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One of the more dramatic examples of the shoreline damage experienced on Kandiyohi County lakes is seen on this 30-foot bluff on the Nest Lake, shown both from above the shoreline. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

Restoring lost habitat

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Some of the most valuable real estate in Kandiyohi County has taken a real beating.

High water, saturated soils and a winter that produced big sheets of ice all added up to what Rick Reimer of the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District calls the perfect storm for causing damage to shoreline along lakes in the county.

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It is the worst he's ever seen in the county. Nearly 75 private lots on the northeast side of Big Kandiyohi Lake alone are damaged, but the damage on many other lakes is just as dramatic.

On Nest Lake, Reimer is working with cabin owners who are watching a 30-foot tall bank as it collapses. Early estimates indicate it will cost $30,000 to $40,000 to repair the damage.

It doesn't have to be this way at all.

Both the Kandiyohi SWCD in Willmar and the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District in Spicer are working with lake lot owners around the county to restore natural shorelines.

Both offer technical assistance and cost-sharing help. And, it's not just for already damaged segments.

Projects that improve water quality by reducing erosion and improving habitat can benefit with cost-sharing funds ranging from 25 to 70 percent of eligible portions, as well as the professional help of staff familiar with shoreline restorations.

The restored shorelines are bi-engineered. "We're putting back habitat that has been lost or compromised,'' said Reimer.

Sometimes anchored with cedar logs or rock riprap, the natural shorelines feature aquatic plants that protect against erosion, help improve water quality and provide habitat for songbirds, frogs and other aquatic organisms.

For an avid fisherman like Reimer, the biggest benefit of all might be this: Better fishing.

For landowners, good fishing is just one of many benefits, according to Vanessa Glieden Henjum and Chad Anderson with the MFCRWD. Planting a buffer of natural vegetation along the shoreline can provide a year-long show of flowers and color, reduce maintenance and keep away unwanted pests like Canada Geese.

Reimer said interest in restoring shorelines is growing, no doubt due to the damage and need to take care of it. A properly restored, natural shoreline can protect against future damage.

In their natural states, all of the lakes in the county sported a diverse vegetative buffer along the shoreline. We've replaced it with Kentucky Blue Grass that runs right to the water. Boating and other activities in shallow areas have also resulted in the loss of standing bulrushes and other aquatic vegetation.

It's not just the fish that are hurt. Aquatic vegetation absorbs the energy of waves. With its loss, damage to exposed shoreline becomes all the greater.

The benefits of restoring shoreline are real, but convincing people to do so can still be difficult, according to Anderson. A paradigm shift is needed for people to realize that a more diverse vegetation buffer is both beneficial and attractive.

He estimates that less than 5 percent of the private shoreline on the county's lakes hold natural buffers.

Yet it's starting to grow. The MFCRWD and SWCD are working on a growing number of projects on lakes. In some cases, two or more landowners have joined to improve a stretch of shoreline simultaneously.

Working with the SWCD or MFCRWD assures that projects are properly designed, and can help protect against mistakes that could prove costly in future years.

Both also assist landowners with obtaining the permits needed for any type of shoreline work. "We can be the agents for the people,'' said Reimer.

There's on-going help too. Both organizations offer technical assistance to maintain the restoration.

Glieden Henjum said property owners can restore shorelines with their own "sweat equity,'' but the majority contract with a landscaping contractor for the work.

Lake lot owners must be willing to devote their labor to a project. The first three years demand the most attention, as it is important to remove invasive plants. Afterward, the maintenance needs tend to decline as the rewards become all the more evident.

The SWCD office will work with property owners on all lakes within the county. The MFCRWD is focused on the lakes in the Crow River watershed, which includes the lakes of Nest, Long Lake by Hawick, Monongalia, Green, George, Diamond and Calhoun.

Workshop to show value of shoreline restoration

SPICER -- Lakeshore owners can make a difference in the water quality of their lake by implementing a shoreland restoration or a buffer strip.

Join the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District for a workshop about shoreland restorations at 7 p.m. June 9 at the district office at 174 Lake Ave. N., Suite 2, in Spicer.

The workshop will cover the value of restoring the shoreline, how to design a natural shoreline, how to select the proper plants and much more.

Space is limited, so please register with the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District by June 6 by either calling 320-796-0888 or emailing Vanessa@mfcrow.org. Registration is $5 per person.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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