Thursday, December 27, 2012


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett - a column for January 2, 2013 Aitkin Independent Age APPLICABLE REGULATIONS I’ve noticed a tendency on the part of a few recreational visitors as they approach vacant county land to conclude that “Nobody lives up here, so....” Sometimes seasonal residents who pay taxes, but have no say as to how these tax levies are set, complain in Early American fashion about “Taxation without representation!” When there are important environmental rules governing the use of the land and waters up here, it’s not easy or simple to make sure that knowledge of the law is well understood. So it was in the torrential rains of June 2012, when the County enacted temporary boating restrictions requiring “slow-no wake speeds” on all county lakes. Through the efforts of the news media, lake associations, and lake neighbors, the news of these emergency measures was communicated, and the word eventually got out pretty well. One of the purposes of ACLARA, the Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association, is to “support compliance with all applicable rules and regulations” on county waters. We are continuing to review the experience of last summer, and will report results of a survey of our membership to the County Board this winter. WHAT ABOUT SOLID WASTE DISPOSAL? At the present time there is an “open case” from Aitkin County, pending before the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where industrial waste from outside Aitkin County was hauled onto a field within the shoreland zone of one of our Recreational Development (RD) lakes. The zoning office was notified, and the site was inspected. The MPCA personnel involved have promised that just as soon as the case is closed, the details of the case will be shared. You should be able to read a summary of this story in my column in the Age on February 6th. Meanwhile, it’s important to stress that, without enforcement, rules and regulations concerning the environment mean very little.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


from WATERWORKS, a outdoor column by Gordon Prickett for the 12/5/2012 Aitkin Independent Age TIS THE SEASON It’s the season to be “careful.” We are currently “making ice” on our lakes, ponds, and rivers. The lake we live on had a thin layer of ice weeks ago, only to break up with wind and warming temperatures. At this writing ice is on the lake again since five days ago. Another warmup is on the way. On a shallow bay the first ice fisherman has ventured out with his auger and bucket to catch the early crappies. The main lake has a couple of cracks reaching all across the surface and looks fragile. The only way I can measure the ice thickness is to walk out on it with a chisel and make a hole. At this time of year we read the news accounts of the first trucks sinking through thin ice. I have memories as a young camper walking across the St. Croix River on ice floes. Now I’m trying to convince people that despite the information about safety on ice - so many inches to walk on it, to drive an ATV or a pickup - there is no such thing as “absolutely safe ice.” A FIELD GUIDE FOR FISH On an early shopping trip for the holidays I came across a great gift idea for family members who come from afar in the summertime, and who love to fish. But first I had to dip into this handy little guide - for the tackle box and for the cabin - recently written by a staff biologist from the University of Minnesota. It has waterproof pages, and the author is Dave Bosanko. I discovered that I had a lot to learn about the 75 species of fish in this field guide, “Fish of Minnesota.” The photographs and descriptions help to clearly identify each species, and the state record fish are listed. The largest Walleye at 17 lbs., 8 oz., was caught in 1979 in the Seagull River. The largest Smallmouth Bass, 8 lbs., was caught in West Battle Lake in 1948. Our family vacationed on West Battle in the 1940s, but our best bass were just a fraction of that size. From minnows to muskies, this is a good read.

