If you Appreciate Your Lake, you should Love Your Soil

Summer is in full swing and our lakes are busy.  What is more paramount to Minnesota than summer time at the lake; swimming, fishing, boating, water skiing, paddle boarding, the list of fun goes on and on.

But many of our lakes are hurting.

Decades of use, and sometimes abuse, have led to water quality declines for many of these precious resources. Just last summer, one of the most popular and enjoyed lakes in our region, Upper Whitefish, had a major weed and algae bloom.  For much of the summer, vast areas of the lake were unusable for recreation. In agricultural regions of our state we’ve unofficially given up on our lakes and rivers, with as much as 98% of the waterbodies in some watersheds failing to meet minimum water quality standards.

What is it that we appreciate about our lakes and how do we protect these values?

 

Upper Whitefish early August 2018 photo Credit: WAPOA, Kent Brun

Over my years as a resource professional I’ve seen results from several surveys on what people value in the Lakes Region. Without exception, ninety percent or more of the people who respond to these surveys say they put a high value clean water.  And that’s where I see the breakdown – the connection between clean water and the health of our soils.

Clean water starts with healthy soil.

Soil health is defined by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem”.  Soil function is the ability of soil to cycle nutrients and water. Eighty five to ninety percent of nutrient cycling is through biology, so without living soil comes the inability of soil to function and to clean water. Impaired water has excess nutrients or temperature, a sign the soil within the watershed is not properly functioning.

To value soil is to value water.

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Assessing Water Health by Looking at… Bugs?!

This month we’re celebrating one of Minnesota’s most prominent natural resources – our lakes! We love them for swimming, boating, fishing, sunset gazing, and so much more. In order to keep enjoying these things, we need to be ensuring that our lakes are clean and healthy. But how can we tell? One way to tell is to look at the bugs in the water! One of my favorite classes to teach with Happy Dancing Turtle is our Wacky Water Bugs class – here’s a short summary of what we learn. Continue reading

Landscaping for Wildlife – A Closer Look at the Upgaard Reserve

This month is Lakes Appreciation Month and (besides delving into how awesome our area’s beaches are) we wanted to showcase some methods that may help you keep your lakes the best they can be.

So, first things first: It’s important to understand that healthy lakes will be able to support all kinds of wildlife, including fish, waterfowl, insects, amphibians, and even larger creatures such as deer and other large mammals.

According to the US Forest Service, wildlife have four thing necessary to thrive:

  • Food – Flowers, nectar, nuts, acorns, berries, grains, or any sort of food you think a critter would like. Animals got to eat, right?
  • Water – This doesn’t have to be a huge pond or stream added to your land. You can easily add something as simple as a bird bath. Animals got to drink, right?
  • Cover – This is basically protection from the elements, such as shrubs, bushes, trees, tall grass, or anything else that provide safety from predators and a place to nest.
  • Space – Animals can be territorial. If you don’t have the space for larger critters, focus on what you can do for the smaller ones. Bluebirds need only 300 feet before they start fighting for area.

If you can provide these four elements on your land, you’ll have a thriving environment for critters in no time, PLUS you’ll have a healthier environment for yourself to boot!

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It’s Clean Beaches Week! BLA’s Best Beaches

July 1-7 is Clean Beach Week, and boy does the Brainerd Lakes Area have some doozys! Let’s be frank: They don’t call it the Brainerd Lakes Area for nothing. As we get into the dog days of summer, there’s no better time to make use of the area’s namesake. But before you double-check your packing list and apply your sunscreen, take a moment to see which beach might fit your needs. I grabbed my kids and we spent a hot afternoon doing a little research of the area’s best beaches.

Gull Lake Recreation Area

 

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Clean sand welcomes all sand castle builders.

The first thing you’ll notice is the amount of green shaded area surrounding the beach. You’ll notice it even more when offset by the narrow beach area. This is, as they say, a feature of the beach. You’ll be shaded while staying out of the water, enjoying your picnic, or playing a game of volleyball. 

If you have only time to go to one beach in the area, this is the beach I would recommend for most. It’s got almost everything you’d like. The positives (shady area, tons of picnic tables, care of shoreline, and access to lots of recreational facilities) easily outweigh the negatives (which are the ridiculously small beach and a large horsefly presence).

Whipple Beach Recreation Area

 

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You’ll love the wide open space for sunning and sandplay, just watch out for burning feet.

Whipple Beach is snuggled just west of Hwy 371 behind Best Buy, about a mile. So, if you’re looking for a beach that is close to the cosmopolitan confines of Brainerd, look no further than the surprisingly sandy shores of Whipple.

The new playground There are many things that will draw you to this location and simply because it’s right in our backyard, it will be visited many times, eagerly. There are so many reasons to enjoy this beach. Bike trails run alongside the sand, playground equipment beckons the kids, a picnic pavilion can generously host groups of all sizes, and changing rooms are available. The only downside I can see to Whipple would be due to its location, it’s always going to be busy on hot days. Moreover, if it’s busy, you’ll be forced onto the Sahara Desert, away from the shady area. But, with clear fresh water only feet away, it shouldn’t be too bad.

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