It was a beautiful summer night at Dunton Locks County Park Thursday, as well over 100 visitors and presenters gathered for the first Detroit Lakes Aqua Chautauqua hosted by the University of Minnesota Extension Water Resources Team.

A total of 28 activity stations were set up throughout the 53-acre park, inviting visitors to listen to music from local musician Rhoda Habedank, decorate a tiny River of Dreams canoe, taste a flight of water samples from the Water Bar, watch water rescue demonstrations from the Becker County Sheriff's Department Dive Rescue team, and much more.

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At the Minnesota Extension 4-H booth, Big Stone County 4-H "Aquatic Robotics" team members James Conrad, Robert Angelo, Zakari Angelo and Arnold Jibben - along with Big Stone 4-H Program Coordinator Suzanne Souza and summer program intern Rachael Kellen - discussed how their "SeaPerch" underwater robot, also known as an ROV, or remotely operated vehicle, can be used to map out the locations and infestation levels of various types of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in local water bodies.

Tucked away in another corner, Extension educator Brian Fredrickson urged visitors to sit down in front of a camera and tell their 'watershed stories,' sharing anecdotes of life in and around Minnesota's lakes, rivers and streams.

Underneath the shade of a tall tree at the center of the park, International Water Institute (IWI) volunteers Wanda Roden and Larry Anderson helped visitors decorate a 14-inch cedar canoe. According to Anderson, the canoes decorated at Thursday's Aqua Chautauqua will be launched into the Otter Tail River at a special River of Dreams Canoe Release event set for 6 p.m. this coming Tuesday, Aug. 14 at the Orwell Dam south of Fergus Falls.

The tiny canoes are part of River of Dreams, a watershed education program instituted by IWI for elementary-age students to "learn watershed terminology and how their subwatershed fits into the Red River Basin, through the design and real-life launch" of their own canoes.

At the Becker County Museum booth, museum program director Emily Buermann explained the large-scale county map that included labels containing the Ojibwe language names for each lake in the county.

"It's an ongoing project," she said, adding that while many of the names were readily available from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe - which has documented the Ojibwe names for each of the lakes on the White Earth Reservation - and others were easily located in the museum's research library, others have required a bit more research to discover.

"The map will be on display at the museum, and people who know the Ojibwe names of some of these lakes can come in and help us continue to add to it," Buermann said, adding that the map would eventually be digitized.

"That's probably going to be a winter project for us," she said of the map digitization, which once completed, would allow the information to be searchable via the Internet.

Other museum displays included information on the history of steam boat navigation along the Pelican River and its adjacent lakes, and an opportunity to watch the "Timber Dead and Down" video produced by the museum, which contains a multimedia presentation on the history of the logging industry in Becker County.

At one of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) booths, DNR Clean Water Legacy Specialist Annette Drewes talked about the ecology, harvest and management of wild rice, which is Minnesota's official state grain.

"Minnesota has laws about how wild rice can be harvested, and how it must be labeled," she said.

For instance, in Minnesota, wild rice can only be harvested between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day, she said, adding that she, personally, would like to see those hours extended slightly, in order to make the traditional practice of wild rice harvesting more accessible to kids - who are usually in school during those hours, except on weekends - and to adults who have to work during the day.

Drewes also noted that Minnesota is one of just two states that require people to purchase licenses for wild rice harvesting (Wisconsin is the other). "About 1,500 people buy licenses to harvest (in Minnesota) every year," she said.

University of Minnesota Extension educator Karen Terry, who coordinated the Dunton Locks event on Tuesday, said on Friday: "Last night's Aqua Chautauqua was a huge success! The level of community engagement demonstrates the interest in the health of our lakes and streams. All attendees had the chance to enter a drawing to win a kayak, which was won by Mike Stearns."