Friday, November 2, 2012


WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for the 11/7/2012 Aitkin Independent Age CLEAN WATER AGAIN It was late in the season when the water on our lake began to clear up. A final transparency reading with a white Secchi Disk at the center of the lake was just about back to normal for October. What a change from a few months ago when sediment and algae from flooding and runoff in June had colored the water brown and green. TAKING IN THE DOCK Snow birds have flown or are now planning their departures. I am one of the last hold outs on the lake to haul in his fishing boat and canoe. But finally it is time. The hose connected to the lake pump freezes up. Cold winds discourage leisurely paddling. And most of the hardwoods have dropped their leaves to end the panorama of color everywhere. So we unhook the ramp and roll in the dock to its winter resting place on the lake bank. It is an in-between time. Birdbaths and small ponds are skinned over with ice, but lake ice for skating and fishing is weeks away. A “regular” winter with plenty of snow and thick ice will be welcomed by the year-round people and by merchants who look forward to serving snowmobilers and ATV trail riders. PLANNING FOR 2013 Lake Associations have compared programs, speakers, and ideas for activating their residents at recent ACLARA (coalition) meetings, with an eye to preparing for their activities in the new year. A “Paddle Around the Lake” with kayaks and canoes has followed the Fourth of July Boat Parade a few days later on Nord Lake. An updated report from DNR Fisheries for each lake has been a favorite program with fishermen at several lake associations. Master Gardeners have given several excellent presentations for shoreland vegetation management. With twenty members of the Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association, we can provide a source of ideas for what may appeal to cabin people from a lake association.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for the 10/3/2012 Aitkin Independent Age WHOSE LAKE? When we talk about lakes and lakeshore it’s normal to refer to “my lake,” if we happen to own or use a cabin close by. And if we work for a governmental agency that provides a service in lake country I guess it’s normal to have a proprietary feeling about the water, the fish, the vegetation, the data, and the shoreline of these water bodies. Now I am talking about the “public waters” in our county. They are a local, state, and national asset that we all can share. Our merchants hope that many visitors will come in summer and share the joys of boating and swimming. A normal winter brings snowmobilers, skiers, and ice fishermen. Those of us with a conservation ethic hope that these folks can enjoy the waters and help us take care of them for the future. HOW HIGH IS THE WATER? The information about a lake is also public information, and can be accessed, to the extent that it is gathered, by an Internet-savvy keyboard artist. This summer when storms raged across our county we had an urgent need to learn how high lake levels were climbing. Dock sections were drifting away. Lake level gauges were underwater. Wellheads were underwater and propane tanks were afloat. Boat lifts, canopies, and pontoons were adrift on Big Sandy Lake. Emergency meetings of the County Board in June established Slow-No-wake boating restrictions for all lakes in the county. At the hundreds of lakes in the county the rapid rise in surface levels varied greatly. But the effects of torrential rains were everywhere, with storm water washouts and erosion of roads and shores. Elevations have been established at about 60 lakes in the county, by setting benchmarks and examining the vegetation to determine Ordinary High Water. At 28 of these lakes there are DNR level gauges where regular readings are taken, starting when the ice goes out. By working with the DNR, the Soil and Water Office, and Land Department surveyors, the Sheriff and the County Board adjusted their boating restrictions over several weeks, for particular lakes where levels were extremely high and shoreline damage could occur. The coalition of 20 lake associations, known as ACLARA, is surveying our membership to evaluate how the lakes were affected by these emergency boating restrictions. We will deliver a summary report to the County Board early next year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


