Love My Lake

By: Jane Herbert 2008
(Used with permission)

Jane Herbert is a District Water Quality Educator for the Michigan State University Extension Land & Water Program who, as her story indicates, spent the summer of 2008 living on Little Bass Lake while working (on Sabbatical) with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Her Article was also printed in "The Michigan Riparian", a publication of the Michigan Lake & Stream Association.

During my teenage years, my family owned a modest cottage on a lake near our home in Barry County. Back then, I loved our lake for the tan I could develop while sun-bathing on the dock and watching those cool "lake guys" show off on slalom skis. As a science major in college, I became interested in natural resources management and pursued a degree in fisheries. This has led me to a variety of places over the years including where I am this lovely June morning -- sitting on my porch overlooking a small northern Minnesota lake.

I have read with interest the MLSA [Michigan Lake and Stream Association] member contributions to the Riparian's "Love My Lake" column. And this summer I'm experiencing first-hand the quiet allure of lake living. Thanks to the generous support of MLSA and other organizations, I'm on sabbatical, studying with the University of Minnesota Extension's Shoreland Management team. The team leader, Dr. Mary Blickenderfer, is conducting research on biological and biotechnical shoreline erosion control methods, techniques and products that provide alternatives to rock and sea walls. I'm here to learn what I can and bring it back to Michigan.

During my MSU Extension career, I've spoken to many groups on the importance of spring turn-over and summer stratification to a temperate lake's ecosystem. However, this year I'm experiencing with adult interest and joy how the summer unfolds on a lake -- a phenomenon many MLSA members experience every year. My husband and I are renting an old two-room log cabin on Peterson Bay, which is located at the south end of Little Bass Lake near Cohasset, Minnesota. It's rustic but charming, and comfortable enough for the two of us.

The locals tell me it's been a late spring even for northern Minnesota. We arrived here on the first of May, just two days before ice-out. For those two days, I could hear the tinkling of lake ice as the spring winds pushed it into the bay. These days from my dock, I see the panfish moving into the shallows, setting up their territories and nurseries. (In 10 minutes I can catch enough for supper on my fly rod.) The northern pike are scarred and bloody from spawning in the wetland fringe that surrounds this lake. The largemouth bass, now plump with eggs, are moving up to warmer waters. Near-shore sweeps with my dip net yield darters and minnows, along with mayfly and dragonfly larvae dislodged from the emerging aquatic plants.

I've watched with interest the slow, but steady, spring growth of this lake's diverse aquatic plant community. Although I've helped numerous lakefront property owners identify aquatic plants during late summer, this year I have the opportunity to see these plants in their early growth stages and observe how they form communities that change from one part of the lake to another. For example, there is a gentle light-green ring along the edge of this undeveloped bay where the sedges are growing out to meet the rushes, and water lilies are finally coming to the surface.

I'm keeping busy up here, but I have to admit that lake living has rekindled my love of bird watching. With a plethora of migrating warblers, along with nesting loons and osprey that keep a sharp watch for bald eagles patrolling the lake, I've learned not to leave the cabin without my binoculars.

The shoreline around this 155-acre lake is mostly wooded with less than 20 homes -- mostly year-round residences. And then there is Little Bass Lake Resort -- a low-key place owned by a retired engineer named Jerry Angst. Jerry grew up in Chesaning, Michigan, and is a proud graduate of Michigan State University. On his resort web-site, Jerry posts a daily chronicle about what's happening on the lake and claims that "You're not really up north until you're north of U.S. 2". Of course he's referring to the highway that runs from Michigan's U.P. through northern Wisconsin and Minnesota and on across the country. He also makes it clear that if you're looking for an action-packed resort vacation, Little Bass Lake Resort is probably not for you. I enjoy visiting with Jerry and learning what he's learned about Little Bass Lake since purchasing the resort 16 years ago. In 1999, Jerry volunteered his shoreline to Dr. Blickenderfer as a site on which to demonstrate a more natural, vegetated solution for controlling shoreline erosion. The previous resort owners had removed trees, shrubs and aquatic emergent vegetation at various intervals along the shoreline to provide views from the cabins and also swimming areas. Mowing to the water's edge had only made the problem worse. An aerial photo of the resort shows how those areas had receded -- some so badly that Jerry was worried about losing the gravel drive leading to his cabins.

Together Jerry and Dr. Blickenderfer developed a restoration plan calling for the planting of native grasses and shrubs between the road and the lake. The next step was to reintroduce emergent aquatic plants, sedges, and rushes, back into the lake and then protect them by installing fiber-log wave breakers for a couple years. The project continues to be a success; the erosion is under control and the shoreline habitat has been restored. Shoreline soils are knit together by strong root systems and wave energy is being dissipated by the emergent aquatic plants. Lake sediments, trapped by the restored aquatic plant community, are being trapped near shore and are slowly rebuilding lost shoreline. Jerry now maintains one central swimming area and proudly displays a sign that educates guests about his project and how it benefits the lake. Although not the only possible solution to his erosion problem, Jerry's project is the type of low-cost low-tech solution that is possible when lakefront property owners decide to, as Mary Blickenderfer puts it, "give their shorelines back to the lake."

When I read the "Love My Lake" column, I read the accounts of what MLSA members enjoy about their lake and what the lake gives them. My summer on Little Bass is helping me understand that special bond -- the 'give and take' of lake living, if you will. And yes, I too love "my" lake.