by Dennis Dalman
Saturday, Aug. 3 was a hot and muggy morning at Benton Beach Park at the north side of Little Rock Lake but despite the humid heat, tight teamwork triumphed.
Dozens of volunteers hand-planted aquatic plants into the mucky mudflats at the edge of the lake, an area that has been exposed by the river-lake drawdown. The water level of the Mississippi River and Little Rock Lake, connected to the river via a channel, was lowered 3 feet slowly via the Sartell dam during a 30-hour period Aug. 1-2.
On Aug. 2, the Department of Natural Resources delivered five truckloads of plants to Benton Beach Park – a total of 50,000 aquatic plants grown by Minnesota Natural Landscaping.
The plants will have a chance to take root during the rest of the drawdown, which will last until Sept. 14. Once firmly established, they will absorb as nutrients much of the nitrogen and phosphorous in the lake, thus removing those algae-producing chemicals and resulting in a cleaner, healthier lake.
The plants include such exotic-sounding names as card grass, lake sedge, pickerel weed, blue flag, bottlebrush sedge and common spike rush.
The volunteer planters at Benton Beach Aug. 3 included several troops of Boy Scouts, including Troop 211 of Sartell; members of the Little Rock Lake Association (LRLA), the Benton County Soil and Water Conservation Service and others who just wanted to lend a helping hand.
Mary Kivi, vice president of the LRLA, said about 20,000 of the 50,000 plants will be planted by the DNR at places around the lake; the others will be planted by lake residents on areas exposed near their property shorelines.
Kivi, who lives on the west side of the lake, said there are about 150 members of the LRLA, and they will pay only 10 percent of the cost of the plants they put at their shorelines. Kivi was in charge of the food preparation at the beach during the Aug. 3 planting “party.”
Kellie Gallagher, the president of LRLA, who lives on the north part of the lake, said she will put in 850 plants at her shoreline. She had high praise for the people and organizations that made the lake-river drawdown such a success after the delay that happened last August. The cooperation has been topnotch among Eagle Creek Energy (owner of the hydroelectric dam at Sartell), Benton County, the Benton County Soil and Water Conservation Service, the Department of Natural Resources and its Little Falls Fisheries Office Manager Eric Altena, who is a resident of Little Rock Lake and who hosted many information programs during the past few years concerning the drawdown. Gallagher also had high praise for Boy Scouts, their parents and all of the other volunteers at the plantings.
The drawdown project was made possible by a $200,000 grant from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. Much of that will be used to reimburse Eagle Creek Energy for lost revenue from the hydroelectric dam during the six weeks of drawdown.
In addition, the LRLA raised nearly $50,000 for miscellaneous expenses that include 25 percent of the cost of the plants, food for the beach planting volunteers, portable toilets and many garbage bins placed near the lakes and river for disposal of exposed debris.