BENSON — Once known as “Little Christina” for offering waterfowl hunting opportunities like those enjoyed on the more famous lake in Douglas County, Lake Hassel in Swift County may soon regain its share of that fame.
Ducks Unlimited was host to more than 80 people at the lake north of Benson in Swift County on June 26 to dedicate a $1 million conservation enhancement to the 706-acre shallow lake, according to information from the organization.
Lake Hassel was one of the first — back in 1986 — to be designated and managed for waterfowl and wildlife. An electric fish barrier was installed to keep carp and other rough fish from migrating into the lake from the Chippewa River, but the barrier often failed.
The barrier has now been rebuilt and upgraded, complete with a backup generator.
More important, in 2018 Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources joined to install infrastructure to manage water levels on the lake. The new water control outlet uses a 24-inch diameter, 2,500-foot-long pipe to siphon water directly to a creek connecting to the Chippewa River.
The control system allowed the partners to draw down the lake in 2019 and produce a successful winterkill of carp in early 2020. The DNR again has the lake drawn down to build on the benefits from last year’s success.
Reducing the numbers of carp is important: They root up vegetation and contribute to the degradation of water quality.
Ducks Unlimited points out that the drawn-downs also help consolidate bottom sediments and nutrients and allow aquatic plants to germinate and thrive. “This newly enhanced shallow lake will provide clear water with abundant aquatic plants and invertebrates to migratory and breeding waterfowl. It also improves local water quality by filtering impurities in rainwater runoff from neighboring agriculture fields,” the organization stated in a recent news release.
The lake was once famous for the migrating canvasbacks attracted to it each fall. Redheads and bluebills and dabblers arrived each fall in succession. And at season’s end, the lake served as a staging area for the last of the mallards to depart the area.
Waterfowl migration patterns have changed in recent decades, but supporters of the project are optimistic that a rejuvenated Lake Hassel will again attract migrating waterfowl.
The benefits to wildlife are already showing themselves. “Since we have completed this project, the bird use has skyrocketed,” said John Lindstrom, DU biologist in Minnesota, stated in the news release. “The area is used not only by waterfowl, but hundreds of swans and other wildlife that rely on clean wetlands.”
This project was funded by a 2014 state appropriation from Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to Ducks Unlimited as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, a federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, the Chester Lee Farm, Grant and Hege Herfindahl, Hassel View Acres and DU members, supporters, and Living Lakes Initiative Major Sponsors.
Ducks Unlimited described the project as complicated and credited local landowners for working with the organization and the DNR to make the project possible. One of the landowners, Arlon Lee, spoke at the dedication.
“This lake has been here a long time and it’s too valuable just to let it go and not be usable,” Lee said. “Bringing it back to life is something local residents can be proud of.”
Ducks Unlimited undertook this restoration project as part of its Living Lakes Initiative, which was launched in 2004 to improve shallow lakes and wetlands in Minnesota and Iowa.