Those Who Appreciate Outdoors In West Central Minnesota Rise To The Challenges Of 2017

Tom Cherveny | Tribune Tom Cherveny | Tribune Patrick Selter (left) and Patrick DeMars of PLM Lakes and Land apply algaecide targeting starry stonewort on Lake Koronis last summer. A three year campaign is underway to control the aquatic invasive species in the lake.

Sub-zero temperatures have gripped the area, and ice anglers couldn’t be happier. There’s good ice and good fishing to be had.

Outdoor people have a knack for rising to the occasion, and that seems to be the theme when looking back at the outdoor news stories of 2017. There were plenty of challenges, from the spread of invasive species to concerns about water quality, yet the pages of the West Central Tribune were filled with stories about the people taking them on.

Aquatic Invasive Species continued to reach new waters. Lake Calhoun and George Lake in Kandiyohi County and the Minnesota River were added to the list of waters infested by zebra mussels. A bowfisher arrowed a 61.7-pound bighead carp in a quarry near the Minnesota River in Redwood County, and the Minnesota River from Granite Falls to the Mississippi River is now listed for the possible presence of Asian carp. Eurasian watermilfoil showed up in Elkhorn Lake. Starry Stonewort was found in Lake Minnewaska.

Not necessarily good news, but there’s no question that increased diligence by people is helping slow the spread of invasives. Kandiyohi County bolstered its efforts with increased inspections at lake accesses.  The county even introduced a new phone app to make it easier for people to identify unwanted species.

The Koronis Lake Association launched an aggressive, three-year, $800,000 campaign to control starry stonewort. The Minnewaska Lake Association is aiming to knock down the invasive species before it spreads throughout the lake with a campaign of its own.

Margaret Johnson of the Middle Fork of the Crow River Watershed District described the project to improve water quality in Diamond Lake.

The Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center put out the word about an opportunity to purchase a five-acre parcel known as Geer Island. Donors at the annual Prairie Stars fundraiser pledged the funds needed in all of 15 minutes with the help of auctioneer Kristine Fladeboe Duininck. It’s par for the course at Prairie Woods. It served over 30,000 people last year, as compared to 800 when it started out in 1995.

There’s similar passion and support when it comes to the mission of Let’s Go Fishing, which makes possible boating and fishing excursions for senior citizens, adults with disabilities, veterans and youth across the state. The Willmar chapter’s volunteers hosted more than 2,000 people in the past season, continuing its steady growth since its start in 2002.

There are challenges waiting. Conservationists in the region sounded the alarm this summer: The popular, recreational lakes of Games, Florida, West Norway, and Norway in the Upper Shakopee Creek basin in the northwest corner of Kandiyohi County have reached a “tipping point’’ in terms of water quality. We can reverse the trend, but we need to act now, they warned.

A long-term project to improve water quality in Diamond Lake reached a milestone this past year with the turning of a valve to begin drawing down the waters of Schultz Lake. Control structures are being installed to make it possible to draw down the connected waters of Schultz, Wheeler and Hubbard Lakes.  The goal is to use winter kill to reduce the carp population and allow submergent vegetation to re-establish itself in the shallow lakes. The project will improve water quality in Diamond and the three, small lakes.

Gracie (left) and her mother, Christine Kleven helped tag monarchs to monitor their migration.

Deer hunters responded in a big way in the Willmar area when they were required to have the deer they took during the opening weekend of the firearm season tested for chronic wasting disease. Those who handled the testing reported that hunters were very cooperative and helpful, and the testing led to good news. There were no infected deer found in this area.

And last year, the pages of the West Central Tribune told the stories of many individuals who acted on their own to help the outdoors. Volunteers in the area spent time on the lakes of Kandiyohi County — even hiking through mosquito-filled woods to reach some of the smaller, remote water bodies — to monitor the population of loons in Kandiyohi County as part of a national effort to maintain the loon population in its native range. Others joined at the Lac qui Parle State Park to tag monarch butterflies to help scientists monitor their migration. And, as always, winter winds and cold did not stop the citizen scientists who head afield at year’s end to identify and count birds for the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count.

Our pages also told of individual efforts to help disabled veterans enjoy the outdoors, paddlers who picked up garbage along the Minnesota River, and of the quest by Jay Gustafson to call attention to the beauty of the state’s waterway trails by paddling all 4,500 miles of them.

Jay Gustafson launched a two-year quest to paddle all 4,500 miles of the state’s waterway trails to document their condition and call attention to the beauty of the state’s rivers and need to improve water quality.