Smith Lake, near Howard Lake, enhancement drawdown begins

December 27, 2010

by Chris Schultz

Press Release

Thanks to a new water control outlet structure on Smith Lake in Wright County, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources managers are currently drawing down lake levels as winter arrives.

The enhancement project is a partnership effort between Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota DNR to improve water level management capabilities and habitat conditions for waterfowl and other wildlife.

“Smith Lake is a wonderful natural resource, and now with our ability to manage water levels, the reality of improved water quality and wildlife habitat is taking shape,” said Fred Bengtson, DNR Sauk Rapids area wildlife manager. “This project would not have been possible without exceptional partners, lakeshore landowners and public support.”

Smith Lake, west of Howard Lake on Highway 12, is a 330-acre shallow lake managed by the DNR.

DU engineered the project for the DNR in 2008 and recently hired Landwehr Construction to construct the project.

Work began in mid-November to clear the outlet channel and install nearly 1,000 feet of 24-inch pipe before winter conditions arrived.

Due to snow and cold, the contractor temporarily suspended construction last week but will resume work sometime early next spring with completion anticipated during summer 2011.

Due to an abundance of invasive fish, Smith Lake has been in a very turbid, degraded state for years and no longer supports migrating and brood-rearing waterfowl.

To remedy the situation, Smith Lake was the 42nd of 44 shallow lakes legally designated for wildlife management purposes by the DNR in May 2009.

This status allows for the installation of a water control structure and management of water levels on the lake.

The Smith Lake project was made possible by a strong partnership between DU, the DNR, local stakeholders and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which recommended a state grant to DU from the Outdoor Heritage Fund in 2009 for this and seven other shallow lake enhancement projects around the state.

“The Council is glad to see progress to enhance shallow lake habitat for migratory birds, and is pleased to see that public money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund is being spent on the ground,” Council Executive Director Bill Becker said.

DU will allow water levels to recede up to four feet before construction resumes in the spring.

With a maximum depth of only six feet, Smith Lake has a good chance of experiencing a major fish winterkill this season to reduce numbers of invasive fish in the basin.

The fish barrier, located immediately downstream, should prevent any new fish from entering the lake again.

The temporary drawdown may last a maximum of two years to rejuvenate fully the aquatic health of the lake.

Temporarily lowering water levels in Smith Lake will not only help clear the wetland of invasive fish through natural winterkill, but it will also promote the germination and growth of the aquatic plants and invertebrates favored by ducks and other wildlife.

The removal of fish and return of aquatic plants and invertebrates to the basin will improve water quality as well, which will benefit downstream water resources.

The project is part of DU’s Living Lakes conservation initiative, Minnesota DNR’s Duck Recovery Plan, and advances the state’s newly implemented Shallow Lakes Plan.

These cooperative efforts call for the enhancement, restoration and protection of shallow lakes and large marshes for both waterfowl migration and brood-rearing habitat.

Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats.

Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres, thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent.

Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.

Prairie Archers steak/shrimp dinner

Prairie Archers will be hosting a steak/shrimp dinner at the Dodge House in Lester Prairie Friday, Dec. 31 from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

Options for the dinner include steak and shrimp combo ($12), steak ($10), butterfly pork chop ($8), six shrimp ($8), and ribeye ($14).

Each meal includes baked potato, tossed salad, bread, dessert, coffee or milk, and a complimentary drink.

Reservations need to be made by Thursday, Dec. 30 before 6 p.m., and be called in to the Dodge House at (320) 395-2877 or to Jim Richardson at (320) 395-2721.

Conservation officers reports from area
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers this past week.
CO Mies also worked on deer hunting complaints.
CO Mies checked in Wright and Stearns counties.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) patrolled the snowmobile trails in Wright County and found the trails to be in good condition.
Reller also gave a presentation to a youth snowmobile safety class at Hasty-Silver Creek Sportsman Club.
A student from Buffalo High School also did a “Job Shadow” with CO Reller.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) checked snowmobilers all week; trail conditions are very good.
A few anglers were out but ice conditions are poor with slush on every lake.
A few pheasant hunters were checked but spent very little time in the field due to deep snow, even the dogs were tired.

• CO Jackie Glaser(Mound) patrolled area trails and lakes for snowmobile and fishing activity.
Violations included failing to display snowmobile registration, operating against traffic at night, illegal equipment, no trail permit, and no safety certificate.
She also spoke to local media regarding snowmobile use in the west metro area.
Fishing violations included overlimit of sunfish, extra lines, and no shelter identification.

• CO Angela Graham (Hutchinson) checked numerous snowmobiles over the past week, who reported that most of the trails were in rough condition.
Officer Graham also checked anglers, spear houses, small game hunters, and a few archery hunters.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling, and spearing activity.
Additional time was spent checking archery deer, pheasant, and predator hunting activity.
Hatlestad also enforced snowmobile, ATV, and state forestry fire laws.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) continues focusing his efforts on snowmobile enforcement around the area.
Trails are once again groomed after the heavy snowfall and are in overall great condition.
Only a few trail sections across tilled fields remain in poor condition.
CO Oberg spent the majority of his time patrolling his station by snowmobile.

