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An Aqua Chautauqua: Extension, local agencies bringing water-themed festival to Dunton Locks Aug. 9

The University of Minnesota Extension is combining resources with several local agencies to bring an Aqua Chautauqua Festival to Dunton Locks County Park south of Detroit Lakes on Thursday, Aug. 9. (UMN Extension photo)1 / 6
The Water Bar will be coming to the Detroit Lakes Aqua Chautauqua on August 9 at Dunton Locks County Park. Step up to the bar and order a free flight of water, including samples from different Minnesota communities, and see if they all taste the same. (UMN Extension photo)2 / 6
Local citizens taste-test water samples at the Water Bar and guess which city they came from, with volunteer Wayne Hurley serving as 'water tender.' (Photo by Beth Rudh/UMN Extension)3 / 6
University of Minnesota Extension Educator Shahram Missaghi talks with a local citizen about managing water running off their lawns at an earlier Aqua Chautauqua event this summer. (Photo by Beth Rudh / UMN Extension)4 / 6
University of Minnesota Extension Educator Shahram Missaghi talks with local citizens about managing water running off their lawns. (Photo by Beth Rudh / UMN Extension)5 / 6
Gary Amundson with the USDA Ag Research Service demonstrates how farming practices affect soil stability. (Photo by Beth Rudh / UMN Extension)6 / 6

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, assemblies known as chautauquas were a popular form of entertainment in communities across the United States, and the village of Detroit — which later became the city of Detroit Lakes — was no exception.

Early next month, the University of Minnesota Extension, Pelican River Watershed District, Becker County Museum, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Becker Soil and Water Conservation District, Historic Holmes Theatre and RMB Labs are joining forces to bring this tradition back to Detroit Lakes on Thursday, Aug. 9.

Known as the Aqua Chautauqua, this water-themed outdoor festival will be presented from 5 to 8 p.m. at Dunton Locks County Park, south of Detroit Lakes.

According to Extension educator Karen Terry, who is coordinating the festival, the Aqua Chautauqua will combine educational science, art and history activities, with the aim of raising attendees' awareness of the importance of maintaining water quality in Minnesota's lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands.

"At the very root of it we feel people are not really aware of all the complexities of the water around us, and how dependent we are upon it," she said. "We need to do a better job of coming together to talk about it... if we don't talk about these issues, then how do we learn about what's new, or what's changed?"

When it comes to implementing changes in local, state and federal laws and regulations that will help to maintain, improve and preserve our water resources, Terry added, it's important to make informed decisions.

"We all trust that when we turn on the tap, fresh drinking water is going to come out, and it's going to be clean and safe," she said. "We also want our utility bills to stay low — but do we really think that through? Where does our water come from, what are the threats to it and are we being proactive in taking care of it?"

There will be more than 20 different learning stations set up at the Aqua Chautauqua, which is titled, "The Otter Tail River Watershed: Water, Life and You."

Some of those stations will include information on the macroinvertebrates — i.e., bugs — that inhabit local lakes, rivers and streams; interactive touch screen maps of the Otter Tail River Watershed (which includes Detroit Lakes); a screening of the locally-produced film, "Timber Dead and Down," which documents the history of the timber and logging industry in Becker County; "Ojibwe Connections," which showcases the names of local lakes and animals in the Ojibwe language; a presentation by the Becker County Sheriff's Department Dive & Rescue teams; a presentation on the International Water Institute's River of Dreams project (; and an "Aquatic Robotics" presentation by the Becker County 4-H Robotics team.

"We will also have a water bar," she said. "It's a group of people behind a bar, serving flights of water from different communities. It's a great way to get people thinking about where their drinking water comes from."

And that's not all; for those who want to get in a little exercise, there will be a fleet of bicycles available for use at the bowling alley, Voyageur Lanes, for people who want to take a short bike ride from there to the county park.

"It's about a mile," she added — and best of all, the bikes and participation at all of the chautauqua stations is free, though they are working on getting some concessions out there for people who want to enjoy supper at the park as well. For more information, please check out the Detroit Lakes Aqua Chautauqua Facebook page at

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

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