NICOLLET - A roomful of outdoors enthusiasts energetically told of their past and present experiences on Swan Lake at the Nicollet Conservation Club on Tuesday.
Hosted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Nicollet County Historical Society (NHS), the event about one of the largest prairie pothole lakes in the lower 48 states included a wide array of information and story telling by DNR and NHS officials as well as area sports enthusiasts.
Once twice the size it is now, Swan Lake was Minnesota's largest marsh-wetland ecosystem before it was drained for more farmland decades ago.
Created by glaciers and the River Warren, the lake was originally five miles wide and up to 300 feet deep, NHS Director Ben Leonard said.
"Arrowheads up to 12,000 years old used by Paleo Indians to hunt large animals have been found near the lake," Leonard said. "Indian burial mounds up to 3,000 years old were removed 60 years ago. There are lots of things at Swan Lake that haven't been uncovered yet."
While some nearby lakes have dried up recently, many nearby lakes and marshes that were once part of the larger lake remain. They now comprise the Swan Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
Thanks to the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling against draining the lake in 1924, it was a "duck factory" with an estimated duck population of 18,000 in 1947. Ducks are not as prevalent now, but many types of birds can be found on or near the lake. It remains a "hunters paradise" according to DNR Minneopa Area Naturalist Scott Kudelka.
St. Peter author Pell Johnson, who specializes in writing about hunting, waxed historically about the lake.
"There has been a huge change in the lake. In 1854 it was 15 feet higher, an ecological wonder with fish, fur and birds," Johnson said. "We're stuck with what we've got but that isn't too bad, really."
Canoeing is the best way to navigate the lake, according to Bob the Birdman, a University of Minnesota graduate school student.
"A great diversity of avian species - particularly water birds - are attracted to the shallow wetlands of the Swan Lake complex spring through fall," Bob wrote. "Just about any of Minnesota's regular waterfowl species, except sea ducks, can be found in the area during migration. In summer, a plethora of ducks, grebes, herons and terns use the wetlands as nesting habitat. If visiting in the fall. be aware this WMA is a favorite of duck, deer and pheasant hunters."
Swan Lake's water level is more stable than many other area lakes and sloughs. It's well vegetated," said Stein Innvaer of the Nicollet DNR office. "Northern States Power (NSP) was going to build a coal-fired power plant on the lake once. The lake was recently infested with carp. We tried to kill the fish by drawing water down, but that didn't work. We had to get rid of them with poison.
Another man said parts of the lake and nearby ditches are black with small, fathead minnows at times. It was estimated that 50,000 muskrats, valued at up to $10.92 each, were taken off the lake in the past year.
New Ulm Area Sportfishermen's Club member Orv Rannow brought several Asian carp carcasses to the meeting, displaying them inside and outside the club building.
He asked people to sign a petition asking Congress and the Minnesota Legislature to prioritize a few urgent actions to stop the progressing threat of the fish by closing locks at two dams, Ford Dam and St. Anthony Falls. The coalition also supports placing electronic barriers at strategic river locations to keep the carp from moving into Minnesota.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).