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Shoring up the shoreline

Conservation Corps worker Roxanne Gonzalez (left) helps home owner and volunteer Charlie Ford move a natural barrier called a core log into place this week during a shoreline restoration project on Upper Hay Lake. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

An initiative long supported by an area lake association is gaining ground after receiving financial support from a county grant.

The Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) awarded the Upper Hay Lake Association a grant for $14,500 in June to support its efforts to encourage residents to restore shorelines on their properties.

SWCD district technician Darren Mayers said that the use of biodegradable materials and native plants were requirements specified in the grant application. He said there has been a recent shift away from the use of riprap, or a rock barrier, because the grant's required methods have been shown to be more effective in reducing erosion and runoff.

"The lake shores that are doing the best are ones that have native vegetation," he said. "We're trying to convince landowners (to quit) mowing their lawns to the water's edge."

Native plants - meaning those that grow naturally in a given climate - typically have much deeper root systems than grasses used for lawns, which are 2-3 inches deep. Native plant roots can reach depths of several feet below the ground, helping to prevent erosion much more effectively, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"With native plants, the roots in the soil are kind of like rebar in cement," Mayers said.

The projects will also use core logs, which are man-made logs made of coconut fibers held together with netting. These logs are used to create a temporary barrier between the water and shore to help shoreline plants become established. The logs will eventually biodegrade.

Association President Claire Steen said they began thinking of applying for grant money to support shoreline restoration last fall.

"In a nutshell, what we were looking at was to protect the shoreline from wind erosion and ice damage," she said. "We also were concerned about preserving the integrity of the lake."

Nine residents on the lake received approval from the association to access the grant money, along with a contribution from the association itself, toward shoreline restoration. This past week, three of those property owners, next-door neighbors, worked together to protect around 400 feet of shoreline.

Charlie and Jean Ford own one of these properties. The Fords have been on the lake for 34 years. In that time, the couple has seen the shoreline slowly wash away. This year, however, things accelerated with high water levels and wave action.

"It just really played havoc on our shoreline," Charlie Ford said. "We have cement steps that go down to the lake. We've never had water lapping up to the steps until this year."

Ford said that working alongside members of the Conservation Corps and workers from SWCD, he and Jean helped to install nearly 600 plants, including more than a dozen varieties such as swamp milkweed, common ox-eye sunflower, wild bergamot and mountain mint.

"With the coordinated effort (of neighbors), you're going to have much more protection along the shoreline," Ford said. "We're anxious to see a lot of people joining and doing this."

Richard "Whitey" Larson, who lives next door to Ford, said he has tried using riprap in the past to protect his shoreline, but he was not having the results he would have liked.

"The way the ice works on this lake, it shoves the rocks back onto the property," he said. "Over the years, it just keeps pounding away on the shoreline."

Larson said that he and the eight other property owners who participated in the shoreline restoration are part of the largest group on one lake that's done such a project with the SWCD at one time. He said the association is hoping for another group just as large if not larger to work on restoration next year.

"It's not a one-year process," he said. "We want to protect the lake and hopefully make the properties on the lake more valuable."

Steen said that beyond the positive effects on erosion, the establishment of healthy shorelines will also reduce the amount of phosphorous that runs off into the lake. Phosphorous is an ingredient found in lawn fertilizers that can encourage algae growth. According to data from Crow Wing County, Upper Hay Lake has phosphorous levels slightly above the ideal.

"We are concerned about reducing the level of phosphorous in the lake," Steen said.

Larson noted that shoreline degradation is not exclusive to Upper Hay Lake, but is a region-wide problem that other lake associations should work to address as well. The Whitefish Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA) also received a grant from SWCD to help fund a shoreline restoration contest the organization holds each year.

The SWCD awarded grants to six other organizations this year for clean water projects, including the Discovery Woods Montessori School, Northland Arboretum, United Church of Christ, Central Lakes College and the Kenney Lake Neighborhood Watch Group.

In 2015, the agency will award a second round of grants totaling $40,500.

Steen said the lake association is planning to apply for more grant money next year.

"We've really appreciated all the help from Darren Mayers and the Conservation Corps," she said. "It was a tremendous help to us."

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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