From the WATERWORKS Outdoors Column 9/5/2012 in The Aitkin Independent Age by Gordon Prickett In the recent excitement about boating on our flooded lakes I learned something new about fast boats. They can take on gallons of ballast water in order to make the largest possible waves for the wake boarder being towed behind. Many decades ago I learned to ride surf boards and water skis. Being pulled with two other friends, on water skis and a flying disc, we thought we were pretty hot stuff. The boat towing us was skimming across the water at top speed without much of a wake. Next for us came the slalom ski, a wide ski with tandem foot positions. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when my water ski days had ended, wake boarding began on some of the local lakes. I noticed that beginners took a lot of spills, as they learned to jump wakes and practice flips. A few neighbors became expert in this new sport. As wake boarding has mostly replaced water skis, the boats have gotten bigger and more powerful. These days I happen to paddle a canoe much of the time or slowly troll in a fishing boat. I can handle the rough water from strong steady winds, and I head for shore in a storm. But the intermittent tall waves from a wake boarding crew are another matter. Especially when that wake builds up near shore. Jetskis are required to proceed out 150 feet at no-wake speed before they are allowed to open up. During the recent flood emergency in Aitkin County, there was a 300-foot distance from shore on certain critical lakes where no-wake speeds were mandated. There might be an acreage size of a lake (small and narrow lakes) at which wake boarding and other surface use are just not compatible. MAKING YOUR VOICE HEARD One of the purposes of the Aitkin County Rivers And Lakes Association (ACLARA), a coalition of twenty individual lake associations, is “To serve as a voice of the membership to governmental bodies and agencies.” In June we were asked by the Sheriff and the County Administrator for contact names at each of the lakes, as the County was assessing the risks of high water and was holding emergency board meetings to consider regulating boat traffic. At the ACLARA meeting August 11th both Scott Turner and Patrick Wussow reported on their efforts in the past three months, as the County was faced with unprecedented flood waters and runoff. In a discussion of the reaction by lakeshore property owners to the changing “Slow-no wake” speed restrictions, the speakers asked lake associations for their suggestions about future policy for the flood next time. If readers from lakes without lake associations are interested, another one of ACLARA’s purposes is “To help form new lake associations in the County.” It is a good way to make your voices heard.

Friday, July 27, 2012


From WATERWORKS An Outdoor Column by Gordon Prickett for the 8/1/2012 Aitkin Independent Age BROWN WATER Since the storm of June 18th and the extreme flood events that have followed in Aitkin County, many of our lakes have changed from their normal clear transparency in the Spring to waters with a brown-colored stain and a substantial reduction in measured clarity of the lake water. Most lakes have risen more than a foot above the Ordinary High Water Level, where the vegetation changes from aquatic to terrestrial. In some cases the lake levels by June 26th were two feet over normal high water. Due to torrential rains falling on saturated ground, extreme runoff has flushed soils and lawn chemicals into the lake. Wave action and boat wake action have eroded the soils on the shoreline, and trees rooted on the water’s edge have toppled. It will be some time, probably not until next Spring, before our lake water quality will return to normal. In the meantime there are a few lessons to be gained from the difficult weeks that we have just come through. LEARNING FROM HIGH WATER Anything that can absorb the energy of rushing water, slow the flow, will prevent or at least limit damaging erosion of the lakeshore. Rain gardens that collect and absorb rainwater, as well as rain barrels to store and use the rain for watering, are helpful measures in dealing with storm water. A zone on the edge of the lake that is not mowed and left to natural vegetation will act to buffer the downhill force of rain runoff. Last week I was asked to examine a lake property where unlicensed vehicles had been stored outside for years. Junked cars and trucks in the Shore Impact Zone are more than unsightly to neighbors. They contain hydraulic fluid, grease, gasoline, and oil that eventually can contaminate the area and pose a risk to lake water quality. Yes, this is a violation of Aitkin County’s recently revised Shoreland Management Ordinance. But until the Zoning Office hears about it, the vehicles remain. Then there are the 57 DNR public access docks on the best fishing lakes in the county. The road we use to back in our boat trailers where I live has been badly eroded. Looking at several other DNR boat landings in the county I have seen that these sites are seriously eroded, with much washed-in sediment. Repair is needed. I have also learned that only 28 lakes in Aitkin County are gaged, so that in an emergency it is a task for a surveyor to find out how high the lake level is on Gun Lake, Big Pine Lake, Long Lake, Nord Lake, or Hammal Lake. We have much work to be ready for the flood next time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


from WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett, an Outdoors Column for the 7/4/2012 Aitkin Independent Age. Everybody’s talking about it. Sandbagging in downtown Aitkin. The Mississippi took four or five days to crest at a level near 1950 records. While a tornado strikes and leaves, flooding continues on for weeks, sometimes months. Emergency service from Aitkin Area road crews and law enforcement has been exceptional during the storms and in the aftermath, and the difficult recovery work will continue for a long time. The dry fall and dry early spring here meant that docks on county lakes were installed at lower elevations than normal. However, heavy rains in May, and a torrential downpour on June 18 and 19 put many docks underwater and many lakes and rivers have reached high water marks not seen in decades. Sections of docks and debris floating in lakes, and even loose watercraft, have brought danger on the water. SLOW THE BOAT DOWN! In this emergency the Aitkin County Board has enacted boating speed limits at the urging of Sheriff Scott Turner. At this writing, all county lakes, North of State Highway 18 and County Road 2, are under a SLOW-NO-WAKE restriction. Boat wakes can cause tremendous shoreland erosion. By observing slow-no-wake speeds, meaning 5 mph or less, the boat’s wave action is reduced and shore damage is prevented. EROSION PREVENTION Driving across the county and cruising the lakes today you see the amazing power that stormwater can deliver. Cutting away banks, gouging out new paths downslope, the water rushes ahead carrying sediment into pools and flushing watersheds into lakes. For years Best Shoreland Practices have taught us to use “Buffer Strips” at the water’s edge. Leaving a 10 to 20 foot “No-Mow Zone” of natural vegetation beside the river and lake, makes a Buffer Strip. The deep plant roots prevent erosion, and the vegetation filters out sediment and contaminants. The result is cleaner water. A much cleaner lake results than if everyone tries to have clipped bluegrass all the way to water. A walking path through the Buffer Strip can provide adequate access to boat and swimming docks. For the rest of the summer, here’s wishing you “Clean Water and Safe Boating.”

Friday, June 1, 2012


This WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett is written for the Outdoors Section of the June 6th 2012 Aitkin Independent Age. Around the lake where we live there has been trouble with what DNR-Wildlife refers to as “Nuisance Species.” Whole patches of rushes have been chewed off and then pulled up by the roots and consumed. Muskrats. Recently a neighbor’s pontoon had it’s fuel line chewed on just before they tried to motor it over to the public access for winter storage. Stories are told of wiring on pontoons being gnawed by critters at the waters edge. Again the destruction was caused by muskrats. Several years ago we had a population explosion of beavers. New beaver families built lodges and began felling trees on the loon nesting island. Shoreline maples and oaks were girdled as these skilled loggers and builders expanded their colony. Thanks to an experienced trapper, who took twenty beaver in one open trapping season between late October and mid-May, we were able to restore balance in our habitat. The mature hardwoods along the shore are no longer threatened. We are studying how to deal with the growing number of muskrats all around the lake. Information from the DNR tells us that an adult female may have two or three litters in a summer, with as many as ten young per litter. In marshes they build domed houses with mud and vegetation, but in our lake they have tunneled into dens on banks. Predators of muskrats may include mink, otters, eagles, foxes, and racoons. Fairly soon I expect you can add our skilled trapper to this list. WHEN BOATS NEED LIGHTING Most of our boating is during daylight hours, but as we launch our boats after a winter of storage, it’s important to get ready for early and late outings. Be sure to test the navigation lights; the sockets and wiring may have corroded, like mine! A stern (rear) white light must be visible from all directions (360 degree circle). Red and green bow (front) lights shine red to port (left side) and green to starboard (right side). The combination of red and green covers an arc of 225 degrees ahead of the boat. Each light is seen from directly ahead to a point 22.5 degrees to the rear of the beam (midpoint of the boat) on each side. Boats must be lighted from sunset to sunrise, so today, June 6th, navigational lights must be on before sunrise at 5:27 am, and shining again after sunset at 8:57 pm. These times may be found at the back of the current Minnesota Boating Guide published by the DNR.