Best bets for skiing and snowmobiling
From the DNR

With a solid base of snow on the ground before winter has even officially started, many people may be wondering where they can find groomed trails this week.

Statewide trail condition reports are updated by noon every Thursday.

Based on the most recent reports, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers the following trip-planning tips:

Best snowmobiling: Luce Line and Minnesota River Valley state trails

Despite frigid temperatures throughout the state this past week, snowmobiling on ice is not yet safe in many areas, according to the DNR.

Substantial snowpack across much of the state has resulted in slushy conditions on many Minnesota lakes that are normally passable by mid-December.

For now, the DNR advises sticking to state trails, because they are either paved or packed beneath the snow and have bridges in place wherever water must be crossed.

In the metro area, groomed trails with the best snow conditions this weekend include the Luce Line State Trail (between Stubbs Bay Road near Orono and McLeod County Line, west of Hutchinson) and the Minnesota River Valley State Trail, from Jordan to Shakopee.

Frontenac State Park near Red Wing and Nerstrand Big Woods State Park near Northfield also report excellent snowmobile trail conditions.

Best skiing: Nerstrand Big Woods, Frontenac, and Sakatah Lake state parks

The best cross-country skiing within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities is to the south, at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park near Northfield, Frontenac State Park near Red Wing, and Sakatah Lake State Park near Faribault.

The following state parks, also within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities, have groomed cross-country ski trails in good condition: Afton State Park (Hastings), Lake Maria State Park (Monticello), Wild River State Park (Center City), and William O’Brien State Park (Marine on St. Croix).

Before skiers age 16 and older hit the trails, they will also need a Minnesota Ski Pass.

Daily ski passes ($6) can be purchased at park offices or from any of Minnesota’s nearly 1,500 electronic license system vendors.

A vehicle permit ($5 for a one-day permit or $25 for a year-round permit) is required to enter all Minnesota state parks.

Vehicle permits can be purchased from the parks or at Twin Cities REI stores.

For more information, call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 (Twin Cities) or toll- free at 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Ski, snowshoe, and socialize at candlelight events this winter
From the DNR

With so much snow on the ground already, this promises to be an exceptionally good winter for outdoor recreation. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is offering many family-friendly programs and special events – including 25 candlelight events at Minnesota state parks and trails – throughout the season to help make it fun and memorable.

Candlelight events provide an opportunity to walk, hike, ski, or snowshoe on trails illuminated by the warm glow of candles.

Park and trail visitors can then warm up around a cozy fire and roast marshmallows or enjoy a hot drink.

Most candle-lit trails are relatively flat and easy, so that kids and beginners can feel comfortable participating. Some parks offer rental equipment, but calling ahead to check availability and reserve it, if possible, is advisable.

Five of this year’s candlelight events are within 100 miles of the Twin Cities:

• New Year’s Eve: Walk or ice skate at Fort Snelling State Park (St. Paul), 3-9 p.m.

• Saturday, Jan. 15: Ski at Wild River State Park (Center City), 6-9 p.m.

• Saturday, Feb. 5: Hike or snowshoe at Afton State Park (Hastings), 6-9 p.m.

• Saturday, Feb. 12: Snowshoe at Lake Maria State Park (Monticello), 6-9 p.m.

• Saturday, Feb. 12: Ski at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park (Onamia), 6-9:30 p.m.

A complete list of candlelight events taking place this winter is attached.

The candlelight events at Minnesota state parks and trails are free, but a vehicle permit is required to enter Minnesota state parks.

Vehicle permits ($5 for a one-day permit or $25 for a year-round permit) can be purchased from the parks or at Twin Cities REI stores.

Before skiers age 16 and older hit the trails, they will also need a Minnesota Ski Pass. Daily ski passes ($6) can be purchased at park offices on the night of the event, online at mndnr.gov, or from any of Minnesota’s more than 1,500 electronic license system vendors.

In case of bad weather, events may be changed or canceled.

For weather updates, directions to parks, and where to get a ski pass, call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 (Twin Cities) or toll-free at 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Information can also be found online at mndnr.gov.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: What are the educational requirements for the legal operation of a snowmobile in Minnesota?

A: Current statute requires anyone born after Dec. 31, 1976 to take a safety-training course before operating a snowmobile on public lands or waters.

Youth ages 11 – 15 now have two options to choose from for snowmobile certification: an eight-hour introductory course designed for youth or the rider with little or no experience, which includes hands-on training; or an independent study CD-based course where students learn at home.

Adult (ages 16 and up) snowmobile certification may be obtained by completing the DNR adult independent study CD, or by attending a traditional snowmobile certification class.

Once they have successfully completed their courses, students print and mail a certificate of completion to the DNR.

Both these courses show students the most common causes of snowmobile accidents in Minnesota, and how to avoid them.

Volunteers teach classes across the state.

Information regarding snowmobile certification classes can be found on the DNR’s website at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/vehicle/snowmobile/index.html