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Lake-Friendly Development Awards recognize five projects

On Oct. 20, the ninth annual Lake-Friendly Development Awards were handed out to five projects in Crow Wing and Cass counties.

All of these projects promote ecologically sustainable and sensitive development, reported Philip Hunsicker.

The Lake-Friendly Protection Strategy Award recognizes an organization or a local unit of government that creates an ordinance or regulatory code or other initiative that seeks to preserve the environmental integrity of the area’s lake and river systems, Hunsicker said. The first of three of these awards went to Crow Wing County, which worked closely with John Sumption and Paul Radomski to take the lead in the region and revise their shoreland ordinances.

Many of the revisions were based on the DNR’s recommended changes to update the state’s minimum standards, which guide development in shorelands. In March 2011, the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved adoption of the recommended revisions.

The second Lake-Friendly Protection Strategy Award went to the 2011 Land and Water Tour on Lake Margaret in Cass County. In 2006, Lake Margaret was placed on a list of impaired lakes due to pollutants (primarily phosphorous) affecting the amount of vegetation and the lake’s clarity. Phosphorous that enters Lake Margaret, which is just 222 acres in size, comes from all over the watershed, which is 45,203 acres in size.

The Land and Water Tour invited residents of the watershed ranchers, landowners, producers and lakeshore dwellers to hop on buses and pontoon boats to check out demonstration sites, hear from experts, and learn together how to reduce the pollution in Lake Margaret and make the water quality better. The tour visited a couple of ranches in the watershed and a couple of lakeshore restoration sites on Lake Margaret. Tour participants were treated to a lunch of locally grown beef and poultry provided by Sunup Ranch and Acorn Ridge Farm and Quilting Haus.

The third Lake-Friendly Protection Strategy Award went to the annual Lakes and Farm Harvest Dinner. This event, in its third year, is an evening to celebrate community, bounty, diversity, and a common interest in clean water, Hunsicker reported. The Harvest Dinner makes it easier for lake dwellers, farmers and ranchers living within the Pine River Watershed to get together to remind one another that stewardship of the land and water is in everyone’s best interest, Hunsicker said.

Area farmers and ranchers provide the locally grown meat and vegetables, which are prepared by a local chef. An area band entertains and an educational presentation is made during dinner. Sponsors for this year’s event included the Cass County Farm Bureau, the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association, the Pine River Watershed Alliance, the Nisswa and Leader Lions Clubs, the Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association, and Stonehouse Coffee.

The Lakescaping Award goes to a homeowner or contractor who employs the use of native vegetation and mostly natural materials to landscape their riparian property in a manner that not only complies with local shoreland regulations, but goes even further to protect the shoreline’s environmental integrity in a way that can potentially improve water quality. The Lakescaping Award for 2011 went to Jeff and Sharon Herwig on Sorenson Lake in Crow Wing County.

The Herwigs own about 800 feet of shoreline along Sorenson Lake. Previous to their ownership, the property had an extensive sandy beach area on the main lake, along with a private boat access ramp and a navigation channel in a sensitive bay with lily pad fringe. When they purchased the property, the Herwigs assessed their recreational needs, as well as the needs of their lake.

As their children grew and moved away, they decided to allow vegetation from adjacent undisturbed areas to reclaim those areas they no longer wished to maintain. By allowing nature to restore itself along the shoreline, there were virtually no out-of-pocket expenses for the Herwigs. Mike Duval, a DNR biologist and a neighbor of the Herwigs, said: “This project highlights the value of leaving healthy shoreline habitat patches adjacent to developed recreation areas for cost-effective lakeshore habitat restoration, especially as our lifestyle or ownership changes.”

The Lake-Friendly Home Construction Award goes to a riparian property owner or contractor who has undertaken new home construction or major reconstruction while preserving the environmental integrity of the natural lakeshore or river shore setting. This award went to Geoff and Martha Davidge on Lower Whitefish Lake in Crow Wing County. The Davidges live on about 40 acres of property that Martha’s parents purchased in 1956. The land includes 1,300 feet of shoreline on Lower Whitefish Lake, 16 acres of wetlands and three ponds in the woods. The property is steeped in family history and fond memories.

In 2008, Geoff and Martha built a modestly-sized home (1,300 square feet on the main level) and embraced the vision of Martha’s parents, who saw the land as wildlife habitat and not just as people habitat. The yard around the Davidge home is all no-mow natives that they planted. They had two rain gardens dug to catch runoff and built a third one on their own. They set back their house more than 75 feet from a pond, even though the minimum setback was just 15.5 feet. They continue to maintain a small prairie-like environment that was planted by Martha’s father at the intersection of a county road and a township road. They are hoping to place their shoreland and wetlands into a permanent conservation easement that will protect the land forever.

Prizes for winners included framed certificates of achievement, books, and framed prints generously donated by Nisswa watercolor artist, Jerry Raedeke.

The awards are collaboratively sponsored by Envision Minnesota, the Brainerd Lakes Area Audubon Society, Minnesota Waters, the Crow Wing County Lakes and Rivers Alliance, the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program, the DNR Section of Fisheries, the Minnesota Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, The Nature Conservancy, A.W. Research Laboratories, the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the University of Minnesota Extension. In the nine years that the Lake-Friendly Development Awards have existed, 45 projects have been recognized.

That’s a good start to changing how we think about developing our shorelands, Hunsicker stated.