Thursday, December 29, 2011


From WATERWORKS, an Outdoors Column by Gordon Prickett for 1/4/2012, Aitkin Independent Age

Who could have known that there would be five weeks of ice - so far - with hardly any snow covering our lakes? Or that the sub-zero temps would hold off so that the ice wouldn’t get thick? But this has given us a unique opportunity to watch ice ridges and cracks form, and to listen to the groaning and booming of the ice, circling the shore. In seventeen winters I’ve never heard such a percussion performance from our lake. But now let it snow! Let it snow!


One of the toughest of the aquatic invasive species (AIS) to detect or prevent in our lakes and rivers is Zebra Mussels. They look like small clams with a yellowish or brownish “D”-shaped shell, from 1/4 to 1 ½ inches long. They have dark- and light-colored stripes like a zebra. Zebra Mussels grow in clusters and firmly attach themselves to solid objects - docks, boat lifts, boat hulls, water intake pipes, and rocks. They grow in shallow algae-rich water, less than 30 feet in depth.

This is an excellent time to go down to the shoreline and crawl around and under your dock and boat lift, while they are pulled up on shore. Without having any snow to interfere with a careful examination, look over the surfaces that were underwater all summer. Young Zebra Mussels on a smooth surface feel like fine sandpaper. If you find something suspicious, call the DNR at 218-927-3751.


With new state regulations against transporting lake water in bait buckets and live wells, there will be stepped-up enforcement when the ice goes out. The service providers who handle docks, boat lifts, and who store watercraft will be trained and certified in the future, in order to identify and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. The Aitkin County Lakes and Rivers Association (ACLARA) has arranged training sessions by the DNR for AIS awareness in 2011, and will continue to do this in the new year.

It is not only the points of public access that need to be checked, however. At every dock, and with every lake visitor who tows his boat from another lake, there is a potential for harmful invasives to enter our county lakes.


One of the roles of ACLARA is to assist folks around a lake who have an interest in organizing a lake association where one does not exist. It is not too early to start planning for the 2012 season. You can call me at 218-927-2267, and we will be happy to get together with you.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


From my Outdoors Column WATERWORKS for December 7th, Aitkin Independent Age

All across the county we are watching and waiting. On Monday, November 21st, we looked out to see total lake coverage, as a thin sheet of ice had covered all 414 acres of Nord Lake. But for the next week and a half there was thawing, freezing, then blowing and drifting ice. Each day had a different view of a lake changing its mind.

No doubt about it, the cold is on its way. Snowmobiles are ready. Grooming machines have paraded downtown. Skates, skis, and augers are ready to go.

The DNR wants to tell us about “safe ice.” There isn’t any. But go out and chop a hole and measure it. If it’s more than four inches thick, you probably were safe getting out there. When there’s 15 inches or more, you probably can drive your pickup onto the lake without losing it. But be careful out there! Already little kids have made the Twin City news by running out on a shallow pond and falling in.


For the loons on many county lakes it was a pretty good summer. Our three nesting pairs on Nord Lake hatched at least three chicks that were observed. One of them survived early predation to become a juvenile. If the baby chicks can make it beyond two weeks, when they learn to dive, their chances of living greatly improve.

Lake representatives at the county lake association (ACLARA) have reported a good hatch of loon chicks on their lakes this summer. In 2010 there were 24 county lakes with loon watchers who counted 85 adults, 25 chicks, with 9 constructed nesting platforms in use. To learn about a particular loon count or how to become a loon watcher, ask the leaders of your lake association. Or you can find the information from me, in care of the water planning task force at 927-6565.

One of the measures of water quality in our lakes is the clarity or transparency. The readings this summer on Nord Lake were just a little below the long-term season average. With unusually heavy rainfall in the spring, lasting through July, there was extra shoreline runoff, and lake levels stayed up at snow-melt elevations. With the dry spell in August and September, the level receded to normal. At Nord Lake the Secchi Disk average reading is between eight and ten feet. The white disk disappears below that depth.


How we manage our shoreland plays a large part in keeping a lake healthy - for fish and wildlife, and for future generations. One of the simplest and easiest measures to clean the water from the watershed, before it flows into the lake, is to leave a natural area unmowed at the water’s edge. This buffer, 10 to 20 feet wide, filters out what we should not put into the lake.