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A shoreline buffer can be as beautiful as a perennial garden. Steve Hall planted this one years ago on his property on Boulder Lake. The roots trap runoff from his home up the hillside and keep the ground firm from the wave action pounding the shore. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Larger plants key to protecting shore impact zone

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Rectifying the effect of continued development on the region's lakes isn't about playing the blame game.

It's about grabbing a shovel and digging in.

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That's Steve Hall's philosophy. The owner of Shoreline Creations has constructed 30 to 40 buffer zones, rain gardens and shoreline projects in the past few years just to minimize the impact of more people moving to the lakes and building along the fragile shoreline.

As today's Fall Home Improvement section hits newsstands, it's the lakes that command the lion's share of attention, because they comprise the lion's share of property values.

"We are reaching many more ears," Hall said. "People are understanding the relationship between water quality and property values, that they're directly tied" together.

The genesis of the upheaval

"I think the biggest thing that people don't understand is that development had really in my mind done two things," Hall said. "Number one, it's taken so many of the larger plants away from the shoreline that not only protect habitat but hold the shoreline together. It protects that sensitive shore impact zone that is so important to our wildlife.

"It's been said that 90 to 95 percent of all our animals spend all or part of their life cycle at the water's edge," Hall said.

"When we take that away we don't give them a place to feed, to hide, to have cover, to nest, so many things that they need and so we came to the lake to see the animals but we took the habitat away and the animals went away with it. So we've kind of created some problems."

But removing trees and shrubs allows shoreland erosion at a faster pace.

"They talk about three zones in that area, the upland zone which is your trees and shrubs up the shoreline; there's your transitional zone which is that area 5 feet either side of the high water mark and there's the aquatic zone," Hall said.

"When we take the upland zone and remove trees and shrubs and we start going over the edge opening that up to allow for beaches, for docks, for boat lifts and then drag those pieces of equipment back and forth we not only disturb the upland zone and the transitional zone but we also disturb that aquatic zone.

"All three of them work in harmony to protect the shoreline and provide habitat."

But Hall stops short of calling for a ban on lakeshore development.

Moderation is the key.

"We tend to fracture our wildlife habitat so badly because everybody has a dock, everybody has a boat lift, everybody has a swimming beach and pretty soon there's no habitat left, no fish spawning area and it's too bad that's happened. I don't think we knew."

The present

Many lakeshore owners "city-fy" their properties, plant, fertilize and manicure their lawns. Buffer zones will lessen that impact.

"We'd like to think there'd be buffers along most of our shorelines. One of the biggest things lakeshore property owners can do to alleviate the effects of water runoff from upland sources, namely impervious surfaces we've created, sidewalks, driveways, roofs," is to build buffer zones, Hall said.

"If we can buffer the effects from those surfaces we will have better water quality, we'll have a better handle on erosion, we'll have a better shoreline.

"The other things people can do are limit your water use, keep your septic systems up to code and pump them out every couple years and those buffers will help mitigate that fertilizer runoff."

Education is the key

"I see some pretty poor practices going on out there," Hall said. "I think part of it is a lack of knowledge. We don't come to the lakeshore with all of the good stewardship knowledge that I think we need to provide for the care of our lakes."

Landowners lucky enough to live by the lakes need to take the lead, he maintains.

"Education is the key and we need to get the education to the people buying the lakeshore property, not four months after, because people come to the lakeshore and they do things they might not do if they had the right information," Hall said.

"Clearly there'll be people who don't care and will do whatever they want but I think if you give people the opportunity and give them the education they'll do the right thing."

Informational packets have been distributed to real estate agents and are available at the Environmental Services Office.

The complete Shoreland Management Ordinance is available on the county's website, along with good stewardship practices and information about septic systems.

And not all of the shoreline destruction is man-made.

"Wave action pounding up on a shoreline is a natural process," Hall said. "Ice ridges are a natural process that are a part of living at the lake. We would like to think that we're not adding as much as we are, that we're not contributing to the problem."

Buffer zones can be functional and attractive, Hall maintains.

"It can enhance your view of the lake by use of colorful perennials, grasses, native shrubs," he added. "They don't have to look unkempt. It takes three to four years to establish a really functional thick buffer zone but they do require a bit of maintenance to begin with, probably less than it took to mow that stretch of lawn."

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