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Three young girls look to clean regional lake one zebra mussel at a time

Margaret Embree and twins Mimi and Maggie James smile as they show the containers of zebra mussels they collected from the lake. (SUBMITTED)

Three 10-year-old girls visiting the Alexandria area have big dreams this summer.

After hearing about recent zebra mussel infestations, Margaret Embree, Mimi James and her twin sister, Maggie James, of Illinois, have taken it upon themselves to try to fix the problem themselves by removing the mussels from Lake Miltona.

They call themselves “The M Club” and they are determined to see a day when there are no zebra mussels in area lakes. Everyday, they go out on their paddleboat and stand-up paddleboard with their lifejackets strapped to their chests and dive for mussels. The girls pick up the clams with mussels on them and bring them back to their dock. There, they pull the mussels off and return the clams to the water.

So far, The M Club has collected an entire plastic shopping bag, two tennis ball cans, a large tupperware and a large bowl full of zebra mussels.

They were inspired after hearing of the negative effects of aquatic invasive species. Zebra mussels affect lake ecosystems by feeding on the microscopic organisms in a lake. Though this makes the lake appear clearer, it takes away food for larval fish that depend on those organisms for survival.

Zebra mussels can also severely reduce native mussel population by attaching themselves to those mussels.

It impacts the three 10-year-olds greatly as they are out on Lake Miltona every day during their stays at the Minnesouri Club. The girls care about the lakes and want to do whatever they can to help with this problem. The girls are from the Chicago area and have been on vacation here since last Monday. Everyday, they have been in the water taking zebra mussels out so long as weather permits.

Mark Ranweiler, assistant aquatic invasive species specialist out of Fergus Falls, said the best way to dispose of zebra mussels is in the trash at home or in a landfill with an area fit for zebra mussel disposal.

The three members of “The M Club” paddle out to collect zebra mussels.

The girls’ mission is just one example of their close bond. The young girls have been best friends since kindergarten and if they’re not saving lakes, they’re having sleepovers, riding bikes or baking.

Katherine Bliss, mother of Mimi and Maggie, considers Margaret to be another daughter. She said that once the girls find a project, they become focused and invested in finishing it. Whether it’s playing a game or trying to save the lake, they always enjoy what they’re doing, she said.

It has been a family tradition to come to the Minnesouri Club to enjoy the lakes since Katherine’s father started coming more than 85 years ago as a young boy. Katherine grew up spending summer weeks on Lake Miltona to escape the heat of Missouri. Even after moving to Chicago and having twin daughters, the tradition continued. Katherine describes the area as “a little slice of heaven,” and this year decided to bring Margaret to join the tradition.

Margaret Embree and twins Mimi and Maggie James smile as they show the containers of zebra mussels they collected from the lake.

While the girls were out diving for mussels, they found a $5 bill in the lake. They hope to donate the $5 to an organization that is educating people on how to prevent the spread of zebra mussels.

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