Friday, April 27, 2012


from WATERWORKS, an Outdoors Column by Gordon Prickett for 5/2/2012 Aitkin Independent Age A new aquatic invasive species (AIS) rules decal should be attached to all types of watercraft operating on any waters in Minnesota. These decals have become available from the DNR starting in January 2012. After August 1, 2014 if your boat doesn’t have one displayed, you can be ticketed for a petty misdemeanor and required to pay a penalty. This peel-off decal has two parts. The top portion explains what you must do and what you may not do, according to the AIS laws. This upper part is attached on the boat. The second portion of the decal is at the bottom. and it is to be placed on the winch post of watercraft trailers. It simply alerts you to CHECK THE DRAIN PLUG! and asks “Please wear your life jacket.” State law now requires boaters to remove the drain plug before leaving the water access area. Of course, this sticker also reminds you to put the plug back in before launching. At our April ACLARA meeting, nearly everyone there admitted having launched a boat at least once without the drain plug in. These new decals are free, and can be picked up at DNR offices and Deputy Registrar offices, from DNR Conservation Officers, and at most bait shops. A SUMMARY OF AIS LAWS What follows is written on the decal you must stick on your boat: “These laws are intended to protect your lakes and water recreation from harmful effects of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Under state law your compliance with AIS inspection requirements is an express condition and legal requirement of operating or transporting water related equipment.” “You must... CLEAN visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and other prohibited species off of watercraft, trailers, and equipment before transporting from any water access. DRAIN water from the boat’s bilge, livewell, motor, ballast tanks, and portable bait containers before transport from water access site or shoreline property. KEEP drain plug out and water draining devices open while transporting watercraft.” “You may not... TRANSPORT aquatic plants, water, or prohibited invasive species (e.g., zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil). DUMP live bait into state waters, on the shore, or on the ground. LAUNCH or attempt to place watercraft or trailers with aquatic plants, zebra mussels or prohibited invasive species into any waters of the state.”

Friday, March 30, 2012


from WATERWORKS, an Outdoors Column by Gordon Prickett, for the April 4th Aitkin Independent Age


Every lake around Aitkin County has experienced its earliest Ice-Out in decades. Minnesota’s many lakes were slow to freeze over last fall. Skaters loved the open ice when snow came even later than usual this winter. The season for ice fishing and snowmobiling was awfully short. The same can be said for snow plowing, usually an added source of winter income up here.

When the ice cover on our lake disappeared on the second day of spring it became hard to imagine that this wasn’t something more than "unusual weather." Watchers of Nord Lake have kept score for 36 years, and this is a record!


At the Annual Commerce Show in Aitkin last month, Conservation Officer Bob Mlynar handed me a document from the DNR that tells what happens to the hunting and fishing license fees collected each year - how the DNR puts the money to work.

The dollars are deposited in the state’s Game and Fish Fund, which can only be used for fish and wildlife-related work. License revenue pays for fish stocking, population surveys, and habitat projects, as well as a network of conservation officers who protect wild species, snare poachers, and oversee firearms safety training.

This Game and Fish Fund currently receives $90 million annually, and 55% ($49.5 million) is license fees. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service returns proceeds of the excise tax collected on firearms, hunting and fishing equipment to the state under the Federal Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Programs. This puts $22.5 million into the fund (25%). The State Lottery Sales Tax accounts for another 14% ($12.6 million).

The document has a message from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, and he thanks us for buying our licenses. He also makes the case for a fee increase that is currently being requested. The last increase was in 2001, and the balance of the Game and Fish Fund has declined to a critical level. Besides tightening belts and increasing efficiencies, game and fish field effort has been reduced. Landwehr says that an adjustment now can assure the quality of modern fish and wildlife management.

You’re welcome, Tom! Thanks for the information.

To get a copy of this document with examples of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Enforcement activities putting these dollars to work, you can stop in at the Aitkin DNR Office in "Southgate," 1200 Minnesota Avenue South, phone 927-3751.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


from Outdoors column WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett, for
the 3/7/2012 Aitkin Independent Age

Cabin owners and guests last summer on both sides of our lake home enjoyed late night bonfires. They collect dead wood on their property in woodpiles and burn it in large bonfires over the weekend. In between gatherings their fire-ring ashes are smoldering until the next load of wood is piled on and ignited. At the end of the weekend the embers sometimes are still glowing. No one is around. They could be out on the lake for one last boat ride or headed back to the Cities.

