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Lake Emma Township gets COLA appreciation award

Left from front Mavis Trenholm, Roberta Doyle, township chair Jeff Adolpson, COLA member Ken Grob; back row from left township officer Brian Behrens, Rod Westrum, Dan Kittilson and Bob Berdahl, all of the Coalition of Lake Associations. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

In terms of the campaign to keep Hubbard County lakes clean, 2007 seems like the Paleolithic era.

Back in those good old days, lake residents were just discovering the importance of shoreland restoration projects and stopping erosion and runoff into clean lakes.

But some visionaries, if you could attach such a label to 2007 thinkers, recognized the strength of numbers, that banding together could give them the clout to move forward.

Blueberry Lake Association persuaded Lake Emma Township to abandon Half Moon Road on the lake's north end. It was unused and posing erosion problems to the health of the lake, association members maintained.

In 2008, the initial planting of native trees and seedlings began on Blue Lake while noxious weeds were eradicated.

It was the first area project to tap Legacy funding. Blue Lake got $6,600 to have the Minnesota Conservation Corps, to install plant materials and trees that could control invasive species.

Lake Emma Township decided to form a "Healthy Lakes Partnership."

The idea was to gather lake associations and townships under the same umbrella of need and strategize how to get into the grant giveaway.

It was a numbers game.

As more grants became available, Lake Emma Township residents began pairing with COLA and sharing tips for success.

Simple plans for erosion control mushroomed by 2012 into an all-out, comprehensive war on Aquatic Invasive Species, mapping, monitoring, education and inspection.

Lake Emma's residents recognized the necessity of keeping their lakes pristine, and the effect it had on their property values, the highest in the county.

A recent study by Hubbard County Assessor Bob Hansen determined that 60 percent of the county's tax base came from waterfront properties. Lake Emma Township may have the highest percentage of lakefront property, with 85 percent water-affected.

Lake Emma Township's waterfront property values alone exceed the total combined value of all the cities in Hubbard County, including Park Rapids. It was something worth protecting, the township determined.

Tuesday night Hubbard County's Coalition of Lake Associations recognized Lake Emma Township officers as those early pioneers and presented them with a certificate of appreciation that hangs in the township hall.

"The township has been a leader, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us, "COLA president Dan Kittilson said. "It will take cooperation between lake associations and townships, like this one. Success requires partnerships and you folks have been marvelous partners."

Township chair Jeff Adolphson said the war has just begun.

"We need to look for solutions proactively," he said.

"When people look at their tax statements, they are actually seeing the fruits of these investments," said Little Sand Lake resident Maggi Yerkes.

"It was an unknown to all of us," Big Sand Lake resident Irene Weis said. "That role model image is showing. To your credit you stood up and said yes."

By 2010 a partnership had been formed with the DNR, and using an AIS prevention grant, the township was able to employ four full-time interns to police the lakes. Arago Township came aboard, focusing attention on Eagle and Island lakes.

Henrietta Township joined in, honing in on Long Lake. By then an advisory board was overseeing the Lake Emma Township Healthy Lakes Partnership. A grant program was started.

Blue Lake continued the restoration of Half Moon Road, planting dogwood and willow along the abandoned roadbed. Projects popped up all over Hubbard County.

Volunteers installed rain gardens, propped up shorelines with plantings and began seeking funding with a vengeance.

By 2012, $10,000 in donations were received from Big and Little Sand Lakes for watercraft inspections.

But the township also experienced a minor setback in 2012 when the association of its flagship lake, Emma, which also oversees Upper and Lower Bottle and Stocking lakes, voted to pull out of COLA.

"It was disappointing but not everyone agrees with everything," Yerkes said. "They'll be back."

The lead taken by Lake Emma Township remains a model for other townships to emulate, Kittilson said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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