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Aquatic Management Area on Bad Medicine Lake becomes a reality

Voluneers removing flooded structures from the lake. Submitted Photo

On Jan. 9, members of the Bad Medicine Lake Area Foundation (BMLAF) Advisory Committee signed over to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the final four parcels of acquired land, completing the aquatic management project that started in 2006.

In total, the BMLAF Aquatic Management Area (AMA) project combines eight land parcels, representing about nine acres of land and 4,700 feet of shoreline. The area includes portions of a large peninsula, several smaller peninsulas around it, and an island.

The BMLAF was formed in 2004, when Bad Medicine Lake experienced very high water levels and cabins and homes were being flooded. High water levels persist today, with the current level over five feet above the Ordinary High Water Mark.

The result of the high water levels has been the loss of properties and a realization that some parcels once deemed suitable for development are better preserved for wildlife and aquatic habitat. In order to make the project a reality, land owners whose property was threatened were willing to consider a buy-out if the foundation could raise the needed funding.

Bad Medicine Lake is a deep, ground water lake without inlets or outlets. The average depth is over 40 feet, the deepest point is over 90 feet, and it has a relatively small littoral area. The lake is long and narrow, with a high shore length-to-acreage ratio.

Clarity is among the best in Minnesota. The lake is managed as a two-story fishery, and shore fishing on the AMA will provide anglers with an unusual opportunity to catch a variety of species including rainbow trout, walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and panfish.

Conserving the flooded areas of Bad Medicine Lake for aquatic habitat enhances the lake value, avoids the destruction and avoids continuing financial loss from flooded structures. The lake is a closed basin whose water level has risen a total of 13-14 feet since the 1930s.

It could rise another eight feet before the natural basin overflow elevation is reached. The area of this AMA represents some of the best natural aquatic habitat on the lake. Prior to this purchase, only a few hundred feet of shore were protected by public ownership.

Minnesota Legislature passed authorization for the establishment of Aquatic Management Areas in 1992. In part, the legislation states "Aquatic Management Areas may be established to protect, develop and manage lakes, rivers, streams, and adjacent wetlands, and lands that are critical for fish and other aquatic life, for water quality, and for their intrinsic biological value, public fishing, or other compatible outdoor recreational uses."

The BMLAF, which is a component fund of West Central Initiative, is grateful to the many contributors who enabled this project to come together. Coordinating the project with multiple landowners led to a long and at times frustrating process.

Foundation chair Ray Vlasak said, "There were times when we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into and doubted success. Our timing was problematic, with the economy down, people were, with good reason, hesitant to donate. "

The total appraised value and purchase price for the AMA was $625,500. Owners of the parcels contributed $112,000 in land value, which was matched by the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program.

Other Bad Medicine Lake property owners and their family members (78) contributed an additional $159,587 which was also matched by the RIM program. The DNR Fish and Wildlife Division, using Legacy Funds, contributed $82,326 to complete the funding.

The goals of the BMLAF do not end with this project. There are more flood-distressed parcels that will be better conserved than developed, and the foundation is working on new projects to protect these areas. In addition, some property owners are interested in preserving their land in a natural state by putting it into a perpetual conservation easement.

The foundation is especially grateful for the assistance of West Central Initiative's Kim Embretson for his consultation; Detroit Lakes Area Fisheries Specialist Dave Barsness, who handled the project application and now manages the AMA; and the Leech Lake Watershed Foundation for their encouragement and from whom the idea to form the BMLAF was born.