In late July 2011 national news broadcasts carried a story from the Southern California hills above Los Angeles. High desert wildfires were raging out of control. When fire fighters would encircle an area to limit the spreading fires, they didn’t declare it was secure until they had collected the embers. Strong winds in the area have been known to fan embers into flames that reignited the countryside.

As I pictured the embers being collected above L A, I recalled the recent strong southerly winds in our township that gusted to velocities over 40 miles per hour.

Fire prevention is not very complex, but one does have to be conscious of danger when playing with fire. A watering can full of lake water next to the fire ring is the first step.

Water the ashes. Douse the glowing embers when the party is over. This is the last step. So simple and inexpensive to do. This practice provides the "Fire Insurance" that every lakeshore resident and every responsible visitor needs - to prevent catastrophic losses.


From drought to violent snowstorms in just a few days, the headline writers keep us posted on the changing weather. Some of the heaviest wet snow I can remember has just closed our local schools and finally brought out happy snowmobilers. Snow plows, snow blowers, shovels, and roof rakes are out in force, just a few weeks before the vernal equinox. A meltdown will come soon enough, and early lake levels are expected to be near normal in these parts. I’m ready for ice-out about a month from now.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Peace Garden Writer: Writer Spotlight: Author Candace Simar

Peace Garden Writer: Writer Spotlight: Author Candace Simar MUST READ for Minnesotans to learn of the Dakota Uprising - what drove the Dakota to violent acts, and how settlers were driven back east. -Gord, a fellow Heartland Poet


From WATERWORKS, an outdoors column by Gordon Prickett for the February 1st Aitkin Independent Age

News from the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund, also referred to as "Lessard-Sams," has included a project for the protection of more than a hundred shallow wild rice lakes across eight north-central Minnesota counties, including Aitkin. We know that there is a lot of pretty good wild rice in the county, and that quite a few folks harvest and process it locally. But until this project got developed and approved in St. Paul, I wasn’t aware of which lakes were important to our rice gatherers.

Shoreline protection will be acquired by means of voluntary land preservation agreements. Ownership will be retained by private land owners, but the development rights will be restricted, in exchange for payments of 60 percent of the estimated market value of each parcel around the wild rice lakes.

We have 17 lakes eligible for this project, according to DNR-Wildlife. The list includes these lakes:

Flowage, Mallard, Moose, Moose River Pool, Mud (01-0194), Newstrom,

Rat House, Rice (01-0005), Rock, Sandy River, Section Ten, Shovel, Sjodin,

Spruce (01-0151), Twenty, Waukenabo, and White Elk.

Watch for a news release about how to participate in this 2012 conservation project.


If you traveled the lake country in Minnesota last year you were sure to see billboards and public messages about "Stopping Aquatic Hitchhikers!" with red octagons. A new law was passed and went into effect July 1st (just as the government was shutting down for three weeks). A vigorous lobbying campaign had helped to write the law, intended to prevent the transport of aquatic invasive species - by trailered boats, bait buckets, moving boat lifts and docks.

Now in 2012, all "lake service providers" who repair boats, install and move docks and boat lifts commercially, will need certification and training in identifying aquatic invasive species and in all the required actions for their prevention.

Plan now to attend the Aitkin Area Rivers and Lakes Fair at Rippleside School in Aitkin, on Saturday, June 16th, for an up-to-date briefing on the threats and new rules concerning Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in all forms.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


For weeks there have been warnings and news accounts of lake accidents. ATVs and snowmobiles, fish houses and fishermen falling into freezing water through the ice. No doubt the gene pool will continue to be improved.

I will say no more in my Waterworks column on this subject. Just a final verse:


thin ice on the lakes
but fishermen still go out
and make polar plunge

Gord January 2012