dominated by land owned by C.W. Seebold. That’s supposed to be Seebold Lake, but for about 100 years the lake names have been mixed up and transposed on plat maps, said Skarie, who now lives in Minneapolis, and grew up on a farm near Boe Lake.
His wife, Elizabeth Dorn, grew up on an adjoining farm, and the two worked both farms in the 1980s -- “long enough to go broke,” he said with a laugh.
But it worked out well in the end for both Skarie and Boe Lake, since he went back to college and got a doctorate in soil science from North Dakota State University, which led to a 20-year career in environmental consulting for pipeline companies.
The job involved making the big picture clear to regulators, without overwhelming them with details, but also getting the technical stuff right. After he retired, it turned out to be the perfect skill set for taking on the daunting challenge of a lake name change in Minnesota.
He estimates he spent hundreds of hours on the project, which included tracking down and obtaining signatures from 15 people who lived or owned property near in the Boe Lake area.
That turned out to be the fun part, Skarie said. “To get a signature would take two hours, because we got talking so much about history -- between friends, relatives and old neighbors, I had such a good time reconnecting with people and talking to people.”
It also took awhile because he had to essentially start over. He started the process with 15 signatures from Becker County residents who weren’t associated with the Boe Lake area. But he said Becker County commissioners urged him to get the signatures from Hamden Township, to show local support. Turns out that strong support from local, well-respected people "was critical in getting the approval from the county," he said.
He also started out by focusing on just fixing the two lake names, but the DNR convinced him to refocus on the more complex task of straightening out both the geographic names and the public water names -- for three lake basins, not just two, since Seebold Lake had been essentially split in two by a road project in the 1950s.
Seebold Lake had also been misspelled through the years on plat maps as Seabold Lake, so that will also be corrected as part of the renaming process.
“You gotta have lots of time,” Skarie said. “I have stacks and stacks of papers on this … The key was finding the 1907 map,” he added. “It showed all the landowners around that area -- without that, I wouldn’t have had much to go on.”
When dealing with historical documents, the Internet isn’t always much help. He spent a lot of time in the University of Minnesota library, examining plat maps and old air photos (Two aerial photos were taken of Hamden Township, in 1939 and 1953). “It was a really interesting process to trace the history of those pieces of land,” he said.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, there’s only one Boe Lake in Minnesota, and Skarie is obviously fond of it. He talks of how he hunted ducks there as a boy, how it has no outlet, how it went dry for a time in the 1930s (when many Becker County lakes hit their low-water mark) and how it used to serve as a holding pond for a minnow business in Audubon.
“I have an uncle down here in St. Paul who’s 100 years old,” Skarie said. “He remembers it all.”
Skarie held off on his request to fix the lake names until the Minnesota Supreme Court last year ruled in the Department of Natural Resources favor on the Lake Calhoun name change, to its original native name of Bde Maka Ska.
The Becker County Board gave its blessing to the Boe Lake name change earlier this month, and the request now awaits approval by the DNR, which has been supportive, and final rubber-stamping by a federal agency.
Skarie isn’t sure how long the process will take. But he’s not too concerned.
“I tell people it’s been wrong for 100 years, so we can wait a little longer,” he said with a laugh.