If you build it, will they come?

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working with Ducks Unlimited (DU) and other conservation groups to enhance Pelican Lake in Wright County and turn it into a waterfowl wonderland.

A week ago my buddies and I stopped ice fishing earlier than normal one Saturday afternoon to meet up with MN DNR Area Wildlife Manager Fred Bengtson from Sauk Rapids. For a decade, Bengtson has been working on turning back the hands of time on a shallow 3,800-acre body of water called Pelican Lake.

According to my buddies, who grew up near Pelican Lake in the 1970s, it used to be a stopping/resting spot to thousands of migrating ducks each fall, especially divers. But according to Bengtson, beginning in the early 1980s, the lake’s water level began to rise, and ever since then it’s been staying 3-5 feet over the historical high-water mark.

Not surprisingly, this high water has resulted in many changes, including the arrival of roughfish, the loss of aquatic plants and greatly diminished water quality. And far fewer ducks.

Bengtson says that by lowering the water level at least 3 feet, many (hopefully all) of the roughfish will die due to winter-kill a year from now. This fish kill will result in clearer water, which should allow aquatic vegetation and invertebrates to thrive, making the lake much more attractive to waterfowl, as well as non-game species.

As this photo shows, a water level control structure (dam) was installed to begin lowering Pelican Lake’s water levels. Bengtson (left in photo) visits the dam daily to monitor the project, and it’s his responsibility to ensure that the water being drained from the lake doesn’t negatively affect property owners who live adjacent to the downstream ditches and creeks as the water flows a few miles to the Crow River and ultimately the Mississippi River.

“Right now we’re dropping the lake at a rate of 1 foot per 3 months,” Bengtson said. “We started in December, and it’s my hope that even when you factor in winter snowfall and spring rains, we’ll be able to lower the lake 2-3 feet by mid summer.”

The photos below show the series of ditches installed near the dam, as well as signage giving credit to habitat improvement partners such as DU, and state-dedicated conservation dollars from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. And can you tell what’s in the last pic? It’s a scouting cam mounted on the top of a steel pole; it’s aimed at the dam and is taking time-lapse images to document the project.

Thanks to Fred Bengtson and the MN DNR for their dedication to this project, and congrats to DU and everyone else who have put their time and money into enhancing Pelican Lake.

If you build it, will ducks come? I say “yes!”

P.S. Want to learn even more about the Pelican Lake Enhancement Project? Click here.

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